March 20, 2009
AMY YAKOLA: Questions for the student athletes.
Q. Could you just talk about how you developed as a three point shooter. When you were growing up did you play against bigger guys?
Did you idolize somebody that shot the three? How did you develop your three point shot?
A.J. ABRAMS: I don't really just idolize a three point shooter. It was mainly just working with my dad at a young age. Kind of knowing that I wasn't going to be the biggest guy around. So just working on trying to find ways to get my shot off against bigger guys.
Q. In your class you came in with five of you guys on the team now, two in the NBA. Did you realize right away that you guys were that good? And are there any stories that you have of that class?
DEXTER PITTMAN: I think knowing coming out we were that good, because if we weren't, the coaches wouldn't have selected us. So having Kevin and D.J. there, they taught us a lot. With them being gone now, it's like we have shoes to fill, too. So I mean, we're just doing our job.
DAMION JAMES: Really just taking advantage of the opportunity. You know, we had two All Americans on our team with D.J. and k d, so just really just taking advantage of the opportunity we have to come out and play our game.
Q. How do you feel you match up against Duke?
A.J. ABRAMS: I think it's going to be a good game for both squads. I think we're going to try to get out and run. But as far as matching up, I think we can match up with them. I think, you know, just we'll have some match up advantages, and as well they can try to spread the court a little bit. But overall, it's going to be a well fought game.
DEXTER PITTMAN: I think we can match up with Duke good, because we've got players that can play any position, basically, and defend any kind of way. Like Varez Ward coming off the bench. He's like a lock up guy on defense. And also does, and Justin, and A.J. out there on the perimeter. So they make our team versatile.
DAMION JAMES: I think it's going to be areas to exploit because we have really force with Dexter. They have a lot of perimeter guys guarding inside. So we just got to take advantage of the opportunities we have with Dexter inside and trying to get them going early and take advantage of hitting the glass.
Q. I guess before the season started, if you guys thought you're going to be a 7 seed you might have been a little disappointed with that. But then you played pretty well yesterday. Can you talk about how the season is coming together, and whether you guys feel like you're peaking at the end?
A.J. ABRAMS: I think we had our ups and downs this season. You know, we had to play a lot of different styles as far as going inside, changing up the lineups a few times. But doing all that, it's going to pay off for us because we had to do so many things. It's going to help us for this tournament. So even though we had our growing pains, I think we're peaking at the right time.
DEXTER PITTMAN: I think we can play any kind of way. If that means me not being in the starting lineup or Connor being out there to have a more five out game and motion game, then we can run that. Or we can just go to a power game or just like have me, Damion and Gary out there and make it big. That's the thing about our team.
DAMION JAMES: I wouldn't say we had a disappointing season. I'd just say we went through our ups and downs. It's a lot of great teams that weren't able to make the tournament. So by us making the tournament we were pleased.
And it's good that we're coming up long at the right time with the three guys and Justin, and Varez and does, all of us coming along at the right time. We're all going to get together at the right time, and we're going to make a great run in the tournament.
Q. I just wanted to know how have you developed as a leader? Did you feel you had to step up that responsibility, particularly this year with D.J. gone? And for Dexter and Damion, just what A.J.'s meant to the program in terms of not just shooting, but the leadership?
A.J. ABRAMS: I'm not too much of a vocal person, but I know coming into the season I was going to have to kind of break out a little bit and start talking. Not getting the guys in the right position, but just saying like huddling up during games and just getting us in and out of plays like that. But I think I've come a long way just as far as talking. So I think as a leadership standpoint, that kind of helps a lot.
DAMION JAMES: He means a lot to this program, not just what he does on the court but off the court, too. He's a senior, he's going to graduate, so it means a lot to this program just in all aspects of the whole thing.
DEXTER PITTMAN: I think A.J. means a lot to the program because he's setting standards for people to come. Like the freshmen that are coming in next year, they know that when he leaves they're going to have to try to fill in his shoes. I mean, also he's set an example to be a role model for people and fans out there, too.
Every basketball camp there's a little kid out there trying to wear the sleeve, trying to be like A.J. it's kind of funny. But once he's gone all of that is going to be missed.
Q. I apologize, this is probably a dumb question and everybody in the Big 12 knows the answer. But I wanted to ask you about the sleeve.
When did you start wearing it and why do you wear it?
A.J. ABRAMS: I mean, it's not because off Allen Iverson. That's what everybody tries to think that. But actually, there is like something going on in my elbow, so if it gets hit it will blow up real big. And I get hit on it pretty much every game. So if I keep some kind of compression on it won't be as bad after the games.
Q. The stands tomorrow will be filled with North Carolina fans who will hate Duke, and who will cheer you on as if this will be a home court for you. Is that going to be kind of fun? And how might that help you guys to hear that?
DAMION JAMES: I think it's nothing like, you know, fans behind you.
But it's nothing like the Bernard fans. It's gonna be a lot of North Carolina Blue the Burnt Orange Fans. But if they don't cheer for us, that's a good thing.
DEXTER PITTMAN: I kind of find that funny because we were walking out to the locker room after the game, all the North Carolina fans were like give it to the Blue Devils and stuff. And I looked at them like okay, I thought the A&M fans were worse, but they're worse. So they said they're going to be in there cheering for us.
But either way it goes, we come out and play, whether you're against us or for us.
A.J. ABRAMS: It's going to be a fun atmosphere to play in. You don't go into a season thinking at the end of the season you're going to have North Carolina fans yelling for you but it's going to be fun.
We've just got to go out and play the game.
Q. Duke has a lot of great perimeter players, do they look long inside to you?
DEXTER PITTMAN: I just look at it as an advantage for us. If that's for me, Gary or Damion going inside, sometimes Mason, too. So, I mean, just like us they're going to have to make adjustments too, to the game.
Q. A.J., has Coach Barnes talked at all about what it means to him coming back here to North Carolina to play? And also after your freshman year, were you at all concerned that he might go to N.C.
A.J. ABRAMS: Was I concerned what?
Q. He might go to N.C. State after your freshman year?
A.J. ABRAMS: I think he's excited to be back to his roots and everything. You know, anybody would be proud to come back and show off where you're from. But as far as after my freshman year I wasn't too worried about him leaving. I think he loves Texas, loves being there, and he loves coaching.
Q. I wonder with all three of you being a lower seed, do you feel all the pressure is off you? I know you want to win and everything, but do you feel most of the pressure resides with Duke?
A.J. ABRAMS: I don't think the pressure goes off us because we're a lower seed. We still have Texas going across our jersey. So we hold ourselves to a higher standard. So no matter what the seed is, we're going to have pressure on us to go out and play well and get as far as we can.
DEXTER PITTMAN: Just like A.J. said, we still have Texas going across our jerseys, and we're one of the elite programs in the country. So we've got to go out there and play hard like we're known for.
DAMION JAMES: I think just the season doesn't really matter, because sooner or later you're going to play a really good team. I think since we got the first one under our belt yesterday now we're able to go out there and let loose and compete.
Q. I might be wrong in this assessment, but can you tell me, it seems like Damion's kind of been an X factor for you guys. When he's on you're on on, when he's off you might be a little bit off. Can you tell me a little about how his role has helped you guys?
DEXTER PITTMAN: Damion, I mean, he's like the best wing man in the country probably. I mean, well, guaranteed. He can take you inside out, he can shoot the three. I mean, it's hard to stop him if you're on another team. I mean, if I was the cope, I'd be confused. I on how to stop him defensively. I mean, that's his strength. He can rebound.
He's a great rebounder. He'll lead the team in rebounding.
A.J. ABRAMS: Like Dexter said, he's a great rebounder. He brings versatility to our team. He can play inside and out. Even if he's struggling on the offensive end as far as shooting, he does so many other things like rebounding, you know, putting fouls on the other team, getting to the free throw line. When he's doing that and being aggressive and attacking it, it makes everybody on our team better and makes everybody a better team.
AMY YAKOLA: Questions for Texas Head Coach Rick Barnes.
Q. I think A.J. Abrams is generally recognized as one of the great shooters in the nation. But what else does he provide in terms of leadership, intangibles and other things that have made him special for you?
COACH BARNES: From a coaching staff standpoint we've told our team a number of times, and actually used him throughout the season showing our players how he effects games without making shots. He's become a complete basketball player on the defensive end. He really worked hard at doing the right thing and trying to do his job on that end.
It's really remarkable how hard he plays. I guess he's averaged what, 38 minutes a game, I'm not sure what it is right now. But he really has worked very, very hard at doing not just what he does on the basketball court, but helping these guys grow as a team.
Q. There are no plans to wear black jerseys tomorrow, is there?
COACH BARNES: Unless you want to on bring them out. No, we're not going to wear black jerseys, we'll wear the burnt orange tomorrow.
Q. You haven't had success against Duke since you've been at Texas, but you've had some before at Clemson. Any particular reason for that?
COACH BARNES: No. I don't know. Obviously, they've beaten us pretty good. And we've played them in I think New York, and New Jersey. It's like Duke North, obviously. But they just beat us. They've pretty much had their way in terms of he thinking back to the game in New Jersey, we weren't very good that game. And J.J. Redick was unbelievable. It's one of those nights where he was just unstoppable.
They're a team that when they're making threes. They're obviously a tough team anyway. When they're starting to shoot the ball when they're capable of, they're a really hard team to guard.
Q. How does coaching against Mike Krzyzewski, with your experience in the past helped you, perhaps, in this particular game?
COACH BARNES: Well, I think teams are different. I think this team is different than any team that we've had probably that Mike's coached against, too. But I think there are some staples in their program that they do. I mean, obviously, every game they come out extremely aggressive to start with.
I think they're going to really apply a great deal of pressure in the first four or five minutes of the game and see how you're going to handle that. They're a team that they do a tremendous job of driving the ball, trying to create the drive and kick opportunities where if you come in and help they kick on out for the three. Baseline drives are going to look to kick over to the opposite corner. And they switch. They do a great job, which a lot of teams don't do as much switching as they do.
They probably this year of any team we've played, they'll switch more than any team we've played up to this point, and that can present some problems.
Q. If you look at your junior class and include Kevin and D.J. in that, how have they compared to any other class you've had before? And how have they dealt with the expectations of when they started?
COACH BARNES: Say that again?
Q. The junior class, if you include Kevin and D.J. in that, how have they dealt with the expectations from when they first got in?
COACH BARNES: Are you asking me if can we include those guys?
COACH BARNES: Well, that would be pretty good. We'd be a little bit different team if we had Kevin and D.J., but I think our expectations have grown over the years where our goal is no different than any team that's in this tournament that we want to play and be the last team standing. So I think we've got our program at that point. That's what's important to us.
But we've also, you know, we could talk about what ifs here, there or whatever. But there's no need to do that. But our group that we've got here right now, I don't think our expectation has changed with this group, even though we don't have Kevin and D.J.
Q. You talked the other day about what this building means to you.
Under different circumstances you might have seen more of Duke in here. Obviously, your destiny is at Texas and all that. But do you ever wonder under different circumstances what it might have been like if you had come back to the ACC at some point?
COACH BARNES: Obviously, I grew up. That was my goal to coach in the ACC. Once I got into coaching, that's the league I grew up with and watching. And I was given that opportunity at Clemson, and those were four really special years for me and good times. But obviously, I left Clemson for what I thought would be a better situation. But since then I would tell you I've never looked back. I really haven't.
Q. Duke's gone four years without going to the Final Four, and the last two years have lost in the first or second round. Do you feel like the program has lost any of its mystique at all?
COACH BARNES: Duke?
COACH BARNES: No, I don't. I go back. I was fortunate that while I was at George Mason University as an assistant coach, I got to know Mike and I know how hard he worked recruiting guys like Johnny Dawkins and Tommy Amaker, and I was fortunate to have a chance to interview with Mike back in, I think it was it was after Tommy's freshman year, I think. The way he's always treated me from those nights sitting in the gyms out in northern Virginia and knowing what he's done and what he went through to start with, and the way Tom Butter stuck with him and what he's done, it's Legendary what he's done with his program and where he's taken it. I think when you think of college basketball, you name five, six, seven schools, Duke will always be in that mix.
But, no, I don't think they've lost any luster at all.
Q. I didn't see your comments yesterday, so if this is repetitive I do apologize. When going back to your days at Clemson and having to come to Greensboro for the ACC Tournaments, was it hard being the outsider in North Carolina? And I also want to flip it around that you you know what the North Carolina fans are going to do tomorrow.
They're going to cheer for you against Duke. So is it going to be sort of a home crowd feel for you?
COACH BARNES: Well, that will be nice (smiling). You know, again, growing up in North Carolina I do know how special it is. I was one of those coaches at times that felt that when you're outside the Big Four here and having to come here and play the tournament in their backyard, you know, it's hard. Maybe they have a competitive advantage.
But with that said, I think as I've gotten a little bit older, one thing I've always thought the tournament here was the best I'd ever been a part of. The Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, Greensboro, the way this team, this town embraced it. I can remember what was most impressive was every session was sold out.
What I realized was if you're fortunate to play against some of the teams here that are close by that you are going to have a pretty good advantage, because they don't pull for each other. So I've probably changed like that.
So I think that sometimes it's best to leave well enough alone. I've always believed that the ACC's tournament should be here. I always coached here for four years, and it never went anywhere else. So I'm sure those other places do a nice job. But there's just certain things that, you know, I just know that it was unbelievable not only as a spectator, but having a chance to coach in it.
Q. Tomorrow night do you expect the home court?
COACH BARNES: I don't know. I hope so. I don't know. We'll take all the help we can get. It goes back, I think what happens will get done between the lines.
But it would be nice, obviously.
Q. Your players refer to the ups and downs of this season. What were the downs? What frustrated you about this team at times? And how frustrating was it to have the inconsistency? For you?
COACH BARNES: Just that, inconsistency. Just not knowing from one game to the next. We knew we had guys that have the ability to do certain things. As a coach, that's what you want night in and night out. You want to know what you're going to get. We were just inconsistent.
I think a little bit, too, where we had built our program to the expectations and maybe players feeling like somewhere along the line they weren't living up to those expectations. But that part never concerned me as much as the fact that we just couldn't get the consistent effort what we were looking for on the court. Not so much effort, I wouldn't say effort. I'd say more results. Because I think this group is giving us the effort.
I can't look back and tell you at any point in time they didn't try to give us the effort that we needed. It's probably maybe more the mental side of it that I didn't feel like we were being as consistent with.
Q. The tournament is celebrated lots of times because of the Cinderella's. But there are a lot of McDonald's All Americans, Duke, North Carolina, you've got a lot of high level recruits, LSU has Tasmin Mitchell. How important to get deep in this tournament is it to have that kind of talent?
COACH BARNES: As you continue to go, there is one common denominator, and it's talent. I don't think any coach would disagree with that. The further you go in this, you need talented players that can make some plays, because the game is such a fine line.
The possessions, you know, you're fighting for those one or two possessions along the way. As you continue or even as you start, you've got to, and probably the biggest difference in our team this year and last year is the fact that D.J. Augustine, that's what he did for us. When things broke down, he was able to go create something.
As the season has gone on, that's where we have improved some. But early that's where we bogged down a little bit having a guy that can do that. So there is no doubt that it's a player's game as you continue in March.
Q. You've got this new weapon inside with Dexter. Yet Duke seems to be really good not letting people put the ball where they wanted. What is it they do so well over the years with their defense?
COACH BARNES: Well, they pressure a lot. They work hard at denying wings. They'll get into the ball. I think it's almost like they want to see if you have the ability to go and beat them one on one. They're going to try to run you out of in I kind of offense. You try to play horizontal with them, it's really hard to get the ball going side to side.
You've got to go vertical and attack right at the middle of the lane. I'm sure with Dexter, they could create a situation to try to pull him away from the basket defensively to see if we're going to what we're going to do or maybe ball screens or how we're going to help on certain kinds of screening and actually want to try to set up.
Or see what goes on with him.
So I'm sure those are some of the things that we have to be ready to deal with in terms of, not only Dexter on the offensive end, because we've got to make sure that we are strong with the ball, that we can put the ball where we need to put it, but we've got to think about the defensive end, too. How we can best use him.
Q. You've had pro point guards in your class. How would you characterize your point guard situation this season?
COACH BARNES: I think if does would shoot the ball, I mean, Dogus, yesterday I was surprised because it's the first time that I've had some of our local writers ask me about him, and I said I wasn't concerned at all about him being nervous, because I've watched him go into some tough environments and play well. He definitely was nervous yesterday, and it showed up because we came out and absolutely did not establish what we wanted to do early in the game with our transition, and getting him going.
But the fact that he in his mindset doesn't want to shoot the ball is a little bit different. Because we've had D.J. averaged 18 points per game, or 19 points per game there. T.J. Ford, one year averaged 16, one year averaged 9. He had 9 or 10, but led the nation in assists. But Dogus, a guy that just wants to set people up, I've told him he's going to have to shoot the ball some, and he's capable of doing it.
He just has to get that mindset. This is the first time he'd tell you this, he's played and people have backed off of him. He's had to learn to adjust that even though he never shot the ball a lot. That's something that he's had to adjust to. And not being guarded. He's gotten better with it.
Q. Duke doesn't have Elton Brand or Carlos Boozer inside. Is the inside an area where you think you might be able to exploit tomorrow?
COACH BARNES: Well, I think we have to try to establish what Dexter does in there. I don't think it's any question that we've got to do that. It wouldn't surprise med to see them try to get up and down the floor. Again, get him away from the basket some on the defensive end.
I think that he will get the ball. I think that they'll probably come down and offer some kind of help, however they decide to do it.
Because, again, he's a tough match up for anyone. He gets his position and it's going to be really important that he does establish position.
But I'm sure they know that that's an area we're going to try to go after.
Q. I'm intrigued. Tell me about the interview with Mike?
COACH BARNES: I don't know if he remembers it. But it was a really I got to know Red Jenkins, Tommy Amaker's high school coach. Again, when Mike would come up and I learned a lot watching Mike, how hard he worked to recruit Johnny Dawkins and Tommy Amaker. I mean, it seemed like every time he had a free moment, because I was right there at George Mason, and I was out every night working the D.C., Maryland area. Obviously, northern Virginia area.
But Mike would come in and he was very gracious. But I think through Red Jenkins and Tommy Amaker, they both got me an interview with Mike.
I remember him telling me to come down. He wanted me to be casual.
What I remember is he and Mickey and they had taken me to a barbecue place here in town.
We were talking, and I remember him saying to me the one thing that concerns me with you coming back is you know about ACC basketball and just how many people are going to be wanting you to do this, do that.
You know, being from Hickory I never really spent much time in Durham.
I said, you know, Coach K, I said I don't think that that many people down here in Durham know me or any of that.
All at once, I kid you not, someone from Hickory walked by the table we were eating and Rick Barnes, what are you doing here (laughing) and I remember looking like, I don't know you. (Laughing).
A question that he asked me that I'll never forget. He said why would you want to come here, because we're just getting this thing started. But we haven't gotten it started yet, and there's a lot of people speculating about what's going to happen here. And I remember telling him I watched what you do, and I believe in you. Obviously, I wanted the job. I said I believe in what you've done, and there is no doubt you're going to get the job done.
But when he actually called me and told me he was going to go a different way, it was just the way he handled it. From the very beginning, he was honest, open about it. But, again, that's how he had always been from the time I got to know him from his time up recruiting Tommy.
Q. Can you talk about Dexter Pittman's development throughout the last few years?
COACH BARNES: Well, you know, we've been asked the question a lot why did we recruit Dexter. Because whatever his weight was, 383, 300, 400 pounds, whatever it was. The one thing you notice when you watched Dexter even at that weight was how athletic and how quick he was. You could only envision what he could be if he ever really got himself in shape.
When we first started watching him, he didn't know there was any court outside the lane area extended. He didn't know there was a wing, a wing. He just went from block to block. But he could really jump.
Believe it or not, you would not know, Dexter can really, really jump.
He can he's got great hands. He's got obviously big hands. And anything that goes in that direction he's going to catch. Then as you got to know him and you knew Coach Hatton and his family, you knew that one, you're dealing with a good person here. We said to him, if you'll buy in, there's no doubt you've got a chance to be good at this.
You know, once he got to campus the time that he spent with Todd Wright, and it really was miraculous what he did in terms of getting up in the morning and doing what he had to do. He got to where he'd call Todd and say I'm here. What can I eat? He had to change a lot of different things.
But what's really been interesting is in the last three months as we continue to watch his body continue to change. I've said before I think he's just really scratching the surface to how good a player can he be. There's not a kinder, finer person. Again, everybody pulls for him.
What took some time was for the players to take him serious. They took him serious in terms of how hard he worked to lose the weight.
But he struggled at practice at times. He'd play a couple of possessions and he'd want to come out. This year for the first time, and we've made some concessions for him, Todd did, during our conditioning workouts in the fall. He didn't quite hold Dexter to the same level that we did our other players. But this year we started out and told everybody that Dexter was going to do what everybody does, no exception. If he doesn't make times we're doing this, whatever. And practice times, we wouldn't let him out of practice. Instead of two or three possessions, we've kept him in it, and he's never once complained about it.
Q. When Coach "K" went in another direction, who did he hire?
COACH BARNES: Bob Bender.
Q. Dexter was telling us in the locker room last night he challenges A.J. to three point contests in practice. And now that Dogus hitting threes, is Dexter your next three weapon?
COACH BARNES: Actually, Dexter, he and A.J., everyone knows how close they are. But I noticed they were out there today right before we got ready to get done, and Dexter had taken A.J. over in the corner, and they were shooting threes. And I saw Dexter's go in and A.J. miss. So I'm sure that's something they'll be talking about.
We'll let him start shooting some threes. He made some strides. He caught that ball last night at the half court. He picked it up and passed it back. But a week ago he tried to dribble that ball to show off his point guard skills. But, yeah, we get a chance, we might let him step out and shoot one.
FastScripts by ASAP Sports
AMY YAKOLA: Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. I'm working on a story about the impact of conference tournaments on on NCAA. You guys have come into the NCAA off a poor ACC tournament. You know, you lost in the quarterfinals a year ago. You win the ACC this year. Is it any difference at all? Does it help in terms of building momentum confidence or does it hurt in terms you invest so much energy and time in winning the tournament? Any impact at all?
LANCE THOMAS: Well, for us, winning the ACC tournament was big. But it does give us a lot more momentum coming into this tournament. You know, we're older and more mature team. We're not worried about what our past was like or anything like that. We're living in the present. You know, from here on out, we're going to do everything in our power to make sure we keep winning games.
KYLE SINGLER: Going off what Lance said, last year to this year, we believe we're a different team. That, you know, you have a different team every year. So personally coming off a championship weekend in Atlanta, I mean, it does give the team a little confidence. You're coming off three games that you played fairly well in. I think there is a little bit of an edge that you get winning that conference championship, or a tournament.
Q. Last year the perception was that you were kind of gassed at the end. This year you played just as many minutes. Played just as hard. Yet you appear to be really fresh. What is the difference?
KYLE SINGLER: I think just having the year of experience has helped me a lot. I mean, last year was just different for me physically and emotionally. So, you go through different things that you might not expect. This year those things that I went through last year, I know what to expect. So it's different from last year. And just like you said, I feel fresh, and, you know, it's time to, you know, win tournament games for this team.
Q. You guys were a two seed this time of year, you're a 2 seed this year. But you look like a much better basketball team than you were this time a year ago. In your eyes what is the difference between a year ago and right now?
LANCE THOMAS: In my opinion, I believe it's experience. You know, we have a much older team. In years past, we didn't have as many upper classmen to basically show us the way. In my junior class, we've been through everything. We've been there when things weren't going well with. We've learned from it. You know, playing under one of the best coaches in college basketball, he's shown us the light that, you know, we are a better team.
You know, not to look back. You know, keep moving forward. Keep doing the things that we're doing. We're preparing well for every game that we're playing in. So taking that, and take the momentum we've gotten from the ACC tournament is going to be very big for us.
Q. Can you talk about tomorrow's match-up? Texas is pretty well rounded. They've got a big man in the middle. Can you particularly talk about dealing with Pittman and then also the sort of well roundedness of their offense in general?
LANCE THOMAS: Oh, yeah, it's going to be a handful. They're a very big team. You know, Pittman's a great post player. So, you know, we just have to basically do everything in our power to try to keep him off the boards. Be relentless. Going up for the rebounds with two hands. You know, making them run. Things of that nature.
You know, especially if they have a great perimeter, too. A.J. Abrams is one of the best shooters in the country. So we can't focus in on just the post. We have to play an overall game. And we're going to need everybody. Guys that haven't been playing as much of, we're going to need them. You know, Zoubek is a guy who didn't play much yesterday, we'll need his big body tomorrow. Everybody's going to have to bring it. The time is now.
Q. I know you were talking about how y'all have been through everything the last couple of years. Really, the last couple of years you played nothing but close tournament games. To have a pretty one-sided victory in the tournament. How much of a confidence boost is that for you going into the rest of the games?
LANCE THOMAS: It's a huge confidence boost. Just because like you said, we have been in close games. And, you know, it has helped us grow as a team. Being in close games like that, it gives you an edge of what to do at the end of the game to win.
So you know, coming off a game where we did win pretty big, it's a confidence booster for our team. Everybody is in the mindset believing that we can win. Like I said, not thinking about the past. We've been playing really well. Very good basketball recently. So just taking that and running with it will be big for us.
Q. Because Duke hasn't gotten out of the second round the last two years and there's been a drought of a Final Four for four years, does that amuse you when people talk about Duke falling off? Or does it anger you? What is your reaction?
KYLE SINGLER: Well, you know coming into a program with a rich tradition, a program that has success that Duke has. I mean, you're just kind of born into it. I mean it's something that you have to -- just because you're here, it's something that you have to take. You know, we place ourselves in situations with high expectations. You know, we feel that we're good enough to meet those and excel.
You know, when you guys, media say that the last couple of years we haven't gone past the second round or gone past the first round, haven't made a Final Four. We believe each year is different. You know, this year is different. It's a different team. We're trying to leave a different mark this year.
LANCE THOMAS: Just being here. I've been here longer. I was here when we lost in the first round. You know, it's funny to me just because people are saying that we're not living up to the Duke tradition and things of that nature. But the team that we are is the team that we're going to be.
In the past, Duke teams have no effect on what we're doing right now. We're the ones in there practicing going hard at each other every day. We're the ones that are laying our blood, sweat and tears on the line. You know, it's time to just be this Duke team.
Duke teams of the past, like I said, have no bearing on what we're doing. So, us just getting in the right frame of mind to keep moving forward with what we have now. You know, that's key for us. Not feeling any pressure of a past Final Four team.
If we do everything we're supposed to do and keep playing hard, there is no doubt in my mind we can get there.
Q. Talking about you staying fresh this year, you've got two other teammates that can go for 25 on a given night. Has that been a different grind for you knowing that the way the defenses are defending you guys as a whole, maybe the focus isn't as much on you as it was a year ago because Gerald wasn't giving you those kind of performances, and Jon wasn't giving those performances, but they are now?
KYLE SINGLER: Yeah, just going back to what Lance said, I think this team has more experience, just all together. And it's really just not about Jon, G and myself. Looking back on on last night we had six guys in double figures, that was big for us. We're going to have to have those type of performances. Like Lance gave us a huge lift on the boards, and Nolan coming back. He's been playing very well for us, too.
But those are the type of players that help us. We feel Jon, G and myself will be there every night. I think for the most part of the season our supporting roles have been there, and that's been a big key for us.
AMY YAKOLA: We're joined by Duke University Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Just our teams no injuries. Excited to play Texas, and open for questions.
Q. Just wondering what jumps out when you look at A.J. Abrams on tape? What is it that separates him from most other, not just shooters, but players overall?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, his quick release. He doesn't need the dribble. He reminds me a lot of how J.J. shot, and they can shoot while they're turning. They get into a rhythm. So he doesn't need a large window of opportunity to get a shot off. And he's right there. I mean, even his misses are right there. Just one of the most dangerous shooters, I think in our game right now in college basketball.
Q. Similar question about Dexter Pittman. I don't know if you guys faced a guy quite so big and athletic. What kind of challenges does he present?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, I remember when I was with the dream team in 1992 in the Olympic team as an assistant. Talking to Barkley and saying why don't you blockout? And he says, I don't have to blockout, I have my space. I never was with a guy who had a space. And he was right. You know, he has his space. Pittman's like that, he has his space. You're not going to knock him out of his space. You're -- he has his space.
He's been a really good player for them since inserting him in the starting lineup, they've developed a little bit of a different style of play. But to be a double-double guy there sometimes very high double-double, is huge. He's extremely difficult to defend down there.
Q. Rick talked about when he was an assistant at George Mason he was interviewed for a job with you. And he's pretty ticked off -- no, I'm teasing?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: He's beaten me enough times since then to make up for it.
Q. But not at Texas. I was wondering if you could remember the interview session and starting out with Rick?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I don't really. I'm too old to remember all those things. But I've known Rick for a long time. Really like him, consider him a good friend, and really one of the outstanding coaches we have.
I say that because he's constantly evolving. He's constantly getting better. I think if you trace his career and where he's been at, those programs have always gotten better. And he's gotten better along the way. He's a heck of a competitor.
But really good guy. Down to earth guy. He understands like most of us in on our game, that the game's bigger than all of us and we just should do our part and get along and try to become the best we can be.
Q. You talk about Pittman, and they know they have this weapon inside. But I know they're concerned with how good your team is not letting the ball go to where people want it to go. How long did it take you to develop that philosophy, and who influenced you with that? Just the whole thing of getting people out of what they want to do?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, when I was in college or if you call being at West Point being in college, but playing for Coach Knight, I just wondered about what it was like to play defense and intense defense. As the point guard really trying to understand the whole game plan. I just tried to do that throughout my coaching career and putting pressure on the ball, denying passes, having an active help side, and not doing too many other things that would then ruin the foot work and the instinctiveness of that defense as a result of doing too many other things.
But Coach Knight, by far, was the biggest influence.
Q. You guys were a number 2 seed last year, you're a number 2 seed now. But it looks like you're a much better basketball team than you were at this point a year ago. Why is that?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, really last year the thing that -- last year doesn't make much difference about this year except the fact that a lot of those kids were on the team last year, and they got experience. Not just in the NCAA Tournament, but just the experience of playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and playing in our programs.
So we're an older, more experienced team. And we are a better team. I mean, we're a very good team, we're not a great team, but we're a very good team. And we're going to play a very good team.
If we advance, we'll still be a very good team, and if we don't advance, we'll still be a very good team. This team just has to play in this moment and not because of last year or anything else, and try to do the very best they can. We're just much more experienced, and we're healthier. Last year at this time we were not healthy.
Q. On Wednesday you kind of joked around about how President Obama had worried about the economy more than brackets?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, it was -- go ahead.
Q. And you did it with a smile on your face?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I won't stop you and take you out of context like people might take it.
Q. That's where I'm going. Yahoo.com had Coach "K" bothered by Obama's NCAA picks. And even a legitimate news source like CNN had a story that said Coach "K" dis Obama's picks. It didn't mention in the next sentence you said, I love the guy and I think he's going to be great. Does that bother you that things like that happen? And why do you think you're such a lightning rod for people doing things like that?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, I don't know. I don't know why people do that. I mean a lot of you were here. We were all laughing, and really it was kind of a throwaway line. It wasn't even -- not that I would throwaway anything about the President, you know, (smiling) -- get in trouble for that.
But I think because of being in this room -- especially the last 25 years on a very high platform, so to speak, people want at some times want to create news, they don't want to report news. And in their zest to create, they tell quarter stories on or tenth stories or 25% instead of telling the whole thing.
When I heard that first of all, I said, well, it's the way it is. You know, because I've had that happen to me a number of times.
What we did do about that because Reggie Love is President Obama's, I don't know, body man or whatever it is. And my wife, Mickie, text Reggie and said just in case -- not that he should know that. We weren't presuming that he should know that with the whole world, you know what I mean, to know what Coach "K" said in Greensboro, you know because an AP reporter decided to give a sentence instead of the whole story. And said, Coach didn't mean that. This is what he meant. And I hope he wasn't offended.
And Reggie text back and said, He wasn't on offended. Though some of the staff was concerned because they have to always be concerned.
President Obama thinks Coach "K" s all right. Then she text back and said, Thanks.
Q. So Mickie got more upset about it than you?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: No, my wife and daughters always get more upset than I do. But they should, and I like that. I like when your women stick up for you, you know (laughing). That's the cool thing. That's a really good thing. As a guy it makes you say maybe I still got it or whatever I have, I got.
No, that was, you know. I heard he was on Leno last night and one of the things he said, I like Coach "K" s a competitive guy. Really, he's got better things to talk about than me. I don't know if that gets me in trouble with the Polish-American people in the United States or whatever, but it's crazy. Crazy, crazy, crazy.
Q. That just totally threw me off.
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: It almost threw me off yesterday, so when I came to breakfast and heard that.
Q. When was that text back and forth? Was that yesterday?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I'm losing days. Yeah, yesterday. It would have been yesterday.
Q. Back to my question. Up in Philadelphia, there's been some, I don't if controversy to have is too strong a word. Talk about Villanova getting to play there, and that comes up a lot in North Carolina. Can you just address the fairness of how that works with the NCAA? And then on the flip side, obviously, you're not going to have much of a home-court advantage with the Carolina fans here. Wouldn't it have been almost easier for you to be in Philadelphia?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, I think when the NCAA went to the pod system, they basically said that that's what they're going to try to do. So everybody knows that. The key then is to be one of the top seeds, so that, you know, you might get in that pod so you're playing for something.
It's just the way it is. So I don't know how controversial it is. That's the way it is, and it's going to be that way. If you want to change it, finish higher, you know what I mean? It's competitive is what I'm saying. As far as playing here, we think it's an honor to play here. Whether somebody's -- there are some people who cheer for you or cheer against you, that's all good.
The biggest thing for us about not going far is we completed the ACC tournament. Got back late Sunday night. Three intense games in less than three days, really. And to play close helped us, because we were a little bit banged up, and you're a little bit tired.
So when we, you know, we walk into arena last night and if there's a lot of Duke fans here, but if there are any people cheering against us -- the Binghamton people were cheering against us. So it's not that big a thing.
I've walked into places where everybody's booed me. The sad part is if it's me coming home back to Chicago with my family and they do it. Then that's a real problem. But if it's walking into an opponent's arena or walking into a lot of different fans, that's okay for me. I think it's a sign of respect.
Q. Talking about a quarter of the news or 10% of the news, you know, the last two years haven't been great for y'all in the NCAA Tournament. You haven't been to the Final Four in four years, but you win three national titles. Does that anger you, amuse you?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: It's more amusing to me. I was just reading through Texas' notes. I don't know how many times they've been to the sweet sixteen in the last six offer eight years, and they report it well. So we could say we've been to the Sweet Sixteen 9 out of the last 11 years.
We're one of the only programs that have been to two Final Fours in this decade. We're one of the only programs that have won a national title in this decade. I mean, I can give you a list of we're one of the few programs.
But when you become one of those programs, especially ours, people don't have a tendency of writing those things. They have a tendency to write what you have not done. I think when that becomes -- that's also a sign of respect because they hate saying about what you've done.
I remember before we won our first National Championship we had gone to four Final Fours in five years. We got beaten by UNLV by 30 in 1990. And there are people who said I can't win the big one. You know, like, you know, and I could never go there. You know, understanding that, because for me to go to the Final Four was a dream.
Now all of a sudden it was going to be a monkey on my back? I said, come on, man, put more monkeys. Put more monkeys on.
Then we won it, and then the next monkey is when are you going to win it again? So you're just in that thing. So, that's cool.
Q. Doesn't anger you?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: You know, we live in a world that's very critical. And people who use 10% of a quote -- we're just in that a. In a world where I'd like to just -- you want to talk, I'll meet you eye to eye. I don't have much respect for. But it's just there. So it's not going to anger me. I'm going to do what we do. And have my women fight for me (laughing).
Q. You mentioned coming back from Atlanta. There's a school of thought that when you have a team like yours it's going to be in the tournament anyway and be highly ranked. That it's counter productive to invest a lot of time and energy in winning conference tournament these days. Is there any validity to that or does it make any difference?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I think there is some validity, and depending on your team. We felt that because of our new lineup that we needed and we wanted to get as many games and as many accomplishments as we could. We wanted to win the ACC Championship, but we wanted to play those three games. Also we were getting Nolan back for the first time.
So we could not have practiced in a better environment than we played in, and the ACC Tournament was great for us, and then the accomplishment of winning is something that can't be taken away from those kids.
Q. The whole one and done thing, you're recruiting. I know you've kind of spoken out against that because you want guys to graduate. Have you changed your thinking at all?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: No, I would rather have kids who want to go, go right out of high school. I think and then if they come stay for two years. And this way I think that's the deal we should make with our academic partners at our school. In that when someone comes to your school they should be coming to your school with the intent of getting an education.
It's okay for a kid not to go to college. I mean I coached a number of the guys on my Olympic team that didn't go to college, and they're doing just fine. So that precedent had already been set. I don't know why you go against that.
But by going for only a year, actually it's less than a year, it could be 7 months, what does somebody do in a second semester? Does anybody really come back to pursue a degree? You're using the institution, and I think that's the wrong message we should -- I'm not saying every kid is a bad kid for it. But the message is not a good one. Whereas, if you say you're going to come and you're going to come for two years, you can get more than half your credits with summer school and those two years. Then there is a chance that you could come back.
In the big picture of things, that's what we should do in college, I think. So, anyway, that's what I think.
Q. Can you talk about Coach Barnes was in here and said that you guys switched a lot of screens. Can you talk about how that system has worked and why it's worked for you guys this year?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, it's worked primarily because we have guys who can switch. In other words if Gerald and Kyle switch, they're big enough to guard and good enough foot-speed wise to guard either guy they're switching to. So we have a team that's more compatible to switching. As a result, we do it.
It's better for this team. We've always kind of switched on the perimeter and inside, but now we do a lot more with perimeter and inside. It's because we have kind of the same type of lineup in there.
Q. Back on the subject of expectations and raising the bar. Some coaches must get irritated constantly that when you set the bar there that everybody thinks the other part of it is easy. I know you have your wife and your daughters defending you, but how do you deal with it with the fact that what you've done is supposed to be easy to a certain point, and then everything else you're supposed to give us another one, and another one, and another one?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, I think you have to keep things in perspective. I think if I was a pro coach and had my same team every year, then the thought of doing something the same each year would be more realistic. If I had Derek Jeter playing for me each year and Rivera coming out of the bullpen, but that's not the case.
We have new kids. Especially, every college coach has pretty much a new team every year. So I would rather have what I think happens with our kids is the expectations that somebody has of me as the Duke coach falls on them as Duke players. I still have to give them the opportunity to mature and develop like the teams that I've had in the past, you know, and when they do that, to get the recognition that they, as they do it. Not that it's, Oh, okay, we won another one. You know?
Like our team last Sunday, those kids won their first ACC Championship, even though we've won a number of them. I think we've won 11 ACC Tournament titles, and 8 or 9 out of the last 11 or 12 years, but that team hadn't. So that was a joyous occasion for me because I got to see them win and enjoy it. You just have to keep it in perspective.
End of FastScripts