Cuonzo Martin Press Luncheon Transcript

Feb. 27, 2012

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Opening Statement
"We're coming off a big win for our guys at South Carolina. As tough as it is to win road games, we found a way to get it done. We played well outside of the turnovers. We played well as a team. We scored, and we did some good things when Jeronne (Maymon) went out with foul trouble. Dwight (Miller) gave us good minutes. Trae (Golden) really stepped up in the second half as far as attacking the rim and being aggressive. He more or less set the tone for us offensively. And Jordan (McRae) has been playing well the last five, six or seven games; he's probably been the most sound offensively. He just is understanding his feel, attacking the rim, shooting the ball - probably could stand to see him get to the free-throw line a little bit more with the way he shoots free throws, so that's been good.

"Jarnell (Stokes) is getting better every day; getting better. The hand's getting stronger and he's doing some good things for us. He does a really good job of passing the ball. He's better than I thought he was at the top of the key as far as getting the ball, making moves off the dribble and making decisions, so we've got to get him in positions where he's doing that a lot more. Cam Tatum really responded and played well on the road. He probably played one of his better overall games. He scored, got to the rim, really dribble penetrated and found Jarnell on a couple of layups, found other guys. He rebounded the ball well when he played some four-guard; he really rebounded the ball well, as did Jordan McRae. But it was fun to see him play as well as he did.

"We're one of five SEC teams with multiple road wins, which from where we started to where we are now is a great accomplishment for our guys to really stick with it and stay the course. Because as tough as it is when you're taking over a program and you're teaching the guys to try to learn and understand, with so many new guys and unproven guys so to speak, it's tough to keep guys engaged when you're losing games. Our guys did a really good job every day of coming to practice with the hard hat on continuing to get better, because that's not easy. Losing can be discouraging, but the guys did a tremendous job of staying the course.

"We're in a good place right now as a team because we continue to get better, and that's a good sign. More importantly, the guys continue to work hard in practice. Even better, guys are spending a lot of time with individual skills in the a.m. and the p.m. hours when the coaches aren't around. That's when you really start to make progress as a program.

"Here we are; we've got LSU on the road. A physical team, a talented team, they play really well at home like most teams. They go inside-outside, they score, they get out in transition, their big guys go inside-out, they can face up and make shots, they score it on the blocks, they're physical. They had a tough one at Ole Miss so they'll be ready to go. It's Senior Night if I'm not mistaken, so it should be a good atmosphere."

On if it's tough being the road team during Senior Night ceremonies
"I'll say this as humbly as I can say it: Not when I was a player. I enjoyed the road atmosphere. That's what you look forward to because of the excitement. You go in there and do what you have to do; you don't have to worry about pleasing and playing a certain way. You're just trying to get a win. It can be as ugly as it can be, but you're just trying to get a W and get out of there.

"I don't think that will be the case for our guys. We have to go out there and play the way we're capable of playing and not get caught up in the atmosphere."

On evaluating LSU freshman Anthony Hickey as a recruit
"Kent Williams actually saw him once when we were at Missouri State. I know Coach (Tracy) Webster saw him when he was at Nebraska. I had never seen him play before, no. I wish I had, though. We were more or less playing catch-up (once we got to Tennessee). He's a talented young man."

On where Maymon's level of play stacks up in the SEC
"There are so many talented players but the One is (Kentucky's) Anthony Davis. That's understood, and then you have other guys who definitely will be professional players. But when you're talking about SEC players and the way they compete and bring their hard hat every day, I'd put him (Maymon) up against anybody. He brings it every day and he never takes days off. He's early. You go in there at practice and at 2:30 he's getting shots up, he's getting them in the morning. But the thing about him is the way he plays, how hard he plays, to not take days off and to do pretty much everything on the floor for you. He's invaluable for our program. We can't go far without him."

On the tough early schedule paying off at this time of year
"More than anything it's a credit our guys. Not giving up when you have tough games and tough losses, to stay the course and continue to get better. The most humbling loss was losing at home to Austin Peay - give those guys credit for winning the game and coming and competing. But as a coach, that was the point where our guys said, `OK, now let's start to listen. Let's really completely buy in to Coach.' Because that was a humbling experience for our guys. But the things we talked about from Day 1 as a staff to make them understand - you approach every game with a hard hat. It doesn't matter the opponent.

"But having a tough schedule, I'd do the same thing with this team a year later. You didn't have a luxury with a new coach of getting out of the gates with some confidence, getting your head up. We had to have some tough losses and eventually we started to learn from them."

On calling the Austin Peay loss a turning point in this season
"That was one where, `OK, I think the guys are ready to listen and truly understand.' But it was also a case of, on a neutral court, I don't know if we would have won that game. We weren't a very good team. What happens is you go off a reputation of a guy in high school because a scouting service said this - was he really that good? It's one of those deals where we had to get better as a team. We weren't a very good team. On a neutral court, I don't know if we would have won that game."

On when the team became better than not `a very good team'
"Florida is when we started to turn around, because then they understood, `OK, we can play. We're a pretty good team.' And that's not to say we lacked talent, but talent can only go so far. They started to understand, `OK, we can be pretty good. We've got to continue to work, though.' There's a work buy-in on a consistent basis and they guys understood that."

On believing that it's the last week of the regular season
"Like I said, hard work pays off. I don't know if I would have said that watching us early in the season because I don't know how tough we were. It was never necessarily a case of how much talent or more talent, it was just a work-ethic behind everything I was doing and guys truly understanding how hard you have to play. I said to the guys who didn't play a lot last year but were on the team, there's probably a reason why you didn't play. You have to truly understand that as a player. It's nothing personal, because every coach I'm quite sure is trying to win ball games. He's going to put the best players out there on the floor to win games. So it meant we had to get better individually before we could get better as a team."

On where the team can still get better
"Oh, man. Individually, you turn the ball over so that means being able to handle the ball. One-on-one, handling the ball, handling it with pressure and still being able to make decision. We work on those things from Day 1 of practice, so handling pressure and able to make decisions with pressure and not turn the ball over. Each player can get his skill-level better, every player can get better defensively. You've got guys who need to improve 3-point shooting, guys need to improve off-the-dribble moves.

"But we've gotten better individually as a team and defensively we're maybe 75 percent of where we could be, because we're doing it now and we're winning some games. But it has to sink in that this is a way of life all the time, and this is understood. Whatever happens offensively - we score 80, we score 90, we score - but we have to defend at a high level all the time."

On doing anything differently over the course of the season
"Not at all; not at all. I go back to when I was 18 sitting on Coach (Gene) Keady's bench. I said I wish I were 21, but I had to be 18 at that time. I had to go through it and I had to learn, and that's part of it. There's nothing I would have changed because you've got to go through it. I have a system in place. We're still doing the same thing we've done since Day 1; the guys have just gotten better at it.

"Once again, it's more of a credit to our guys of being consistent because I wasn't about to go out and say, `Let's play a zone and win a game here and there.' It wasn't about that. We were going to defend that man-to-man at a high level every night. If we play a zone, it's just throwing something out there. But that's not our defense and that's not who we are. We could have easily wavered in that department as a staff, but it wasn't about to happen because we don't make progress when we make changes, quick changes. What happens - even with players and I was a player once - when you see a coach constantly changing and he's in the huddle wavering, second-guessing and doubting, I was a ball-player, I fed off that, I understood what was going on; because you follow his lead. But if you stay consistent and say, `This is the way it will be and this is what we're doing in order for us to be successful,' then guys understand that. Now I'm not stubborn from the standpoint of if something's not working. We've tweaked different things, subtle things. You have to do what's best for your personnel, but the blueprint is still the same."

On the challenge of not wavering during difficult times
"I didn't doubt one bit, I really didn't. Because I know it works; it's been proven. If you have a level of toughness, you can be successful. And we didn't talent; I don't know that we had a level of toughness. We didn't have a level of team togetherness, a passion for one another - `I really want to see my teammate be successful before I see myself have success. When you have that, then you have results because you start to play together. You don't worry about whether your shots are falling or not. You're just playing basketball. No, I didn't waver. I really didn't. At the end of the day, you've obviously got to recruit and continue to get better from a personnel standpoint. You can make all the excuses in the world, but you have to continue to get the guys you have in your program better. We have the pieces to be successful."

On if the season is in the balance
We keep rolling. We're fighting for our life. I mean, it's just--you have to get better every day. There's plenty of work to do and our guys are hungry right now. We're fighting. We don't have any luxury or margin for error. We have to be successful to think we've done something special. We have every right just like anybody else to win ballgames. We have to continue to get better and we're getting better. We've got a tough road game and we're going to do everything in our power to try and get it.

On the similarities between the LSU and Alabama games
Any road game is tough. I just look at it as playing LSU, not necessarily playing Alabama. Alabama played well and did a great job as a team of winning the ballgame. LSU is trying to win a ballgame; Tennessee is trying to win the ballgame. Someone has to come out of there with a win.

On his relationship with LSU coach Trent Johnson
I had Kyle Weems--a guy that played for me at Missouri State--and Coach Johnson coached his uncle at Stanford. We've known each other for a while. He's a good man, well respected in his profession.

On improving on the road
I think one I think is to make shots. We've just gotten better. You have to accept the atmosphere and environment and embrace it. We've defended better as a team. For us to be successful, we need Trae Golden to be solid in his department, especially offensively--making stuff happen. When he's getting to the rim, everything flows. Not to put a lot of pressure on Trae Golden, but if he's able to penetrate and make stuff happen, everything opens up offensively.

On whether the team has talked about doing big things at the end of the season
Without a doubt. I actually said in the South Carolina game, you have a chance to do something special. To go 8-8 worst-case scenario, it's not often that in league play you can go .500. Now you have a chance to at least go .500 in league play, so now let's have some fun and do some things. I think our guys are excited about these last two games; it should be fun.

On LSU's style of play
I think--like most teams--they're more confident at home: taking tough shots, making tough shots, really running in transition. Their big guys do a great job of stepping out and making 3's. I'm not sure on the numbers but I think they lead the league in offensive rebounds. They have big, physical guys so we have to use bodies. Hopefully we can get Yemi out there in a case like this because they have physical presence around the rim.

On LSU's Hamilton
Physical. They go inside out. Johnny's a big kid, but he can put the ball on the floor and face up and make shots. They both do that, but Johnny's really good at putting the ball on the floor. We have our work cut out for us. They have good frames. They're not slender in build; they're physical guys.

On the resiliency of the team
I think the four losses obviously--one was Mississippi State, tough loss there. Tough loss here against Kentucky. Georgia was a tough one. We just really turned the ball over. I can't think of the other team. I thought we were in position to win those games and just came up short. That's the maturation of a team to go through those situations and understand what it takes to win ballgames. It's not an easy thing to win games on the road; it's really tough. I go back to Missouri State: we didn't win a road game my first year there. Personnel we weren't at the level we are here. The second year we won one road game; third year we broke records. It's more of a mental approach. You're teaching your guys how to compete on the road. Even when you lose, guys understand it's a way of life. It's how we approach the game. I think it's a credit to our guys. I've been in lockerrooms where you lose games and as a coach you try to keep your guys positive and help them understand we're making progress. With young guys, they want that W. We're not making progress since we lost. I saw it in certain games. It was ten minutes here, 15 there, maybe a half. All of the sudden, it started following suit.

On Jeronne Maymon's stability
Without a doubt. I think the really good teams have multiple guys like that on the floor at all times, guys you just book in so to speak that you know what you're getting from them every night. He brings it every night. He works hard. Sometimes he goes against guys who are closer to small forwards and he guards them well. He switches ball screens. He defends. He rebounds. He boxes out. He handles the ball. He's only getting better because he put the time into it. Now he's putting time into his shot. The thing about his shot--and he has a good shot--it's his confidence more than anything, just to feel comfortable shooting the ball. When you have multiple guys like him on the floor you have a chance to have higher level success.

On Maymon's scoring consistency recently
I think that was more of a case of him believing in his skill and also as a coach I have to put him in position to score and make sure he gets the ball in certain situations. For him, it was around the basket. He's a guys that I know now can face up to the basket and make plays off the dribble. You can have him on the perimeter even though he isn't shooting because he can make plays off the dribble.

On not having monotony late in the season with a new coach
I hope not. It won't change next year. We practice for an hour. It's really not as much defense this time of year. It's a lot of skill work: ball-handling, shooting, getting shots up. It's not defense outside of like a 10 minute segment talking about principles against another team. If you don't like skill work, you don't like playing ball.

On tweaking things to stay away from monotony
All the time. I'll look at the practice plan and I'll just say that I don't feel like this today because of the body language of a guy. We'll just shoot free throws and go with something different. It just depends on how it feels. A lot of the time it depends on how my body's feeling. If I feel exhausted, I'll just shut it down and go to walk-through. If I feel that way, I can only imagine how they're feeling.

On senior day
I think when you've been in relationships, for me it doesn't matter how much time it's been, they're a part of your family. For Renaldo and Cam, those are two quality young men and two good guys who put the time in. They've been solid. It's not always easy, but once again these guys are part of our family. They might be going away certain places, but they're part of the family and they're always welcome. In most cases, you get most of your feedback when they're gone. They won't tell you a lot when they're here, but they give you everything when they're gone. They're two guys I enjoyed being around.

On what he gave up for Lent
My wife actually did something and I said I would try to give up sweets, but that's a fight I can't win. I tried to give up sweets and so far so good, but we'll see. That's a fight right there.

On the bowtie
The Black Coaches Association came up with the idea. It's really for prostate cancer awareness. They called me about it and I said I'd love to be a part of it. I get involved in so many ways with cancer and I want to make people aware. I'm just doing my part. I'm not a bowtie guy. It clipped on.

On getting a bye in the SEC Tournament
It doesn't matter to me either way. We just want W's. If we can win games, we keep moving forward. It doesn't matter to me. I've been in a situation where we needed to get wins. We finished maybe 4th or 5th. We felt like if we played more games, we could get into the NCAA Tournament.

On making the NCAA Tournament
I'm not on the committee so if we win two games and finish 10-6, I don't know if we're in the tournament. We have to win games. We need to continue to play games and have success.

Thank you.





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