Jan. 23, 2012
Opening statement about Connecticut win
"Once again it was a great atmosphere. Our fans were great. Good game against a great opponent. A hall of fame coach. Our guys stepped up to the challenge. We found a way to pull it out in the end. They made some plays, big plays. We got a little relaxed there late in the game, but found a way to win. Our bench played well - 15-0 compared to UConn's bench - and our guys were solid. Nothing spectacular, but they were solid with their effort and their approach, especially on the defensive side of the ball."
On Jarnell Stokes
"The biggest key right now is for us to allow Jarnell to continue to grow. He is still about 65-70 percent of where he could be as a player. That is more of the system, conditioning his body and playing at a consistent level. What he has shown more than anything is his ability and his talent level - that he is an elite talent, an elite player. But there is still a lot that can be done and a lot that can be learned. He is doing a great job of absorbing everything. I want him to have the opportunity to take it one day at a time and to be a college student athlete and continue to get better. That is the most important thing for his growth. The guys have done a really good job of allowing him to develop and playing with him. Since he has come aboard, our communication on defense has gotten better. The effort overall has been good, but the communication has gotten a lot better because they try and help him through situations and are constantly taking to him, trying to let him know what is going on. It has really benefited our communication on the defensive side of the ball."
On the next step in Stokes' growth
"If you break down film, and I wouldn't necessarily call it breakdowns because he hasn't really been through it, but just being online with his ball, when to hedge, when to switch ball screens, when to rotate and just really stuff that he hasn't been through yet in practice. Because when you are constantly playing games, you go into the next game and the focus might be on a different scheme, so to speak, even though the base is always there. So you don't have time to just break down and say, `Here, Jarnell. This is what we are doing.' Because when we bring him in on one-on-one's it is more watching film to see it but you really can't unless you go through it to get a real feel for it. But it isn't anything he hasn't seen before, just about going through it more consistently because it is different schemes every game and the stuff we teach from the August, September, October, November, we just touch on it in practice so he is familiar with it. What has really helped us, because now we go back to shell drills, just basic stuff that you do the first three months, we went back to those things and I think those principles always help your guys."
On believing Stokes would have this kind of impact
"No, I didn't, but at the same time I also had in mind that I could go the whole season without playing him. I really did, because I wanted him to be ready more than anything. I want him to be a good player, because here is a good man that sacrificed. He didn't get the opportunity to go to the prom and do all these normal things that high school kids do. He made the decision to leave home, where in most cases with a lot of young men and women you have the opportunity to hang out with your buddies in May, June, July and then all of the sudden you go off to college. Well he didn't get that opportunity. He is right in the mix. He just turned 18 two weeks ago away from home. That isn't easy, so for me I wanted him to be almost 100 percent before I put him on the floor to be OK with not just playing basketball but to be OK with everything surrounding the game of basketball -- being on the college campus for the first time, where he is living as opposed to the transition in the summer time. Like I said, I was 100 percent OK with not playing him all season. But it was one of those things where he was hungry to play and it didn't matter how many points he was going to score or how many rebounds - `Coach, I just want to play.' - and he picks things up so quickly that I feel he would be ready to go at least from the physical perspective. That helped him out more than anything."
On being surprised at Stokes' success
"I think so, I think so - because he is going up against the best in the land at those respective positions, so you have to give credit where it is due from that standpoint. That is not an easy thing to do. I know at this stage when I was coming out of college if I would have done this (enrolled early) I would have been sitting on Coach (Gene) Keady's bench. I wouldn't have been playing. But like I said, because of his physical stature, he is able to do certain things, he is able to take hits and he has played against the best from an AAU standpoint. Once again, this is the result of having an elite type of player. He can step in and play. That's what it is about more than anything."
On Stokes' play opening other recruiting doors
"I would like to think that is part of it. But also because of the work our staff has done, mainly our assistant coaches, that's the reason you have a Jarnell Stokes - because you laid the work and you really hit the ground running and are doing a good job recruiting. When you have a guy of this magnitude, it helps across the board - not only guys in the state of Tennessee but in other states as well."
On Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun's compliments about Tennessee
"For me, I have known Coach Calhoun for a long time. He is a guy who recruited me. As a coach and for our staff, I said from Day 1 that if teams say that about our team then we have a chance to be successful. That is all I really want here; everything else is really bonus and everything else falls in place. The individual accolades as far as players, they are well-deserved and they put the work in to receive those accolades. For a program when you are tough, you are hard-nosed, physical - that is a brand more than anything and not many programs have that and we are still working toward getting that."
On how teams will start playing Stokes and Jeronne Maymon in the future
"The thing about it is, you can go in and defend those guys and you can have a game plan, which we have a game plan going into games. But there is no one way you can guard those guys because of the fact they can make plays off of the dribble. They are not just back-to-the-basket guys. They can face up and make plays and make moves. Jeronne, as we continue to work with him, will be one of the best and he is pretty good now. He is pretty good at making moves when he is dribbling, passing and finding guys. Once we get them into practice this spring and summer where you can see it - because once you take over a program, you don't really know it - but now you see he has that ability where he can really be a great facilitator in taking guys off the dribble. It just takes his game to another level. For both those guys it's hard to say one thing you can do to stop them because they can do other things."
On if going deeper to the bench is something that will continue
"It's a couple things. What happens is you try and give guys an opportunity because they put the work in practice. Unfortunately, you can't play everybody. For us to transition and really try and put Ronaldo (Woolridge) at the three or four as a backup, we have to do that. But there are some things he has to continue to get better at - more than anything, feeling comfortable on the perimeter consistently. For me, it is him chasing guys off screens when you have smaller guys coming around. He is chasing guys. He has to know when to switch and guard smaller guys. He did a great job against Connecticut. When he switched on a guy, (Jeremy) Lamb beat him off the dribble. But he did a good job of trying to make a play. I don't think we will go that deep. The game plan with Wes Washpun was really to try and put pressure on the ball and make them work to bring up the ball. That was definitely a key. Dwight (Miller) has worked hard in practice, but there are some things he has to continue to improve upon. He has put the work in, but I don't know if we will go that deep."
On Vanderbilt and their front three players
"Physical. (Lance) Goulbourne made some shots, made some big shots - he made four threes against Mississippi State. He had nine up to that point and he made four in that game. So obviously his confidence is at a high level when shooting the ball from the perimeter. Now for us, we have to play a little different when we guard him in certain situations. But he's always been talented; he has always been good going off the dribble. But the big guy (Festus Ezeli) is tough, he is strong. He is finding his way. They do a great job of moving on the perimeter with those four guards and getting them inside one-on-one. So we have to find a way to do a really good job of trying to keep them out of the lane and trying to work for post-position. That's easier said than done because they have so many schemes. On the backside, the perimeter guys are coming off screens when you are trying to protect the backside while they are coming off screens and throwing the ball over the top. We have to do a great job of putting pressure on the ball."
On Vanderbilt's John Jenkins
"He can stroke it. One of the best in the country if not THE best. And the reason I say that is because I don't know what the percentages are - he's third in the league as far as percentage from three - but he's one of those guys who take and make big shots. He's not a guy who is spotting up and always wide open. Most of his shots always are contested. I saw him this summer where he took big shots with pressure, guys on him, and make three or four in a row with tremendous pressure. You have to be there on the catch when he has the ball. He has to beat you from start to finish off the dribble. If he's able to catch and shoot consistently, it will be a tough night for us. He has to make plays off the dribble the whole night."
On Josh Richardson's impact since the start of SEC play
"He has a great impact. He's a tough defender, a good athlete, has good sense and good awareness about the game and who he's defending. When it's all said and done, he will be one of the best at that position as far as being a stopper defensively. We've got to get more guys like him. If we can defend like that as a team, we'll be pretty good. He takes pride in defending. He'll guard the point guard. He wants that challenge, and I think that's the best thing about him. He wants to guard those guys, and it doesn't matter where he's playing. He wants that challenge."
On coaching from the baseline in Memorial Gym
"Well, it's my first time going into the gym. So as far as my approach, we'll just take it as it comes. When we walk through (Tuesday) and go in the gym for shoot-around, we'll get a feel for it. Some of my assistant coaches and some of our players have been in there. We don't call our plays vocally anyway, so it won't hurt us from that standpoint. We have a few signals for certain situations - we'll call some after a timeout or draw something up. It will be a little different, so we'll see how it goes."
On Vanderbilt's offense being so difficult because of its variety and diversity
"When you have multiple guys who can make plays off the dribble, multiple guys who can catch and shoot and you have a physical post presence - I think so. But once again you have to have great pressure on the ball, you have to be there on the catch more than anything, and you have to limit their shots. So when they get a shot, we have to get the rebound. They can't get multiple shots at that basket. John Jenkins, when you watch him on the film, he's one of the best at relocating when a shot goes up, they get an offensive rebound, you thought he was right there and the next thing he's on the other side of the floor knocking a three down. They do a great job of finding him to get that second opportunity."
On if wins like Saturday can help on the road
"More than anything, you're good enough to win on the road - that's what it says. Now it's just a matter of the mental part taking over down the stretch of games. You've put yourself in position to win the game, now you just have to win it. But it's not an easy thing to do to win games on the road, even for some of the best teams in America. It's just putting ourselves in position and then trying to win the game."
On Maymon responding in the second half to Connecticut's physical first half play
"He did well in the second half. Once again, it's been amazing that he's gone this far and this level. He's 6-7, 260, a physical presence and very mobile. But when you've got one or two guys consistently running and jumping - in most cases he might have a guy who 6-6, 6-7, probably thick, or maybe a guy who's 6-8 and not as physical - but to have two big, physical guys around the rim like that running and jumping. He got two travels in that game, shot-faked one and the other guy's on the other side. It's not an easy thing to go against, but he's not backing down from any challenge. And he did well in the second half of really being aggressive and attacking the rim."
On it being the first time Maymon had been pushed around
"I'd hate to say `pushed around.' They did a good job of defending him but I don't think from a physical standpoint that he backed down. I don't think he was as assertive, but I'd hate to say `pushed around.'"
On concerns against the press
"Not at all. Sometimes, really, going against the press we get it over the top and go ahead and score - get some easy baskets. It's just a matter of receiving the ball, having confidence to receive the ball, getting the ball up the court and making plays."
On if Trae Golden's production has been hampered by his ankle injury
"I don't think so - you'll have to ask him to get his assessment. This time of year, somebody's always injured or hurt. It's just part of it. It's what we do. It's a physical game, a tough game. You have to play. I don't think so. My thing - if you're able to play the game, then you're find."
On Skylar McBee's late-game contributions against Connecticut
"It's a credit to him and the work he's put in, the confidence. When he got that ball late in the game to shoot those free throws, he didn't look like he wanted to pass the ball - which is a good sign. He stepped up and knocked them down. He's done a good job for us defending, working hard. But his success happens in practice. He plays hard in practice. It's not a case of all of a sudden the lights come on, `Let me try to play hard to get some minutes.' He plays hard in practice. It's hard to keep a guy off the floor like that, who competes and brings his hard-hat every day. You watch him in the workouts. He competes at a high level; therefore, he has a chance to be successful in the game because he duplicates game speed. That's the thing we talk about with our perimeter guys. You have to be able to play hard in practice so when the game lights are on, you're able to manufacture the same intensity in the game.
On what impact finally winning a close game might have
"It will be good. Our guys have gotten better - they are better - and I said that even before Jarnell came in the fold. But it's just a matter of completing the mission. The one thing about the guys - they feel good about themselves going into games. We haven't gone into games thinking, `We can't win this game. Why are we showing up?' So now it's just a matter of taking care of the ball more than anything, because we're defending - not at the level we will consistently be, but we are getting there."
On Golden's solid play without scoring many points being a good example for him
"I think so. The one thing about it, in order for us to push forward to the next level as a team and as a program, when you have guys on the interior - Jarnell, Jeronne, Kenny Hall - guys who can make plays, who can score, you have to feed them the ball. And as a shooter, I played with Glenn Robinson. I told him, `Here's the ball. I'll spot up and I'm over here if you need me.' Because when those guys demand that type of pressure and that double-team, if you can make a shot you want to play with those guys. They are more than willing to pass the ball to you. He (Golden) did his best job of really running the team, slowing down when he needed to, directing traffic, making plays. He did a great job of that."
On the team's inside success since the Memphis game
"It's what you have to do, but at the same time it was hard to really sell that if your big guys aren't posting at the level they really need to or demanding the ball. It's one thing to stand down there like you're posting and it's another thing to BE posting. Our guys are doing a good job of really presenting themselves on the blocks to receive the ball. It's a physical game, and a lot of times as guards we don't understand or realize how physical it is around the rim. So if I've got big guys who are working hard, I've got to reward them some type of way. They're getting offensive rebounds, they're running the floor - I have to reward those guys and that's what I tell our guards. If you want to be successful and you want to win as a team, you have to get the ball inside.