March 26, 2009
THE MODERATOR: We've been joined by Oklahoma student-athletes Blake Griffin and Taylor Griffin. As we did before, if you do have I a question, please raise your hand.
Q. For Blake and Taylor, your impressions of this much talked about Syracuse two-three zone. How do you think they'll do attacking it?
BLAKE GRIFFIN: I think they're very tough. They obviously know exactly what they're supposed to do in the zone, and they do a great job of it. We're going to have to be good and pick our spots and then run our offense really well to get good looks.
TAYLOR GRIFFIN: Like Blake said, you know, that's what they do. That's what they've been doing. So obviously, it's part of the reason they've gotten this far.
You know, for us I think we're going to have to hit shots. We're going to have to attack the caps.
You know, really try to penetrate, get in there and be ready to kick out, be ready to kind of squeeze in open spots.
Q. The talk in Syracuse is pretty much how to stop Blake Griffin. From your perspective, what's your impressions of Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku?
BLAKE GRIFFIN: I think they're tough. I think they're really tough. Both of them are better players than their numbers might show. They're both big guys that are physical, and they do a good job inside. We're going to have to do a good job and be physical and keep them off the boards. And match their intensity.
Q. Do they compare to anybody you've seen Big 12-wise this year?
BLAKE GRIFFIN: I really don't think so. The closest we could compare them to is maybe Texas A&M because they have two pretty big guys down low.
I don't think anybody is as big and as strong as they are that we faced.
Q. Taylor, when you look at what Blake's doing right now as a ballplayer, is there a way for him to increase his game? Is there a way for him to get even better this week?
TAYLOR GRIFFIN: You know, there's always an opportunity for any player, you know, in the country to get better. I think the biggest thing for him right now is making his teammates better.
You know, that's what great players do, and that's what we need him to do. We feel that he's going to be pretty consistent about the kind of production we get out of him.
You know, I think at this point in the season, it's making sure this team gets to where it wants to go.
Q. What can he do to make his teammates better?
TAYLOR GRIFFIN: You know, just instilling confidence in the rest of the guys. You know, being a strong leader. Being confident in himself. Just doing what he does, playing hard.
You know, ultimately, helping us get a win.
Q. Can you talk about Austin's role on the team, and does Syracuse's zone make his role even more important in this game?
TAYLOR GRIFFIN: Yeah. Austin's been a very good player for us. When Austin plays really well, we play really well.
You know, he has incredible poise, just kind of has a calming factor about him.
Yeah, in a game like this, you know, we're going to need him to play well just like any of our other guards.
He's going to really have to get us into our offense, you know, going against whatever they're running against us. And stepping up and making big shots like he's done all year. And getting the ball into the right people's hands.
Q. For both you guys, how does the intensity and the atmosphere change this weekend from even last weekend?
BLAKE GRIFFIN: I think it's just even more of a do or die situation. You know, you get to the Sweet 16, and obviously there's 16 teams left, and everybody's fighting for those spots. Just everybody's focus is a little more raised.
You know, everybody's intense, and everybody wants it a little more.
TAYLOR GRIFFIN: I'd have to agree. You know, this is -- last year was -- you know, it's still you lose or you go home, but -- or last week. But, you know, this week is the numbers have been cut down, you know, and there's more coverage. There's more excitement about it. There's more built up to this weekend.
You know, it's time to step it up to the highest level.
Q. Blake, Patrick Knight fairly famously called you the terminator. What's your response? What was your response to that? Are you a fan of that movie? Did you like being considered the terminator?
BLAKE GRIFFIN: You know, I thought it was his way of complimenting me, I guess. I was appreciative of that. But I've never seen the movie.
For all I know, it could be a bad thing.
Q. Can you guys talk about Willie Warren and what he's meant to this team?
BLAKE GRIFFIN: Willie has added a lot to this team and not just offensively but everything. He's done a great job of really maturing this year as the year's gone on.
And just kind of understanding, and he's kept learning. You know, any time a player of that caliber can do that, I mean, he's obviously going to get better, and he has. He's played huge in a lot of big games for us.
You know, we need him to do that this weekend.
TAYLOR GRIFFIN: You know, just to expand on that. You know, I think Willie has improved a lot. I think he's a huge part of this team. Everybody knows what he can do offensively.
I think, as the years go on, he's gotten a lot more efficient in what he does. We need him to be playing at a really high level and being very efficient and taking care of the ball and defending as well as doing everything he can offensively.
Q. For Blake, with all this focus on trying to stop you from Syracuse, do you look forward to seeing your teammates try and step up in case they do focus most of their efforts on you?
BLAKE GRIFFIN: Definitely. That's going to be huge for us. You know, in the Michigan game we had a lot of guys step up and play really well.
You know, I feel like as a team we have more guys than people kind of give us credit for.
Whether it's Juan Pattillo coming off the bench or Cade Davis coming off the bench and hitting shots. At any given point, we have a guy on the floor that can go for 20, I think. And we have this year.
I feel like that's going to be a key to our success this weekend is everybody playing well and not necessarily everybody coming out and scoring 20 but everybody doing their role and knowing what's important to the team.
Q. Blake, do you have to put -- do you have to guard against putting too much pressure on yourself, trying to put this team on your back and winning it by yourself? Is that something you have to guard against?
BLAKE GRIFFIN: Not at all. I don't put any pressure on myself. I don't believe in that. My teammates -- I know my teammates have my back. I know our coaching staff has my back.
So I don't have to worry about, you know, me doing anything by myself. I haven't done anything by myself this whole year, and I never will.
As long as I play, there's going to be teammates around me that are capable. I think one of the biggest things is really trusting everybody, that they're going to be there for me. All year they have.
Q. Taylor, would you -- do you agree that your brother is the best player in America? If so -- even if you don't, what was your role as brother developing him? You know, in the house, on the playground, in the driveway, et cetera.
TAYLOR GRIFFIN: First of all, yes, I do think that he's the best player in college basketball. You know, I really don't know what to tell you. Besides, you know, growing up we were really competitive.
It's not like growing up I had in my mind I was training him to become the greatest college player in America. But, you know, it was just -- I think a lot has to do with our parents and my dad and his athletic background, basketball background, being a coach.
You know, my mom as well. But I really don't know.
Q. But is it safe to say that at least at some point you would be pounding on him? Being, you know, the older brother and so on.
TAYLOR GRIFFIN: Yeah, I mean, that's how older brothers are. Little brothers, most of the time, are playing catch-up until they catch up. You know, that's how it was.
Q. Taylor, that being said, with the numbers he puts up or when he dunks on Zack Novak like he did last weekend, is there ever a point when you kind of step back and say, wow, how did he do that? Or how does he do what he does?
TAYLOR GRIFFIN: Absolutely. It was crazy seeing him develop kind of after I left and started playing for OU and coming back and seeing him develop and how much he changed in high school and even when he got to OU.
And just watching the different plays that he made, and he was capable of making. But, you know, I feel like I've seen a lot of it now. It's just kind of almost like another play.
Even though it may be the most spectacular play of the day or of the week or whatever, it's a play, and that's what I'm used to seeing from him.
Q. For both of you guys, Taylor, you mentioned your dad, do you have an appreciation of what he did as a coach long before you guys ever came around? Classen in the '70s and the John Marshall teams. Do you have an appreciation for how good a coach he was before you guys ever even got here?
TAYLOR GRIFFIN: Absolutely. I can't tell how many people we talk to on a daily basis just, you know, they come in saying that how much my dad's -- or our dad's meant to them as a coach, as a teacher.
And obviously, he's had a lot of success, you know, in the '70s, '80s. And more recently. But, you know, he's touched a lot of lives.
As far as us, he's given us the background. That's what we believe made us successful.
BLAKE GRIFFIN: I think I knew, like he said. People always come up and talk to me about, you know, when he was at John Marshall, and when he was coaching these guys. How much he means to them.
You know, like he said. And also, I think a lot of my dad -- or hopefully a lot of my dad, or our dad, has rubbed off on us because he -- I mean, he's one of those type of people. Even people that didn't play for him that maybe was a student in his class, always want to come up and talk about how nice he was and all the things he did for them.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, guys.
THE MODERATOR: We've been joined by Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel. Coach, if you'd like to start us off with just an opening statement, a few thoughts on coming to Memphis.
COACH JEFF CAPEL: We're excited to be in Memphis. It's a great city. We're excited to still be playing. We're very fortunate and honor to have an opportunity to continue our season and to play against a very good Syracuse team.
It's a challenge, but we'll be ready for it. And we'll see what happens. So excited to be here.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Capel.
Q. Coach, there's a lot of talk about the point guards in this tournament, specifically for the other three teams. Where does Austin rank among those guys? What has he meant for your squad this year since he often gets overshadowed?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: I always felt the point guard's most important job is to win. As a starting point guard for our basketball team, Austin Johnson has led us to 29 wins against 5 losses.
So I think he's had a heck of a year. I think he's played well. I think he's done winning things.
It may not show up to the average fan that he's good. I know it's been a question mark about our team all year. But as a coach, I've been satisfied with what he's done.
At times he's played really well. And that's when he's scoring the basketball. But the majority of the time he's done winning things for us.
How does he compare with the other guys? I don't know. I mean, certainly, I think some of those guys are better pro prospects. You know, certainly have gotten a lot more attention. Maybe rightfully so. But he's been really good for us, and he's helped us win 29 games so far.
Q. Coach, you've talked often this year how Willie has to be a playmaker, not a role player. Where do you think that progression is with him now?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: I think he's fine. I think he's done a good job with that all year.
Sometimes we have to remind him of that. Sometimes I feel like Willie tries to defer, and we don't want Willie to defer. We brought him here to be a really good player for us, and he's done that for the most part this year.
But at times he's deferred a little bit.
Q. It seems he often defers when Blake's there though. Do you have to --
COACH JEFF CAPEL: No, I don't think that's necessarily true. At times when he's deferred, Blake has been there. When we were at Arkansas, he didn't. When we were at Rice, he didn't. When we played Davidson, he didn't. When we played Purdue, he didn't.
He's a guy that usually, the bigger the stage, the better he plays. You know, I thought maybe he deferred a little bit when Blake came back after being injured. And we had to remind him of that.
But I don't know if it was just that. I think maybe he had hit the wall a little bit too. He had just played two games prior to that where he played a lot of minutes where kind of everything revolved around him.
And that's what a lot of these young guys don't understand. When you're the focal point of someone's defense, that's a little bit more challenging. And I think maybe Willie gained a little bit more respect for Blake because Blake's been that for us all year and yet he continues to put up the numbers that he does.
It's a little bit different when you become the focal point.
Q. Coach, Jim Boeheim said that with the balance on these two rosters and ability to score, this could be maybe more of an offensive game than people might expect. You look at their two-three zone, do you think there's going to be a chance to pick your points and score?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: Well, they're a really, really good offensive team, if I'm not mistaken. I think they led the Big East in scoring, and they're very efficient. They can hurt you in so many different ways obviously.
I think they have one of, arguably, the best point guard in the country in Flynn, and he's the orchestrator of everything. Then they have guys that can shoot it in Devendorf and Rautins. Guys that are very efficient down low in Jackson and Onuaku.
Then Paul Harris is kind of the wild card. He can do a lot of different things and hurt you offensively in different ways. When our offense is clicking, we feel like we can be that way too. When we're making shots from the perimeter, that opens up things down low even more for Blake.
We feel like we're a team that we can get in transition and make some plays. So I mean, it could be. Their two-three zone is really good.
You know, you have to find different ways to attack it, and we've worked on some different things. We've seen some zone this year. So hopefully, we'll be good at attacking it tomorrow.
Q. Coach, could you go into a little more detail about what you like about Jonny Flynn's game. Secondly, honestly Syracuse's two-three zone is famous. Is there any guarding against just that it's a psychological battle when you're trying to get ready to play them?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: The first part of your question, Jonny Flynn, first of all, is a winner. He does everything that -- I mean, he has an incredible feel for the game. He has great pace. I mean, he can hurt you without even scoring a basket.
But he's also a guy that he gets a great feel for how the game is going. I mean, he could go 15 minutes without taking a shot, and all of a sudden, you know, the next five minutes, he could score 20 points in five minutes. He can drive it. He can shoot it with range. He can get fouled. He can get the spots and pull up.
I mean, he just has such a great feel for the game and such a great flare for the game also. It looks like he loves to play and he's a great teammate.
As far as preparing for the two-three zone, I don't think it's a psychological thing. They're good at it. You know when you play Syracuse, they're going to play zone. That's what they do. That's what Coach Boeheim has done for a while.
It's not a psychological thing, they're just very good at it. They defend the heck out of you, and they, because of their length and athleticism, they're maybe able to cover some mistakes they may make in the zone, but you can do that when you're long and athletic like they are, especially on that back line.
Q. Your number two seed, 29-5. You're where you should be in terms of seeding and all that. But do you feel like maybe you're still proving yourself? Not you personally, your team.
COACH JEFF CAPEL: I don't know. We felt like we've had to do that all year long. So that's probably more of a question that, you know, for my guys than for me.
My focus has been on trying to beat Syracuse. I don't -- you know, haven't been worried about what other people -- I don't really know what other people are saying. I've been kind of in my little balloon and just focused in on Syracuse and what we have to do to beat Syracuse. So I don't know.
Q. Apart from the basketball players, the wins, the fans, what do you like about being in Oklahoma?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: The people. I mean, that's -- it's really good people there. It actually reminds me a little bit of North Carolina.
You know, people there love OU, especially where I live in Norman. People are very friendly. They're just good people and people you enjoy being around.
I work for a great athletic director and a great administration. So that's really important to me.
I mean, I love my team. I love the guys that we have in our program and the guys that we've recruited. But it's more so the people there in Oklahoma.
Q. Coach, I guess with the attention that Blake gets, can you kind of flip that around for me and your impressions of the Syracuse front court and maybe the challenges that they present for you.
COACH JEFF CAPEL: They're good. They're very good. Onuaku and Jackson are really high percentage players. They're big. They're strong. They finish around the basket.
Because of the other weapons, you know, sometimes they maybe get overshadowed a little bit. But they produce.
You bring Ongenaet off the bench who's an energy guy, great offensive rebounder who plays off those guys, plays off the guards. It definitely provides a challenge for us. They're big across the front line, especially when they start with those two kids, Jackson and Onuaku.
Probably the team that's comparable to them in our league as far as size like that is Texas. Especially when they would go with Pittman, Atchley and Damion James or Pittman, James, and Gary Johnson. They could be really big like that also. So it provides us a challenge.
Q. I can remember you and Jerry Stackhouse hooking up on the coliseum floor in the high school regional. Of course we remember the Duke days and, you know, the VCU scare and the Wake Forest. Can you talk about the journey you've had from Fayetteville, how much you still hear from folks back that way. And then with your dad as the coach and your brothers, how much interaction is there as you continue to chart your path?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: Well, it's been an incredible journey. And it's been an incredible blessing.
My career's been very abnormal. And I say that -- you know, I didn't spend a lot of time as an assistant coach.
Growing up in North Carolina, I mean, everything around there revolves around basketball. And I grew up with a coach at home. And I mean, from the time I can remember, I've been around the game. I was my dad's ball boy when he was a high school coach. And I was probably the worst ball boy ever because all I wanted to do was shoot during time-outs or at halftime. I didn't worry about getting those guys water or anything.
When my dad became an assistant coach at Wake Forest, I was a ball boy, so I was under the basket, you know, when North Carolina came or when Duke came. So I was there when all those great players, when Len Bias came. I was there. I got to see those guys right live and in person.
I got to play two-on-one every day before practice. My brother and I with Mugsy Bogues. Then my dad and became a head college coach. I was in ninth grade. From where I was back then, you didn't start high school until tenth grade, so it was junior high. I would go and work out with my dad's team, and I didn't know at the time I was playing every day against a guy who just finished his 14th year in the NBA in Darrell Armstrong.
Darrell lived with us for a while after he finished, before he made the NBA.
Then I go with Duke. I like to describe my Duke experience as a real world experience. You know, sometimes when you go to a Duke or a Carolina or places like that, maybe OU in football, everything's like a fairy tale. You know, everything -- you go to final fours or things like that.
For me, we played for a Final Four championship my first year. My second year, we were 2-14 in the ACC. My junior year, we were a little bit better. But I was the guy that was blamed for the demise of Duke basketball. My senior year, I get benched early in the year.
Probably one of my proudest moments as a player is my senior year. We won the ACC regular season. I felt like I contributed to that.
And then after that, that's kind of what a journey veers on a different path. I mean, everyone when they're young, all these players want to play in the NBA. I was just like them, and I thought I was right there. Getting ready for the second pre- draft camp, I ruptured a disk in my back, and I couldn't play from May until August. So no draft, no summer league, no training camp. Things like that. Played in the CBA. Had a really good year, have a chance to get signed by the NBA that summer.
Lockout starts. I develop a stomach disease that basically -- I missed that whole next year of playing. I thought I was dying. They couldn't figure out what was wrong with me.
I went from 205 pounds, in two months I was 160 pounds. And came back after I got healthy, coach created a position for me at Duke. That's where I got to coach. I never wanted to coach.
When I was up to about 22 years old, this was the last thing I wanted to do because I saw what my dad went through. And then coach created the position for me at Duke just to kind of get me out of the house, get me away from Virginia, get me away from home.
And I went back there, and I got to sit in on meetings, so I got to see it from that side. And I came back and tried to play, had to have back surgery. That ended my career. I was lucky enough to get on with my dad as an assistant.
Knew it was going to be a tough year because my dad's job was in jeopardy. He got fired at the end of that year. And then it was very fort Coach Mack hired me at VCU as an assistant.
And then I didn't -- you know, I spent two years as an assistant. I never went on the road and recruited. I was the third guy at both places. My year at VCU, it was February. I'm conducting a study hall, and the A.D. comes down and wants to talk to me. And is is asking me how I like Richmond, how I like everything. And about 20 minutes later he offers me the job as the head coach.
My career has just been really abnormal. It's been really strange. You know, the way I've always looked at it, you know, I guess I was destined for this. God chose me for this for some reason. And he's guided me every step of the way.
That's been my journey. It continues. Again, I've been through so much as a person, as a player, now as a coach. You know, as a father now. But that's life man. You go through peaks and valleys, ups and downs, and you learn from each one.
That's what I've tried to do.
Q. Jeff, can you talk about Blake. And often at this time of year stars need to even elevate their game more to get their teams over certain humps. Is there anything he can do? Is there a way for Blake to elevate his game in this tournament?
COACH JEFF CAPEL: Well, I think he has if you look at what he's done in the first two games. I think he's averaging something like 30 and 15. He's probably missed five shots in the whole tournament. So his percentage is really high.
One of the things I talked to Blake about before this tournament started was, you know, he's going to have to carry us and he's going to have to be the example. I said, you know, you may have to put your arms around these guys and carry them with you. You know, you may have to push them, whatever it is you have to do.
This is where legends are made, this tournament, and this is where legends continue to grow. I think Blake's a guy that will leave an incredible legacy at the University of Oklahoma.
I don't think it will be appreciated as much until he's gone. That's my opinion. I think people will appreciate it even more.
If you look at the numbers that he's put up this year -- and I know I'm guilty of it because we're with him every day. I mean, I have a lot of guys that have done that. And the other thing that you tend to forget -- I mean, I played against a guy for four years who was -- I mean, he may be the best power forward ever, Tim Duncan.
And Tim was putting up numbers maybe somewhat similar when he was a senior. Blake's a sophomore doing this. And he's also doing it against double and triple-teams just about every night. And so that makes it even more remarkable what he's done.
I've enjoyed every step of the way with him. When he committed to us a month and a half after I got the job, I knew we had something special. I knew we had the piece that we needed to get this thing turned. And one of the things I vowed to myself is I was going to enjoy every day of the journey because you don't get a guy like that too often. Guys like him don't come around too often.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
THE MODERATOR: At this time we'll get started with our first news conference of the day. We of course are joined by Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim along with sophomore guard Jonny Flynn and forward center Arinze Onuaku. If you do have a question, please raise your hand. We have a couple floor mics out there. Allow us the time to get a mic to you. Coach Boeheim, if you would like to get us started just with some opening thoughts.
COACH BOEHEIM: We're happy to be here and still playing. We know Oklahoma's a tremendous team and a tremendous challenge for us.
We're looking forward to playing them tomorrow night.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Syracuse? If you case your hand, please.
Q. Guys, people always talk about your two-three zone. Can you talk about your offense? You led the conference in scoring. And just what you try to do offensively against people you play.
JONNY FLYNN: Well we just try to outscore people. You know, we have so many weapons on the court at one time. We got a nice inside presence. And Arinze over here and Jackson really helped us out. We have two deadly shooters, and we have enough guys on our team that can get in the middle, penetrate, and make plays for other people.
I think that's what really makes us so effective on the offensive end.
ARINZE ONUAKU: I brought our team balance. When we have all five starters in double figures and games like that, we tend to win. It's about having great balance on the offensive end.
Q. Coach, for you and the players, your impressions of Blake Griffin?
ARINZE ONUAKU: Maybe the best big man in the country. I mean, he's just a great player down low. I mean, a little bit more versatile than most big men, finishes well around the rim.
He's going to be a tough battle tomorrow.
JONNY FLYNN: Well, he's just like a great talent. Probably going to be the number one pick in this upcoming year's draft. There's nothing really to say about him that everybody in this world doesn't know.
He's just so tenacious on the offensive end and on the defensive end. He controls the game. He takes his time, passes out of double-teams well. He just really plays the game at his own speed. That's what makes him good.
COACH BOEHEIM: I mean, he's a tremendous scorer, but he's a tremendous rebounder as well. In the double-teams, he passes the ball as well; gets it to open guys. You know, he's a tremendous player. If he hadn't gotten hurt, they would have been a number one seed, which would have been good for us. We wouldn't have had to play them. That's just the way it is.
Q. Coach and Arinze, if you all could talk about Jonny's role on the team and how important he is to your success.
ARINZE ONUAKU: He's our floor leader out there. I mean, the ball is in his hand most of the time. He runs the offense. Gets us going on defense.
We just look to him to call the plays, and run the team, and he's been great for us in that position. As a point guard, you've got to lead the players. He's done that for us all year.
COACH BOEHEIM: I think Jon's gotten better as the year's gone along in getting that to people. He's always been a great scorer and a great play-maker. Even better, his improvement has come from getting the ball to the people in the right spots better.
He's cut his turnovers way back. And, you know, he's out there 40 minutes for us. He's there every play for us. He's involved in every play on the offensive end.
You know, he's -- our system is a point guard oriented system in terms of point guard has to make a lot of decisions, a lot of plays. We have to have a good point guard to be successful.
Q. Jonny, for those of us that are not from the east, can you explain Eric's reputation as being so hated. Is that a misnomer? I mean, I assume you guys don't hate him. Can you explain how he got that reputation on the court?
JONNY FLYNN: Eric is a great guy. I think he's really misunderstood, you know, to the tenth power. He's an emotional guy and plays with so much emotional energy on the court, some people can take that as a negative thing.
Without him playing like that, he wouldn't be Eric Devendorf. He wouldn't be the Eric Devendorf that's been averaging 20 points in the postseason. He wouldn't be the Eric Devendorf that a lot of players fear going up against.
A lot of players in the country play with the same emotion as him, but without that, he wouldn't be a great player. We wouldn't be sitting right here talking to you without Eric Devendorf playing the way he plays and helping us out on the court.
COACH BOEHEIM: I think the other side of that is that he's emotional and a lot of times he's yelling and screaming things. People think he's screaming at them. Sometimes he's just screaming just because he likes to do that.
Q. Coach, can you talk about your impressions of Jeff Capel, whether you guys have a relationship, and just your thoughts of him as a coach.
COACH BOEHEIM: I know Jeff. We've done some things with USA basketball. He's a great guy, and he's a good guy to be around. He's obviously been a great coach both places he's been. He's just outstanding. Outstanding young coach. He's a good guy. Really good guy.
Q. Jonny has gotten better this season -- you talked about his progression. Have teams been able to defend him straight up, or are they having to do a lot of things to slow him down?
COACH BOEHEIM: You know, everybody plays differently. Different teams play different ways.
At this stage of the season, you get to -- you've seen just about every kind of defense you're going to see.
Jonny's able to get things involved. You can't really leave shooters out to get to him. We have a good balance. We have a good balance in our offense.
At this stage of the season, every team has seen all different kinds of defenses, whether it's box and ones or zones, different zones or mans.
We are -- we're pretty well prepared to play against anything right now as I think everybody is at this stage of the season.
Q. Jonny, can you remember when you won last weekend, you found out you were playing Oklahoma, your first thought of the Sooners. And then, coach, Blake Griffin, everybody talks about him being the best player in the country. You had a guy like that in Carmelo a couple years ago. Can you talk about having a star lead you through this month and what the other guys have to do around him as well.
JONNY FLYNN: Knowing that we had the Oklahoma Sooners on the draw, going back to what coach said, if Blake Griffin wouldn't have gotten hurt, they would have been the number one overall seed in the country. Just a tremendous team and a great team. Not only do they have Blake Griffin, but they have the three perimeter guys that's really, really good that people don't talk about as much because Blake Griffin is a terrific talent.
It's always great to play against teams like this. Getting past the first two rounds, every team you play from here on out is good. You have to take the same mindset in every game and just prepare the way you do it.
And Coach Boeheim been doing a great job of preparing us in every level of this tournament. I'm really confident going into this game.
COACH BOEHEIM: The answer to your question about Carmelo, when we won, Carmelo had a couple games where he wasn't even a factor in the games. Oklahoma State, a couple other games. You have to have a balanced team to win six games in a row. You're not going to win with one guy.
One guy can be the difference in a couple games maybe, but you've got to have good balance. We had good balance on that team. That's why we were able to win. We had a real good balance.
Q. For Johnny and Arinze, could you guys talk about the game that you guys played Memphis here back in December and how that changed you guys. That was the game where Rick Jackson became a starter, and Andy had to play for Eric.
ARINZE ONUAKU: Eric wasn't able to be with us during that game, and Andy had to step in and take that role. Rick slid into the starting spot. From here on out, we've kind of got that team balance because everybody felt like they were the starter whether they're coming off the bench or not.
That's where that balance kicked in, and we were able to go from there. That definitely helped us out. Just being thrown into a situation like that with Andy and Rick Jackson. When your best player on the team is not able to make a trip like that and knowing that you have to provide and provide as quick as possible as they did in Memphis.
I think coming out of there with a win like that gave them confidence boost. You see after that Andy Rautins just went through the roof with his jump shot, his defense, and all the ways he helps our team.
Getting a win like that when you don't have a player like Eric Devendorf does something for the team. After that, we said in our mind we're a good team, and we're on the verge of doing a lot of things in this NCAA tournament and even this season.
Q. Jim, as effective as the zone is against everybody else, is this the kind of game against a player who's basically been indefensible, that it's particularly good to have that zone as a weapon. And that said, do you just play the zone you play? Do you tweak it in any way for a player like Blake?
COACH BOEHEIM: Our zone is different against every team we play. That's the only way you can be effective playing zone. If you play zone and do the same thing, it's everybody. You won't be playing many zones. You won't be winning many games.
Zones are always different. It's just like man to man. Everybody thinks there's some difference. Man to man defenses are always different. They're never the same. Depending who you're playing against. And zones are the same way.
So you have to adjust your defense, whatever it is, whenever you play.
The hard thing about coaching zone, when you're a man to man team, and you play man to man and you're losing, they just say, well, you've got to play better. When you're a zone team and you're losing, they say you've got to play man to man.
Fortunately, I don't listen to those people.
Q. The Big East gets such a reputation nationwide, power league, most teams in the conference. Do you think all of that is justified, or at this time of the year when you're in the Sweet 16, every league that has teams that have advanced are all equal?
COACH BOEHEIM: I'm not sure what that question was really. Or even if it was a question.
I always let the facts speak for themselves.
Q. Speaking of the Big East, you all went up against some pretty darn good big men, Blair, Thabeet, how can they help you prepare for Griffin? Or is he just a totally different kind of player? Is it any help having faced those guys?
COACH BOEHEIM: I think anything you do helps you get prepared. He's a better player than those guys, though they're pretty good players. Obviously, they're different.
Thabeet is different. He's a shot blocker. Blair is an a offensive rebounder. That is what he does that, better than anybody almost. I think he's got the most offensive rebounds than anybody in the country.
Blake Griffin is more. He can do both, offensive rebounds, and he can score without offensive rebounding, and he's a better passer. Than those guys. So he's unique. He's a different kind of player.
Clearly, I don't think anybody has any question but that he's the best player in the country.
ARINZE ONUAKU: Just like coach said, I mean, he's a different type of big man. I mean, he's great. I mean, the other guys in the Big East, every guy's a little bit different. He's the best we've seen. So it's going to be a tough battle from the beginning.
Q. Paul Harris says, if he can play for you, he can play for anybody. Have you at any time during his career made a calculated decision, this is a guy I need to ride and that he can handle it. Jonny thinks it's funny.
COACH BOEHEIM: Sit with Jim Calhoun for a week, and he'll like playing for me then.
Paul and I battle all the time, but Paul is a really good player. You know, as a coach, you're always going to have certain things you want from a player, and it's never going to be exactly what the player wants.
We've battled a little bit about that. You know, we need Paul Harris to be effective for us to win. But, you know, we've been battling for a while. I think we've come to a pretty good point.
You know, Paul's a very, very good player, and he's very important to what we do.
Q. You two players, it's been two weeks out since the six overtimes. Have you guys been able to sit back and sort of reflect on how monumental of a game that was? How historic? Or have you been on such a ride that you haven't been able to do that yet?
ARINZE ONUAKU: Maybe the day after when you turn on the TV, you see it as an instant classic already, and they keep showing it over and over and over.
But after that, it was back to business, back to work. At the Big East tournament, you play every day. So you had to keep going with it.
After that, get ready for this. So I mean, after that next day, it was just right back to work.
Q. Do you get any kind of -- you talked about the Memphis game and how that kind of helped the confidence as a team. Did that six overtime game maybe provide an extra dose of confidence that you guys can withstand just about anything at that point?
JONNY FLYNN: I think just beat a Connecticut team that's a number one seed in this tournament, well coached team, and just a great overall team. You know, that should just give you confidence in itself.
To withstand six overtimes, fatigue, and all that, that's the extra things. The main thing is we beat a good team. Whenever you beat a good team, your confidence is going to take another step. It's going to go to that next level.
I think that really did wonders for us.
Q. Jim, can you talk about Rick's development during the season, basically since you put him in the starting lineup back in December.
COACH BOEHEIM: I think he's gotten better lately. I think it took a while.
I think for a while he was in the starting lineup, and I don't think he really changed who we were too much in the beginning. I think he's definitely gotten better. Which you expect from a sophomore big guy.
I think he's playing very well right now. I think he's really improved over the last six, seven, eight games. You know, he's made a difference.
Q. Bob Knight said that Oklahoma played on Saturday, you played on Sunday, and that would be a big advantage for them getting an extra day. Considering what you've been through the last couple of weeks, do you agree?
COACH BOEHEIM: I generally don't disagree with coach Knight about much. But I think we'll be fine. I don't see a problem at all.
We played 12:00 Sunday. We didn't play at 9:00. We'll be fine. We've played a lot of games in the last -- we've actually had more rests lately than we've had in a while.
So we're fine. That will not be a factor, at all, in the game.
Q. Coach, one more question. Blake Griffin was asked if he'd ever had an occasion to come in contact with you. He said with USA basketball you were part of the selection committee that had cut him. Would you like to apologize or anything?
COACH BOEHEIM: First of all, no. He shouldn't have made the team. He was hurt. I think he did say that.
I had one vote out of ten. I'm not going to say that I voted against him either. In fact, I'd say I voted for him right now. I would say that if I had to reveal my vote.
But he was hurt coming in. And he just, you know, wasn't anywhere near the player obviously he is now.
If I was coaching the team, I'd like to have him in the lineup, but I don't think that will make a difference in the game. I think he'll play just as hard tomorrow night as he would or wouldn't have.
That was really what happened.
Q. With all this talk about Blake Griffin, sometimes the guards get overshadowed for Oklahoma. Can you talk a little bit about the Sooners' point guard play and sort of perimeter game.
COACH BOEHEIM: First of all, the thing I'm concerned most with Oklahoma is Blake Griffin, his brother outside, his guards are all shooting 34% from the three-point line, all of them, four guys.
A lot of times you play against a team, and they have one or two shooters that you've got to be concerned about. Oklahoma has four guys that can hurt you out there. That's my major concern going into the game tomorrow night.
As good as their inside guys are, those four guys present big problems. They're very, very good offensive basketball team. As we are.
I mean, both teams play well, it will be a pretty big offensive game, I think.
Q. You had a slight dip at midseason. What led to that dip? What got you out of it? Is it safe to assume that you're playing your best ball right now?
COACH BOEHEIM: We played as well as we played all year. When we beat Kansas and Memphis, that was before the dip. Then we had Pittsburgh, Connecticut, and Villanova, most teams would lose to those people.
So we lost -- actually, we beat West Virginia, Georgetown, and another good team in that ten-game stretch.
We had Villanova twice. We were at Connecticut. We were at Pittsburgh. We were at Georgetown.
We didn't play that poorly in those games. But we didn't -- you know, we didn't play really -- the only home game we lost was to Louisville. That was a tie game late. They made a couple good plays at the end of the game.
I would say we're playing -- we're better now than we did during that stretch. You know, that's, I think, fairly normal. Eric and Andy did not play last year. We still don't have a senior in our starting lineup.
I think we would expect the team to get better during the course of the year. Anyway, we're still relatively -- even though we have experience, we still have young guys that are a key part of what we're doing. Again, Andy and Eric missed last year. I think you would expect that we would be playing better now.
And we are playing better. We're probably playing -- the most improvement has been on the defensive end. We've gotten better there. I think our offense has been pretty good all year.
Q. Coach, the zone has been so good for you throughout your career. What has it been with that that's made you so successful?
COACH BOEHEIM: Well, I think it's just any defense you -- whatever defense you play is what helps you be successful. So we happened to be more of a zone team.
There have been times at Syracuse that we have played a lot of man to man. But we have played more zone this year. We have played man to man over the years. But our zone has been our best defense, particularly the last few years.
It's changed. It's gotten a little better. But, you know, it's -- you can't get to this level without playing good defense. We led the league in three-point field goal percentage defense, and I think we're the top three in our league, three or four, in field goal percentage defense this year. You have to play good defense to win.
Q. Jim, when you just said that you'd played man defense before, Jonny's eyes lit up. I think he wants to know when it was.
COACH BOEHEIM: He's smart. He knows.
Q. Jim, you're going for 800 wins. How far do you plan to go? 900? 1,000? How far?
COACH BOEHEIM: I plan on finishing this year for sure, Barry.
Q. Jonny, as a kid coming up a couple years behind Paul Harris, do you remember what it was like? He was considered like a man among boys. Was there a time when you looked up to him and said, wow, you were almost in awe of him as a basketball player?
JONNY FLYNN: Definitely. When you're 6'5", 225 in high school, all you can do is look and be like wow. When you're a little ninth grader just scratching. 155, 5'8", you look at somebody like that and just, you know, your eyes light up. Be like this is a human specimen right here.
Paul has always been a guy that I always looked up to. Coming into Syracuse, he showed me the ropes on the team. You know, he's my roommate and showed me how things is ran.
Showed me what not to do, the do's and the don'ts of college. Not only of basketball but just of college life.
Our relationship stretched from high school, and it's got even stronger now in college. He's a great talent, and he's also just a great person to have in my life.
Q. Coach Boeheim, you had success when you came to Tulsa and got Etan Thomas. Have you recruited any other guys? Did you try to recruit Blake or any other guys out of Oklahoma since then?
COACH BOEHEIM: That was a funny thing. Etan, his coach had called us, and we just happened to go to see him. We saw him in the summer. We liked him. That time, nobody was really recruiting him that much.
We got in there early. You know, it was really -- Connecticut always tries to go if we go after a kid. But they did -- they were recruiting him a little bit too.
He wanted to come back East. He was a tremendous player for us. Normally, we wouldn't just go to Oklahoma to recruit. If somebody called us, then we would try to follow it up.
That's pretty much the way we recruit anyway. We're mostly in the Northeast. But if somebody has an interesting and we look into it and think the guy would be a good fit, then we sometimes we recruit outside of our area. But rarely. Rarely we would do that.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.