‘Hoo Said It: National Championship Eve

Here’s a collection of coach and player quotes from both Virginia and Texas Tech ahead of Monday night’s National Championship game:

ncaa tournamentVIRGINIA PRESS CONFERENCE

Q. Tony, obviously, your father’s a big influence on your coaching career, but I’m just curious, coming from the NBA, where teams score a lot of points, how did you decide that when you wanted to become a coach, that you wanted to build a program around defense?

TONY BENNETT: I think I saw it — you know, as a player, I was fortunate to — Green Bay, where I played for my father, it was a rebuilding situation, so I was part of that as a player, and I watched it even when I was in high school.
Then I observed him at Wisconsin when he went there, and I think they’d only been to one NCAA Tournament. I’m sorry, one NCAA Tournament win in like — it was like 40 years. I don’t want to misquote it, but it was an amazing stat, and I saw him have to rebuild it in the Big Ten and how he did it, and then the same thing at Washington State.
So to have that experience to know that defense can be an equalizer and use that is important. I think at all levels not many teams advance without being strong defensively, even in the NBA. That’s what I knew, and I’ve seen it work and be successful, and then you always continue to adjust your offense, but that probably sealed it for me as I watched the success come. And then even being under Coach Ryan for those two years, those experiences watching good programs.

Q. Tony, staying on the defense, one of the least talked about aspects of your defense is blocked shots. As you reflected on last night getting nine, how essential were they, and could they loom large again tomorrow night?

TONY BENNETT: Yeah, rim protection is so important. The quickness of Auburn. And sometimes your defense just breaks down. So the ability for guys to either erase mistakes, and Mamadi’s been significant in that, and I know Texas Tech is significant in that capacity too, but that is — when you can play good defense but you have some length or shot blocking behind it, it just adds another element to being harder to score against.
So those were key plays, and they have been all year, whether it was someone coming from the weak side. Over the years, you saw Isaiah do it, Darion Atkins and guys, and so that is important.

Q. Your program has never been this far. Texas Tech has never been this far. It’s a unique situation. I’m wondering how much of the challenge of building a program to get to this point is literally convincing players, coaches, the administration that it can be done? The hierarchy of college basketball is just so established.

TONY BENNETT: Right. That’s one of the things that drew me to have a chance to coach in the ACC because of the storied programs and the storied coaches, the Hall of Fame coaches. Can you go and take a team and build your program in a way that you think is best and compete against the best?
There’s a way that I know works — or that I believe works. So when you get in those spots, you hope, you have a vision and you hope, but you never truly know. When you come in and say, This is going to happen. We’re going to be a Final Four team, or we’re going to win the ACC, you believe it, and you hope it, and then you just go to work. That’s what it is.
So, yes, everyone has the dreams and the goals, but it’s — that’s why we have a door knocker. You just keep knocking. You never know when sometimes the door gets slammed in your face, but sometimes you get your foot in the door and then your shoulder, and then you can bust through. It’s just a continual process.
Having gone through that as a player and a coach, that was an incredible advantage for me. It is can you build a program and compete against the best, and then how far can you push it?
Having watched Wisconsin get to the Final Four, having seen other things, it gave me a blueprint, and then you also add to that.

Q. Several of your colleagues back at UVA have won NCAA titles in their sports. What’s the response been from your fellow coaches during this run? Do you hear a lot from them? Or because they know you’re busy, have they backed off?

TONY BENNETT: You can tell they’ve been through it: Great job; no need to reply on the text messages. The hundreds come in, so they’ve been through it. The support you have — the Debbie Ryan, when she was there, Joanne Boyle from the women’s program, now Tina (Thompson), Brian O’Connor, Coach (Bruce) Arena, all down the list, I can name them all, all the coaches. It’s a close-knit family at UVA because I think we appreciate how it has to be done there, but there’s so many great coaches there.
I remember when I got the job, I said, what’s the key to building a program? And I listened to them intently about finding guys that fit your system, your culture, and the culture of UVA.

Q. On Ty, before you secured his commitment, why do you think he flew under the radar a little bit as a recruit?

TONY BENNETT: He grew a little bit. You know, you look at him, and he’s not the most intimidating guy athletically. You say, well, is he quick enough? Can he do things? I think, did he pass the eye test? Perhaps not for some of the high majors, and it was early, but sometimes you have to go with your gut.
I’ve been fortunate, I think when I had to coach at Washington State, we had to trust our gut. Sometimes you do, and sometimes you don’t, but you have to say I see it in him and not be afraid to get those guys because, if guys are mentally tough and have the courage and the heart, maybe in certain areas they’re lacking. It has to be a minimal level of athleticism or whatever it is, but if you see that, those guys usually just take off.
Most of our guys that haven’t been the most highly touted recruiting-wise, when I was at Washington State and now here, have just blossomed. Joe Harris, even Malcolm Brogdon, I could go down the list. They’re just great stories. I think maybe he’s part of it, and then he obviously kept going. There’s something in him that is just so special.

Q. Kyle’s been very open about his battles to manage anxiety, to kind of keep himself from getting overpressured. I’m curious how you maybe helped him get through some of that, and what stood out to you about the way he handled those issues to get to where he is now?

TONY BENNETT: The best thing I could do for Kyle is I pray for him a lot. I do, and I’m there for him. Everyone — we have a saying, be kind because everyone you meet is facing a hard battle. Some things you have to work through with yourself and the right kind of help, and he’s very honest about it. I try to encourage him and challenge him in ways and be there for him, coach him hard.
We always talk about encouragement and also accountability, you know, being that way with him. I constantly think about him, and for all my guys, that’s one of the fortunate things. You’re kind of — you know, it’s an extended family, so you are a father figure, to an extent, to them. I think about that stuff, and I do that for me. That’s really important for him. That’s probably the best thing I could say I did.
And then we’re together in this journey. That’s the one thing you talk about being able to go through the highs and the lows together. We’ve had some. I mentioned the times we’ve been up here together in tough situations and then watching them grow through it. Just, again, thankful that he was entrusted to me for this time, and that’s why you want to be a good steward when you have him for the time you get him.

Q. Tony, you guys have heard ad nauseam this year about the UMBC loss. How gratifying is it to then be in this position? And is there some kind of, I don’t know, karmic payback that you went to where you were then to where you are now?

TONY BENNETT: Yeah, I’m just incredibly thankful. Heard about it a lot, and we knew that. I feel like I repeat myself too much. In a way, it’s a painful gift. It did draw us nearer to each other as a team. I think it helped us as coaches. I think it helped the players on the court and helped us in the other areas that rely on things that were significant.
But I — you know, I think that karmic payback, I don’t know. I knew it was going to be a significant year in all of our lives. I knew that going into this year because of what was going to be coming at us because of that from a basketball standpoint. So I just knew we needed each other.
Everything was pretty intentional about this year and how we’re going, and did I know we were going to be in this spot after last year? And you say what a difference a year makes. I didn’t, but I knew it was going to be a really important marked year for all of us in our lives, and it’s certainly playing out that way.

Q. Sort of a followup to that, how much of a believer are you now, maybe destiny, fate, however you want to call it, how the last couple games have gone that you’ve emerged from improbable situations and to be on the brink of playing for a National Championship?

TONY BENNETT: Yeah. Again, I believe our steps are ordered. I think you walk and you do everything you can with the abilities you’ve been given as players, as coaches, and then you trust. I just, I believe that. So the fact that we’re here, yeah, I think there’s been a hand in this. In my life, I’d be foolish not to believe that.

Q. Tony, I wanted to ask you specifically about this matchup. Do you see similarities in the way Texas Tech defends? And then, big picture, do you feel any sense of vindication after so many years of people saying this system won’t get you here, but there’s two teams that pride themselves on defense playing for the championship?

TONY BENNETT: First, defensively, Texas Tech — no, they’re different than us. They’re really special defensively. I have the utmost respect for how they play, but it is a different system. I think someone said, statistically, we’re two of the top five teams defensively. You can see it. They’re very physical. Their ability to take your ball, and some of the — just look at the games in the tournament and what they’ve done to some of the great offensive teams has been so impressive.
But there’s some different things. I mean, we work, and there’s the similarities of what we value, but it’s sort of different in that regard. They’ll switch. They’ll do — they’ve got some different things they do.
As far as vindication or people saying that, no, not really. That doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t.

Q. De’Andre had a very good second half last night.

TONY BENNETT: Yes.

Q. But had been kind of in a bit of a funk or whatever you want to call it. Are you concerned that he was pressing? How do you feel he’s been playing, especially coming back in the second half of last night?

TONY BENNETT: Yeah, I was really impressed with how he responded in that second half. Even in the Purdue game, he made two big free throws and made the basket to seal it. He’s always defending, and we’re always — I just keep challenging him. I think he’s — again, he’s just scratching the surface of what he’s going to become.
But who knows? It’s intense. I mean, the physicality goes up, the pace, everything, when you get in these settings. He really stepped up when we needed it in that second half, and I know we’re going to need it, obviously, tomorrow.
Again, I think he’s hard on himself. If he’s missing shots or not helping his team, he puts a lot on himself. We talked about it. Be free, man. Go after this. We need you. Be a player. If the shot’s not going or whatever, impact the game in other ways. That’s kind of what we talked about, and I thought he took a step for sure in that game.

Q. Pardon the cliche, but at what point in your mind did Mamadi become a prime-time player?

TONY BENNETT: He’s shown flashes of that this year, and there’s certainly been stretches, and he’s been real consistent since the NCAA Tournament has started for these five games, but definitely in stretches before. It’s just kind of being consistent with it. Some of it was staying out of foul trouble. Some of it was me probably giving him more opportunities. I think it’s all of those things, but his impact has been significant in this run without a doubt.

Q. Tony, as far back as ACC Media Day, you had said that you really wanted to get to the Final Four, you really wanted to win a National Championship, but if you didn’t, you’d been through the worst, and you had come through that and survived it. In the back of your mind, I know that you — in the front of your mind, I know that you want to win a National Championship. In the back of your mind, are you — not thinking, but aware that, if things don’t work out tomorrow night, you still have that foundation, and you’ll still be able to handle it?

TONY BENNETT: Let’s clarify something. I’ve been through the worst basketball-wise, okay? Let’s keep this in perspective. Yeah, it’s hard, and we grew from it, but understand — and that’s the one thing. There’s going to be — people go through so many hard things. I understand that.
To answer your question or your statement, yes.

Q. Tony, I understand it was your idea to do the whitewater rafting trip, to choose that. Why did you choose that activity in particular for the team-building exercise? And was there anything that you learned about your group dynamics that maybe you didn’t know going into that trip?

TONY BENNETT: Because it’s a blast. Have you ever been whitewater rafting? I mean, come on. And some of our guys were scared to death, so it was even more fun to watch them be scared to death. It was the highest point of the rapids, and we had — our guys’ eyes were big. We had to beg Dre — I can’t remember some of them; I call him out — “It’s going to be okay.” But, no, we just wanted to have a blast.
Look, it was the summer. We had worked out hard, and I said let’s do something. We had a little miniature golf tournament somewhere in West Virginia the night before. Again, everything was about let’s enjoy this, let’s have fun.
It was ironic. You know, when we got here to Minneapolis, they gave us a paddle when we got off the plane, and it said, “The Road Ends Here.” Before the Purdue game, I told our guys, I just went through some experiences that I observed and how powerful it was. I said, But one that stands out is when we were on our whitewater rafting trip, kind of the first thing we did after our summer workouts — and literally, they tipped the boat on purpose, and you float down the river. It’s one of the oldest rivers, they say, in the world, if you can believe that, where we were rafting. And I remember floating down the river, and you’re just going. And I remember saying to myself, Okay. All right, Lord. What’s this year going to bring? I wonder.
I remember just like it was the most beautiful setting just floating down the river with these guys, and I remember saying that in my mind. And I relay that to them before the Purdue game, and I said — and I actually got a little emotional with them. I said, Here we are. This was on the verge of the Elite Eight game. I’m floating on that river. What’s this year going to bring? Because it’s a significant year I thought that. I was thinking, wow, here I am.
And then interesting we come to Minneapolis, and the first thing they give us are these paddles or oars that say “The Road Ends Here.” So it was kind of a significant or poignant moment for me.

Q. I want to ask you about tomorrow, another late tip. What’s your day going to be like? What’s the routine? And also, you’ve used the TED Talks. You’ve used “Friday Night Lights.” Do you have another bullet left in the chamber pre-National Championship?

TONY BENNETT: I think we played Oregon about 10:30. That was a late one. We’ve played some late games. You know, just you push everything back, you keep your routine the same. We have something we do at the hotel. I don’t know if I have another TED Talk or anything. I’ll have to ask my wife. She’s the one who gave me the TED Talk. She was actually at that TED Talk. Paul, you talked to her about that, and that was five years before this, and then after we lost, she’s the one who told me.
We’ll think of something, but as I said, it will be a joy to get ready for this game.

Q. Coach, first of all, I’d like to say I appreciate your spirituality and faith. It’s awesome and a blessing. I’ve got to ask you, what’s it like for you personally to see a lot of these programs and schools adopt your defensive personality and everything like that and what you do with your program?

TONY BENNETT: I mean, I don’t know how many do. Texas Tech, they do something different, and that was poured into Coach Beard and Coach Adams, and he was under Coach Knight. Coach Knight influenced my father.
I think, as far as our pack defense that some programs use, I think my father established that when he was at Green Bay, and other people probably did it before him.
I think people are always looking for ways how can we close the gap against teams that are so talented? And I think, as I mentioned to Dan, I think it was, who asked a question — I got your attention. You looked up. Stop texting while we’re doing this thing here. No, I’m just kidding — defense can be a great equalizer. You play against all different types of systems.
That’s the beauty of the game. People put their own little twist on it. But I think from a basketball standpoint it’s one of the best legacies my father left, those five pillars that many teams have adopted, but that defensive system.

Q. Tony, you’ve been very open talking about some really important things that have happened in the last year, like faith and family and relationships, sort of an outgrowth from the UMBC game. Are you amazed at all that the impact and the changes in important areas that have come from one basketball game?

TONY BENNETT: Well, I go back to — and I talked to these guys the other day. This has been going for — this is my tenth year. This has been a process for ten years. I’ve been humbled so many times in this game as a head coach, and I shared that with these guys when we got — we played in the ACC Tournament my second year, and we were up ten points with 42 seconds and got beat in overtime to Miami. We got to the Elite Eight and it was a great experience and lost that year.
One thing I told them, again, I use scripture — and I understand everybody is at different places. But I told them one of the things we talked about is don’t grow weary in doing good; for at the due time, you’ll reap a harvest. These guys have been so faithful this year, and that’s been such a joy to me. And the players I’ve been under, when they faced adversity in a basketball sense — I’m not talking about a world sense, a basketball sense — they haven’t grown weary in doing the right stuff.
That’s not been from one game. Yeah, that was a significant game, and I knew the light would shine on them, and how they responded would have an impact. But this has been going — this is life, it really is, but this is the basketball thing.

THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome. We’ll take questions for the next ten minutes for the student-athletes and for Coach Bennett.

Q. Texas Tech has the No. 1 rated defense in college basketball, points per possession. It’s actually historically tracking as the toughest defense in college basketball in the past two decades. With that in mind, given you and your staff and your program’s history of being a top five defense year over year over year, how much of a benefit will that be, do you expect, going into tomorrow’s game given the guys going up A team playing B team have not faced the exact same scheme but have encountered such stifling defense from within the league and within the team?

TONY BENNETT: I think, when you try to play hard defense, you understand the value of offensively how mentally tough you have to be, how sound you have to be, and you have to take what the defense gives you. But it’s a challenge. When our defense is at its best, it really makes people work to get contested shots.
Obviously, Texas Tech, in their own way, they make people work, and they swarm. So understanding that and not just saying, oh, they haven’t seen our offense, they’ve seen offenses before. That would be false confidence. But understand and, hey, it takes hard, tough offense, and you work to get quality shots, and then you turn around and play the same way against them.

Q. I’ll ask Tony this and then maybe Kyle can also answer it. You’ve played, Tony, obviously at the highest level. What does it take for a guy like Kyle to step up and have that ability to perform under pressure, hitting those three free throws with 70,000 fans and the nation looking on? And then even before that, if he doesn’t hit that three-pointer in pressure, doesn’t even get to that stage. What does it take to have that ability to perform under pressure? And then maybe, Kyle, could you talk about maybe your ability to perform under pressure.

TONY BENNETT: Well, I’ve been fortunate to watch both of these two young men, Ty and Kyle, over their years do that in different settings, in pressure settings. Obviously, in that setting in the college basketball world, that’s as big as it gets, but it doesn’t surprise me. I think it just takes to be in the moment. There’s a saying the art of doing what you’re doing and not getting too lost in it.
I was sitting next to Kyle. He said, I just put my jersey in my face to focus, before he went there. No, it takes this (indicating head), and it takes this (indicating heart). And that’s what he’s shown, that’s why Ty has shown since I’ve seen these guys from little guys on up to young men. They have it both. They got it in both places, which is everything.

KYLE GUY: I think for me and probably every basketball player, everyone’s envisioned themselves winning a game on this stage. Like you said, I just try to get in my own zone and focus in. I knew that my teammates had confidence in me, and that gives me more confidence than I’ll ever be able to give myself.

Q. For the players, Frankie mentioned, starting with the North Carolina game, you changed up the road trip stuff a little bit. Didn’t do shootaround, added a name that tune, friendly competition. How have those things benefited you at this point, having done it on the road and done the team building? And, Coach, if you could add something about the drive for doing that instead of the normal.

TY JEROME: Yeah, I think it was because we wanted to get off our feet more, because that Carolina game, we were coming off Duke two days before. So they wanted us to get off our feet as much as possible and get as much rest, and Frankie started playing the piano, and he’s so talented in that. I think Coach just selfishly wants to hear him play.
We’ve been doing so many team-bonding activities since my first year here, and this group is as close of a team I’ve ever been on in my whole life, and that’s what makes it so special.

KYLE GUY: Yeah, the past two years, those teams have been so close, and Ty’s right, we’ve done so many team-bonding exercises with Coach and then with ourselves. We play cards all the time. I couldn’t be happier for our team and what we’ve accomplished so far. We still have one more.

TONY BENNETT: Same thing I said about the whitewater rafting trip, it’s fun. We still do a walkthrough. We do sometimes — guys will shoot, but we do our stuff, but then it’s just to come together and have some fun. We’ve done a bunch of different things and just enjoy that time and get ready to play. I think there has to be a balance to it. Just have a good time with it.

Q. This is for Tony. The players can answer a similar question. Tony, how has it helped you as a head coach to have been an NBA player? Guys, you could answer perhaps if he mentioned that much to you during the course of your conversations, Coach, and that sort of thing.

TONY BENNETT: I think every experience you have as a player is invaluable, and a lot of times I’ll rely on these guys, like, hey, what are you seeing out there? And I trust what they have to say because I trust their feel and their understanding of the game.
Sometimes in recruiting, you can say, hey, I’ve walked a path you guys want to go. I mean, I wasn’t — listen, I played about 15, 13 minutes a game. I was a backup point guard. I don’t pretend like I was this big-time player, but I was in the rotation, and I played. I think that helps guys say, hey, I had to work my way to get there. So I think maybe in some ways, recruiting-wise, it helps, and just things I learned from watching them. When you played against Michael Jordan 15 times in your career and get to play in the playoffs and go against the players, there’s just stuff you figure out.
Muggsy Bogues, I got asked that. What did you see in Kihei? I saw Muggsy Bogues live it out for three years, and that kind of stuff helps. I have good relationships with NBA people, so I can learn and get ideas from. I think maybe that stuff helps.
I hope I don’t talk about it too much in front of you guys because that wouldn’t be good.

KYLE GUY: I was just going to say he doesn’t really talk about himself at all. He’s just so humble and genuine. The only thing he really mentions about the NBA is, again, the Muggsy to Kihei comparison, and then anything he learned that could help the team. It’s never about him. That’s why he’s such a great leader.

Q. If you actually visualize yourselves cutting down the nets tomorrow night, what would that mean to you?

TY JEROME: I feel like you got to ask me that tomorrow night. It’s going to be — I mean, we know what we’re in for. We know how good Texas Tech is, so we know it’s going to be a dogfight. Coach always says, the joy is in the competition. So we’re mostly excited to go out there and compete. We’d love to cut down the nets. I can’t — I would probably be speechless if we’re able to do it. I’m sure it would mean the world to me. It’s what every kid hopes for and what we work so hard for, but like Coach said, the joy is in the competition.

KYLE GUY: Both teams have probably envisioned it. Every player and coach on every team has envisioned it, I’m sure, but I think it’s important to realize that you don’t get to skip the game and just go down and cut the nets. We’ve got to focus on what’s in front of us. We’ve got to practice today, a little bit more media, I think, and just focus on we’re in for a battle and we’re excited.

Q. For Ty and for Kyle, what’s the first NCAA Tournament final you guys remember watching growing up? And then has it hit you yet, or when did it hit you that you guys were going to be on that stage?

TY JEROME: I don’t remember exactly the order of all The Finals I’ve watched, but I vividly remember watching Mario Chalmers hitting that shot. I remember I was supposed to be asleep and my mom coming in my room and telling me to shut the TV off because it was a 9:00 game Eastern Time, and I was trying to stay up and watch it. Then the game went into overtime.
Being on this stage is incredible. It’s everything I dreamed of and more. Just being with this group of guys and this coaching staff makes it all that much better.

KYLE GUY: Yeah, I obviously listened to my parents more. I was asleep when Mario Chalmers hit the shot.

TONY BENNETT: I can’t believe you had a TV in your room. That’s what I’m thinking about.

KYLE GUY: I said to my stepdad, if it’s close, wake me up. He woke me up, and we watched that together. But then probably 2007 or 2008 with (Greg) Oden and (Michael) Conley. Obviously they grew up close to me, so I was rooting for them. They fell short, but those are probably two memories I remember the most.

Q. Just reflecting on what Kyle did last night, what were the most pressurized free throws you ever took as a player, either at Green Bay or in the NBA or high school?

TONY BENNETT: There’s been a bunch of them, but I’ve got kind of a funny story. I got fouled, and we were maybe down two. This was at Green Bay when I played there. We were down one or down two. I went to the line, and for some reason, before I went to the line, I just looked back over my shoulder because I knew where my mom sat.
And when I looked at my mom, she was like this. She had her hands in her face. I was like, oh, great. And I remember making them, and I gave her the business ever since from that, like, thanks, Mom, you’re supposed to believe in your son, but she wasn’t looking. I hope your mom wasn’t doing that, and you didn’t look at her.

Kyle Guy
On what the next 24 hours will look like:

“I said in the press conference that every single person on both sides, both programs, have envisioned cutting down the nets tomorrow. I think it’s important to be focused on what’s at hand, which is answering these questions and practice and so forth and so on. If we continue to play the way that we have and do the little things and do everything we know we do well, then we’ll have a good shot.”
On mental preparation for pressure shooting:
“I think all of my life has led to this. Everything that I’ve been through made it a lot easier to hone in and try to knock down the free throws. I said that I was terrified. It was a good terrified, though, a good nervousness in my stomach like, ‘This is my chance,’ type thing. I don’t know where it comes from. I know that my family’s always been behind me and I got to look at them before I shot the free throws.”
On when the hope of making it to the title game changed to belief that Virginia would:
“I think we started believing in ourselves since the loss last year, in a way that’s different than any other team I’ve been a part of. Obviously last year we thought that we could win it all. We were 31-3, best team in the country, and we had a chance. I don’t know if that was hope, or belief. I know this year that there was a belief, as soon as that buzzer sounded last year, that we were going to do something special this year.”
On how understanding and dealing with anxiety helped him with Saturday’s game-winning free throws:
“After last year, I had to take a lot of time to myself…That’s when I wrote the letters, just tried to do anything that was therapeutic for me so I could bounce back from it and be stronger as a person. I think you see the growth from that, not only with myself but with the team. [Against] Gardner-Webb we’re down 10 or whatever—same position as last year—and we didn’t panic. We just buckled down and tried to take care of business. Again, I’m really proud of the way that everyone’s grown.”

De’Andre Hunter
On if the initial Final Four jitters are gone:

“I would say so, but I don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. There may be some nerves again and I’m sure there will be because it’s the national championship game. There will be some nerves, we’re going to have some jitters, but when it comes to the game we are just going to play how we usually do.”
On the final sequence in the Auburn game:
“I didn’t really know what was going on. I was hoping that it was a shooting foul and I was just hoping it was three shots at that point. [Kyle] was very calm. We gave him confidence and the coaches were giving him confidence. He’s a great shooter and he knocked down three big free throws.”
On what they’ve learned about Texas Tech so far:
“They are a defensive team, they always try to take the ball from you, and they try to get after you on defense.

Kihei Clark
On looking at social media after last night’s win:

“I definitely saw all the videos from people back home. I know that the Amphitheater was filled with people. We get a lot of love and support from the people back home.”
On his reaction on the court after they won:
“I was still in disbelief. I didn’t think there was any way we could have won that game. It just goes to show you that anything can happen in March.”
On the importance of defense in college basketball:
“Coach always tells us that our defense will take us as far as we want to go. Texas Tech is also a great defensive team, so it is definitely going to be a grinder of a game on Monday. “
On scouting Texas Tech:
“We’ll definitely have to bring the intensity and physicality to the game on Monday. Texas Tech is really physical on the defensive end and they really like to take people’s balls, so we are just going to have to be stronger on the offensive end.”

Ty Jerome
On what he has improved on in his time at Virginia:

“Every single part of my game has gotten better. I think the biggest thing for me was the work I’ve put in the weight room with Coach Curtis, just because that allowed me to get to different parts of the floor, allowed me to take contact a little better, and play through contact a little bit, and that opened up a majority of my game. And then Coach Bennett he just taught me how to move and catch and shoot. He always preaches get your feet down, so shooting off the move I really improved at. You know I could always shoot off the catch in high school, but I couldn’t really shoot off the move and that’s something Coach Bennett really worked with me on.”
On if Coach Bennett is the primary defensive coach and how hard they are pushed on their defense:
“Yeah he’s our primary defensive coach. All of the assistants have a voice though, so they all do a great job at chiming in at the right time, but it’s Coach Bennett’s system. It was his dad’s system, and now he owns it, now it’s his system. They’re extremely hard on us. Coach Bennett always says I know it’s hard to play for me, and that’s the first thing I tell people when I play for Coach Bennett, I say it’s hard, but in a good way. To go back to the previous question, that’s why my defense has improved so much since I got here. Just everything is super hard, you gotta stay continuous, and the one thing he’ll always yell at us for is if we’re lazy on defense or if we miss a defensive assignment. There’s no leeway on the defensive end, and that’s what got us here.”
On how stressful the ends of the last two games have been to go through:
“I wouldn’t say stressful, because as long as you can feel a fighting chance, you’re just so locked into the game and just thankful to be on that stage. So they didn’t really feel stressful.”

Mamadi Diakite
On how he has felt since the win against Auburn:

“I didn’t get much sleep and I’m very tired but I’m very excited. Now we’re focused on the next game.”
On the game plan for Texas Tech:
“We have to make sure we hit them with a lot of screens. We watched some of their tapes this morning and it looks like they have good hands… The have a big size inside and out and they’re very athletic.”
On his game against Auburn:
“The game was good because we won, but like I said before, I impact the game not only by scoring, but in many ways. Yesterday I found my sweet spot which was to block shots and grab a couple of rebounds, make some stops on defense and where I was more involved. Offensively, the guys were doing their jobs.”

Braxton Key
On realizing his dream of playing for a national championship:

“Exactly, this is everything we worked for. Growing up as a kid, dreaming about this moment, it’s just a blessing.”
On preparing for Texas Tech:
“We haven’t watched much film on them yet. We’ve kind of watched a little bit of their defense and how aggressive they are. In a way, they’re similar but they also take a different approach defensively. We’re definitely going to have to be strong with the ball.”
On when the belief started that this team could make it to the national championship:
“Honestly, when we were working out all summer. Everyone was saying that they had a fire in their eye because of how last season ended. Just seeing how Ty [Jerome], Kyle [Guy], ‘Dre [Hunter], Mamami [Diakite], just how everyone was working, they were going to the gym two, three times a day. They were wearing me out. I thought I was a worker, but just seeing everyone’s dedication and focus, that’s when I saw.”
On if the mindset is different for this game compared to other games:
“Absolutely. Like you said, it’s the national championship, so there’s going to be some nerves from some guys, probably some anxiety. A lot of good pressure, but I’m excited for us to get out there and perform well.”
On what this win would mean to the program, players, coaches and fans:
“It would be huge for us and huge for the coaches, but I think it would be bigger for the people back in Charlottesville. All the UVA fans we have, we do it for them. They’ve been supporting us for many years and they’ve been through many unfortunate March moments, so hopefully we can bring it home for them.”

Jack Salt
On the team bonding the team did before the season:

“We hang out whenever we can. We play cards, we went up to West Virginia and went white water rafting and just enjoyed each other’s company. I think that shows on the floor when you see the chemistry the guys have out there and what we have and what we’ve created over the past year.“
On his role on the team during the tournament:
“I’m ready no matter what. I’m a team player, I’m not going to complain if I’m not getting a lot of minutes. We’re winning right now and I’ve told coach I’m ready when he needs me, and if he needs me I’ll be ready.“
On Texas Tech:
“They’re an extremely physical team. They flood, they go for the ball, and they scrap, so it’s going to be a battle tomorrow. Virginia Tech is a pretty good comparison to how physical they play.”

 

ncaa tournamentTEXAS TECH PRESS CONFERENCE

CHRIS BEARD: The best thing about this is just keep coaching these guys. We don’t want it to end. Looking forward to today, another practice, then tomorrow more preparation, and ultimately a game.
Those of us in college basketball, when you talk about that Monday in April, it’s a special day. Just so pleased to be coaching these guys on a Monday night.

Q. We always hear coaches say embracing the process, enjoy the journey. You seem to be taking that to an art form right now. How are you able to do that and still get these guys prepared to play as well as they have?

CHRIS BEARD: This is what we always do. This isn’t anything new. We have a process that we believe in. It has the academic piece. It has the individual work, the shooting, the team practice, the film, the conditioning, the diet, the sleep — all those things go into our process.
But one thing we talk about from day one is just balance. I think you’ve got to have some kind of release. It starts with faith and family, and then ultimately the best players have a release.
I don’t know Michael Jordan, but I’ve studied him as much as anybody, and I know he’s very competitive with golf and enjoys things like that, and all the great ones do. With our guys, we talk about having balance, we talk about having fun off the court, and being serious on the court.
On this trip, we’re doing the same thing. We set it up as a twofold plan. We’re saying “smell the roses,” has been our terminology this week, really in the whole tournament. That just means enjoying everything, but also then being us when it comes to basketball, and I think we’ve done that pretty well.

Q. When you were considering the Texas Tech job, talking to Kirby, I think you guys talked about alignment and making sure there was a well-resourced program. What in your mind is a well-resourced championship program, and how has it matched that the last few years?

CHRIS BEARD: When Kirby and I met, it was a real simple conversation. We just wanted to make sure we were on the same page. Our expectations were to try to compete for championships and to have the resources and the mindset and the vision to do so.
Our goal has never been to make a tournament. It’s been to win the tournament. It’s easy to talk about, and really, really hard to do. But that’s where we started this whole thing, was just trying to have the expectations and the vision where we could be relative.
It starts by trying to be relative in the Big 12. If you can get in the top half of the Big 12 and compete, you can beat anybody once the tournament starts. That’s been proven several times in recent history here.
The big thing with Kirby is and I is we shared the vision we could be relative in the Big 12, which ultimately meant we could be relative alternately.

Q. Coach, I got a two-part question. Part one, do you have an update on Tariq?

CHRIS BEARD: No.

Q. Okay. And part two, you’ve said all year the reason Matt Mooney and Tariq came to Tech is to play in big games in the NCAA Tournament. Their performance last night, they were both outstanding. Is that why you recruited them to Texas Tech?

CHRIS BEARD: We recruited them because they’re talented players, number one. We knew they could play well in the Big 12. They both have a proven record, proven body of work, but the big thing for Tech — and I don’t want to speak for those guys, we know how much we lost from last year’s team with Zach and Zhaire, Justin, Tommy, Niem, and Keenan leaving. I think those guys saw the opportunity to play on the big stage but also the spot to make an impact.

Q. As you look at your starting lineup, all these guys were two stars, three stars, or in Mooney’s case, not even rated coming out of high school. How has that kind of bonded this team, and specifically with Culver, how has that kind of motivated him in his career?

CHRIS BEARD: I think the ratings and the stars and all that’s good for basketball, it’s good for attention and stuff, but it really has no relationship between that and winning. Zhaire Smith wasn’t a top 100 player. He’s 16th in the Draft last year.
I think it can be a source of motivation. Every great player I’ve coached, I’ve always said, they print out that top 100. I’ll put it in your locker and put in my office and put it on your wall next to your bed and go to work, and we’ll see where it pans out.
With Zhaire, it not panned out pretty good after a year. With Culver, it’s coming true after two. Stars are just stars. They don’t mean anything once you get to work. It’s about player development and working on your craft.
Steph Curry is a pretty good player, and he didn’t play at a blue blood. So, I mean, I just think the star deal is one part of basketball, and we respect it, but more important, it’s the work you put in.

Q. Chris, I asked Tony the same question. It sort of builds off of what Brian said. How much of building a program to get to this point is convincing people in the program, around the program, players, administrators, assistant coaches, that even though we haven’t done this before, we can do this. We can get to this point.

CHRIS BEARD: That’s big. That’s the first step, is the vision, and then you’ve got to get people on board that really believe it and believe it in front of you, behind your back, believe it at 10:00 when they’re out of town, on the road somewhere. Believe it in the morning, believe it when they’re talking to their wife, their kid. They’ve got to really believe it.
Our first year at Texas Tech, we had a great team. We were just close. We lost a lot of close games, but that’s when the foundation started. And then last year with Keenan and those guys, that’s where it became reality, where we really thought, hey, we can play with the best teams in college basketball. We’re good enough to do this. And this year’s team really benefited from the culture we established year two. Vision and belief are everything.
Sometimes it comes off as a little bit of arrogance, but you’ve got to be willing to tell people — I’ve been telling people my whole life, I think we can win championships and play on the last night of the season.
The reason I say that is not arrogance, it’s just belief in what we do on a day-to-day basis. I know how much our guys are on the practice floor. I know how hard our staff works. I know how we care for each other.
When you’ve got a group of people working collectively and you have the courage and the backbone to tell people what you think you can do, then that’s when great things can happen.

Q. Coach, I know by now you’ve probably seen the videos of the pretty wild celebrations in Lubbock after yesterday’s big win. If you’re from Lubbock, you know that we can be excited, we can be rowdy. What do you think about the way they celebrated? Do you have a message for everyone going forward back home?

CHRIS BEARD: First of all, I know we have great fans at Texas Tech, and I know those students very well, and I just hate that the actions of a select few are putting Lubbock in maybe this light, but I’ve lived in Lubbock 13 years. I know the students. I know the people. We have core values, but sometimes just a few people will do something, and I just hate that it kind of puts that light on it.
So my message and my voice would be let’s celebrate this, let’s enjoy this, but let’s do it in the right way, in a safe way. But I want to recognize all the people that do do that the right way. All the people that spent their hard-earned time and money to come here. Our hotel last night was electric, but it was safe and professional and just good. I did see some of those things, it didn’t make me happy, but I’d like to recognize all the people that are doing it the right way. Hopefully this story isn’t just those select few that made some bad decisions.

Q. Can you tell me how, since you were talking about staff the other day, you crossed paths with Max LeFevre, and if he’ll be a good coach someday?

CHRIS BEARD: I appreciate you asking that. Max is my guy. I hired Max at Angelo State University at a D-II graduate assistant where he basically got his master’s paid for, and that was it. He came recommended to me through some basketball people I trust. Max and I talked on the phone every day for about 40 days, a month and about 10 days.
It’s one of the only times of my coaching career I’ve ever hired anybody kind of sight unseen. Just because of the resources at that level, I don’t even think we had a face-to-face interview, but I just had a feel for Max on the phone.
Everything he said he’d do in those 40 days, he did. Coach, I’ll call you at 9:30 tomorrow. 9:30 tomorrow, the phone rang. Coach, I’ll send that to you via e-mail. I just had a good feel. Sometimes recruiting with players, you just have a good feel, but Max especially. He’s contributed to NCAA tournaments at Angelo State. He’s contributed to championships at Little Rock and Texas Tech. We’ve graduated every player since Max has been with us. He’s a special person. He relates to the players. He’s a mentor to them.
He’s not in a coaching role now, but he was able to coach at Angelo State, so I’ve seen him in those avenues. Max is going to do whatever he chooses in college basketball. He’s a rising star.

Q. Pace and space is kind of a buzzword in basketball, but when you watch your team play, you guys don’t really give people a lot of space. Why is your style so effective in the college game right now?

CHRIS BEARD: Offensively or defensively?

Q. Defensively, yeah.

CHRIS BEARD: Yeah, I know. (Laughter.)
Somebody here ought to take a look at our offense the last 30 to 50 days of the season. It’s all related. But no problem on the defense. No, I think just a couple years ago, people would hammer us in recruiting, talk about don’t go play for Beard and those guys. It’s like position-less basketball. All of a sudden, Golden State wins a couple of championships, and position-less basketball becomes the hot thing. All of a sudden, we’re cool again.
We have interchangeable parts. We don’t have guys who are ones, twos, threes, fours, fives defensively. We have players. That’s what I learned from Coach Knight. He never understood what a one, two, three was. I really don’t either. In my generation, I ask recruits all the time, what was Michael Jordan? Was he a two? No. One? In my opinion, he was the best post player in basketball with his back to the basket in his career. LeBron, what is he? He’s a player.
I think defensively we have a lot of players. We’re not in much position. This allows us to switch and guard different people and stuff like that. That would be one part of our defense that I think is pretty good, and we try to recruit to it.

Q. Earlier this week, you mentioned in preparing you had one week to prepare for Michigan State, and you watched every game, every news conference. Now you have a day to prepare for this game. The challenge in that?

CHRIS BEARD: It’s very challenging. It’s kind of a unique part of our sport, but we’ve been here before. We’ve had five one-day preps this year. I think we had three one-day preps in the Big 12, playing Saturday and then Big Monday. This year was the first time since Coach Knight was in Lubbock we had three big Mondays in Lubbock. So we just rely on that experience. I think in coaching and your preseason and your nonconference, you’re trying to do everything to prepare for what could happen, and we’ve done that.
Sometimes we’ll schedule games back to back, sometimes we’ll do the one in between. So we’ll just rely back on our experience. So the last thing we told the team last night is we reminded them we’ve been in this situation before. We show the guys kind of visibly on the board how many sessions they’re going to have between bed last night and tip-off Monday, and we’ll just rely on that experience.
But it’s very, very difficult. No, it is kind of a staff-collaborative effort now. As you go through the tournament, you’ve got different guys working on different games, but now everybody in our program’s working on Virginia. You know, no advantage or disadvantage either way because both teams are in it, but it is a challenge. It’s different when you have a week to prepare for somebody versus one day.

Q. On that subject of preparation, any early feel about the pack line, just how to approach it, how to deal with it?

CHRIS BEARD: It’s really good. It’s as good as advertised. I’ve watched a lot of Virginia games this year just as a fan, and then from time to time we’ll come in the office in the morning, and somebody will be like, man, did you see that game? 11 points in the first half last night. We’ll run to the film room and watch a little tape. So I’ve been following this since Coach was at Washington State, just as a fan.
When I coached in Division II, we would always take like one team a year and just kind of follow their journey. So I’ve gone through a season before with Duke. I’ve gone through a season before with Michigan State. I kind of watched the season. And we did about a half a season one time with Virginia.
So, obviously, it’s no secret. You’ve got to move the ball around. You can’t just come down and make one pass and go get a basket. So I think our ability to move the ball around and get the defense shifting will be big for us.

Q. At what point does everything that everybody is saying nationally about you guys go from motivation for you guys to frustration, and do you think you guys are finally getting credit after last night’s win, or are there still plenty of doubters out there?

CHRIS BEARD: We do what we call a thankful text in our program from time to time. Just go to the locker room and everybody will grab their cell phone and send a thankful text. The foundation for every championship team isn’t style of play, it’s not coaching, it’s not players, the game changes, but I think anything any championship team ever has is a positive foundation.
To me personally, I’ve always thought positive foundation comes from understanding how lucky we are to be healthy, to be in this country, to be working in this game we all love. So I think one of the best things you can do is just thank somebody from your past.
It’s very difficult to go out and be in a bad mood and have a bad practice if you send two thankful texts to somebody in your past. For me, a high school coach, my daughter, just anybody. And one thing I always tell the guys is, man, you’ve got to thank the haters too. I think maybe Jordan in his Hall of Fame speech said that — and I get great motivation from the people that tell us what we can and can’t do. Just keep — don’t pick us again in this game, and we’ll see what happens.

Q. It seemed each one of these teams had their famous alumni in the stands cheering them on. You guys had Patrick Mahomes. What did that mean to you guys and to have him firing up the team the night before?

CHRIS BEARD: With Pat, it’s personal. He’s friends with these guys. Norense was at Tech playing when Pat was playing quarterback for us, so they’re just friends. I’ve said it before, and it never gets old talking about it, Pat Mahomes is big time. It’s not fake. It’s not fluff. He has not forgotten where he comes from, and it’s not just Tech athletics, it’s the school, it’s the community, it’s our university. He’s as good as I’ve ever seen in terms of not forgetting where he comes from and having a real love for Texas Tech and west Texas.
So for him to be at this game and talk to the team briefly yesterday was really, really cool, and he supported us last year too. I forget if he was in Dallas or Boston, but he was in one of those. He’s been great. The only problem I have with him is we can’t get him on the Fireside Chat yet, and I’m going to continue to try to do that.

Q. You talked about it a little bit earlier about everybody talks about your defense, and deservedly so, but the offense that you guys brought to the table last night, hitting 9 of your first 11 shots in the second half, the two big shots Culver hit late to clinch it. What maybe elements of your offense aren’t appreciated?

CHRIS BEARD: Thank you for that question. It’s all related. You can’t have a good defense if your offense doesn’t go hand in hand. You can’t be great offensively unless your defense. I worked for Tom Penders at Texas, and we were explosive offensively, but our defense is creating turnovers, it’s creating 33 percent of our offense. These great defensive teams like Virginia, this offense is contributing to the defense. It all goes hand in hand.
So I’ve never been a big believer of this team has this identity or this identity. It goes hand in hand. The best offensive teams in college basketball have defenses that contribute to that, and the best defenses in college basketball have offenses. It’s like in football, defense has got to get some stops, and offense, you’ve got to keep the defense on the field a little bit. It’s all kind of related.
I have a lot of confidence in our team offensively. We have great players. We can score on all three different levels. We have, in my opinion, five green light shooters on this team. We’ve got iso guys, and it’s just been kind of a journey for us. When you’ve got all these new players and you have 30 days to practice — but you really don’t have 30. It’s another NCAA rule that’s just not true. 2 of your 30 are closed-door scrimmages or exhibition games. That’s 28. No coach goes hard the day before you play a game, so that’s 26. And somewhere along the way, you have to have some teaching practices. So really, for us, we normally get 20 practices before we play our first game. When you’ve got new pieces, we get the defense going a bit ahead, and the offense takes time.
But it’s always been our plan to be a good offensive team by February or March, and I think we are.

Q. Chris, another Matt and Tariq question. How are they able to adapt to your culture so quickly, and what do you see as their most important contributions to your team this year?

CHRIS BEARD: They fit in and contribute so quickly because they wanted to. I said it before, when you recruit guys, if you’ll listen, the first three or four phone calls you have with the guy, if you listen more and you talk, you can tell exactly what a guy is about. A lot of times in recruiting, a guy wants to know about your roster and how many touches he can get and how many minutes and shots. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s a personal part of recruiting. Everybody has a right to do that. There’s a real selfishness to be great in this. You’ve got to find a spot that fits for you, but it’s a fine line.
As coaches, you want guys that want to win, and with Matt and Tariq, it was just unbelievable recruiting.
Once they got their releases or declared themselves as grad transfers, both guys just wanted to talk about winning. All of our conversations, I kind of keep notes when I talk to guys, especially when I’m recruiting a lot of people, so I can kind of get my mind right before we have the next conversation, but I listen a lot more than I talk early on. Believe it or not. In these situations I sit up here and talk, but Matt and Tariq, all they wanted to know, man, is can we get back to the NCAA Tournament? Losing so much from last year’s team, did I really believe that we could get back to this stage?
Those guys are two of the most unselfish people I ever recruited. It’s not about them. I remember an early season game in November, we were coming out of the tunnel in Lubbock, and we just won a game. Looking at the stat sheet going back to the locker room because I always want to give the guys one mathematical part of the game. Tariq had only scored two baskets and gotten a couple of rebounds. Didn’t play many minutes, probably a coaching mistake, and you always wonder what that locker room is going to look like when you get in there. Tariq is jumping up and down like he hit the game winner and hugging the guys that played more minutes than him. And I told Mark Adams right there, this team has got a chance. This unselfishness is not fluff, this is real.

Q. You told me that the year in the ABA was one of the most satisfying in your career. Was there a point through those jumps, D-III, D-II, that you thought this would never happen, that you’d never get back to being a Division I head coach?

CHRIS BEARD: I didn’t really think about it. I didn’t care. I wanted to win a National Championship. I wanted to graduate every player. I wanted to get teams better. I wanted to just fall back in love with the game. Not that I ever fell out of it, but went through that adversity and stuff.
I can honestly say that I never — just a great peace at myself. I kind of disappeared that year in the ABA. I wasn’t really — no offense. I wasn’t checking the Goodman blog. I really got disconnected from college basketball a little bit. Frank (Martin) and Fig (Matt Figger) and those guys were down the road at South Carolina, and I would watch games at night, but I probably got distant from talking to my college friends.
I coached the team every day. We had no rules in ABA in terms of restrictions. We would do individual workouts in the morning, team practice in the afternoon, and hang out with the players at night. It was really like a basketball vacation. I kind of lost myself in the game that year.

THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Texas Tech student-athletes Jarrett Culver and Norense Odiase. We’ll take questions for the student-athletes and for Coach Beard over the next few minutes.

Q. You’ve taken three pretty key members of your staff from NC Central. I assume that Brian led to John led to Brandon in terms of that process. But what have those three guys, Brian Burg and those guys, what have they meant to what you guys have been able to do at Texas Tech, and in Brian’s case, Little Rock?

CHRIS BEARD: Brian Burg is a rising star too. This guy is going to be a head coach sooner than later. He’s the real deal. He coaches at all different levels. He knows the game. He relates to players. He’s a tireless worker. He’s come up the hard way. He’s won wherever he’s been.
People always ask me sometimes — not always, but sometimes, what do you look for in assistants? Start by, do they win? Brian’s won championships everywhere he’s been, and Jarrett and Norense could speak from their perspective, but — and then I just have a lot of trust with Brian Burg. I’ve known him for a long, long time. He recommended John Reilly to me. Brian Burg is a big piece of this story. He’s special. He’s deserving of a head coaching job.

Q. Chris, I’m wondering, you talked a lot about how you convince people to believe in your vision. You’re making a National Championship. You don’t have to convince people to believe that you can get here. How does that change your perspective on the program, and how could that potentially affect future recruiting for you even?

CHRIS BEARD: I don’t think it will. I’ll be a guy that will wake up tomorrow just to try to put ourselves in a position to win, and I’m sure when we wake up Tuesday it will be about recruiting and trying to get back.
I don’t ever want to change who I am and why. I just want to be a guy who gets up every day. That’s how we’re wired. Me and Culver talk about that a lot. Me and Norense talk about that a lot. I don’t want to speak for these guys, but we just wake up every day trying to prove that we belong again and validate everything. So I respect the question, but I don’t think I’ll ever change kind of how we’re wired.

Q. Tomorrow’s going to be the biggest game of your guys’ career. You guys have played in hundreds of games in the past. What specific moment will you guys think about that will help you guys for tomorrow’s big game?

NORENSE ODIASE: Really the journey. Everything that took us to get to this point, the process, the blood, sweat, and tears that got us to this moment. If you don’t take the process for granted, the long road that it took to get here, the battling with your family, with your brothers to get here. That will all pay off tomorrow. We’ve just got to stick to the process and do what we do best.

JARRETT CULVER: Like Norense says, it’s the journey. We started this summer, came together, and our chemistry just keeps growing each and every day. We’re all playing for our brothers and playing for each other. We’ve got one last game, and it’s for the National Championship.

Q. What is your definition of a tough basketball team?

CHRIS BEARD: I like the hat, man. BU. I think a toughness, obviously, it’s the physical part. If you don’t have that, you can’t even compete at this level, but it’s having the physical makeup, but then to me it’s mental toughness. It really is. I think for the most part, when the ball goes up every game, teams have enough physical talent to get it done. It’s just the mental part of the game.
That’s why I have so much respect for Virginia. I’ve never seen a more mentally tough team. You think about how their season ended last year, and then to be right back here a year later, that’s incredible mental toughness. They’ve had the two games in this year’s tournament run. You’ve got to give yourselves a chance all the way to the end, that’s mental toughness. When you have these grind-out, long possessions, that’s mental toughness, the discipline they play with.
Just like with Michigan State, I said there’s no way we’re going to out-tough anybody. We’ve got to match it. I don’t think we’re going to out-tough Virginia’s mental toughness. We’ve just got to match it.

Q. Chris and Norense, the things you guys have talked about, the self-sacrifice in the name of excellence. I’m wondering a couple of things. When the moratorium on the desserts and beer will end, and what effect do you think self-denial can have on the program going forward?

NORENSE ODIASE: It just gives us a chance to get rest and discipline. Whenever you have great discipline, it can lead to great things. For our younger guys, even for our older guys, it’s a good reminder just to keep your phone away, don’t listen to distractions, things like that, and just lock in on the game plan and get rest. That’s really helped us this season.

CHRIS BEARD: Exactly. This is just like today’s world. These guys can’t put their phones down. I see it with my own daughters and stuff. A lot of times a guy will put his phone down and leave it on, he thinks he’s getting good rest, and you’re not. Sleep is where you sleep. It’s part of the process. You ask the average person how much they sleep, they don’t really know. Ask Kobe Bryant how much he slept when he was an NBA player. He’ll tell you to the minute.
First of all, it’s just part of our process, and the cell phone keeps us from getting the sleep we need. And then just this time of year, it’s human nature to read all these things about yourself, but our deal is we came here to play 80 minutes of basketball. Now we’ve got to down to one day of prep, and any five minutes that our guys are sitting there reading something, I’d rather them be sitting there reading something about Virginia on the video screen. So it’s just simply about eliminating distractions is what it is.

Q. I asked Coach this already, but just what it meant to have Patrick Mahomes before the game kind of firing you guys up out there in the crowd. I know you guys have a bit of a history with him, so just what it’s meant to have his support.

NORENSE ODIASE: Pat’s a good friend of mine. For him to come speak from his heart, he riled us up, he was very excited, energized to be there with us. He’s a great ambassador for Tech athletics, not only us, but other teams. So he’s just been great all year for us and the other teams.

JARRETT CULVER: Just seeing what he did this year, getting the MVP, you’ve got the MVP of the NFL talking to your team, so it always gives us motivation and confidence, and just seeing everything he did kind of motivated us to go out. He believed in us. It’s always good to have him around just talking to us, and kind of like a role model to us.

Q. For the players, I know your coach would probably say this isn’t about him, but what’s it been like for you to see him become kind of a breakout star in this NCAA Tournament? And what would you say has been his biggest imprint on you and the team?

NORENSE ODIASE: It’s expected, honestly. You see this guy day in and day out put in work like no other. He’s sickly competitive. He drives us. He drives our coaches. He pushed the standards higher, higher, higher. It’s expected from the day I met him until now, he hasn’t changed.
Just the mindset and the toughness that he’s employed on this program, there’s none other. It’s deserved what he’s getting right now. I know he’ll really reflect on the season after Tuesday, but we have one more game to go, and I’m glad it’s with him.

JARRETT CULVER: I always expected it since the first day I met him. He’s a tireless worker. He brings the best out of you, no matter if you’re a walk-on, the best player, coaching staff, GA, he brings the best out in you. He works hard, and he’s never satisfied. He wants to win. Winning is important, and that’s what it is for us. I just seen it, I expected it from him.

Q. Question for Jarrett. Last night Michigan State tried to shut you down. Luckily, you guys have a strong roster with Mooney to pick up the pace, but you’re going to play another strong offensive team tomorrow night. How are you going to try to get some of those open looks?

JARRETT CULVER: Yeah, Michigan State did great, showed us how great of a team we are. To show us how great of a team we are, we’ve got a lot of pieces to our team. I know the coaching staff is going to have me ready to play tomorrow. I’m just going to study the film and do what I can tomorrow.

Brandone Francis
On honoring Nipsey Hussle:

“Just bringing my energy and love for the game out there. I write his name on my shoes, so I will probably go add some more stuff to my shoes for the next upcoming game.”
On Red Raider fans showing up in mass numbers:
“It means the world. Texas Tech, Lubbock, all of the Texas area and Dallas—we have amazing fans. We have a lot of people that took their time with some of them probably taking a break from their jobs just to be here. The game is going to be on Monday and I am very confident that we are still going to have a lot of Red Raider fans. You know, we need them every single night to bring their energy and passion for the game. Lubbock is a special place, so I recommend a lot of people after this weekend to go and visit for yourself. It’s a great place to be, we have a lot of great people, and hands down Lubbock is one of the friendliest cities in the world.”
On if Texas Tech has made playing defense ‘cool’:
“Yes, I would like to think so. We enjoy playing defense as a unit and it is something that’s not just in the games but also something we prepare for in practice. Today we are going to play defense again, we’re going to have fun again, and I think that’s something we love to do. I love eating ice cream and it is no different than playing defense.”

Davide Moretti
On Tariq Owens’ return to Saturday’s game:

“I think it was a turning point, especially with that moment of the game, because Tariq always had our back during the season. Every time somebody got beat, he was there to block the shots. I felt like we had to pay him back for all the work that he has done during the season.”
On being one of two Italians in the championship game along with Virginia’s Francisco Badocchi:
“Never happened before, so it’s something that we’ve got to be proud of. We know that we have a whole country that is following us. I’m sure they’re proud of what we did so far.”
On the keys to Monday night’s game:
“The key to the game is obviously trying to control the pace of the game. It’s our first key. We know they play a slow pace, so we want to run fast in transition. They play like 60 possessions per game. We’re trying to double up and play a little bit faster than they do.”

Matt Mooney
On if the three-game losing streak in January was a turning point in the season:

“That was probably the turning point of our season honestly. After we lost those three, things can either fall apart or you can turn it around, and we were able to turn it around. We talked as a team and Coach Beard and his staff kept believing in us. I think it has helped out team chemistry and got us closer as a team.”
On the team chemistry with transfers and younger players:
“Coach Beard is really good at getting one-year guys and new guys gelling with the guys from the previous year. He did it at little rock and I’m sure he did it at other times in his career, and we are doing it again this year. It has been a special year so far and hopefully we can finish it out as National Champs.”
On what attracted him to Texas Tech:
“I think the culture. I remember when he visited me in South Dakota and gave me his pitch as to why he wanted me to come out there. Immediately after he left, I looked at my two roommates who sat in with me and they said I had to at least visit and that’s the spot, and I had the same feeling. When I visited I just fell in love with the culture, and the community was great. I just saw the work ethic of all the guys, we were in the gym on a Thursday night getting shots up. They worked hard and wanted it bad, and that was something I wanted to be a part of.” On coming in as a transfer and having a shot at making history for the program: “I’m living the dream right now. This is what kids dream of, you know, being in the position we are now. We don’t want to have any regrets in a year, 10 years or 20 years, we just want to be aggressive and have fun out there.”

Norense Odiase
On the perception of the Virginia program:

“Poise. Great team, great leadership. They’re going to grind you out. They’re mentally tough, they’re guys that don’t get rattled. They have leadership from the top that spills onto their players. They don’t have players act out of character. They’re a system group that just stays together. Poise is the thing that I would say.”
On Texas Tech’s brotherhood:
“Whenever you go into an 18-round fight like the Big 12 conference is, you need to have every guy locked in and knowing that the team, we love you on and off the floor. We’re there for you, so if we get on you later, don’t act like it’s out of nowhere, just know we want everyone to win and we’re a brotherhood. We’re a family. We need to have that brotherhood early to carry out through the season.”
On Coach Beard’s energy:
“Me and my good friend, Andrew Sorrells, who is on the team, my roommate, we talk about it all the time. This guy is wired 24/7 and that’s how he’s been since we got here. He’s wired, his attention to detail is unparalleled, he grinds it out. He says he’s not the smartest, but he’s going to out tough you and it’s got us to this point so we’re behind him in that.”
On how Coach Beard’s energy is contagious to the rest of the team:
“It’s huge. We all follow after that. We see it in him. It’s not fake. It’s real since day one. It just expands to the whole team. We take on his toughness, we take on his grit. We take on that leadership and that confidence he has. It’s contagious to every single one of us.”

Jarrett Culver
On if he felt as though he contributed more defensively even though he wasn’t scoring last night:

“Yeah I knew I wasn’t scoring, but there’s always other ways to affect a game. I know it’s one of my roles to score on this team, but I can also do other things and that’s one of my roles too. Defense is a big part of that, so every night I come out and I try to be one of the best defensive players on the floor, and that’s what I tried to do last night.”
On what is the biggest thing he’s accomplished in staying through his sophomore season instead of being a one-and-done:
“Just staying true to who I am, staying motivated and keep working. I mean, credit to my coaching staff and my teammates, they helped me get in the gym every day, they brought the best out of me every day. After last year, they wanted me to get better, and I wanted to get better as well, so I got to work.
Since we lost to Villanova, since that day, I got into the coaching staff room, watched a lot of film, and I broke down my game and saw ways I could get better, and that’s what I did.”
On growing up in Lubbock and now having his hometown team playing for a national title:
“It’s unbelievable. It’s just a special feeling, it’s a feeling that I never thought that I would’ve felt before. Just growing up in Lubbock, I never would’ve thought that Texas Tech would be playing for a national championship, and now that I’m a part of it just means everything to me and Lubbock.”
On if he grew up rooting for Texas Tech:
“I actually didn’t grow up rooting for Texas Tech, I came up rooting for Texas, their rival, so that’s pretty funny. My family, my dad was a big Texas fan growing up so we all kind of just liked Texas. We’d go to school, elementary, and everybody had their Tech shirts on, we’d have our Texas shirts on. It was competitive. But once I got recruited by Texas Tech, I didn’t think that would go into the factor in the school I decided. I just wanted to pray about it, talk to my family, and decide that school and what was the best fit for me.”
On what his takeaways of Virginia are:
“They’re a very composed team, they play at a good pace, and they have great players. I know they play good defense and they have scorers and great players, so I know it’s going to be a tough game.”

Parker Hicks
On Coach Beard’s message after the MSU game:

“We came here for 80 minutes and we’ve gotten through 40 of it and we still got 40 to go.”
On what people should know about the ‘guns up’ signal:
“I guess it’s our Tech symbol is what you would call it. The ‘guns up’ is our motto and it’s not really anything else.”
On how Old Town Road became their team song:
“Actually Kyler introduced me to the song, me personally, and I kind of liked it because I’m more like the country guy and I like all that stuff. After I heard it I just kept playing it and playing it and Coach Beard finally heard it and ever since Coach Beard heard it he loved it, because he’s got the country side to him too.”

Kyler Edwards
On their defense helping their offense:

“It helps a lot, our defensive team gets us offensive points. We can get into transition and make easy baskets. Most recently was yesterday, we knew we had to get back on defense because their (Michigan State) transition was deadly and we got back yesterday well and that helped us out on offense.”
On their offense being overlooked:
“I think we have a lot of offensive weapons. Me, Matt (Mooney), Jarrett (Culver) it doesn’t matter anybody can score the ball. Mooney took a deep three last night, it was far out and we knew it was a heat check and everybody knew he was on fire and we tried to get him the ball as much as we could.”
On the elements of the Texas Tech offense that teams overlook:
“We are not just a shooting team. We take it inside too. Our bigs really help us out in the paint which opens us up.”

Malik Ondigo
On everyone on the team having their role:

“You know, everyone plays an important role in the program, other than the top eight guys. We all have to stay ready, and I just feel like that helps me stay involved and stay engaged in the games even though I’m not playing more. I try to help the team in any way possible, whether that’s in film study, watching on my iPad and keeping myself mentally ready. It helps us in the games. Like against Michigan State, they had a cutter in the corner and I always say ‘cutter in the corner,’ and one time that helped us out when Cassius Winston was out there trying to get an open look.”
On Coach Beard’s enthusiasm being contagious:
“That’s our leader, man. Everything starts with him for our culture and our energy. He’s a really passionate man who loves the game of basketball, this is his life. Basketball and his daughters are his life. His enthusiasm carries onto us and it gets us going and gets us fired up.”
On the different places Coach Beard has been in his career:
“What sticks on me is that he coached in the ABA (American Basketball Association) in South Carolina and was sleeping out of his car. Now he’s at the Final Four, that’s remarkable.”
On most of the team being unheralded recruits:
“When we had an intersquad scrimmage against Houston, Coach [Kelvin] Sampson came into our locker room and told us ‘you’re from Lubbock, Texas, don’t lose that chip on your shoulder.’ We’re not blue blood or nothing, but we have that pride and belief in the process and the program. We feel like we got here with a lot of hard work. We were watching the game yesterday and saw that we were the only team here without a top 100 recruit that competed yesterday. We just have a toughness and grit that we compete with.”



Comments

  1. Clark Grover says:

    Fantastic interview with Tony, Jerry

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