Bob Starkey/C. Vivian Stringer Women's
Bob Starkey/C. Vivian Stringer Women's Final Four
Teleconference TranscriptMarch 28, 2007
An interview with:
COACH BOB STARKEY
COACH C. VIVIAN STRINGER
First conference this morning will be of LSU head coach Bob Starkey, leading his team to the 2007 Final Four in Cleveland. This will be a 30 minute conference. At the 10:30 this morning we'll bring on C. Vivian Stringer from Rutgers.
To get things started, I'll ask Judy Southard, chair of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Committee to make some welcoming remarks.
JUDY SOUTHARD: Thank you, Rick. We're pleased to have everyone on the call this morning. Certainly this is an exciting time of year for all of us. I want to personally congratulate LSU coach Bob Starkey on the performance of his team, congratulate him on LSU's participation in the Final Four in Cleveland.
This is an exciting time of year, as I said. If you do the math, it's really remarkable. There are 324 teams who start the year every year wishing and hoping to make it to this point in the season. 64 teams make it into the championship bracket. Now there are four: LSU, Rutgers, Tennessee, and North Carolina are to be congratulated for their team's excellence.
I can tell you right now that I know we're going to have a great time in Cleveland. Having said all that, I'd certainly like to turn it back over to Rick, and once again, Bob, congratulate you and the Lady Tigers for LSU's fourth appearance in a row in this year's Final Four.
RICK NIXON: Coach Starkey, could you make some opening comments and we'll go from there with questions and answers.
COACH STARKEY: Obviously, I think it goes without saying we're really pleased to be where we're at at this point in the season. I think a big part of post season play is getting your team to play well at that junction. I think we did that. I think a lot needs to be said for our kids, the way they've stepped up, specifically with the way we played against a really good Connecticut team.
Certainly momentum is an important part of the post season. I think our goal this week in practice is to try and continue that momentum.
RICK NIXON: We'll take questions for Coach Starkey.
Q. Can you talk about the difficulty of preparing for Rutgers' unique style, whether they remind you on of any team on your schedule, and if so who?
COACH STARKEY: I see a lot of us in Rutgers, the way that they play. I think they're one of the few teams that we have looked at this year that can line up across from us and match our quickness and our athleticism. I think they're a really good transition team, but at the same time I think if they don't get anything off their fast break, they're extremely efficient offensively in terms of pulling the ball out, being patient in their offensive set.
I think defensively they give you some different looks with their man to man. I know they've played a little combination defense. They make a lot of things happen with their defense in terms of turning the ball over, extending their defense with their full court pressure. They try and disrupt what their opponent does offensively.
I really enjoy watching them play other than the fact that we got to try and find a way to have some success against them. I do see a lot of us when I see Rutgers just because they hang their hat on their defensive play and they do have some exceptional athletes that can make plays on the offensive end.
Q. I read recently that you have no aspirations to be a head coach; that you consider yourself a career assistant coach. I'm wondering, why is that? Has this recent experience changed your mind at all?
COACH STARKEY: Well, I have always been an assistant coach. I've enjoyed that role. I think a coaching staff is no different than a basketball team. If you're going to have success, everybody has to know their roles. Part of knowing your role is understanding your limitations. I think I've had some success in terms of being able to help this team with practice, game plans. There's so many other hats that a head coach has to wear in order for that program to be successful from recruiting to fund raising, the administrative stuff that goes on with coaching these days.
I think LSU is such a special job, a special place, it's really worthy of somebody that has some really solid head coaching experience. So I think it's best for the program and best for me, and Judy will be obviously a big player in going out and finding that person. I think because of where that program is at, there will be a nice group of people to pick from.
Q. Would you ever consider being a head coach anywhere else, somewhere else?
COACH STARKEY: Well, I don't think I would ever say "never," certainly because there's a possibility this time next week I could be looking for a job, depending on what happens. While I would like to stay at LSU, I certainly think that new person coming in has to be able to pick their own staff.
I would certainly never say "never" but I do say I'm more comfortable and enjoy an assistant coaching role more.
Q. You've likened Sylvia Fowles to another player you coached back in the day, in Shaquille O'Neal. Could you talk about the parallels you see between them, the improvement you've seen in her over this past season?
COACH STARKEY: Sure. The first thing I think is just the rare ability for a player of that size to be able to move in such a way. Both Shaquille and Sylvia were extremely quick and agile to be post players of their size. They both had excellent hands. Sometimes it's really difficult to find that in a post player. There are certainly some good skilled post players out there, but they don't quite have the quickness or the hands that those two players do.
The other one is both of them were extremely coachable. Both of them had a great thirst to improve. They were extremely, extremely hard working players that wanted to learn all facets of the game.
Then off the court, they really had some outgoing personalities which made them great teammates, great ambassadors in the sport in terms of when they're meeting with the fans, all those types of things.
In terms of Sylvia, I think a couple of things that you've seen in her, the first one, her offensive skill set. I mean, she has developed a nice jump hook going to her left or right. She's able to step away from the basket, face up, hit some short jump shots now which makes her extremely difficult to guard. I think the other part is she's continued to evolve in terms of her mental approach to the game. She has, especially this year with the graduation of Seimone, received a lot of attention from the defense. It's been physical. It's been tough at times. I think she's developed a toughness. Certainly there's been a couple situations where she's gotten a little frustrated by it. Over the course of the season, she's grown there, being able to continue to play well and hard through some of that.
Q. Can you talk just the change in emotion from Coach Chatman leaving to now reaching the Final Four, how you got your kids to put those distractions aside? When did you know they had done it and were ready to focus on basketball?
COACH STARKEY: Well, the absolute first and most important thing is I think we started off with a very focused team. It wasn't like we had to go out, create something that wasn't already there. Certainly there was a little hiccup with the change in coaching.
But this has been a focused team from the very beginning of the season. It made my job a little bit easier. I didn't have to create something that wasn't there. I just maybe had to draw them back and remind them of what we established.
I'm very proud of what these kids have done before this run. After we graduated Seimone and Shalonda the first round of the WNBA, lost another starter in Florence Williams, a lot of people didn't think we would have the season that we did. They've been extremely focused.
To me the first sign we were going to be okay was the very first practice after Pokey stepped down. We had great energy, great concentration. The next day we followed that up with another good practice. To me I think that's where you can find out where a team is really locked in. If they're coming to practice, after they've been in class, all that good stuff, they're able to concentrate on what we need to get done to practice, I think that's a pretty good indication their minds are where we need it.
Q. How much of a change have you seen in Sylvia since she was a freshman reserve to now? Could you give an anecdote to describe her dominance.
COACH STARKEY: Well, the best thing about Sylvia is she has been on a steady incline in terms of her growth and improvement as a player. From the time she came here as a freshman to this point, it's just been steady growth in all areas from her ability to score the basketball, from her ability to defend, certainly this year I think, you know, for her to be able to be a leader. That's somewhat rare in a post player as well. Usually those kind of things are reserved for point guards.
To me, every day is an anecdote with her. She's a wonderful kid. Got a great personality. She's somebody that comes to practice every day and makes everybody smile. She's just not our best player; she's our most popular player in terms of the fans. Kids come to camp because they want to hang out with her. She's just a really, really special young lady.
Q. In light of the situation at LSU, what is your perspective from your experience over the years coaching at West Virginia State, Marshall, LSU, what kind of fine line does a coach walk in terms of being a coach and mentor versus a friend?
COACH STARKEY: Well, I think it's important that players trust a coach. I think that's an everyday job. I think being honest with kids, I think sometimes that means you put your arm around them and tell them they've done a good job, and sometimes it may mean that you have to raise your voice a little bit, tell them they're capable of doing a little bit more.
I think there probably is that's not an easy thing to do. But I think that's a key to successful programs. Part of that is the kids, too. We have some great kids right now. They just don't necessarily they trust the system. I think that's one of the reasons we've been able to continue to be successful. I mean, I think that's important, too, not just that they trust their coaches, but that they trust the system, the administration.
There's a lot of things involved on the college level, especially the major college level. I think that's one of the things I've experienced here at LSU that maybe we weren't able to do at West Virginia State or Marshall because of the number of people here that are able to help us do our jobs.
Q. This is now the fourth straight year that your young women have gone to the Final Four. What is different about this team both on the court and psychologically?
COACH STARKEY: Well, the first thing on the court is obviously we had to adjust to life without Seimone. There was some growing pains there in terms of we spent three years knowing we could have an okay offensive possession if maybe just towards the end we set a screen and got Seimone a touch that something good would happen. I think our team has had to learn how to learn how to run offense and create shots without the benefit of having Seimone set so much up. Even a possession where maybe in the end Seimone didn't get a touch, she probably had two or three defenders chasing her, which would open up an easy shot for somebody. We had to adjust to that on the floor.
Off the floor, this is an extremely close team. We knew that very early. Before we played our first game, you could see it. I'm not saying the past teams weren't close because they were. I think each year as we've gone to the Final Four, I think our team has understood the importance of chemistry, the importance of them being able to get along. There's a lot of hard work to that. You're talking about 12 individuals that have to come together and buy into the team concept. I think the first part of that is them understanding how important that is. I think that's something we've learned along the way and these kids have really worked hard to be a family. I think it's really paying dividends right now.
Q. Rutgers is in a similar position. Do you think your team is actually more dangerous or better without having the one player that they could always look to?
COACH STARKEY: Well, that's a great question, it really is. We had at times struggled a couple times in the past, and certainly probably the most vivid one was last year against Duke in the Final Four because they did such a wonderful job defensively at taking Seimone away. When that happened our team really struggled to be able to score.
I think there's something to that. I think our team understands they have to help each other get open, create scoring opportunities. Certainly with Rutgers, they're fun to watch because they spread the ball around. I think they've got four kids averaging between 12 and 12.8 points. That's some really great balance. I think that makes a team more difficult to play. I think there's something to what you're saying.
Q. You talk about the adjustment the kids have made. What kind of adjustments have you made as far as being in charge, I'm assuming that means less sleep right now?
COACH STARKEY: Probably the only adjustment I've had to make is the media obligations. Right now I could tell you this is 30 minutes that in the past three Final Fours I haven't had to worry about. I've been able to watch some tape. Really other than that, that's been about it. I've been in a position on this staff where I'm responsible for putting practice together, breaking down the tape, putting the game plans together. So all that has remained the same. I think that's been important for our kids. That has remained normal.
But dealing with the media obligations, I think that's about it. We've really worked hard to make sure the routine has not changed. I'm blessed to have some good people on staff from Carla Berry, Christie Sides, Joe Carvalhido. Joe is our administrative assistant. We wanted to make sure travel and everything else that we've done is 100% as it had been. I think that's been important.
The one thing we haven't dealt with much here is the recruiting aspect. We signed three players early. That fulfilled our scholarship level. We haven't had to do much there, and that's helped a little bit.
As far as the sleep thing, I was actually talking to Judy Southard, our senior women's administrator, it sure beats the alternative right now. You could be getting a lot of rest and watching games on TV.
Q. Your experience as a coach, this is not an easy time to step in and take over a team, I'm wondering if a younger coach might be a bit in panic mode walking into the NCAA tournament?
COACH STARKEY: I'll say this: I have been extremely blessed to work for some great people. I worked for Judy when she was at Marshall, Dell Brown, Sue Gunner. That's really helped me. I've got a great circle of influence of coaching friends that have helped me through this. I certainly think experience has helped me.
Q. Being thrown into this situation, how has it been for you as a head coach? This isn't a regular season; this is the NCAA tournament. How has this situation been different for you?
COACH STARKEY: In a way, being in the NCAA tournament probably has helped because it's been so hectic. I haven't had much time to think about it. We've either been preparing for games or traveling. I haven't had much time to really think about it. That's probably been a good thing for me.
I've said this a hundred times, and I can't say it enough, the kids have been phenomenal. I could imagine somebody would be thrust into this situation and not have a team with the maturity or the focus that we have. It would be a difficult thing.
I'm not trying to say that it's easy, but it sure is a heck of a lot easier because of the way our kids have responded.
Q. Have you spoken with Pokey? If not, will you reach out to her over the next week, win or lose?
COACH STARKEY: I have not had an opportunity to speak with her. Certainly I hope I will be able to after the season's over.
Q. We're a long way from this, but if you ended up winning a national title, the administration asked you to stay on as the head coach, is it your thought still you would still turn that down?
COACH STARKEY: That's correct. I'm just absolutely not interested in it. I don't think it's what's best for LSU or me. I think our administration understands that and feels the same way. There's been conversations. We're all on the same page.
Q. Can you tell me what you feel like a coach such as C. Vivian Stringer has done for the women's game in all the years she's been in it, some of the changes she's seen?
COACH STARKEY: Well, I know this, I know tomorrow we're getting on a nice charter airplane and we're staying in a nice hotel and we're getting ready to play games on national TV. None of that would be possible without people like Coach Stringer. We just got through playing out in Fresno, watching Kay. I had the privilege of work for Sue Gunner. Probably the best thing happened, being able to work with Coach Gunner, is her being able to talk to me about the history of the game, some of the sacrifices that were made.
Coach Stringer has always been somebody I've respected. She probably will not remember but I coached a player on the AAU level that she recruited when she was at Iowa. I was fortunate enough to be in the home when she made the in home visit. I just fell in love with her. She was so real, honest, prepared.
One of my closest friends in coaching is Marianne Stanley. She's on her staff. There is somebody else who really has made inroads in our game, made all this possible. When I was a high school coach, I went down seven straight years and worked camp at Old Dominion. She was been wonderful to me.
We try and spend some of our time with kids talking about that. I think it's important that our players understand that it wasn't always this nice, that there used to be some old raggedy buses driving the highways, staying in some not so nice hotels, grabbing some fast food, the arenas, maybe a hundred people would show up. There's a reason everything is happening for them right now, and it's because of people like Coach Stringer.
RICK NIXON: We appreciate everybody joining us. Coach Starkey, thanks for taking the time to be with us.
COACH STARKEY: Glad to do it, Rick.
RICK NIXON: We appreciate Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer joining us today. She leads her team to the Final Four in Cleveland coming up this weekend.
I'll ask Judy Southard to make some opening remarks.
JUDY SOUTHARD: At the risk of repeating myself to some of you who may have been on the call for the first half hour, I would like to take this opportunity once again to welcome everyone to the teleconference and certainly I want to take this opportunity to congratulate C. Vivian Stringer and Rutgers on their amazing trip through the bracket and ultimately now to the national championship and the Final Four. We're very, very excited about the championship in Cleveland. They have done a terrific job.
When you do the math and you start thinking about this, there were 324 teams that started their season hoping for or dreaming for an opportunity to go to a Final Four. The bracket of course narrowed that number to 64 teams. Now there are only four. Certainly our congratulations go out to LSU, Rutgers, Tennessee and North Carolina for just truly amazing seasons, great stories, and certainly to Coach Stringer I would offer my personal congratulations. I had an opportunity to be in Greensboro and see the great win you had against Duke. I know you and your athletes are excited about the coming event.
COACH STRINGER: Thank you so much. It's great to be here.
RICK NIXON: C. Vivian, just some opening remarks.
COACH STRINGER: This has been an amazing, amazing year this year, certainly with the way we started off. But I think all credit is to the players who persevered and believed when I think probably no one else believed. To see this team, how far this team has come this year, when I think of all the many years I've coached, never has there been a team that has accomplished so much within one year. I've had teams that have gone to the Final Four, but it seems there's been a succession of maybe 32, 16, 8, Final Four, but never a group of freshman, you might as well say seven freshman, if you want to consider two hours total of the other two people who are upperclassmen, seven freshmen who were able to come from so far back at the beginning of this year, to learn so much, to gain the heart and desire and perseverance and thrill of accomplishment and being able to come to be a participant in the Final Four. It's something that as a coach you can only dream of. When I think of so many remarkable events in my life, this is certainly right there at the top.
RICK NIXON: Thank you. Now time for questions and answers.
Q. Did there come a point in time this season in which you said that this is a really special team, maybe a team of Final Four caliber, and when was that point in time?
COACH STRINGER: No, there wasn't. I can be honest with you. I thought this is a team that I better send my assistants on the road, assistants were not impacted near as much as they normally are. I'm going to send the assistants out to go find some players with heart and know how to play basketball.
I thought we really began to have a turning point probably with our game, one against Mississippi when we went into triple overtime, none of the upperclassmen were on the floor, they fouled out. Kia Vaughn and Heather Zurich as sophomores and freshmen. I think everyone was genuinely surprised with the composure, the fact they pulled that out.
Then with, University of Pittsburgh. I mean, it's like the light bulb went off. We spent a lot of time in film sessions, teaching, asking questions, much like a classroom, then working so hard on the skills and asking the why, for them to understand it.
But there's no way in this world that I could tell you or that I would think this was a Final Four team. In fact, this was the most unlikely team to reach a Final Four, the least likely in every aspect. They never passed their skills tests, which is required by all Rutgers players. They never passed that test, the freshmen altogether. They seemed to not have the basics of basketball as we needed that to be understood before they came. But also there seemed to have been I guess a softer side to them, just a softer side. They had a desire, they were bright. This entire class was a Dean's list class. They're very conscious of their grades. They stick together, they work hard. They want to please.
One small thing is that they are charitably naive. Never met a group of freshmen in my life that are so naive about so many things. It makes you laugh, but there's an innocence that's there. It's probably the innocence that they have, they didn't even realize the magnitude of the game they played against Duke. As far as I'm concerned, I'd like them still to be innocent and not realize the magnitude of the games that is to come.
Q. Can you think back to your days at Slippery Rock, how much the women's game has changed, all the things you've seen in your years, how neat the Final Four is now, what a big event it is from where it's come from? Do you ever think about that?
COACH STRINGER: I mean, yeah, first of all, if you say Slippery Rock days, I would say that girl there were only two people that could go the length of the court. Rovers, all that craziness, no one would ever believe. It was thought if girls would sweat or run, they'd probably have a heart attack, just couldn't play at that level. Even when I went to Iowa, they were still very much into the six or three on three basketball game. I remember playing with the guys all the time, not understanding why there had to be a different set of rules for the girls versus the guys. Always thought that women deserved the same opportunity to have great crowds, have all the fanfare with bands, cheerleaders, bright lights, television, all those other things, but never thought it would happen.
To have been, one, part of the original founding members of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, you have to consider we didn't even and weren't responsible for governing our own body. But there were a number of us who asked the question, Heck, if it's our sport, it's women's basketball, why is it we don't control what's being done? It seemed it was guys that were basically telling us when to do what and where. So for that matter, there were a group of us that decided to band together, choose a president, see if we can't get our coaches of women's basketball involved so we could legislate and move along our own sport.
When you look at that, I know I was one of the people, myself along with Betty James, were the two people that were sent to Old Dominion or Norfolk, Virginia, to find a hotel. We were hoping to get 120 people there. Now there's like, what, four thousand.
When you ask how far has it come, it's come a long way. Certainly as a member, original founding member of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, to see years in advance the Final Four is sold out. I coached in the first NCAA event. To me there were a lot of media. Wow, that was really great. It was in Norfolk. But, I mean, I remember asking the band at Norfolk State College if they would be willing to play for us because we couldn't afford a band to play. But now the NCAA gives enough money and tickets, flights and everything else that you can have a band, cheerleaders, all those other things. So it's come quite a way.
I think about it, but not that often. My biggest issue is that it's not moved fast enough.
Q. What is the one thing that this team brings to the table that your other Final Four teams may not have? If you could reverse time, say this is the first Final Four team, you were telling this team, I wish you had what they had, complete the sentence?
COACH STRINGER: It's kind of interesting because I think every team is special with what they bring. This is very unique. They're very young, like I said. It's almost like don't even wake them, they don't know what's going on. Don't wake them up, don't even tell them they're going to the Final Four. It's a rock'n roll theme. These kids like music. I tell them about that.
But, you know, it was a while coming, but they're real fighters. They are truly a team without any great superstar. They're all there blended together just to win, but they're naive.
I tell them to really fight for every possession or every shot opportunity or every defensive, you know, possession. I think this group has come to do that, but they didn't always.
I don't even know what to say. I feel I'm left without words when it comes to describing this group, except to know that they are wonderful young ladies who are truly 17 and 16 years old really in their minds, in their innocence. It's almost like all of them were raised on a farm far away from the rest of society. It's strange to see that. That's all I can say. It's strange to see that, but that's how they are.
Q. With such a young team, which of the older players took a lead role in leadership, if one did at all?
COACH STARKEY: I think that they really needed Katie Adams, young lady from Utah. When I asked them who helped them the most, because they're like babies, really like babies, probably homesick, crying, can't find my way to the library, whatever. It's amazing. They're really, really, really, really, really young. But Katie was always there for them, trying to protect them.
I think on the floor, I thought that Essence and Matee, both who are by nature not outspoken. Matee is a clown, laugh, all that. Just to sit down and talk to a player like Cathy would do. That's not Matt, that's not Essence. Certainly their leadership skills that Chelsea demonstrated, that's not these two guys.
These young ladies, they work hard and by example. I think these players see. It's really of note when you see the way the freshmen really cling to the upperclassmen. It's like what the upperclassmen say, it's holy. Matt said this, Essence said this, as though that's the law, gee. I don't want to be late because Essence is going to be upset. I got to be there on time because...
It's nice because they do have so much respect for the upperclassmen, the freshmen do.
Q. Can you think of any similar example of what Coach Starkey has done at LSU coming in, saying over at head coach so late, and how much did you know about him before he became the head coach?
COACH STRINGER: No, unfortunately I didn't know much. I've come to understand much more about him now. I did believe that he was the motion offense guru, but I didn't know that he was also the match up guy. It's clear to me now why Coach Chatman would have had him on her staff. He's invaluable.
Maybe the closest thing to that is the job that Pokey did, you know, there. I think it was at Michigan State with the Fab Five, Jim Fisher, Coach Fisher, I think it's Jim Fisher, did. There's a number of sports opportunities that have been realized. Coaches, especially if they're prepared and good, it's obvious to me that the players really respect Coach Starkey. It's a good thing he is an X and O person because I believe if you're not technically sound, players will soon expose you and they don't have any respect. They have to know that you know the game. He's not just a recruiter or anything like that; he knows the game.
When all is said and done at these levels, you want people who are technically sharp and they know the game. These kids want to win. Sounds to me like they have a lot of motivation. Because they have that kind of motivation, and with his leadership, doesn't seem to me they're rattled at all. They're going to be fine.
Q. Have you noticed anything different strategically in the team since he took over? Have you looked at that much film?
COACH STRINGER: Not really. Can you imagine, we just finished having Duke. I'm Duked out right now. Arizona State was enough to keep us busy.
It's not like one coach who is teaching a motion offense and another one who wants to teach a T game. I wouldn't think there was much adjustment. Any kind of adjustment coach would have made would have been tweaking something, maybe trying something he would have tried before.
I don't know how much Fowles was stepping out before. I saw her in the Connecticut game. Seems like she was stepping out. I really don't know what he's done it.
Q. The 1982 Chaney team, neat for you now to go back there 25 years after you first stepped in there?
COACH STRINGER: Wow, you know something, that's interesting, it is 25 years, isn't it? That's special. That's special. That really is special. Wow, I didn't even realize that. I'll say it like this: that group of young women, there were no seniors in that group. If there were, they were so young and they were good enough that I left after that year and they went to the Final Four again. So went to back to back Final Fours.
But they were the most here is the difference between their team and this team here. That team would not leave the floor unless everything they did was perfect. If it was a press or anybody missed an assignment, Coach, could you please go over it again. The cafeteria is closed. That's okay, could you call the cafeteria guy and see if he could bring something. That was their mindset.
What can I say? This group hasn't been like that. Because they had no standards from which to measure, they were like, It seems okay, doesn't it? So it's been a teaching process with everything, from the drills, and really from the moment they touch a ball.
I was just smiling to one of the coaches, we were running a drill, a break drill that I would get so frustrated with. Dropped the ball I don't know how many times, make poor passes. Seems like it was going to take us forever, ever, ever, to get down the floor. Today I watched them go down the floor, and I thought that was so smooth, so fluid. I thought to myself, I wonder why this court seemed so long before.
That Final Four team at Chaney was a perfectionist, perfectionist kind of mentality. Plus there was that leadership with Yolanda. She just had a different mindset. Valerie Walker was just a great shooter. Deborah Walker at 5'9", 5'10" was one of the best rebounders in the country. They played the zone. This is the first time I'll show up with a Final Four team that is not playing zone.
I was just telling the team, it's very difficult for us to learn zone or to do zones. I was just telling our team when they came into my office, I said, I want you to look there was a it wasn't a news clipping, but a large poster as it was advertising the Final Four teams when we went to Philadelphia. Let's say they showed Tennessee. They would speak to the great player that was there. They spoke to Connecticut, show the great player. With Rutgers, they didn't show a player, but they explained the great match up zone.
I was saying to the team, it's sad because each year that I've gone to the Final Four, I've always used a match up zone. This is the first time I got a group of people who either, A, can't learn or, B, refuse to learn a match up. That's why you haven't seen us use the zone. It's not that I don't know it, it's not that I wouldn't like to do it, but we just don't seem to learn it.
There's a difference. They seem to thrive better playing man. I don't know if that speaks to maybe their personality because zones require a tremendous amount of cooperation. Each pass has to be timed. It just does. This group is really young for their age. When I say "young," I really mean young. There are 17 year olds and 18 year olds, then there are young 17 year olds and young 18 year olds. They are young 17 and 18 year olds. It's not my imagination. But all standards, they are young.
They are quick they take everything so literal. It's so black and white that they haven't been able to move past that, think for themselves. But that's where we began to be a better team is basically when I was sharing with them, I've basically given you these offenses. Any time we start an offense, that doesn't mean you need to have to do it. You need to be smart. The reason why we brought you here is because you're talented basketball players.
Let's say if you're supposed to make a right cut, you decide to make a left, that's fine because you are an intelligent person, you made that decision, and we've got to react to you as a basketball player. Just be free. Do what you think you need to do and let it flow.
I think they seem to thrive on that. They embrace the defense, which Chaney always did. But once they began playing defense, began seeing the opponent look like they were afraid or hesitant with what they did, they began to thrive. This team now has enjoyed playing the pressing defense, becoming part of NCAA history.
Q. Could you comment about Matee and the way she's playing right now.
COACH STRINGER: You know what, it is great. If there's a time to play great, the time is now. Obviously I wish she had been able to have been healthy because I don't think we would be anywhere near dug ourselves in the hole that we did.
On the other hand, if it is to be that all of this was delayed so she can have her finest moments and her finest hour now, I'll take that any time.
But clearly she's someone that we count on who I know can get the ball to anybody whenever she feels like it and is a warrior. She's not going to back down and she's not we're not going to lose because she's not trying.
Q. In light of the LSU situation, I wanted to get your insight on what kind of fine line a coach walks versus a coach and mentor versus a friend?
COACH STRINGER: In light of which situation?
Q. The LSU situation.
COACH STRINGER: So you're asking me at what point do you draw the line, become a mentor versus?
Q. How difficult of a balance is that?
COACH STRINGER: How difficult of a balance is it? I don't think that it's a difficult balance. I don't think it's a difficult balance. You hopefully don't put yourself in a position where or that athlete in a position where they have to guess about your intentions. But I don't want to really want to comment on it.
I think we all as coaches have a standard of conduct that we all agree on, I believe, and uphold. Conduct that is in any way, shape or form detrimental or of question to an athlete is unacceptable, period, whether that's a male or female.
I don't want to speak to what I don't know, because I don't know. I just heard allegations. Unfortunately no one knows what really happened. There's suggestions that certain things happened. All I'm thinking is that we as coaches have a responsibility to these young people to serve as their moms, to be their coaches, to be their mentors, for them to trust and respect us in the positions of power and decision making that we have.
That speaks to anyone, like I said, male or female, and that is football, basketball, baseball, anything else. There's a code of conduct that is acceptable. I think we can all agree on that.
Q. As unique as this team is, you mentioned some may not want to play match up, they're very young, naive, how did you eventually reach out and get this team's attention and finally relate to them or them relating to you?
COACH STRINGER: I try to be considerate of the fact they're freshmen, that you have to be real clear, black and white. If you left it to gray, they're the most indecisive group of people I know. You ask them if they're hungry, haven't eaten for eight hours. Are you guys hungry? They'll probably say, Hmm. Fine, you're not hungry. Wait, we're hungry. If they wasn't looking all the time to see what I think or what we think, they go along with it even if they don't agree with it. You have to be careful of what you're saying because they're not comfortable or confident enough yet.
I just decided to not worry about what just not to worry about anything other than the fact that I felt I knew what we needed to do to win. I felt that we had it within us. So rather than to worry about hurting their feelings or anything else, like I said, I just took everything, their clothes, they couldn't take showers a couple times. Could I please take a shower in the locker room because the other shower out there in the hallway leading to this other common area is cold? I got to go to class, it's winter, I don't have time to go back to my room and take a shower. I said, yeah, okay. She said, I won't linger. I just need to take a shower. But they find themselves changing their clothes in the bathroom, changing room, anywhere else.
There had to be something that they took pride in. It seemed that we kissed it all good bye with the successive losses we had. But I think there was a combination of things. I think they got tired of washing their clothes. As I told them, you can fool the people who come to watch our games, thinking this is a team, because I have got to put you in the same uniform. If I had a choice, I'd put you in green, purple, neon, everything else because you play as individuals.
I think when they each were willing to give up what was common and what was comfortable, they began to buy into each other. When they went down in their losing, they saw there were many people who were on their neck, but the only people that understood what we've gone through are the players. So I saw them begin to really support each other, push each other to work harder.
Once we got our press in place, just we started paying a lot more attention to the defense, we began to win the way that I felt we needed to. But what's most important is I see a smile on their face. In fact, I will tell you in the Duke game, Epiphanny got upset because I backed the press off and went into a 2 2 1 zone press. She kept saying, What are you doing? Why? What are you talking about? Why can't we go 55? We're down. I said, I know. I knew that they weren't able to sustain, we were too tired. I thought, wow, her of all people. She's worked so hard to become to really work hard on defense. She was the player on Waner. I can't imagine somebody like Epiphanny on somebody like Waner. She's come so far. I thought they began to buy into team things.
Defense is clearly team. Everybody can want to shoot. There's a lot of people you don't have to tell anybody anything. There's players on our team at the beginning, they shoot it every time they touched the ball, let it rip. Sometimes they're on, sometimes they don't. We would pass the ball sometimes once or twice. We seldom pass the ball four times. But we started losing. It was so bad and embarrassing. Then I just put a stop to it, stripped them of everything, then we just started paying attention to the defense because I knew the offense would never leave us, and it really hasn't.
Q. With all your years at Chaney, Iowa, Rutgers, would you agree with me this is the best coaching job you've ever done?
COACH STRINGER: Yeah, no question about that. You made a statement I think that was even more inclusive or total in its thought. You made a statement would I agree that there has been no team that I've ever had that has accomplished more in one year, having come from so far. That's true. As a rule, there have been successive or a succession of progressions through the NCAA ladder so you might go 32, 16, 8, Final Four. But never one that goes from, bang, scratch, zero, to a Final Four. That's an amazing thing. I have never coached a team that's done that.
I would have been happy if we went to the NCAAs. I remember mentioning to our coaches, because most people have to Tasha asked this question once. Were freshmen, we'd beaten Connecticut for the Big East tournament. They were so young and innocent, but so confident, knowing they were going to go to the NCAAs. Tasha said something like, I don't know we just don't play Tennessee right away since they ultimately going to be the Final Four team. We just need to do that. When we lost, I think in that first round or second round, she cried so hard. She said, Why does it always have to be that you have to be here first and then you have to go the next step? Why do you have to? Why can't you just believe you can go to the Final Four and just do that?
Well, she spoke to an idea. But few people get a chance to live that out. It looks to me like these guys are so young, these freshmen are so young, they don't even know what they've done. I'd just as soon they don't because they thought, well, aren't you supposed to be going to the Final Four? That's all that I know.
This is totally a different group, young, innocent, now have heart, fire. I think that some of them were afraid to show, like Essence. When I looked at the pictures you had in the Home News, never saw such intensity. Kia Vaughn has always had intensity. Epiphanny is very calm, even tempered, got a smile, laugh with you, but she's very calm. Don't even see her do a high five when she's getting ready to go on the floor to play the game, can't tell what's going through her mind. When she hit a three, I think it was against Duke, I saw her leave her feet and just go up in the air. I thought, wow, I know that's difficult for her because she's not very expressive. This is definitely an interesting team.
RICK NIXON: Thanks so much, Coach Stringer. That concludes today's teleconference. Appreciate your time being with us.
COACH STRINGER: Thank you.