Gonzaga-Akron Quotes, March 18
March 19, 2009
COACH FEW: Well, we are obviously very excited to still be playing this time of year. We certainly don't ever take it for granted when you see as many great programs that are out there that didn't make it to the tournament this year.
These guys have had a heck of a year and obviously we want to try to keep it rolling and take this as far and deep as we can. I think when we're playing the way we're capable of, as we have the last couple of weeks this season, I think that's something that we can do.
But obviously it's a one-and-done deal if you're not ready to go. And every team in this thing has earned their way in. And Akron is, after watching them on tape, the more you watch them the more impressed I certainly have become. I don't think I've ever in 20 years of watching game tape have I seen a team that plays that hard. So I think that's going to be a real challenge for us to match their intensity, match their physicalness and just how much energy they play with, especially at the defensive end.
Q. How exciting is it to be here in Portland? The first time they've had the tournament here in over 30 years. How exciting is it to be at this stage right now?
MATT BOULDIN: The NCAA tournament is the best time of the year for most college sports fans, but, yeah, being down here in Portland is great. A lot of Zag fans down here, a lot of people from Spokane got to make this trip.
Yeah, I love Portland, I think it's a great city. Mostly of the support for the Zags is really apparent down here and it's really going to hopefully benefit us.
Q. Do you guys feel like wherever you play you have sort of a following or some sort of support no matter -- you guys are kind of a national program, I would say.
JOSH HEYTVELT: I definitely feel like we have a lot of fans across the entire country and even across the world. I think it's great that we can be so close to home, which will give us a good fan base. The last couple of years we've had to travel pretty far across the country, and that is really fortunate for us that we can be so close to Spokane. And we're going to have a great fan base, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow.
MATT BOULDIN: Yeah, I think we do kind of have a large following across the country, which is awesome. I was down in New York this past summer and I met just as many Zag fans down there as I have anywhere else. So, yeah, it is nice to have a big following.
Q. Akron kind of has a good habit of forcing turnovers, their defense is pretty good at that. How do you guys try to protect the ball? How key is that to protect the ball and ball control in this game?
MATT BOULDIN: It's huge for us. I think we just really need to slow down and kind of execute what we were trying to do. Yeah, really just slow down. You can't get in any rush. And turnovers has been one thing we've focused on all year, trying to cut down on.
And like you said, they're great at forcing them. So really slow down, execute, be strong with the ball. I think they foul a lot is what I was told. But, yeah, just be strong with the ball. We just need to go in there prepared, ready for battle, really.
Q. This isn't your first dance, your first time in the tournament. How high are your expectations this year?
JOSH HEYTVELT: I think we can go as far as any other team in the country. I think it's really a balanced tournament so everybody really has a good chance of doing big things. I think we just have to be focused and come out and play our game. I think we have just as good a chance as any to go deep in the tournament.
MATT BOULDIN: I think our expectations are really high. I think we just can't take any game for granted. I think the last two years have really shown me that. You just have to come out and play as hard as you can every game in order to advance.
Q. Coach talked about the intensity of Akron. Does that compare to the teams in your league more so, less so or just observations on Akron's intensity.
JOSH HEYTVELT: I think they're kind of a defensive team, kind of like WSU and maybe like St. Mary's. They like to pressure you and be physical, try to get you out of your game and go at you on defense. They try to shoot lanes and steal the ball and slap and poke and they're really scrappy and they play really hard.
Q. You're a four seed this time, do you guys identify yourself as you're a program that used to be double digits a lot of years, but now you're really good seeds a lot. Do you guys identify yourselves or remember those days? You guys are in college and ten years ago is when this great run started. Do you remember when Gonzaga wasn't one of these teams that was a four or five seed kind of thing?
JOSH HEYTVELT: I think a couple of years ago we might have been like a 12, even when I was here. And I think it's awesome just to see the growth of Gonzaga over the last 10 years, 12 years. The guys before us obviously made this program into what it is and Coach Few has done a great job, along with the rest of the coaching staff to build this program. And we're not afraid to go out and play anybody in the country, to show everybody that we can be a high seeded team in the tournament.
Q. Coach, for all the accomplishments this program has had in the athletes you've had, is breaking through in this tournament the one last thing you guys need to do as a program, do you feel you need to do that still?
COACH FEW: Breaking through as far as --
Q. Breaking through as far as where your potential can take you.
COACH FEW: I think there's probably a lot of things we can still do. We've had an incredible run these last 11 years now. I'm hesitant to put all the eggs in one basket like so many people like to do with this tournament, when it's a one and done deal. These seasons are long, hard journeys, and I wouldn't take that for granted.
The fact that we've won 26 games with an incredibly difficult schedule, I think we've been averaging probably 25, something like that, year in and year out. The league championships obviously mean a lot to us. We've been to an Elite 8, we've been to several Sweet 16's. It would be great, and hopefully we will.
And I think if we keep fielding the type of teams with student athletes like these guys that can compete at the highest level, then eventually we'll be able to bust through and get to a Final Four sometime. But it's certainly not -- I don't think it's the end all to everything.
Q. You've coached a lot of great players and a lot of great teams. How does this team differ or compare or similar to other teams you've coached?
COACH FEW: Well, that's funny, that question has been asked a lot. It's difficult for me to compare team to team. It's apples to oranges, really. We've had some teams that have been incredibly guard-oriented, like Matt Santangelo, Richie Frahm, Quentin Hall.
We've had other teams that have been very inside-out oriented, Ronny Turiaf, and Cory Violette, and J.P. Batista. We've had teams that were incredibly off the charts offensively efficient, maybe with Adam and J.P. that year. And this team's niche, I think we ended up, Memphis ended up getting us in the end, is second in the country in defensive field goal percentage, which is a great accomplishment. And has great balance.
We've got a lot of versatility, we're able to do some things defensively maybe that we haven't done in the past because of our length, both inside and outside. We've got a lot of balance, we've got six guys, I think at some point in their career that have scored more than 20 in a game or two. So that's probably the most unique thing. We're not obviously a power team, but we're a pretty darned good skilled team.
Q. Can you talk about Pargo's senior year, and what he's meant to this program?
COACH FEW: He's meant everything to this program. It's been an incredible four years. He's as charismatic and engaging person that probably you'll ever coach. You know that right when he gets in the building. You can hear him, even up in my office when he comes rolling in down through the corridors of the arena. He's very positive, a very energetic, incredibly resilient, he's probably missed one or two practices in four years. So he's as tough as they come. I think he made an incredible sacrifice to come back this year.
He was going to get drafted and yet weighed out where he was at and what he wanted to accomplish and what he wanted to do with this group of guys. It hasn't been perfect. I don't think it's been exactly the way that he scripted it. But yet here he is.
As I always tell them and tell all our guys, the No. 1 statistic for a point guard, especially in our program, but I think anywhere, is wins and winning championships and getting your team in the NCAA tournament. This is his fourth one now as point guard and probably right now he's playing as good as he's played all year, including when we were in Orlando, when he was MVP of the Disney Classic down there. So hopefully he can end what's already been a great career with a long run in the NCAA tournament.
Q. Can you point to a turning point that took Gonzaga from a really good WCC team to a team that can play with and beat anybody in men's college basketball?
COACH FEW: I don't think it was one moment in time. I think it's a culmination of things, and I think it shows itself in several different areas. I think the sustained success is one area that obviously the times that we have advanced, Elite 8, Sweet 16's, things like that, the fact that we've been able to win our conference championship 10 or 11 times during this run, but I think because of that success breeds success, it shows in recruiting. It shows in scheduling.
Our administration from our president, Father Spitzer to my AD, Mike Roth, have been unbelievable about growing the product. So during this time we built a new arena. The way our basketball program operates right now is the way every high level basketball program operates, so I think it's a lot of factors that go into that and it's been building and hopefully will continue to build.
Q. How much of a concern or is it a concern that you haven't played in ten days and what have you done to try to counteract that?
COACH FEW: Well, it's something that we deal with every year with our tournament. It's a little bit like your guys' ends a little bit earlier than most. We've stayed really competitive. We've had a lot of competitive drills in practice. We've worked really hard this week. We haven't really tapered down too much. We've scrimmaged a lot and mostly just kept things very, very competitive.
It's hard to say if we play good tomorrow or bad tomorrow if the layoff has been a good thing or a bad thing, who knows. And a lot of it is -- will be because of Akron. They're a darn good basketball team. And like I said earlier, just plays as hard as any team I've watched on film.
Q. You mentioned success breeding success in recruiting, does it also get tougher in that you're going after guys who are being sought after by bigger schools?
COACH FEW: Yeah, no question. No question. It didn't get any easier. It's allowed us to maybe get involved with maybe a higher level or certainly a recruiting situation that's much more competitive than we originally started. But again you're battling schools that have more resources than we have and probably longer tradition than we have for -- in a lot of instances.
But we try to pick our battles wisely. And then we also try -- I think the one thing that we've done is we don't lose sight of what's got us here. So we always continue to try to get some guys that know how to play basketball and appreciate playing basketball that way, instead of always just chasing a great athlete.
Q. Coach Dambrot told me many, many times that he'd like to see his program emulate, and he always mentions your program. He doesn't mention George Mason or Butler or anything like that, it's always your program. Do you know him at all, Coach Dambrot?
COACH FEW: We just got done talking at the head coach's meeting up there. We met under some different circumstances earlier this summer. He was right there at the LeBron camp when we thought Austin Daye blew his ACL. They were great, he and his training staff and everything. They took care of myself and Leon. But no, I think that's flattering that people want to be us. I think there's a danger in that, because I think every situation is unique. And we found a very unique niche that has worked just great for us.
We're a private school that, as you heard earlier, that has a following that not only just nationally, but even internationally, and with the administration, like I said, that was willing, and a great community, obviously, that it was kind of very supportive of us growing and continues to support us. So I think it's just kind of a unique deal. I think everybody has to figure out their own road map for it.
Q. Can you spend a second talking about Micah's maturation and the effort particularly down the stretch and what he's done for you in this -- particularly in this late surge?
COACH FEW: Yeah, both Micah and Josh have grown up so much over the course of their careers at our place. Josh has already graduated and working on his Masters. And Micah is set to graduate here this spring.
The biggest thing for Micah was he's never really been able to trust anybody. He's never been able to trust his teammates or just kind of the whole family atmosphere of a program. And that's the best thing that's happened here. He loves these guys and he trusts them and he stuck it out.
Everywhere else in his life he's bounced around after one year. All through high school, I think he went to six different high schools. And obviously at Kansas he left after a semester. The best thing that's happened is he stuck it out. And because of that he's had to grow up and kind of persevere through some adversity, whether it was basketball or school or just life.
It's been great to watch and it's been great to be a part of it, especially to see the end product. He's had a heck of a year for us and he's been a real key down the stretch of some very, very big games where he's hit some big shots or made big plays, including for him to be MVP of the West Coast Conference tournament I thought was a fitting tribute to just how much he's grown.
COACH DAMBROT: I think the biggest challenge that we face in the tournament with Gonzaga is simple. I think that a lot of times when you coach you can handle tremendous size and terrific -- and/or terrific skill. But the biggest problem we have with Gonzaga is they not only have tremendous size, but terrific skill and that presents difficulties for us.
Q. What concerns you most about Gonzaga?
CHRIS MCKNIGHT: I'll say the thing that most concerns me would be the fact that they're so big inside. We faced big guys all year, and rebounding has definitely been a factor for us. But I feel as though if we play like we did toward the end of the year then that can all be nullified?
Q. What about being on the big stage here?
NATE LINHART: Definitely the goal of our program heading into the end of the year we wanted to be where we are right now. The biggest thing for us right now is try not to be satisfied. We saw how much if meant to the community and all the fans of Akron. 25 years of heartbreak, and to finally make it. We wanted to keep it going for their sakes as well as ours as long as possible?
Q. Mark Few, the Gonzaga coach, said he's never seen a team play as hard as you seem to play on film. What kind of intensity in practices does that come from or that habit comes from?
CHRIS MCKNIGHT: It comes from just working so hard earlier in the year, I'd say during preseason, coach always pushes us to go hard, especially in practice, because if it comes easier in practice then it will be a lot easier in the games. And that's one thing that we concentrate on, we try to out scrap, we try to do all the little things that teams don't really like to do and playing hard is one of the things that coach always preaches to us every day. And if we continue to do that it's going to be a good game for us.
NATE LINHART: Just kind of along the same lines that Chris was touching on. It's always been our motto to play harder than the other team. Coach is always constantly reminding us that we're not very skilled or talented (laughter.) We had to find other ways to win. Playing hard is -- just goes hand in hand with that.
Q. I know you guys are focusing on preparing. Is it more important to focus on what they are going to do or focus on what you guys do best?
NATE LINHART: I think it's more important for us to kind of focus on what we do best, and that's guarding the ball and play hard. We can't worry about what advantages they might have against us, we just have to play defense like we always do and scrap and make it into a slugfest and hopefully hit some shots and hopefully it will work out for us.
Q. All your stats, like you have six guys score between 8 and 12 points or something like that, and your highest score is your 6th man. Obviously you guys work well together. What do you like off the court? Do you guys hang out and everything when you're not playing basketball?
CHRIS MCKNIGHT: Yeah, it's really like a big family. We have a lot of fun off the court. We're real young, so just having that connection and that camaraderie between the team is something we needed for us to do as well as we did this year. And I feel like that played a big part in how we did. So off the court we're just like a big old family. Coach plays with us. We mess around and just have a good time.
NATE LINHART: I agree with Chris. In my four years I've never been a part of a group of -- a team here that's been as close as we are now. And I think it has to do with just No. 1 the adversity at the beginning of the year and No. 2 everyone is closer in age and hangs out more in the past. We are a lot more tight knit than we have been.
Q. What has it been like for you to share this with your brother, getting here?
CHRIS MCKNIGHT: For me to share this with my brother is a great experience because my two older brothers didn't get a chance to play with each other. They both went to two separate colleges. It's great. I can't really explain it. It's unbelievable just for the simple fact that there's not a lot of brothers that play and get a chance to go to the NCAA tournament with each other. It's an unbelievable feeling and hopefully we can just keep it going.
Q. With all the travel and things, what worries you most about this match-up?
COACH DAMBROT: You know, there's a lot of things to be concerned about, but I think the biggest thing is we're going to play hard. We're going to compete. The biggest thing is we have to make shots to win the game. We have to defend like we've never defended. We could play great defense and they may be able to throw over the top of us or drive it to the basket or second shot us. We just have to scrap. The ball has to bounce our way a little bit. And when we have opportunities to make open looks, we must make open looks.
Q. Has LeBron shared any tips about playing at the arena, any nuances of the court, anything that might help you? He's been a terror here.
COACH DAMBROT: About the only tip he said, last time he came in here he had 51, I think. If we could get one guy to have half of 51 we'll be in good shape, I think.
Q. What would a run here and success in this tournament do for your basketball program at your school?
COACH DAMBROT: We've made tremendous strides over the last five years. Other than when Coach Huggins was there, and maybe three years when Coach Hipster [phonetic] was there, our Division 1 history so-so. Pretty good Division 2 history, but not so good on Division 1. We've become a solid mid-major program. I wouldn't say a great mid-major program. But an upper-echelon mid-major program. A run in the NCAA tournament opens doors for us.
I said all along Akron was a sleeping giant in its own right. We're close to pro sports in Cleveland. We have a big University. Our fans just have to remember how good a program it can be. Not much different than Gonzaga. With John Stockton, we have LeBron. So that is a great equalizer, to have one of the greatest players in your program and part of your program.
So a win in the NCAA tournament I think solidifies belief in the program. And continues to let the program take that next step. The NCAA tournament alone is the next step for us, but a run into the tournament would be another step.
Q. You mentioned the city and the people around the program. How much of your style of play, the scrapiness, the feistiness, just the blue color work ethic is a product of the area you're in and the kids you recruit from Ohio and those of us who know things about Ohio know the qualities those people have.
COACH DAMBROT: I think it plays a major role. Most of our team are Ohio kids and a couple of kids from the Pittsburgh area, so they've gone through the same things with the steel industry and the automobile industry. The economy in Ohio is not very good. I think we have scrappy kids. Guys that want to show that they can play. I think Ohio basketball is very good, from the high school all the way to the pro's and college. We have five teams in the NCAA tournament. That's a tribute to our state.
It's challenging when you have 13 Division 1 schools in your state. We're scrappy, there's no doubt about it. And I don't know if it's the most talented team we've ever had, but it's the team that has played the hardest, and it's the team that probably likes each other the most and probably has the highest character of any team we've had. I think that carryover, when you hit adversity, I think that character shows up.
Q. Have you ever had players like Jeremiah or Nate since the MAC championship win?
COACH DAMBROT: We have heard from quite a few of our guys, Dru Joyce, Romeo Travis, Matt Futz, just a bunch of them. And I think they all know that we were playing for them. That 45 foot bank shot two years ago is hard for those guys to swallow and they put a lot of time into the program. They're happy for us. There's no question about it. And we're happy for them because without them laying the foundation we wouldn't be here today.
Q. Can you elaborate a little bit more on the hard work of this team? You said that they're very hard working. Mark said it was the hardest working team he's ever seen on film. Is that something that comes from within them or is there something more that you're pushing them on?
COACH DAMBROT: Well, if you followed my career, I kind of have a little chip on my shoulder, also. I'm the worst male member in my family as far as basketball goes. My dad was a good player. My uncle was a great player. And I guess this is my way to kind of make my mark, so to speak. And I think we play with tremendous heart, we do. And I think we play with a chip on our shoulder. We don't always play well.
But I have a saying, and I tell them this every day, I think to me the process is more important than the results. I think the results follow when the process is correct. And the process to me is every play, every day. And this group has been the easiest group I've ever had, maybe going back to when I was a high school coach with LeBron.
I thought that group had a good attitude. But this group has needed prodding very little. And that's a tribute to them, because there's lots of times they could have quit, or not played as hard when we were 9-8. A lot of teams would have given up the ship. They kept fighting. And I think it was the culmination of those -- that every day work ethic that has really helped us.