March 19, 2009
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student athletes only, please.
Q. It was kind of an up and down, ragged season for Tennessee. Do you see the tournament as a chance to get on the right path and get things going like you did in the regular season?
Wayne Chism: We got ourselves together a long time ago. We're playing together as a team, we're staying together as a team, and we're believing in each other. We done got better as a team, and we believe in Coach Pearl, too.
Q. This is the third time in four years that you faced these guys. Tyler, anybody, J.P., what stands out about Oklahoma State? It's their third different coach in that same time period.
Tyler Smith: This will be my first time playing them. I wasn't there when we played in Nashville. They have four guards that shoot the ball real well. They made a game and that's something we'll have to control. Our big guy is going to play tomorrow.
J.P. Prince: They're an exciting team, get up and down the floor, shoot a lot of 3s, like Tyler said, and score a lot of points, and I think it's going to be a good matchup and fun to watch.
Q. Bobby, you've played against Oklahoma State when you were at Oklahoma. And you're one year at Oklahoma, did you learn to respect and the like, what was the feeling between Oklahoma State and does that carry over for you?
Bobby Maze: Definitely learned to respect them, because I'm a fan of basketball as well as I play it. And they play very hard and play with a lot of intensity, and they were a well coached team, what I remember. They had a good point guard in Barry Eaton, who was the leader of that team and he's a senior. He's grown. They lost a guy like James Curry in the NBA. They have shooters. I remember when I was playing in high school, they've got him playing the floor an advantage for them.
Q. Tyler, for you, particularly, and Wayne, last year High C, lot of expectations this year, a little disappointed in the seed you did get. Is there a different feeling as you go into this game? Is there a different motivation going into this game because of the change in seeding?
Tyler Smith: We just want to stay together, regardless of our seed. If we was like a 2 last year, or this year like a 9, we've still got to play together regardless of our seed, and it just made a tougher opponent on us this time. I mean, like last year we have hard games against America and Butler. It's going to be a hard game for us this year, too.
Q. Tyler, and J.P., I guess this is the first environment you've come in where you're not the story. In Orlando, a lot of hype. SEC tournament, people thought you would win it. Here you're not the headliners. Is that lack of pressure, is that good that you're kind of coming in under the radar?
Tyler Smith: We don't look at it like that, coming under the radar or target. We know who the target is and it's Pittsburgh coming out of the Big East. We're not picked to make it out of the first round. Regardless of what we're picked, we're going to play our game and that will take care of itself.
J.P. Prince: I think Tyler did a great job. Doesn't matter whether you're the headliner or the underdog. Win or go home, it's simple as that no matter who you're playing. Everybody is going to give 100 percent out there on the court.
Q. Wayne, Marshall Moses, about 20 pounds and a couple of inches. That's their post player, six four and a half and 240ish, have you gone against somebody like that size differential this year and what are you trying to exploit?
Wayne Chism: I played a lot of post players, so it doesn't really matter. I learned how to play against a smaller guard or bigger person, doesn't matter. Whoever is in the paint that I have to play against, I play against them. I go out there and play my game and stay out of foul trouble.
Q. Tyler, you mentioned Pittsburgh. What makes them so difficult and what do you see in them?
Tyler Smith: I mean, they're one of the teams, one of the toughest conferences in America, with the Big East. I mean, they've just got a great they've been No. 1 two or three times this season. We know how much people are big on the Big East and things like that. I don't want to say they're a headliner, too. Every team here can be beat. That's what it comes down to, either win or go home.
Q. Scotty, last week your first post season at the SEC in Tampa, what do you gain from that and how are you feeling this week being in the NCAA?
Scotty Hopson: Great watching it over the years, me being in high school. Now I'm here getting this experience to play, just make me as a better all around player. I'm taking it in stride and living the moment out.
Q. Bobby, getting a chance to play in the SEC tournament and that environment, does it give you a sense of this team playing in consecutive days, playing in a neutral court and those kind of situations, does it give you a better sense of this team and how it might approach the NCAAs?
Bobby Maze: Definitely I know what this team is capable of doing. I have a lot of confidence in myself and this team. And I believe that we can do wonderful things whenever we put our mind to it and play together. I definitely feel like knowing that we're one game on the line and taking one game at a time knowing this is our last chance, our last thought, we have to go out there and play as hard as we possibly can knowing that if you lose you go home. And I feel like I believe in these guys and they believe in me.
Q. Bobby, what's your biggest concern with these guys, both teams like to get up and down the court?
Bobby Maze: My biggest concern is just transition defense. They score a lot of points in transition and they thrive off of it. Not just their point guards, but anybody on their team except for Moses brings the ball up the court, when they get the rebound they just like to push it up and they are dangerous from 3. Byron does a good job of driving this side and kicking it on to the open shooters and that's the main concern is just transition defense. But Coach did a great job of the schedule we had. We played against a lot of teams all season, different types of teams, transition and slow teams and I definitely feel like we'll be prepared. Nothing we haven't seen before.
Q. I guess this is for Wayne. I know we've talked about this before the season and during the season, but you were again left off the first team all CC is this just another opportunity to maybe try and get more of an identity or come out of relative anonymity?
Wayne Chism: As I said the first time it doesn't matter. I still have to prove myself to a lot of people. I have to go out and play my game. I just have to continue do what I do best that's rebound and play good defense and help my team come out with a good win. Being on the SEC team first team doesn't matter. If I don't make it I don't make it, I just move on.
Q. Why do you suppose that your numbers and performances have been overlooked?
Wayne Chism: I'm just a hard nosed player. I go out there and play hard out there. I don't know why it's been overlooked. But some people can keep looking over it and I won't care about it. It's nothing.
Q. Wayne and Tyler, Chris Ferguson, coach at Oklahoma State was on the Tennessee staff when you guys were in high school, and I'm just wondering if either one of you remember him recruiting you at all during your high school days and for Tennessee and if you got to know him at all?
Tyler Smith: Yeah, when we were in Orlando they were down there, too, and seeing Coach Ferguson down there and talked a little bit. But I mean we remember him recruiting us in high school.
Q. Wayne, do you remember him at all?
Wayne Chism: No.
Q. How much do you guys think it helps that you've been in the NCAA Tournament every year, this is the first time for everyone on Oklahoma State's team to be in it. How much does having done the interviews and all this process help you guys this week?
Tyler Smith: I think it's going to help us out. But at the same time when you're on the court, I mean all the cameras and interviews doesn't matter. Because if you're a great player and you're going to show it out there on the court.
But us coming here being here before. And Scotty first time, my second year in the tournament it helps a little bit. But like I said when it's inside those lines it doesn't really matter.
Wayne Chism: Well, I've been in the tournament three years now, so I grew up a lot in this system and the tournament. And like he said inside those lines it's going to be just straight basketball. And in the media room it's straight media. I learned a lot being in the media room and on the court. And especially on the big stages.
Q. Last year you were spanked by Louisville in the tournament, I'm wondering if that memory affects either
Tyler Smith: You have Louisville?
Q. I am. But I'm really asking how you all use it's a new year obviously and how you all used, if that is in any way a motivation, if it affects how you emotionally or prepare from a practice standpoint and would also like to ask Scotty if that makes any difference to him?
Tyler Smith: I think last year was a totally different team. We can't sit here and go off last year's team. Yeah, Louisville got us, and that's the past. I mean this year we're trying to take care of business and make it past that Sweet 16.
Q. I was wondering if that game last year being a Kentucky fellow, that being from Kentucky, if you remember that game and if that game in any way is helping you prepare to be ready for your first tournament?
Tyler Smith: After that game we called him to make sure we could get him to come to Tennessee so we could get extra help. (Laughter).
Scotty Hopson: I mean, I remember watching the game. I wanted for Tennessee to win. That's what I was looking for in my recruitment. But now I put that in the past and I just want to get up as far as I can this year and do as best we can in the NCAA Tournament.
Q. Scotty, you obviously came in with high expectations, how would you describe the seasons? As far as your performance and the team, has it been disappointing? Is it about what you thought? I guess just what you rolled in here thinking about your season so far?
Scotty Hopson: There's been ups and downs the entire season you have that as a player, as a team. But these guys have been helping me out a lot. They're leaders and they have really been taking me through the ropes and I thank them for what they've done this season. At this point right now we're just sticking together and everybody is just trying to contribute. That's when we play best when we play together and everybody contributes. So at this time we're trying to stay together and get as far as we can, like I said, as far as we can go.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
If you could begin with an opening statement.
COACH PEARL: We're excited about being in Dayton and being back in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year at the University of Tennessee. We know the road to advance is probably as challenging as any we've faced being a 9 seed.
And getting prepared for Oklahoma State has been a great challenge. I was always a fan of Travis Ford's. I was a head coach at Southern Indiana in Evansville, Indiana and he and his father were very, very prominent in Western Kentucky basketball circles at all levels. I followed his career as a player.
And then I was witness to the work he did coming through the ranks and particularly began to take notice at UMASS with the way his team has played. He's got a style of play that's I'd like to think it's similar to ours. It's up tempo. His players play with great freedom, and yet they play with terrific purpose.
And we know that with a four guard rotation and a point guard like Byron Eaton that can really get in the lane and create havoc and then be a pass first guy, they're very dangerous on every possession.
You can basically kind of spread things out, get Byron Eaton the ball screen and see what happens and it's pretty good offense.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach.
Q. Third time in four years you've faced them. They've prepped for Bruce Pearl and Bruce Pearl and you've prepared for Eddie Sutton, Sean Sutton and Travis Ford. Talk about the differences and is there an advantage or disadvantage either way?
COACH PEARL: Well, Terrel Harris had 17 the last time we played. Byron Eaton played very well the first game in Oklahoma City. And so I would I guess if there's got to be an advantage it would be basically the system we're running is similar.
Although, this year's team is much different than the teams they faced in the past. We were the smaller undersized team that spread you out and shot the 3 ball and now we're bigger and a little bit more traditional.
So even though it's the same coach, we're playing differently than we did the first couple of times that we saw them. And, you know, what Oklahoma State's team reminds me of a little bit is my first year Wisconsin Milwaukee I was a great beneficiary of Bo Ryan's progress that he made his first year at UW in Milwaukee. They hadn't won yet. But he at least instilled a really solid defensive system and toughness, and certainly when Travis takes over for a Sutton, two Suttons, he was left with that mind set and then opening things up himself offensively, it's almost like the best of both worlds.
Q. It's been four days since you guys received the seed. Have you noticed any difference compared to previous years in first round games and how you guys have responded and where your focus is right now?
COACH PEARL: Well, the approach that we've done, the approach that I've taken and again I learned this from Dr. Tom Davis, who was my mentor, we have a four team tournament that we're playing in. Pittsburgh, East Tennessee State, Oklahoma State and Tennessee. One of those four teams is going to advance to play in the Sweet 16. And so that's how we approach it right from the very beginning. This first round game will be the toughest first round game that I've had since I was probably back in Wisconsin Milwaukee when we had to open up against Alabama or Notre Dame. So I think the approach is very, very much the same.
I think our guys have great respect for their personnel and what they do. And there's a desire on behalf of our players to try to advance. And I know that Oklahoma State's excited about playing Tennessee. They'll know the challenges of trying to advance, and then the winner gets one of the top teams in the country.
And that's when you start to get into that one shining moment stuff, where can Oklahoma State or Tennessee pull off what would be a huge upset. I'm sure the players for Oklahoma State would like to get that opportunity. I know our guys would as well.
Be careful what you wish for, of course, but still that's why we're in this tournament, to try to make something special happen.
I promised my guys. I said, "Listen, I promise you if we're able to advance through this weekend," and believe me we know how difficult it's going to be. It's something they'll never forget. I'll never forget our run in Cleveland. I'll never forget what happened in Columbus Ohio when I took this Tennessee team there and we had to beat the ACC champions, Virginia, to go on to play Ohio State. And I'd like that very much for these student athletes.
Q. Oklahoma State has their freshman starter No. 12. List him at 5 10 might have been 5 8 or 7 Keiton Page. What's your opinion and does he remind you of anyone?
COACH PEARL: He's an old D guy. He's obviously got great range. If you leave him and he makes shots, it really opens everything else up for them. We played against a guy named Rodney Clark from Arkansas, and he was a similar cover. And you've got to have great discipline to be able to stay in his passing lane.
The difference was Arkansas had Courtney Fordson only to penetrate. These guys have got Eaton, Anderson, Harris, Neilo, a number of guys that are going to be hard covers off the bounce and it's awfully hard to stay with Page and stay with his passing lane when the other guys are driving left and right around you.
Q. Is there much of a different feeling coming in as a 9 seed than a 2 seed with your players and your approach and pressure or no pressure?
COACH PEARL: Well, I don't know. I'm sure you've maybe asked that question of these guys. I know last year we had to beat American University and Butler at South Alabama to advance. There wasn't an Oklahoma, Oklahoma State. There wasn't a Pittsburgh in that pod.
And so maybe this has more of a Sweet 16 feel for our guys as far as competition was concerned. When I was in Iowa we were in the 8, 9 game a bunch and we knew how difficult that opponent is going to be. Evenly matched. If you look at Oklahoma's strength of schedule and RPI they're a pretty tough 8 and I think we're a pretty tough 9 as well.
So I think the point is whoever comes out of this game is going to be a very good basketball team moving on. And a team that's going to give whoever wins that first game a challenge.
Q. Obviously you were juiced when you were at Milwaukee made the tournament. Past years you've been a high seed. I'm sure there's pressure that goes along with that. What goes along with being a No. 9 seed?
COACH PEARL: You've asked a couple of questions about the differences maybe in expectations or pressures coming in as a 2, feeling you have more pressure as a 2 than you do as a 9.
I really didn't feel that way. I mean, our expectation is to try to advance through this weekend. We understand the challenges. I mean, there's some serious challenges to beating Oklahoma State. We understand that. But our expectation is to advance and go to Boston. Our expectation was to do the same in Alabama. Our expectation was to do that when I was at Wisconsin/Milwaukee. We know how hard it's going to be.
I don't think we feel any less pressure well because we're the 9 and Oklahoma's state really good and they're the 8 and of course there's the 1. I honestly don't think our kids feel any different. Maybe we should. I just don't. If we don't win it we'll be really disappointed.
Q. This is the first time from all these guys from Oklahoma State playing in the NCAA Tournament and you got kind of a bunch of guys who have been here before. How different is that for them?
COACH PEARL: I'm going to answer that and help if I could take you in a direction. Is this Tennessee team as hungry as Oklahoma State having been there two or three times as opposed to this is the first time?
I remember at Milwaukee, this was a pretty important press conference for me when I was at Milwaukee. Being on CBS that was a big thing. That wasn't for the university of Wisconsin Milwaukee, that was for the university of Wisconsin.
And so I think both teams being high major teams and having the visibility that they both have, this isn't going to be any bigger of an opportunity for Oklahoma State or us. I think for the mid majors, this is huge. I mean, to get to this opportunity. And so the play I think it's tremendously elevated. You come in in a stage you've never been to before. I don't think that's an intimidating situation. In fact, I think that brings out the best in you. You can sit there you get tired of watching everybody else on television and going I can play with those guys, that's not the case for Oklahoma State or Tennessee. Both teams are very, very visible.
I don't necessarily know that our experience having been in the tournament before is going to make much of a difference. Maybe it will help Wayne or Tyler or some of the individuals that have been there, but we have four or five guys that are in their first year in the program and in fact two starters that have not played in the tournament before. Scotty Hobson and Bobby Maze.
Q. When you guys get going and you get the full court pressure going and you score during a regular season game, sometimes that can snow ball really on a team. I'm wondering about your experience, the differences once you get to this tournament with some stoppages in play, maybe the timeouts are a little longer, how different that is, and how maybe you adjust to that?
COACH PEARL: The timeouts are longer, and it is a factor. We do try to wear people down. But we're not pressing as much this year as we have in the past. We're not quick enough. Oklahoma State has got a real good rotation, seven or eight guys are in that rotation. They basically have six starters that will play 30 plus.
And that's shortened bench sometimes can bode well in tournament play, because those guys are all real comfortable, real familiar with each other. The longer timeouts fatigue won't be as much of a factor at the end of the half or at the end of the game.
But we're not going to change. I mean I've never gone into a team with a pressing team changed our style of play because the timeouts are longer. We're still going to play the way we play.
It will be a game of runs. No lead is safe with Oklahoma State. They can be ahead by a bunch and because the way they play if you can get a few stops you have a chance to crawl back into it. By the same token, if they're down, you better keep scoring, because they're going to keep shooting it. And they can score again they can score in bunches. Nine and a half 3s a game is fifth in the nation. So we're going to have to continue to attack. It should be an up tempo game. Has a chance to be a high scoring game if both teams are shooting well.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
Oklahom State Cowboys Quotes
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student athletes only.
Q. Byron, how is the toe, and being that you're a senior, I can only imagine you wouldn't miss this opportunity for the world?
BYRON EATON: The toe's great. It's not 100 percent yet. But it's getting better every day. Last few days of practice I've been able to go the whole time, so that's a plus.
And like you said, it is my senior year. The only way I wouldn't play this, they have to cut my foot off. I'm just going to just try to make the best of this opportunity that I have for my last time playing college basketball.
Q. James, and really anybody, how tough was that practice we keep hearing about after the Texas loss? Can you talk about what difference Coach Ford has made, how he's made a difference in the program?
JAMES ANDERSON: It was real tough. I mean, once we lost to Texas by almost, I think, 30, I mean, it opened everybody's eyes and changed our whole style. And after that we started out a new season. So we want to thank Texas for that, and just opened our eyes. And we just got back in the gym and just started working, mostly on defense, and corrected everything that we had did wrong after the Texas game, and did all the defensive drills we could think of.
Q. How does it feel to be here? And how different was this road trip compared to every other road trip you've taken at Oklahoma State?
BYRON EATON: It's very different. Our first few years mine and Terrel's first few years, my first year the travel was really good we went to Miami. I saw when we played at home. Last year we got a bad experience on the road trips made it to the NIT. Went to the Oklahoma City and St. Louis and 2 hour drive where we played Carbondale, but this time we were just able to practice and go to fly to our own airport out of Stillwater, and things are better when you make it to the NCAA Tournament.
So that was one of the main things I was told when I first got here. I'm just happy that we were able to experience it. Our last time it's my senior year. So just got to make the best of it and leave tradition behind us like it was when we came in.
Q. Terrel, talk a little bit about Coach Ford and kind of the adjustment and what he's brought to the program.
TERREL HARRIS: It's a lot more intense. Brings a lot more intensity to our team, just a lot of discipline on the team. I think we haven't found our identity. Coach Ford came in with a style of play that he wanted to play at Oklahoma State, and that's just what we stuck with. We haven't changed any way throughout the whole year.
If anything, we've gotten better. So I just think he had a plan for this university when he came in and he stuck with it.
BYRON EATON: As opposed to my first two years, the change has been great for me. My style of play, what I used to play at high school and summer league. And basically the players that we have on our team, the change was great for us. Like Terrel said, he did bring a lot more intensity and discipline to our team, which was needed for us.
And he just pushed us to bring out the best in us. You know, along with him and the rest of our coaching staff, they did a great job in the offseason getting us ready and prepared for this moment that we're at right now. So we just gotta thank them for coming in and doing a great job. And taking their time with us.
We know, especially myself and Terrel and Anthony Brown, we're seniors. A lot of these guys have more years. They took their time with us and put the work in and we got great things out of it. We have to continue on. Don't let our season end so early, just continue to go and just have fun with the rest of our season.
Q. Terrel, Byron, you've been around, played in NCAA two different times. Two totally different teams now, but do you draw anything from that experience and what do you remember from those games?
BYRON EATON: Like you said, we have played I played against them twice. And both times it was an up and down game. Both teams we both had our leads in both games, but they both were both was comebacks. One thing I can take out of this is going to be a big game of turnovers. You've got to control the ball. Can't let one team have too many fast breaks. And one thing we've got to do, we've got our game plan, we just have to go out and execute it. We can't let easy things get by us, and we just gotta go out and execute our game plan to the fullest, and I think we'll have a great night.
TERREL HARRIS: Like he said, I think these teams are two totally different teams. We still have maybe each team has maybe two players that were still here, Chism on their team and me and Byron on our team that actually played each other twice.
But I think we're more of an up and down team than we used to be. So if anything, I think that our style of play has changed. That's going to change the game a little bit from the past years. Now it's more of a similar game. Like Byron said, it's going to be a game of who doesn't turn over the ball most, and defense. So I think it's going to be a lot of up and down, fast pace.
Q. Being that you guys haven't been to this stage of post season play before with this particular tournament, how hungry are we for a win? Because it's win or go home at this point.
BYRON EATON: Like you said, we haven't been to this stage. And one of the main things the coaches told us the last few days of practice, you know, don't get sidetracked on what we came here to do. And we've been talking about that in practice. Off the court, just come here. Just treat it like a regular game. And like you said, it is one and done now. So I don't think anyone on our team is ready to go home yet. We have to continue to work hard and don't let this great opportunity slip by us.
Today's going to be a busy day for us, but we've got to put some things aside, and when it's time to get ready for the game we've got to focus on it.
Q. For all three of you, Tennessee has had some trouble this year with guard oriented teams, can you talk about whether or not you can exploit that, and what about their size advantage and does that concern you?
TERREL HARRIS: I just think we've got to play. We really haven't stressed that they had trouble with guard oriented teams. I mean, they're a guard oriented team. They're just tall. They have long guards that can play. And I just think whoever just goes out and handles their game plan the best and just plays out their game plan the best, like I said, has the best chance of winning. The size, that's going to play a factor, but not to an advantage where we're going to win or lose, make a difference in the game. I think we just have to carry out our game plan.
JAMES ANDERSON: Just like Terrel said, we've got to carry out the game plan, and it will be whoever gets the most fifty/fifty balls and whoever played defense the most, and just gotta take each possession one by one and just get after the whole game and it will come down to who played the hardest and defends the best.
BYRON EATON: Just like my teammates said, we know the things we have to do. We can't go out there and not do the things we've been working on the last few days of practice affect us and hurt us. So like you said, we're going to continue to play our same game. We drive the ball, we look to get guys give an opportunity to do that. If they had trouble in the past, it will come out of the game. We can't dwell on what they have done in the past. They're a totally different team right now. Everybody is hyped up for the NCAA Tournament.
We have to do what we do every day, get good shots, and we can't let them guys get any fast breaks, don't give them any easy buckets. We have to get out in transition and get on the fifty/fifty balls. Like I said, their size is a big thing for them, but we've just got to get in there and play defense, every position. And it's a championship position within themselves, so we have to go out there and have fun with that situation and don't give them guys anything easy.
Q. Tennessee's had the experience of playing in this tournament the last few years. And this is the first time for you guys here. Do they have an advantage in your mind, having gone through all this stuff in the last couple of three years?
BYRON EATON: Like you said, they have played in this tournament for the last four years, and we haven't made it for the last three years. So I'm pretty sure that they got the upper hand because they know how the handle the situation a little better than we do.
But we're so excited I think that we can look past all these things that we gotta go through today. And when game time comes tomorrow afternoon, we'll just overlook everything that happens today and be ready to play and be more hungry than those guys will. So we've just got to come out and have fun with the situation and the opportunity we have and just, don't think for tomorrow, live the moment for what it is.
TERREL HARRIS: Of course, they probably would think that they have the advantage. But I mean, once we get on that court I think all that stuff is going to go out the window.
Maybe this type of stuff that we're doing right now or maybe when we're on the court shooting around maybe that's different. But I think as long as we focus, I think we have the same opportunity to win a game as they do. I think we have just as much opportunity to win as they do.
We've played in tournaments before. Maybe not this big, but I think when it all comes down to it, we're still on the court we still put on our pants the same way they put on their pants. So I don't think there's too much advantage.
Q. Be honest here, guys, first time you ever laid eyes on Keiton Page, did you ever think this is a guy who could start for Oklahoma State?
BYRON EATON: I mean, I never doubted it. When Coach first came in he didn't say did he have any starters on the team. Everyone had a good opportunity to start. It appears how hard they work. And he came to work every day in practice. So I'm pretty sure that I was pretty sure one day he would have an opportunity to start.
And he's came in and did a great job. So when I looked at him I said he'll be starting one day. I didn't know when it would happen. But I knew he would start one day.
TERREL HARRIS: I guess I didn't think he wouldn't be able to start. I just looked at him as another player, you know.
Q. I ask it because of his size.
TERREL HARRIS: No, I thought he was good. Everybody talked about how good he is, and when I first met him I was excited to see how he plays.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
Coach, welcome. If you'll please begin with an opening statement.
COACH FORD: We're just very excited to be here. Very excited for these seniors to be able to experience this NCAA Tournament. We've talked a lot about this year before it started about them not have been participating in this yet and these guys making it a goal to be a part of this.
And they came to a point in the season where they could have went two ways. And they decided that they wanted to be a part of this and changed our season around. I give them a lot of the credit. And very fortunate in an environment where I think making an at large bid is getting tougher and tougher every year in the NCAA Tournament, you've got to have great senior leadership and these guys have done that. So we feel very fortunate to be here and excited.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Obviously you're familiar with South Eastern Conference play, and I understand you and Bruce Pearl may be familiar with each other's styles. Can you talk a little bit about them and the way they play, especially with the two inside guys, Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism?
COACH FORD: Yeah, they play a very fun, exciting style of basketball. Very aggressive style of basketball. Their 4s and 5s create a lot of mismatch and matchup problems for a lot of teams because they can go inside, they can go outside. Both Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism are very versatile, can score on you in a variety of ways.
And just preparing for those guys the last two days and trying to simulate them as much as you can, you see the difficulty you can have when the guys can step out and shoot 3s and they can post, shoot out and do different things.
You know when you're going to play any team that Bruce coaches they're going to play extremely hard. They're going to be aggressive, going to try to create turnovers to easy baskets. They're going to crash the offensive glass.
And they're going to pick and choose when they press and press you a lot. So you understand what you're in for. You better come prepared, bringing your A game to go against Tennessee.
Q. Travis, you went to Massachusetts. It was a different environment, different basketball culture, et cetera. I've seen a quote attributed to you, you're an outsider, quote, unquote. In this environment, how did the two compare to having to adapt yourself to what was going on locally?
COACH FORD: Well, I've been asked that a lot the last couple days, when you take over a program where there's been basically one coach, one family in charge for 17 years or whatever, how long it was, I was definitely a different face coming in and an outsider.
Oklahoma State basketball had been very, very successful under the Sutton family, and I've said on many occasions they're the reasons I was ever even interested in the job for what they accomplished and made this job what it is.
But there was no question when you come in, kind of under the different circumstances that I came in under, I don't know if you want to say there's different sides or this and that, but Oklahoma State Cowboys, the fans, alumni, students, they're an extremely crowd group of people and very close knit group of people, very close knit group.
And I was an outsider. Football coach played there. The AD's been there for a long time. A lot of people who have been in the administration for a long time. And you come in as the new guy on the block and it takes a little while for people to I guess to accept me and get to know me and for me to get to know them.
Similar to the UMASS situation, similar in that obviously I'd never been to the northeast and spent a lot of time and they were probably wondering who the heck I was coming from Kentucky to Amherst, Massachusetts. But I think we all have the same common goal. And that's to help the school be successful, and I went to each spot helping their basketball team and basketball program be as successful as we can.
And that's the common goal we all have in common.
Q. Tennessee comes into this game in a little different position than the last three years where they were a 2 seed, a 5 seed and a 2 seed. Does that make them more dangerous, or does that change the equation any from your side?
COACH FORD: No, I don't think so. I think both teams are going to be very hungry to win, and I don't get caught up into all that too much. But they're a team that you watch them on tape. They're capable of beating anybody on any given night. Just a very talented basketball team, very big, long, athletic. Can create a lot of different problems in a lot of different areas.
But I don't think seeding matters. I think once that ball is thrown up, neither team understands what seed the other team is, and I think you're just both trying to play to advance, I don't think seeding makes that big a deal.
Q. How do you think personally you've grown or you've changed since you left Eastern, and the second part of this question, which is completely unrelated, what's T Boone Pickens really like?
COACH FORD: I think as a coach you're always learning. You're always gaining new knowledge, and you're always getting better. How I've changed I think I've gotten a little bit more patient, maybe. Some may already knew that. But obviously recruiting broadened a lot. I've made a whole lot one of the reasons I wanted to go to UMASS was to broaden myself a bit. Because when I took that job they said what are you doing and what are they doing? But for me to get to the point where the goal of mine to win a national championship some day you've got to have great recruiting ties everywhere. And that's something that I wanted to broaden my recruiting base and meet a lot of new people, which I did at UMASS and met a lot of people, and the same thing with coming to Oklahoma State. No question.
You come to a situation where the possibility of winning a national championship is there, because of people like Boone Pickens and the support you have. But I've grown in a lot of different areas, just making the moves that I have makes you really adapt to a lot of different situations. I've taken over four basketball programs, and every program I've taken over has needed help. I've not been fortunate enough to walk into a situation where you're taking over a 25 win team and you're picked to win the league.
Every team I've taken over has finished mid to the lower part of the league when I've taken them over and pretty much picked that way my first year. And we've had to come in and try to overachieve and to build something and to build on something. And I've been fortunate to be able to do that. But Mr. Pickens is tremendous. The first thing I can tell you is he just loves Oklahoma State university. He has no agenda other than he wants this university to succeed at the highest level in everything, athletics, academically, everything.
His love for this university is like nothing I've ever seen. And he generally knows everything about our basketball team, the football team. He studies it. Very knowledgeable. And just there to give you support. It's been a lot of fun to get to know him, very interesting to spend the time with him, one of the smartest people I've ever been around, one of the sharpest people, and very impressive. Everything you might think about somebody who has accomplished some of the things he's accomplished. He meets all those expectations when you meet him. Just very impressive. Very impressive.
Q. Bruce Pearl was talking about this is the third time in the four years that the two teams have met. OSU has had a different head coach every time. And he goes if you mix the Sutton family with the Ford philosophy, it could be a really terrific combination. Is that pointing out the obvious to you? Is that what you've been trying to figure out the whole time you've been there? Or how do you answer that?
COACH FORD: Again, I've got an incredible amount of respect for Coach Sutton and Sean and what they've all accomplished. No question. But I try to be myself. I do admire some of the things there's no question I learn. I've watched Eddie Sutton teams and learned great defensive coach and obviously his accomplishments, I think he's a Hall of Fame coach, no question, if you look at what he's accomplished. He's a Hall of Fame type coach.
But I've learned under some great coaches. And I've been very fortunate. I've tried to take from everybody. I've said that all along. I've tried to take from everybody. Obviously the backbone of what we do is a lot of things I learned under Coach Pitino at Kentucky, the aggressive style of play. People want to look at, hey, we're the fifth in scoring in the country. If you look at the defense, it wasn't the best early in the year, but the reason we've won the last 8 out of 10 games was because of defense and rebounding, not because of offense. We're still scoring 80 points a game, but our defense has improved, and we're doing this with just basically six or seven guys. We're not real deep. We're not real big. And a lot of times we have a little trouble protecting the basket because of our height.
And we've had to mix and match a little bit our defenses to try to figure out what's best for this basketball team. But it's an interesting comment. But I do have a lot of respect for Coach Sutton, the things he does, and I try to take a little bit from everybody. He's no question a guy to learn from.
We have our own style of play. I don't think there's any style of play that's right or wrong. I said that a thousand times, because people talk about our style of play, what we do. They've done it for the last couple of years. There's no right or wrong. This is what I enjoy, I enjoy aggressive basketball. I think you do win championships by playing great defense and rebounding, but you can make offense a lot of fun. You can make offense enjoyable for the fans and for the players, and give them the freedom to shoot the ball and put them in a position to be successful and offensively and score 85 points a game and be able to do that and still play great defense. I think that's the recipe for success, to have great defense and great offense, as well.
Q. You alluded to your patience. In your first year of coaching here at OSU, has this team accomplished what you expected?
COACH FORD: The question is tough because I didn't have any expectations. Every job I've taken over I don't set expectations because first years are usually very, very difficult, especially when you're changing a style of play that's so different than what you guys were used to. Bruce alluded to it, I'm the third coach for some of these guys. What we were trying to do was develop a mentality even before we taught our system. And that's why I really believe it's taken it took us a little bit before the middle of the season before we hit our best stride we were just trying to develop a winning mentality. I think a lot of please players developed a little bit of mentality we're an NIT team. We're supposed to be a 500 team. That's just who we are.
We saw that midway through the season when we hit a little bit of adversity when I think we lost two in a row and guys, we saw it in their eyes a little bit that kind of here we go again. And we did not we did not allow them to accept that. That was not acceptable to me. That's not my mentality. It's never been my mentality. You've got to be overachievers, you've got to expect more in order to achieve more.
We spent more time on the mentality of a winning attitude and what it takes to be successful than we actually have on the actual system. We haven't put in probably probably put in 60 percent of my system probably for a lot of different reasons. But for that reason I didn't have expectations. We were picked six or seventh preseason in our league, in a league a lot of people thought was a rebuilding type year in our league.
And I don't think it necessarily was very competitive. But I don't know I can't say this is what I expect. This was our goal. This was our goal. First step was to try to make the NCAA Tournament with a group of guys that had never been there before.
But I've never done that with teams I didn't know, I didn't know what our goals should be, I didn't know what our expectation should be. Because I hadn't been through battles with these guys before. So I didn't want to put that pressure on them at all or on me or my staff to set lofty goals or minimum goals or anything.
We as a coaching staff, and very blessed with the staff I have, we've just tried to really, you hear it from coaches but this is about the truest statement I've been a coach for 12 years or whatever it is. This is a year every single day we just try to get better. We literally we've had more long coaching staff meetings just to prepare each we have four hour staff meetings to prepare for a two hour practice, just to get our guys to be better than they were the next day.
To try to change the mentality. We would discuss each player, where were they mentally, what do we need to get them to really think that they're better than maybe they actually are and things like that.
So with that mind set, we couldn't set goals. We couldn't have expectations, really, because we really didn't know what we had.
Q. What's your read on your guys? Are they wide eyed at all? How are they reacting to all this?
COACH FORD: People have been talking a lot about Tennessee. There's a lot of concerns to have with Tennessee, a lot, because they have great players, great coach, great system, a lot of different things. But our biggest concern has been this is the first experience for our guys, and after Selection Sunday on Monday we saw it a little bit. Guys we felt we told them you're just having fun in practice today. We've got a lot left hopefully and we've got a tough game.
And we had to refocus them and make them understand that, yes, you should feel proud of yourself. Yes, you should be excited, yes, this is a great accomplishment but that's over with. You've made it. Now we have to move on from this. And we had to get very serious and get on them in practice and bring them back in a little bit. Then the next step was getting here. Not letting all the outside distractions interfere with them staying focused on the game plan, the business at hand and making them understand that Tennessee has been through this before. This is old hat to them. And you guys have got to stay focused. We've got to make sure we understand why we're here.
So I think all those are legitimate concerns. I think hopefully we as a coaching staff can do a good job to keep them focused and get them ready and I think since that first day we grabbed ahold of them a little bit and said hey it's not just about having fun at this point, we need to concentrate on Tennessee and on ourselves and playing hard. I think they've done a better job of focusing but no question those were concerns, and understandable. It wasn't that I was totally upset because I can understand where they were coming from. They were excited.
Sitting with Byron and Terrel on Selection Sunday, and before it even started to come on Byron leans over to me and said, How does this work? You frequently understand they haven't been through this before. And what are they going to do? Do they tell us right now? No we could be last. You don't know what region you're in. So we had to quickly give them Selection Sunday 101 very quickly on how this all happens.
It's fun to watch. It's fun to experience it with these guys, but hopefully they will focus in on the game and get ready to go.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.