Michigan State-Louisville Quotes, March 28
March 28, 2009
MICHIGAN STATE QUOTES
BILL BENNER: Joined by Michigan State. We'll start with an opening statement from Coach Izzo.
COACH IZZO: Well, we're thrilled to be here. Excited. It's been kind of a goal and a dream all year. It's finally reality where we have a chance to play not only a great team, but play in one of the great venues and great events. The Elite 8 is a special time because if you win, you move on to that ultimate goal. To have it in your own state makes it even bigger. And yet the team we're playing, I think, is playing about as well as any team I've seen playing at this time of year.
BILL BENNER: Questions for Coach Izzo and the student athletes.
Q. Tom, both you and Rick have been two of the more successful tournament coaches. Talk about what has been some of the keys to being able to sustain that kind of success level.
COACH IZZO: Well, I think one is to have good players that buy into what you want to do and believe that in tournament time it's one and done, that the little things matter. I think that's one thing we've stressed as a staff.
The second thing, I was fortunate my first year in the NCAA tournament. We played Princeton on the second day. I think we had to develop a preparation pattern that we use because that's such a different kind of team to play. When we did and we had some success, we've kind of stuck with that pattern over the years.
I think it's helped us in our preparation, especially the one day preps. I think the tournament itself, if you get good players, you get a chance to move on.
If you've been a team one of our battle cries this year was, I don't want to be known as a rebounding team or a defensive team. You want to try to have balance. And yet when it all comes down to it, you know, whether it be any sport there is, come tournament time or playoff time, your defense and your rebounding have to be solid, and ours has been that most years. I think that has helped us get through.
Q. You'll be wearing the green tomorrow. How much are you going to look back at the road success you had and try to be the road team again. A lot of Louisville fans here.
GORAN SUTON: We rely on Coach Izzo. We're just looking forward to playing tomorrow. Wearing green for the first time, I think it's kind of exciting for us.
But I think we're all about focusing on tomorrow and worrying about what we do, not about what Louisville does.
KALIN LUCAS: G pretty much said it. You know, it's going to be a great game. One thing we do have to have is a great focus. We just got to bring our A game.
COACH IZZO: I don't know. I just said our green uniforms are the ugliest. If that's the case, ugly is beautiful as far as I'm concerned 'cause we're 17 4 away from Breslin Arena. I think that's what maybe these players deserve as much credit for. You talk about every era somebody has done something it seems like in the last 12 years. One thing these guys have done is found a way to win on the road. We realize it will be kind of a road game. There will be a lot of Louisville fans here. We have a lot of people, but not to the extent with Louisville so close.
But I think that's one area that doesn't matter to these guys. We've played on the road in some of the most hostile arenas in the country. They've learned how to do that. That's the advantage of playing a tough non conference schedule and the advantage of playing in the Big 10 where there are packed houses everywhere we play.
Q. Tom, you and Rick have avoided playing each other all this team time. What are your thoughts watching him and the way he coaches?
COACH IZZO: Well, I've loved what Rick has done. We've talked a few times. We've been in the Final Four together in 2005. Being an Italian guy, I guess we have to stick up for each other a little bit.
I watched his career. When I looked at the opportunity to maybe go to Atlanta that one time, I called him and talked to him about it. Different things that have happened.
So we're not guys that talk each week or month, but I think I have great respect for what he's done. I love the way his team plays with energy. I love the way he coaches with energy. And I think he's been successful everywhere he's been. That's because of the system he has and his approach to the game, his development of players, I think, is second to none.
Q. Tom, not to ask you to give away the game plan, but for you and Kalin, you both want to run, you both play great defense, are you willing to run with this team rather than take your chances against their zone defenses?
COACH IZZO: Yeah, we're gonna run. We're gonna attack the press. That's what we do, too. I think my other experience back in my first year in the NCAA tournament or first Sweet 16 appearance, I kind of changed what we did, figuring I had to do something different. We're not going to be crazy. We're not going to throw up shots for no reason.
But we plan on pushing it, see if we can get some easy opportunities. I think pressing teams do better when they know there's no damage at the end. In other words, if you're just trying to get it through the press and not try to score on it.
We're gonna do what we do. We're gonna try to push the ball, run the ball, and not turn the ball over. I think those will be our big keys.
KALIN LUCAS: Yeah, you know, we gonna play our basketball. You know, we're going to push the ball, fast break, try to get some good shots and we're gonna try to get some open looks.
Q. Raymar, how is the nose? Did you break it? If you did, are you going to have to wear some Rip Hamilton mask?
RAYMAR MORGAN: Yeah, I did break it. Yeah, I'll be wearing a mask. Hopefully I can get fitted for that today and go from there.
Q. Coach, any concerns about the pressure Louisville will have over the course of 40 minutes, what that will take out of Kalin?
COACH IZZO: I don't think there's any questions that's what they'll do. I think we have multiple guys. I think that's where Travis Korie Lucious struggled a little bit his first freshman time under these bright lights. But I have faith he's going to be able to rebound from that. Chris Allen, Durrell, I think, even in you look up here, you know, Goran can handle the ball, so can Raymar.
Kalin, him and Travis, have been as a good conditioned athletes as we've had. We know the pressure they're going to put on. Sooner or later it's going to come down to who outlasts who.
But we do have depth. We do substitute quite freely. Am I worried about it? Yes. Is it going to change my opinion on how we play? No.
Q. Back in November, Louisville was in a pack of teams with you. Last 13 or 14 games they played much better. In terms of watching video, where do you see they've improved?
COACH IZZO: Well, I guess I'd have to answer that. They've watched some video. I'm sure they've all seen Louisville play.
But, you know, Williams has been a big key. I mean, he's gotten better and better. For a while, I don't know if they were struggling at the point, but they were moving some people in and out. And I think they've got a consistent rotation, which is where they've really improved. That's one area I don't think we have improved in. We don't have a consistent rotation. We have a seat of the pants rotation. It's not anybody's fault. It's been due to the injuries.
I think that consistency, the last half of the season, last 13, 14 games, there seems to be an even flow with them. Plus their freshman, Samuels, I think gets better. Everybody's just improved as the season went on. I don't know why some of those games early they lost to a Minnesota team. When you play the way they play, the one thing you have to be able to do is everybody has to bring energy every minute. But when you're pressing like that, if you had a down couple of minutes, you're gonna give up a lot, too. And I think when they got the rotation down, they were able to maintain that for 40 minutes compared to maybe doing it for 35 and losing a couple of those games they lost early.
TRAVIS WALTON: Yeah, you know, they've been playing great basketball. Not that we've been playing good basketball. We both won our conference. They lost some games. We lost some games.
So, like coach said, they got a consistent rotation. They got some great players on they team. Terrence Williams has been playing great basketball. Earl Clark. One thing about they team is they all stay consistent about what they do.
You know you're going to come to the game and Terrence Williams is going to give you an all around game, Earl Clark is going to give you points and rebounds, Jerry Smith, Sosa, good to make steals and big shots. I think we got some good players on our team that do the same thing and step up at the big moment and make big plays. It's going to be a game of something like that.
COACH IZZO: Sounds likes Travis has watched more film than I have, and I think he's right on.
Q. Korie Lucious struggled a little bit last night. I assume he would be key in this game. Do you have a thought of maybe more ball handlers in a game like this?
COACH IZZO: I think you guys must be used to watching football. I mean, the game plan, I'll give it away if you want it, we got to take care of the ball, we can't let them turn it over, and we've got to make some shots. How is that for a game plan (smiling)?
I don't think it's any big secrets. They got 30 films on us. We got 30 on them. You guys have all watched both of us 30 times.
So, yeah, you know, a lot of these guys are going to be key. I think your points are well taken. They do want to wear you down. They do want to speed you up. We want to speed up under our control, whatever that is. We don't want to get out of control where they're forcing us to take shots, keep the dribble too long. They get the back, tip you, turn you over, all those things.
We have to understand some things that maybe are a little bit more difficult from the standpoint of it's hard to simulate what they do, especially in one day. That is very difficult. If this was a normal we had a week to prepare, we'd have seven or eight guys pressing our five. We'll do a little of that today. But it's just hard to simulate the athleticism and the length.
But, you know, as Travis said, as everybody said, they've had their moments, too, when things haven't gone right, just like the rest of us. It's our job to exploit those, figure out what we can do to make those advantageous for us.
Q. Delvon, as a freshman, what are the biggest things you've learned in these three or four tournament games, seeing what coach is doing, what your teammates are doing?
DELVON ROE: Basically that everything is up a notch. Everything in practice is more serious. You can't get away with little things that you can get away with earlier in the season. You're accountable now a lot more than you was at the beginning of the season. You have to bring it every night 'cause you never know which game's going to be your last.
Q. Tom, you mentioned the phone call to Rick before going to Atlanta. Was there anything that stuck out from kind of what he told you that you applied?
COACH IZZO: You know, he just talked to me a little bit about the pluses and minuses, of course. There were some pluses. The big one then I guess was financial. There were some minuses, too, on the control you have, what you get to do. We didn't get in depth on it. He just said he thought I made the right decision for my situation at the time. I always respected that. I respected what he went through.
I mean, some of it I watched from afar, not even talking to him. I saw this coach who I thought was an incredible college coach, and he was a good pro coach at times, too. But the different struggles.
So it was kind of learn by observation as much as anything else.
Q. Tom, you said something yesterday about the Big 10 and not looking at how far the Big 10 teams have gone in the tournament, that it's a matter of matchups. Do you think the Big 10 has not had the best matchups in this tournament in contrast to the Big East?
COACH IZZO: Well, not really. I mean, I'm just saying in general. I think sometimes we anoint a league. Even when we went to the Final Four a couple times, we had two Big 10 teams in it. I'm just saying sometimes matchups at this tournament in general for everybody, every year, can sometimes determine who wins and loses. Certain teams don't play as well against certain teams.
I guess what I was getting to is for some reason, you think of Louisville, you think of racehorse basketball. I think we've averaged like two points less than them this season. So I'm giving my normal hurrah for the Big 10 because I think too many people, especially some on TV, have abused it.
What you found out in this tournament for the most part is there were a lot of games played with lower numbers most part. And it's because possessions matter. It's because people are gonna ratchet up their defense. I think in our league, the coaches in our league, it's ratcheted up almost year round.
You know, so I was not saying anything about the teams that we played or the teams the Big East played. They're top teams. There's been no argument from me that they're as good as it gets. But I just think our conference top to bottom is also one of the best in the country, I really do. And I think sometimes people evaluate that on how many points you score or what goes on or what perception you have. And I don't agree with that.
Q. Travis, it's been very important for you to get to a Final Four. Now it's possibly one game away. How do you manage knowing you have to get through this game but also trying not to look ahead?
TRAVIS WALTON: You know, I think you got to look at it and say, if I look ahead, we might get beat by 30, you know. So you got to take it one game at a time, focus on Louisville. It's going to be our toughest task of the season, you know, playing against a great basketball team. You know, from one second you look past them, that could be a 10 point deficit.
You know, so you got to give every thought, every dream, got to go to beating Louisville, not getting to the Final Four right now, you know, because you got to go through them before you can get to the Final Four. And they having the same thoughts and dreams as we have. So our focus has to be on Louisville, what we can do to kind of contain them and win this game.
Q. Travis, you are known as such a tough team. You've been tough for years and years. Is that something that guys generally bring to Michigan State or is that something that is specifically developed while you're at Michigan State?
TRAVIS WALTON: I think it's both. You know, I think coach recruit tough players and he recruit players that can score. The players that are not as tough as the ones he recruited that are supposed to be tough, we kind of get 'em tougher from the drills we do.
We know from our famous War drill, that's kind of the tough man drill as far as, you know, everything is everything. You go after each others head. Got to take hats off to the coaches for recruiting tough players and the things we do. That's why we are a tough program and known worldwide for being tough.
Q. What's the War drill?
TRAVIS WALTON: The War drill is a drill no out of bounds. They shoot the ball. It's five on five. Everybody just run at each other like you all little kids, trying to get a little basketball. So we just go at each other, no fouls called. You grabbing, you pulling, you scratching. Sometimes people get to bleeding and different things like that.
When they get real tough, we might put football pads on. So it's tough (smiling).
Q. Travis, are you joking about putting the pads on?
TRAVIS WALTON: No, I'm not joking. I think my sophomore year or junior year sophomore year, we got the Michigan State football team pads and put pads on (laughter).
Q. Goran, I've asked Travis a couple times about the importance of getting to a Final Four. He's a senior. There's that streak going under Coach Izzo. You didn't play in a Final Four. There's got to be significance for you, too.
GORAN SUTON: Yeah, I think, you know, as seniors, me and Travis and Idong and Marquise have all kind of said to each other that we were there, but we were on the scout team, but we didn't step a foot on the floor. We didn't play a minute in the Final Four.
So, you know, as much pressure as it is on Travis, there's as much pressure on me and Idong and Marquise to get there because we haven't played in one. You know, it would be huge. It would be the best thing that's happened to us. You know, hopefully we'll get there.
And I'd like to add, I didn't know how to put football pads on (smiling).
Q. You were asked about the Arizona job the other day. Obviously the Kentucky job has come open. That's not an insignificant job. Can you address that briefly?
COACH IZZO: Well, you know, I'll address it the same way I've always addressed it. I don't think there's a guy in this planet that would ever say he's not going anywhere, not doing anything. I don't think there's anybody on this planet that would ever say, I'm here to stay, I'm this, I'm that. I don't think me, you or anyone else. So I would never do that because I think it would be insulting to you and me.
But at the same time I got so many goals and so many things I'd like to accomplish here yet. I got so many great players I get to coach here yet. I get to do something that maybe few get to do, and that's actually build something and watch it be built from not the bottom, because it was already there, but build into a national power and one that is respected hopefully by everybody in the country.
When Final Fours come up, Sweet 16 and Elite 8, Michigan State's name is always in there, that's my ultimate goal right now. I still got a lot of work to do to accomplish that. We've put a heck of a dent in it. But when you look at Kansas, Kentucky, Carolina, Duke in general, we're not at that level yet, and that's the level I'd like to get to. So I still got a lot of work to do. The people at Michigan State have been great to me. I'm going to continue to work for them.
Q. Tom, when you see a guy like Chris Allen, who made significant strides over the last couple weeks, he might have played his best game last night, scoring seven points. When you see that, has this been one of the more rewarding years for you as a coach from a teaching aspect?
COACH IZZO: We have gotten a lot out of different guys at different times. Some by necessity. It's been rewarding, but it's been frustrating at times. But to see Durrell and Chris, they're two guys that I just think, you know, when you when Travis talks about guys, the guys on this table are pretty tough. Although G wasn't back in his younger days. But he's grown into a fine, tough young boy that still can't buckle a chin strap (laughter).
You know, I'd say Durrell and Chris are two guys that had to become tougher mentally and physically, had to kind of grow some passion for the game. You know, there's nothing wrong with having certain personalities. There's really not. But as I tell my players all the time, Passive personalities don't win championships. You can still be a great player sometimes, a very good player.
So that's where I think Chris has grown. He is kind of a passive personality guy and I think he's learning how to play harder and understand that, you know, it's not just about how you play yourself, it's about dragging other people with you. And if you're gonna be an impact player of any kind, you have to have the ability to drag your teammates with you.
And Chris and Durrell, they're both getting a lot better. But I think it's an area they both have to improve on. I think these guys to probably agree with me.
Q. Could you talk about the War drill, its origins, purpose, who the best tackler you have is?
COACH IZZO: I think the best tackler I had was a kid named Andre Hudson.
But it's legendary up with us. I don't know what the big deal is. We got beat by Ohio State. We didn't rebound very well. Mateen Cleaves had just broke his foot three months earlier. It was probably the first, second week in January. I told my equipment man, I said, Call Saban, ask him if we can borrow some football gear. We're going to learn how to hit somebody and get a rebound. My equipment man is a marathon runner. My running mate, he came with a big cart full of helmets, shoulder pads, jerseys. So last 20 minutes of practice he wheeled it out. I told my guys to put it on. I was mad. We had gotten beat.
But I had four Division I football players on that team, including Mateen Cleaves who could have gone to Florida State, Notre Dame, played football. Instead of them not liking it, they enjoyed it, which made me mad, because I wanted them not to like it.
It was a lot of fun watching Mateen teach some of those 6'9" guys how to buckle a chin strap. By the time it was over, we were all laughing. It kind of grew from there. So now whenever we have our little reunions, that's what everybody talks about.
So what seems brutal and cruel, really there is a mission to the madness. It's pretty good. Nobody gets hurt that way. Some guys like G from Bosnia, they don't know what the hell football is over there. So it's an educational process also.
Q. Delvon, coach has talked a little bit about maybe you've run into the freshman wall that all freshmen go through. Do you feel like you can get your second wind for this next game? How do you feel physically?
DELVON ROE: I look at it that you got a whole summer to relax and get healthy and do all of that and relax. And you got to bring it out there 40 minutes tomorrow. Forget about being tired. Doing all that, you got to be ready to play.
If we don't come ready to play, if I don't come ready to play, there's a good chance we don't get to go to a Final Four and accomplish some of the goals we set out at the beginning of the year.
Q. Kalin, people look at Louisville and would maybe not want to play against that. As a guard who likes to run, do you look forward to playing against what they do?
KALIN LUCAS: Yes, I do look forward to playing them. It's going to be a great game. One thing they do, pressure. So for us, the guards, we got to be ready. It's just going to be a great game.
BILL BENNER: We will now dismiss the student athletes to the individual breakout rooms and continue with questions for Coach Izzo.
Q. You said last night after the game you were going to go back to the hotel and talk about Detroit maybe for the first time in depth. Did you? What was that conversation like? How many times did Detroit and the Final Four ever come up over the past year? Was it something you stayed away from?
COACH IZZO: Well, to be honest with you, I just said I talked about it at the beginning of the year and then I didn't talk about it at all during the year. I really didn't. I mean, I'm sure it came up here or there just because where we're located, what goes on, what's said.
But for the most part I never really addressed the team about it. I told them that I tried to explain to them the chance of getting to a Final Four is slim to none, and that's on the good side. You know, the way it worked out, I knew if we ever got to this day, two nights before, a night before our opportunity to get there, there would be plenty of time to talk about it.
Well, I found out there's not a lot of time to talk about it because there's other work to do. But I would have been foolish not to explain to my guys that of all the Final Fours, of all the great players that have played in this championship, you know, week, weeks, weekend coming up, there are very few. I was going to have my SID go back and look up how many programs actually got to play theirs in their home state.
I know last year, I think it was Texas would have had the opportunity if they would have beat Memphis. Just didn't work out. Or there's one of the years it was, I don't even know which one now. But very seldom does it happen. So that even puts more significance on it because I recruit a little bit more locally, within a three , four hour radius for most of my players. I always preach that families being there and community and your fan base and all that is a big part of winning. You get to celebrate it with people that you really care about.
So that made it all the more significant. That's what I reminded them last night. I said, this thing will be earned, not given, that's for sure. I had great respect for Louisville. After seeing them last night, I have even more respect for how they play. I think our players did, too.
That's about all that was said. Detroit, it would be great. But it's still a tough place to get to.
Q. Last year I believe you lost in the Sweet 16, they lost in the Elite 8. Can losses like that be good things going into the next year in terms of revealing what the weaknesses are of your team and in terms of any motivation to get people to work harder?
COACH IZZO: You know, I don't ever feel that losses are motivating. If you need to lose to get motivated, you're probably a little weak. Maybe that does show that. So that would be a good point.
I'm not sure I, as a coach, ever felt a tougher loss than standing up on that podium last year when you're on those raised floors and you're down 30 at halftime, there's no place to hide. And I think our players felt that. I think Memphis played extremely well that night, and we played extremely poorly.
At the same time when you get this deep into the tournament, there's just so many things that can happen. I don't think, unless you're one of those teams that brings everybody back, kind of like we did in 2000, where '99 we got beat by Duke, and that was our battle cry because we had most of the players back. This year we lost a couple of key players. So I don't know if I looked at it the same way.
I think every time you play you can learn something. I know I've learned something from my NCAA tournament rounds. Maybe the best thing I try to teach my guys is it's one and done, every play matters. I listened to Bill Self last night. For the last two weeks I've seen more missed free throws hurt a team, hurt Purdue the other night. I mean, believe it or not, in our walk through yesterday, three different times we had free throw cut outs. If anybody would have watched that, they would have said, What the hell is he doing? Sure enough, when Durrell missed the free throw, got the rebound, it might have been the difference in the game.
That's what is so hard. Delvon said it. During the year, losing a game is a big deal, but it's not one and done time. So if you can get anything out of the tournament as the years go on, as a player, as a coach, you just realize you better turn over every stone because it's probably going to be a close game most of the time, and one thing can really make a difference.
Q. Raymar's minutes have gone down in every game since the Big 10 tournament. How much can you get out of him right now? Last year you went through something with him where his attitude was down, got his mom involved. Right now is he struggling as much mentally as physically?
COACH IZZO: You know, I think he has been struggling a little bit mentally. I think going into the first, second week of January, he was one of the better players in the Big 10. I think the illness took a lot out of him from a lot of ways. One was a confidence way. It's something Ray has to get better at. Sometimes he's his own worst enemy. I think the way I coach, we could think is the coach on him too hard. The only too hard on Ray is Ray. He hasn't adjusted to figuring out that he can get of get himself lower than somebody else can get him.
He is a very good player. I still maintain that. I said yesterday or the day before, I don't know if we could win without him playing well. Well he didn't and we won. I still don't feel any different today.
When you look at a guy like Williams, who I think Raymar could at least be a good matchup for, we need Ray. Ray gives us that flexibility. Even at the end of the game, we could put him in there at the four spot and switch four people and do different things defensively.
I think the mark of great NCAA teams in general, at least the success we've had, is when you have versatile players and versatile teams. Raymar gives us the best versatility because of his ability to guard three or four different people and play two or three different positions. He's a great kid. He's a good student. He's smart. He's got to find himself a little bit. We've got to help him do that. A couple of those games, in fairness to him, he was in foul trouble big time early and didn't play for 15, 16 minutes. That, too, can have some kind of a factor in this whole deal.
Q. You said earlier the matchups are everything this time of year. You were going to play the No. 1 seed no matter what. Do you feel you might be playing the best team in the country right now?
COACH IZZO: Well, if you look at their last three game stats, what they're shooting from the three point line, 45%, what they're shooting from the field, over 50%, the number of athletes they have and the different weapons, I think you can give a good argument.
I have not seen UConn up close and personal. I saw Pittsburgh last year with a similar team. I think those are great teams. Villanova. Oklahoma I have not seen in person.
But in studying Louisville, I think they're deserving of their No. 1, No. 1 seed. They're well coached. They've got depth. They've got versatility. They've got that rotation of those guards that's almost down to a science. They've got a little bit of youth.
But, you know, one thing about this team, there's a lot of juniors and seniors that are key personnel that I think can lead a couple of those freshmen that are subs.
Yeah, I think they're definitely worthy of at least one or two of the best teams in the country. Right now, the way they're playing, it's probably the best team in the country.
Q. Back to Raymar. Are you concerned with the nose?
COACH IZZO: Yeah, just because I don't know what's gonna happen. I don't know how it will be when we put the mask on him. I don't know how he'll adjust to that. I don't think anybody does. To have to adjust to it in one day is kind of an issue.
But what we got to get out of Ray, he's got to give us what he can give us. It might affect his shooting, I don't know. It shouldn't affect his defense, his rebounding, his ability to guard people. He's a very good passer and he's smart enough to know how to get into seams against their pressure and against their zone.
So, you know, you're asking me a question that I can't give you a real answer just because we haven't even practiced with it on yet. In fact, they're just getting it. I haven't even seen him with it on yet to know.
But it's broke and it's broke pretty good. It wasn't a hairline. I guess it's broke.
Q. The forwards, Clark and Williams, how tough of a matchup is that for you? Can you recall two players that you've had to deal with?
COACH IZZO: You know, I think last year against Memphis, it seemed like every player they put on the floor, we had to deal with that. They were that way. And we didn't play so well.
But I think we're more ready and more equipped for things like that. I think we have, with Delvon, some athletic ability. Draymond Green has shown a good ability to guard people. With Ray, hopefully being able to play, he gives us that versatility to guard either one of those guys somewhat, even though one's a little bigger. I think he still has the strength and the ability to do that.
I think we're more equipped this year. We have some bigger guards in Durrell and Chris. We can do some switching and different things. But, you know, it's really a moot point until you play them, try to figure out who they are, what they are. As I said, it is hard to simulate their ability.
Q. I was wondering if you and Rick have battled over any of the same players recruiting wise over the years? You're able to be successful with kind of completely different styles.
COACH IZZO: I looked at Rick's roster. It's kind of all over the country. With his New York background and the fact that I think Louisville always has had a lot of players from New Jersey, we don't get into that area. We did battle over one guy one time and both of us lost. It was Chris Webber. So that was about the only time I think for the most part.
But, you know, he's done a great job recruiting the kids he gets. He's got some very talented players. Doesn't get into Michigan a lot. I don't necessarily get into the areas he recruits a lot. But I'm sure it will happen again somewhere, and right now it hasn't.
Q. With one Big 10 team left, I want to say four in the Big East, isn't that a fair gauge of the strength of the conferences or is it more of a function of bracketing and seeds and matchups?
COACH IZZO: No, no, no, no. I think in general the Big East has earned its mettle. They did all year. I don't think there's any question that UConn, Louisville and Pitt were superior teams. I give a lot of credit to Syracuse. And Villanova, I love the job Jay has done at Villanova. It's kind of fun to watch his kids play, the way they play.
But when you look at some of these other leagues, if somebody has a couple teams out, how do I say this without starting controversy, my favorite subject? You know, we've been in four Final Fours in 10 years. Three of them we've had two Big 10 teams in it. I didn't hear anybody saying how great the Big 10 was. Case closed.
Q. The size of this game tomorrow, chance to go to Detroit, playing maybe the best team in the country, how do you deal with that with your team, appreciate it but not get overwhelmed by it?
COACH IZZO: That's a lot better question. No insult intended.
You know, it will be the biggest game that I've probably ever played in just because of what you just said. For a guy like me who just loves the state, I've lived there all my life, to have that opportunity to play there is special. You know, I'm no different than a player. It's special. But at the same time I understand how hard it is.
I don't think I'm going to be feeling that pressure. I might be feeling that disappointment if we don't get there. But I'm not going to sleep tonight worrying about Detroit. I'm going to sleep tonight worrying about Terrence Williams. In other words, I'm not going to sleep tonight.
But I think it's nothing I'm going to hide. You know, I'm not going to sit there and say it's just another game, because it's not. It's not just another Elite 8 game, because I've been in a few of those. It's not. There's probably been bigger ones because if you don't get through one, you don't get to a Final Four. But this one is special because of the ultimate goal and the ultimate prize.
Q. You said Tuesday in East Lansing when we were talking about the progression of Draymond that you didn't know how much time he might see on the court because so many guys have been stepping up. Has he almost commanded more playing time through this tournament?
COACH IZZO: Yeah, I like that. He has almost demanded more. And he's done it in a good way. He's done it with his work, not with his mouth. He hasn't complained about it. He's just worked his way into the playing group. He's worked his way into the front of the playing group. He's done it with he's got some toughness to him. He competes. But he's a very smart player. I mean, he surprised me, if you want the truth. You look at him, and, as I said, we were thinking about redshirting him at the beginning of the year. Boy, am I glad we didn't.
Q. As a friend of Tubby Smith's for many years, he had the Kentucky job, you beat Kentucky in regional finals a couple times. That job itself, how good is that job right now? You know what he has to deal with the fan base, the outside stuff you have to deal with. How do you look at it as a fellow coach?
COACH IZZO: Well, I love Tubby Smith. I think he's one of the best coaches in the entire country. Maybe even a better person. You know, he's great. And he's been a great addition to our league. I'm really thrilled that he's in our league. He did a great job this year.
But, you know, I mean, I think he went through, you know, winning 30 games. I guess what I feel worst about is I do feel I'm a good friend, and yet two of those Elite 8s we beat him in games that we just as well could have lost. You know, we got lucky in both of them. The first one, they had I think a 21 4 lead. We came back. The second one, it was that triple overtime game. All I remember is Ashley Judd yelling the three, three, three was good. That was the only time I didn't like her in my whole life.
But it's a tough job because it's demanding, and expectations are high. Yet I really look at all these jobs that I don't know if there's any job that can put more pressure on a person than he puts on himself if he's really good and he's really competitive and he's really in that mold.
I don't know, you know. I feel pressure at Michigan State, you know, to maintain or even grow from what we've done. At the same level, probably not. If you haven't been there, it's hard to say.
I did not like what happened to Tubby Smith, you know, personally. But I don't know everything that happened either. I wasn't there. I just know that I'm happy he's at Minnesota, happy he's in the Big 10, and sad that now we got to play against each other two, three times a year. It's harder to keep our friendship (laughter).
Q. A few minutes ago you were talking about the experience of the tournament, how you learned to turn over every stone. You're 13 2 on the second day of weekends in this tournament. What do you attribute that to? Is that style? Fatigue of other teams? Preparation? Do you do anything different with that one day turnaround?
COACH IZZO: I think that's where my assistants, I think that's why I've had so many guys that have moved on. My assistants know the system. As crazy as this sounds, I've had some of the greatest video guys and managers known to mankind. You know, I lost one in Kevin Polga , who did an incredible job over a seven , eight year period. Jordan Ott has done a great job for me over a period. It's kind of those guys that shrink that 30 games down into 10 or 15 minute segments that we can watch before breakfast, after breakfast. With Tom Crane, my good friend and head coach at Indiana, we developed what we thought was best for us how we'd handle these one day preps.
I also have to give some credit to my football buddies. I think they do a great job with film. I just stole like everybody else. I stole from everybody I could learn from.
But a long time ago, Tom and myself and Mike Garland, we kind of came up with how we're going to do it. We had some success with it the first couple years. We maintained the same system with different personnel. I think my assistants, my video guys, my managers deserve more credit. And the players. You don't do it without good players, and good players that will trust you and will listen. My players, I think I got them fooled. Think they think I can get them through these games when there's records like that. As I always say, the players play the game.
Q. What were Goran's limitations when he arrived as a player? Is he close or has he arrived to meeting his potential?
COACH IZZO: You know, G was from Bosnia. He came over. I don't know how many exact years. He was here all of his high school years. I'd say he was a little softer, not quite as muscularly developed. But he was very skilled. He was very skilled back then, too.
I think what he had to gain was some strength, some toughness and some passion for the game. I think each year he's developed that. I thought last year, the second half of the year, he was starting to fall in love with the game. That might be surprising, but there's a lot of players that don't really love the game. When I say 'love it,' I mean they live, eat and sleep it. He's made some progress in that area. As he makes more progress, I mean, I still think he can play at another level, I really do.
He rebounds well for a guy who can't jump. He shoots it pretty well for a guy who has been injured. Worked on it all summer. Really had developed a good shooting, touched up the three point range. Lost a little bit of that when he went through his injury. But I think if he keeps working on his game, keeps developing physically, he's got a chance.
Q. You said a little softer, not quite as muscularly developed. Compared to somebody else on the team?
COACH IZZO: Compared to two things. What I think he needed to be and should be and what I think he is now. He has changed his body and his body fat, all the things that an athlete should do if he's really making progress. He spent some time in the weight room. He's not Adonis yet, but he's making some progress.
BILL BENNER: Questions for Coach Izzo.
COACH IZZO: I think we're wearing them down, what Louisville plans to do to us (laughter).
BILL BENNER: Thank you, coach.
FastScripts by ASAP Sports
BILL BENNER: We're joined by Louisville student-athletes and head Coach Rick Pitino. We'll take an opening statement from Coach Pitino.
COACH PITINO: Well, we're very excited. We were in the same situation last year and fell short of everybody's dream to get to a Final Four. So we're very excited to be playing a great Michigan State team. We realize that it will be a lot more difficult to get open shots tomorrow. We'll be playing against very intense man-to-man defense. We're going against, rebounding margin-wise, the number one rebounding team in the country. Our players understand what they're up against and we look forward to the challenge.
Q. Rick, could you discuss Samardo's development as a player in terms of where he is now and where he was when he first joined your program.
COACH PITINO: Well, Samardo was very well-coached in high school, but if he wasn't dunking the basketball, he played below the rim. That's generally a product of going against people who are a lot smaller than you.
So the first thing he had to learn is how to make moves above the rim and get over people. He's always been a good duck-in guy. So it's been a gradual, slow improvement.
He's also improved dramatically with his passing skills. That's probably his biggest improvement, is in passing. And he still has so much room for growth. He's going to become a better rebounder, a better defensive player. Next year he'll play a little more at the power forward spot offensively. He's had slow, gradual improvement from the first day of practice to now.
Q. Coach, obviously the Big East has had a great season, is still doing fairly well. What was your reaction to Louisville joining the Big East? You'd been there already.
COACH PITINO: Well, it's interesting because I'm not sure that if Louisville was in the Big East prior to coming I would have taken the job because I wanted to try something different, experience some things I'd never experienced before.
Went into Conference USA, a pretty strong conference, Cincinnati, Memphis, Marquette, DePaul was better than they've of late. When Tom said, Can you call Mike and see about us getting in the Big East, it would really help us football-wise so we could play for a national championship in football. I thought about it, and when I made the phone call, Michael said to me, Rick, Louisville will never be in the Big East in our lifetime. That was his remark. I'll never forget it, because the defections did not take place yet.
Tom Juritz, because he's so into football, he knew firsthand that the defections were coming. I said these teams may drop out. He said, I don't think so. About two weeks later Michael called me back and said Louisville is a great fit in the Big East. It was great for football for us. We got to the Orange Bowl because of it, won it. It's been much better than I ever anticipated basketball-wise because the last five years we've been the number one revenue producer in college basketball. That would not have been possible if we were not in the Big East, even though we always sold out, even though we had a lot of things go well for our program. It was much better than I ever anticipated.
Q. Coach, when we first got here you had joked around saying that you hoped Boston was more interested in your son than you. Do you think your son is ready for his first head coaching job? What was it when you were at the same age when you were ready?
COACH PITINO: I was only joking. It was just tongue-in-cheek.
Q. Do you think he's ready?
COACH PITINO: Do I think he's ready? You know, it's like anything else, he's young but extremely experienced. I'm real proud of him. I think all three of my assistants are ready to be head coaches.
Richard is very unique because when he was in college, he didn't go through what everybody else went through. He went through his first two years as an assistant varsity coach at St. Andrews as a college student. His next two years he worked for Tim Welch as a graduate assistant while he was in college. He had four years of coaching. Then he went to Charleston to be a GA and went to Northeastern as a full-time, to Duquesne as a full-time. So he's young. If somebody wants a young assistant, he's certainly capable of doing the job.
But that's if they want it. To tell you the truth, as I was saying tongue-in-cheek, he's, I think, the best young recruiter in the country. He's doing things for our program. I would be really upset at him if he left, to take a head coaching job, and I may just cut him strictly out of the will (smiling).
Q. Terrence, can you talk about the development of Samardo, not just him, but Terrence Jennings.
TERRENCE WILLIAMS: Uhm, my perspective would probably be different than Coach P, because he's the coach.
But Samardo, he's always been good to me when he came. The way he catches the ball and how long his arms are, it helps out a lot. As far as ducking in players, he's strong, so can't get around him. I tried to guard him before also, and it doesn't work.
The little things like the rebounding, he knows that he has to pick that up. But he came in, you know, one of the best high school players in America, All-American, all that, and he still wanted to work. You know, I never seen a guy that was so young stay after and always want to shoot jumpers at the end of practice and play one-on-one and get better. He wanted to learn more. You know, he wasn't big-headed. That's what I liked about him.
Terrence Jennings was probably one of the worst as far as shooting-wise, like foul shots, on the team, and became one of the most reliable foul shooters. So his growth has came about well this year. He blocks shots, good jumper, good rebounder. Shows you how much the growth is from high school to college in one year. These guys are going to be great players in the future.
Q. The Michigan State players were talking about the War drills they do, literally 10 on 10, put on football pads. I wonder what's the toughest drill you do?
ANDRE McGEE: Oh, man, toughest drill? It's hard to think of anything that can simulate that. But our practices are just like full-bore games. Coach doesn't say 20 to 30 minutes in between practice to sit down and go through long dissertations of talking to us. Our practices are up-and-down, fast-paced. We're pressing the whole time. It's just like a game, playing every day. So that's how we get used to, you know, our game style of play. We just get after it every single day.
EARL CLARK: Same thing Andre said. We come to play. We come every day in practice. We just go hard. We don't put no football pads on, but we got some tough guys and we gonna be ready.
Q. Kalin Lucas obviously is a very gifted ball handler. Is the idea of your guys pressure to maybe not necessarily turn the game in the first 10 minutes, but the cumulative effect, the aim is to ultimately prevail? Michigan State seems to have pretty good stamina.
COACH PITINO: Yeah, I think it takes its toll many different ways. Sometimes it speeds up the tempo of the game. Sometimes it allows you to have your run in the middle of the first half. Sometimes it wears people out for the last 10 minutes of the second half.
But, you know, I told the guys today when they look at Michigan State, they're looking at Pittsburgh. We try to identify all the time with a Big East team someone we're playing. And, you know, Michigan State reminds us of Pittsburgh. They're a great rebounding team, great defensive team. They're fundamentally extremely sound.
So, you know, our guys have great respect for everyone. They know what they're up against. The shots are not easy. Don't give you a lot of open looks. So we've got to make sure we take high-percentage shots. There's so much at stake right now. So no matter who you're playing right now, you're going to play a great team. The stakes are so high. We were in this last year.
Q. Jerry, the Michigan State players were talking about how they look forward to playing against your style, running a little bit. What do you think when you hear that?
JERRY SMITH: We like that. Michigan State, they like to slow it down a little bit. But if they want to play the up-tempo style, we're definitely up for that. We like to get on a run, pressure people. That's what we do. That's great for us.
ANDRE McGEE: I think the advantage we have of playing in the Big East, you play against so many different styles, which allows us to be game for anything. So however the game is played, we're able to adjust to it. So, you know, we're ready for it.
Q. Rick, twice before in Elite games '92, '95, you lost. Next year you went back and went to the Final Four. When you have a team that close, do you learn things from a game like that that you can apply the next year to improve?
COACH PITINO: I think it's indicative of last year. We played for the Big East championship at Georgetown on the road and we lost. This year we played at West Virginia and won. Last year we played -- it was a very difficult environment. I thought our guys did a terrific job last year. They played -- I don't believe North Carolina left the state. I don't think they left their backyard actually. I don't think they even had to bring their toothbrush. And we played in front of 19,000, 18,500 Tar Heel fans. So we remember that. That's no excuse for losing certainly. But we were up against it.
This year these guys finished the No. 1 seed. But they know regardless of whether it was Kansas or Michigan State, they knew they were going against a great basketball team. We've got tremendous respect for what Michigan State does. Regardless, Michigan State is able to play fast as well. They're very good on the break, very underrated on the break, very good in transition. Any time you rebound the ball as well as they do, they're going to be good in transition. Our guys know it.
It's going to have to come from more than Earl and T. Will. The ones, twos and fives are going to have to step up and rebound the ball.
Q. Rick, can you talk about your relationship with Coach Izzo. He said he called you when he was entertaining about going to Atlanta a few years back. Can you talk about some of the advice you gave.
COACH PITINO: I've always had great respect for what he does. He has a lot of fun coaching. His players play real hard. You know, he's always in demand any time you hear a job open. He's on everybody's wish list. So he carries himself with great dignity. He has terrific integrity about the way he runs his program. They're always fundamentally sound, always knocking on the door of a Final Four.
I thought he would have been a really good pro coach as well, but I'm really pleased he stayed in the college game because the college game needs people like Tom Izzo.
Q. Samardo, you heard a couple people remark about your development. What would you say you're doing better? You struggled against Connecticut. How are you different since then?
SAMARDO SAMUELS: Every day I come to practice, I try to learn something new, you know. This year the biggest challenge for me has been rebounding. In the college game, it's a little bit different. It's a little bit more challenging for me I think.
Like right now, every time I go out there on the court, it's a tournament, it's not a regular season, so I know I have to rebound. I just try to do that my best every game. You know, even I don't get the rebound, I try to box out or do something to help my team get the rebound.
You know, post up as deep as I can in the line, give my team a scoring option down low.
Q. Coach, Louisville has struggled on the second day of the weekend over the years. The style of play, the up-tempo, do you ever worry your team may be worn out for that second day?
COACH PITINO: What are you referring to when we struggled? I never knew we did that. Do you have a specific time that we struggled? What are you referring to? Are you referring to a specific game?
Q. Not necessarily a specific game. Just maybe as much in control of situations. The record isn't necessarily as strong on the second day of the weekends.
COACH PITINO: When was that, though, that you're alluding to?
Q. Just an overall record.
COACH PITINO: I don't know how to answer that because we've been to a Final Four, we've been to Elite 8s. I don't think you have any basis for saying that. I don't mean to be rude. I just don't know what you're referring to.
I think maybe what you're referring to is do pressing teams get tired with one day's rest? Maybe you mean that. And we pressed all three days at a Big East tournament non-stop and won the Big East tournament.
So I really think that, you know, we go hard in practice and we don't waste a lot of time. I believe sometimes during this time of year teams can get out of shape because they lay around hotels, they don't work real hard. We worked extremely hard getting ready for Arizona. We're in very good shape right now. We haven't lost our conditioning.
Sometimes the 8 through 13 lose their conditioning. I think that we're in peak shape right now. We don't go a long time. Today we didn't even use our hour and a half. We didn't have to.
I think we have a little bit of an advantage in that area. I think that our record in tournament play speaks for itself.
BILL BENNER: Gentlemen, we will dismiss you to individual breakout rooms. We'll continue with questions for Coach Pitino.
Q. Terrence Williams said growing up he wanted to play football. Could you ever see him playing football? What kind of athlete would he be out on the football field?
COACH PITINO: I imagine he'd be a great tight end because he's so strong. He's 6'6". He jumps great. Probably could be a wide receiver, too. But I'm glad he didn't play football. He's tough enough to, though.
Q. Somewhat surprising you and Tom Izzo have never coached against each other. Are you looking forward to matching wits and styles with him?
COACH PITINO: You know, it's an interesting thing. I never think of another coach. I think of a style that the coach represents. And I've got so much respect for what they do and how they do it, how they run their program.
So, yeah, we are looking forward to playing them because it means going to a Final Four, needless to say. But we know that every basket's going to be very difficult. They give you -- they don't give you good looks.
Last night we had a lot of great looks because we were going against a zone. This game, we will not go against a zone. Maybe it will change up a little bit. But we're going to go against very intense man-to-man. They don't like giving up second shots.
They played a terrific game and hung in there because Kansas had the lead most of the game. So I think what Tom represents, we look forward to going against because it epitomizes everything, I believe, as a coach in what he does. It will be a great challenge for us.
Q. Having coached Kentucky, with that job open now, what sort of personality traits or qualities are necessary for someone to go down there and be successful?
COACH PITINO: Well, Kentucky's a very unique job. I'm sure it's very similar to Notre Dame football and Alabama football. I say this last time around, although I did speak to people there, I'm not naming the coach, and it's none of my business, but I'll stick my two cents in, okay? For me, last time around, Billy Gillespie is a terrific coach. I would have immediately hired either John Pelphrey and Travis Ford last time around. Here is my reason for. My first choice would have been Pat Riley. I don't say that in jest. He would have been my first choice because he's a Kentucky basketball player.
It's such a unique job that you need to win over the fans. You need to win the press conference right away. The reason Pelphrey and Travis, and I don't say this because I love both guys dearly as ex-players, I think they're brilliant young coaches. And Jeremy Foley, the AD of Florida, called me when Billy Donovan was at Marshall. He left me and went to Marshall. And I told Billy not to take the Florida job. The program was decimated. Lon left the Final Four team. They had no players. They were going to dwell in the cellar of the Big East. I convinced Billy not to take that job. At that time he listened to me.
I got a phone call 10 minutes later after I hung up from Billy from Jeremy Foley. He said to me, Rick, I understand you're talking Billy out of taking this job. I said, I don't dictate what Billy does. I gave my opinion. I think your talent is not there. I think it's going to take a long time. And I think he's got a great future. He said, Speaking of that, let me ask you this question. In three years from now, if Billy Donovan would stay at Marshall or wherever he's at, if I said to you in three years Billy Donovan will be one of the best young coaches in the game of college basketball, how would you answer me? I said, I agree with you 100%. He said, Okay, so why don't I give him a seven-year contract, give him the three years, and in four years, and you call him up and tell him I'll hire him, I'll give him everything he needs. I'll never forget that. I called Billy up and I said, I think you're going to work for a great man, Billy, I'd take the job. He did. And in three years, Billy was one of the bright young stars in the game.
If you said to me right now in three years who will be one of the bright young stars in our game, I would say, without reservation at all, that John Pelphrey or Travis Ford would both be young stars in the game. On top of that, they are beloved by the Commonwealth of Kentucky and all their fans, what they call Big Blue Nation. So for anybody, it's a big adjustment. For those guys, it's not. Everybody looks for these marquee names, big names. I think football got really smart. Instead of looking for the marquee names, they went after guys that can really coach and really recruit. It takes a little bit of homework.
But those two guys played for me. They're tremendous young coaches. I don't care where they're at, they love Oklahoma State, love Arkansas, but those two guys, you cut them open, and it spells UK. That's what I would do. But I have no -- it was a long dissertation for a very easy question. Last time around I thought that's what they should do, because three years from now they're going to have one of the bright young coaches in the game. Everybody loves though guys for what they represent. You could take the whole nation, myself, Tom Izzo, anybody else into the equation, those two guys would be better than all of us for the job.
That's my two cents that lasted 20 minutes. Thank you.
Q. You've had tremendous success in college basketball, Final Fours. What do you credit that success to? Is it fortunate to have great players, a will to win?
COACH PITINO: I think it's so many things. When you build a program, you have to build a brand first of all of what you're all about. Tom has done it at Michigan State. We believe we're doing it at Louisville. You build it with understanding what 'team' is all about. I'm a big believer in all the philosophies that Bill Russell preaches that the only statistic that's important is the final score and the only thing that's important is what you're representing.
And we tried to do that from day one. We try to have a work ethic second to none. We try to stay humble and understand that we can be beaten on any given night. When we lose, we never make excuses. We give the other team credit.
It all starts with recruiting. We understand when you're a pro coach, you understand why you win and why you lose, it's the guys on the floor. For me, coaching eight years of professional basketball was great because it taught me so many things of why you win and why you lose. So we try to recruit quality people who understand the things I just mentioned. It's connecting the dots to so many things that produce a winner, a consistent winner.
Q. A lot has been made of you coming from the Big East, the grit of the Big-10, the quality you played against. Not to take anything away from that, do you think that's at all a little overrated? Michigan State is coming off a great win over a Kansas team. You handled the Arizona team. When all is said and done, how much is that going to really matter?
COACH PITINO: I think when you get to the Elite 8, you're right 100%, it really doesn't matter.
I think the Big East this year was just tougher than any time in the Big East since its inception. It was just a tough, tough league, a meat grinder. So we're prepared for it. Next year the Big East will not be. It could be the PAC-10 next year or could be the ACC. It changes. It's cyclical.
So at this point in time, it doesn't help us the fact that, we're in the Big East, that means we're going to beat Michigan State, or they're in the Big-10, they're going to beat Louisville. It's two teams that have great respect for each other. We're going to go at it and see who wins.
Q. Terrence Jennings has come in the last few games and given you bursts of put-backs, blocked shots, energy. How good is he getting?
COACH PITINO: It's very difficult to gauge because he's such a bad practice player that you never expect him to be great in games. He does things that shock us.
That's not a knock on Terrence about being a bad practice player, because most freshmen are. Samardo is the exception to the rule. It takes every player I've had a Louisville, with the exception of maybe Taquan, one or two other guys, have not been good practice players as freshmen because they don't really understand how to work hard. But T.J. comes into games and does things we never see in practice. It's startling for us. He's so much different, his game, than Samardo Samuels. He's quicker, more of an explosive jumper. Samardo is better at other things. It's a two-headed monster as freshmen that really makes us go.
Q. Coach Izzo was talking about he felt like his program was maybe still a cut below the 'blue bloods' of college basketball.
COACH PITINO: You're saying Michigan State is or us?
Q. Michigan State is. Looking at what he's been able to establish there, how would you rate where they are as a program?
COACH PITINO: I put Michigan State top seven programs in the country over his tenure. You know, I think Louisville is up there. Certainly Kentucky and North Carolina and Duke are up there. Connecticut and Georgetown, they're all up there. So it's top eight or 10 without question. Great, great program. That's why they're always knocking on the door for a Final Four.
You know, sometimes you got to wait for your talent to get in the junior/senior class before you truly prosper. I didn't mention Indiana, but they've been a little down. Obviously, Indiana from a traditional standpoint is one of the great programs in college basketball. I'd put them in the top 10 along with the rest of the great programs, Kansas, and now Memphis is building their legacy in modern times as a top 10 program.
Q. You mentioned Bill Russell. Your players would say you don't have to give the Bill Russell speech any more, you can just say his name, they could probably give it. Are there other speeches you found yourself giving this team the most or places you keep going to reinforce things with them?
COACH PITINO: You know, we talk every day about something different in short stints. I probably quote Bill the most because he epitomizes -- he's the greatest team winner. When you watch him talk, it's not ego, it's team ego. The only statistic that matters is the final score. He told my team with the Celtics a fascinating things with Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt Chamberlain made him a bet. Celtics were winning championships. He bet him a thousand dollars he couldn't average 20 points a game. He said, You're on, Wilt. A thousand dollars back then, if you can all think back, probably a hundred thousand today, whatever it would be worth. Whether they would have paid each other or just a gentlemen's bet, I don't know. He called them up in August, said, Wilt, the bet is off. I'm going to send you a check. He said, don't send me a check, I knew you couldn't do it. He said, No, I can do it, but Cousy just announced his retirement. We got a hot-shot rookie coming in named John Havlicek. I would take away from their game and hurt the Celtics if I averaged 20, so I'm going to send you a check. They laughed about it. That's exactly what he's all about, it's always team.
So I quote him quite often because, to me, he's what represents a winner. If you had to have a winner's picture in the dictionary, Bill Russell would be next to it. It's just about the team with him. That's all we try to preach. I always bring up that Florida is the only team with three top 10 picks in the history of the NBA draft. Not one person averaged more than 13 points a game. Eight years in an NBA war room, not one time with all the scouts around, all the great scouts and great minds in the war room, nobody ever asked, What did they average per game? Can he shoot? Can he block shots? How many rebounds per minute? Turnover ratio? Nobody was ever interested in how many points he averaged per game.
When you talk about business, you talk about winning, you don't talk about points.
Q. Do you feel Tom gets his due? Talking about top coaches in college basketball, it will be Krzyzewski, your name thrown out there.
COACH PITINO: Well, every job opening that ever comes, he's No. 1 on everybody's wish list. I don't hear Coach K's name being named for Kentucky, all these other jobs. Maybe they think he's a little secure, wouldn't leave.
I put him up there with all these coaches. There's no better than Tom Izzo in our game. He's on everybody's wish list. Nobody can pry him away. Nobody probably ever will pry him away. I hope not for Michigan State, because they've got truly one of the great ones.
Q. Teams tend to react sometimes differently to losses at this level. When you lost last year, can you talk about how your team reacted and if it was different from other teams you've coached in the past.
COACH PITINO: React to what?
Q. To losses at this kind of level.
COACH PITINO: You know, the one thing I've learned, and for me the NBA was an invaluable experience from a learning experience. You know, we won a lot with the Knicks, and I loved it, being a young man that grew up in New York City. Then we lost with the Celtics. I learned both from winning and losing so many different things. The NBA was just a fabulous learning experience for me, especially the two years I was with Hubie Brown as an assistant.
What I learned when you lost is, stop dwelling on the loss and give credit where credit's due. So many times when you lose a game, maybe not publicly, but privately you blame the officials. You make excuses to something else. The one thing I've learned from the NBA is just give the other team credit.
We lost to Western Kentucky in the beginning of the year. Everybody just couldn't understand it. I said, Look, they were better than us that night. They outplayed us. You weren't up for the game. No, we were up for the game. Maybe you weren't as prepared. No, we prepared our asses off. They were better than we were that night. They deserve all the credit.
As it turns out, as I'm watching the NCAA tournament, Western Kentucky was a hell of a basketball team, as well as Minnesota. So you just lose. On any given game, if it's not a series, you can lose. We could have lost to Siena very easily. We certainly can lose tomorrow. If we do, we'll be disappointed, but we'll give all the credit where credit's due, and that's to Michigan State.
I think that's where people missed the boat a little bit. The other team prepares, works hard, has their style. So we don't let losses bother us. We try to figure out why we lost, try to make the corrections, but still understand that the other team's damn good.
BILL BENNER: Thank you.
End of FastScripts