Vols Pre-Mercer Press Conference

March 22, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Head coach Cuonzo Martin and the Vols starters met with the media to discuss the matchup with Mercer in the Round of 32.


MODERATOR: At this time, we're ready to begin the student athlete portion of the Tennessee press conference.

Q. Let's go with Jordan, if you would answer this. Mercer played you last year in Knoxville in the NIT and won there, when you guys don't lose at home very often. And it wasn't as close as they would have suspected. What do you remember from that game and is there do you have a little payback involved beyond the NCAA tournament?

Jordan McRae: We're just looking forward to the game tomorrow. What I remember from that game last time was they outplayed us last time. We didn't really have good energy that last game.

Tomorrow, we're just looking to play our game.

Q. For Jordan or Jarnell, from being in the game last year, do you think you're automatically immune to the trap where you're going to think they're a little school that you can overlook? Do you think that's out the window now?

Jarnell Stokes: Yes, you're exactly right. I feel like from playing them last year, we understand that they're a very good team and that they're playing with a chip on their shoulder. And we're also playing with a chip on our shoulder.



So it's the NCAA tournament. As you can see, anything can happen.

Q. For any of you guys that want to answer this, how is the team's mindset different today than it was the day before you played Mercer last year?

Josh Richardson: I'd say, I mean, honestly, I mean, I think it's a difference in the tournament, especially last year. We were hoping to get in the NCAA tournament and we didn't really get our wish.

But this year, we're playing for so much higher stakes. I mean, it's to get to the Sweet 16, and this is the biggest stage in America in college basketball. So I think everybody's just going to give everything they have tomorrow.

Q. For Antonio, Coach yesterday said when you guys played defense the way you have, this is the result, the way you played yesterday. How do you think you guys are performing defensively right now? Two games in the tournament and you've held teams significantly below their averages.

Antonio Barton: I think we're playing our best defense of the year right now. We're just keying in on our assignments and we're helping each other out a lot. We're just relying on each other and trusting each other. That's what we tell each other before every game. We're going to go out there and die for each other.

Q. Jarnell, you had a good game rebounding wise against these guys last year. When you look at a team that has, I guess, maybe thinner, skinnier guys in the post, do you look at that as a chance for you to kind of impose your physicalness on a team and look at that as a strength you can exploit?

Jarnell Stokes: Well, I feel like any game I play against is my chance to impose my will, definitely on the rebounding end. They have a very good big man and that will be a great matchup for me. He's tall and I think he won Defensive Player of the Year in their conference. So it will definitely be a great matchup for me.

Q. For Jeronne, you guys were at one point 7 7 in the SEC and had won 7 of 8, so it was almost like a switch flipped for you guys. Why do you think it took so long to play at this level you've shown you're capable of playing?

Jeronne Maymon: Can't exactly put a finger on it. I think we started trusting each other more, showing a lot more care for each other, so to speak, care about the game and everything like that. I just think we turned it up another notch. I wouldn't be able to put an exact finger on it, though.

MODERATOR: Any other questions? Gentlemen, thank you very much and good luck tomorrow.

We are now ready to begin the second half of the Tennessee press conference with Head Coach Cuonzo Martin. Coach, would you like to make an opening statement?

COACH MARTIN: Excite for the opportunity to play against a very talented Mercer team, a team that plays well, one of the better offensive teams in all of college basketball, regardless of the league they play in. A great, talented team with seniors that understand how to play, a well coached team. Great balance. Looking forward to it.

Q. Coach, if there's any team that would not overlook a team like Mercer or underestimate a team, it would seem to be yours, having played them in the NIT last year. Can you talk about the respect that your players have for their team?

COACH MARTIN: I like to think, first and foremost, our guys respect any opponent whenever we play them. We talk about taking one game at a time, don't take anybody for granted.

Playing these guys last year in the NIT, we didn't play well. Some like to think you don't have the passion and energy when you're playing in the NIT, but I like to think they beat us. They won the basketball team.

A very talented team, again, a lot of guys who can play well. They play a lot of bodies. They execute their offense. Everybody understands their role.

And for us, the great thing about it, we came into this game before the game, we got here, trying to beat a UMass team. We were blessed to do that. Now, at that point, it was whoever won against Duke and Mercer. It wasn't a case, okay, we got a chance to play against Duke. It was whoever won the ball game. Our guys understood that this is a very talented team. I think playing them last year really helps our guys.

We didn't overlook them. We didn't take them for granted either. Our guys watch a lot of basketball. They know good basketball when they see it.

Q. Cuonzo, yesterday's game pretty much decided by your size and really bulk around the basket. Your players really effectively used that defensive wall and how does that translate against a team like Mercer, that is smaller, quicker and really would prefer to pull you away from the basket as much as possible?

COACH MARTIN: I think for us, at this point, you are who you are. I don't think there's a lot of change in what you do. You might try to tweak a last second play or make an adjustment after a timeout.

At this point, we are who we are. We'll play the way we play and they'll the way they play. Our big guys will continue to the pound the ball inside, whether they get the shot blocked or get it off. We'll continue to pound inside. We'll continue to crash offensive glass. We'll continue to be physical and use our length on the perimeter with our guards. Just play the way we play.

This time of year, it's a great time of year because anything can happen. Whoever is playing the best, who is making plays, making free throws, who can control the tempo, who can control the game at their pace, we've been blessed to do that the previous two games.

Q. Coach, you took over the program three years ago and had rebuilding to do. Is the way your team is playing now, especially on the defensive end, kind of what you had in mind for your program here in year three?

COACH MARTIN: Yes. And we did it you look at the numbers, it probably didn't look as well as it looks now, but if you look at the numbers in the previous two years, they were good numbers. I don't think it was as consistent as it needed to be across the board. I thought we might have had two or three guys that could defend or two or three guys that defended well that night.

I think we have five guys that are defending, taking pride in defending. More importantly, understanding if you defend at this level, these are the results behind it. And I think that's the thing they embrace more than anything.

Q. Cuonzo, given all the ups and downs of this season, what do you think it would mean to you as a coach and to this program to get to the Sweet 16?

COACH MARTIN: I'm already happy. For me, and I understand your question, Patrick, but I never look at it as ups and downs. You go through things in life. You build. For me, it's always a teaching point for our guys. Not always our freshmen. Things happen in life. Something happened and you're married. Something happen to one of your children as you raise them. Something happen for your parents. You go through things. Do you give up? Do you fold or do you keep pushing? For me, these are the teaching points because if you put the work in, eventually the results will follow. That's how I look at it. If you're consistent in your approach and doing it the right way, you get the results. For me, it's always a blessing to be able to teach these things for our guys and become better men.

If you look at our teams, every year down the stretch, we become a better basketball team because of the things we teach and.

However it presents itself in he beginning, I'm fine. I just ask that God give me the necessary equipment and tools to make these guys understand the importance of what they're going through right now, so they don't fold, so they don't give up. With most young guys, they want it right away. You have to keep pushing. I'm happy where our guys are right now.

Q. Coach, the Virginia team is here and a lot of those guys have pointed to their game with you as their sort of turning point where they refocused, that sort of thing. Did your team have any kind of down letdown after that game or anything like that? And how to get back to this point?

COACH MARTIN: I think we didn't have the consistency throughout games. I think down the stretch in games, not having enough time or reps together as a team down the stretch of games to win ball games, all those things. Not necessarily any player. I take total responsibility for every game we lose. I take total responsibility. For the wins, the guys can have those.

I've said it over and over. I never hate to use excuses and hopefully it doesn't come off as an excuse. But when you have new guys, you have three returning starters, McRae, Josh Richardson, Jarnell Stokes. You lose your point guard in Trae Golden, who was a guy who was your first or second best scorer for two years, best assist guy, 90 percent free throw shooter. You bring in two new point guards. Though talented, they're new.

Then Jeronne Maymon, 15 months removed from playing basketball, now he's back in the fold. You're trying to strengthen your bench with new guys, new parts. Robert Hubbs is a five star guy, which I don't get caught up in the number of stars like that, has a shoulder injury and wasn't 100 percent at the beginning of the season. When you have that going on, you're trying to gel a team, it's not easy.

I think in the Virginia game, it was a showcase of what we could be if we were consistent, play well together on both ends of the floor. I mean, they're a very talented team and it really showed us what we could be. I think it helped those guys get to where they are, because they were talented and well coached team. It was just that game kind of got them over the hump.

Q. Coach, obviously, just piggybacking on that question with Virginia, what advice would you give to Memphis as they face them tomorrow, given that they've had so much success this season in the ACC?

COACH MARTIN: First and foremost, I think Josh got to figure it out as far as how he'll approach those guys. The thing about Virginia, when you run the motion offense, it's hard to say this is what you do to stop them, because it's always moving. You have five guys moving. You got a big guy on the blocks. You got a guard on the blocks. You got spacing, dribble handoffs, you've got flare screens.

One of the toughest offenses to defend is the motion offense. They do it as well as anybody in the country. On the other end, when they defend you, you're still fighting. So you're fighting with those guys on both ends of the floor. If you're not mentally tough enough, it will take a toll on you.

Q. Cuonzo, the last three weeks, you guys have been on a great roll, only loss was Florida in the SEC final. Besides consistency, is there an area or a player that has made significant difference in that run for you?

COACH MARTIN: I think guys have stepped up. The things we do too, we spend a lot of time this time of year on the skill development. Guys continue to get better.

Two guys, Josh Richardson, who is becoming an elite defender in my opinion, and Antonio Barton, those are probably the two guys. Everybody else played well. They do what they normally do. But I think Antonio Barton really embraced and accepts that leadership role. When your point guard is defending at a high level, running your team, even when he's not making the shots, he runs the team. He's a vocal guy that guys respect him. That speaks volumes. And then Josh Richardson is a guy that's really defending very well for us. Those are probably the two guys, I would say.

Q. Cuonzo, after the Texas A&M loss, the second one, you were 7 7. I guess at that point in the season with everything going on, it would have been easy for you guys to get down on themselves, and I don't want to say fold but not turn the direction they've done. How much credit do they deserve and how much credit do you give yourself that the team kept it together and started playing its best basketball after that loss?

COACH MARTIN: For me, there's no give up. My mom didn't raise me like that. We don't have that kind of time and energy to give up. You've got to continue to fight in everything you're doing.

I like to think I present that to our guys on a day to day basis. Not something you necessarily talk about. It's just how you approach life and how you go about your daily business.

Our guys just continue to fight. We continue to get better as a team. We don't talk about a lot of things. We continue to work, come in and get extra shots earlier.

Like Antonio Barton, every morning at 10:00 a.m., getting his shots in. Jordan McRae at 7:00 a.m. Jarnell Stokes. Guys are getting their work. This is what we do.

It goes back to, again, when you hit tough times, you got to refocus, regroup, and continue pushing forward. You got to continue to fight and that's all we talk about. We got to continue to battle.

As a staff, we're not looking for any excuses. We don't want to hear it. Let's continue to work hard.

Q. Yesterday, Mercer was able to hold Duke to just ten points in the paint while they had 26 points in the paint. Coach Krzyzewski said their bigs were just better than Duke's bigs yesterday. What takeaways do you have from yesterday's game, specifically?

COACH MARTIN: Well, for us, we're going inside with the basketball as well as with the post, off the dribble, offensive rebounding.

But in watching the film, Duke shoots a lot of threes. I'm not sure the number they shoot in a particular game, but that's what they do, they shoot 3 point shots. I'm not sure how much production they get on the blocks where they go to a guy every time down. I know Jabari posts up some, but he faces up and makes plays.

We like to pound the ball inside. Again, we'll do the post off the dribble, off the offensive rebound.

Q. Coach, I was wondering when was the first time that you played the one shining moment video for the guys this season and kind of what was behind that?

COACH MARTIN: Well, I think it might have been after we lost at Texas A&M. I think the reason we did it was just really to show the guys it's not over. It's a long season. We're right there. Also, we showed them Joe Lunardi, which I don't put a lot of stock in, but the name. Just show our guys, we're right there, continue to fight, to not give up. Because those young guys, you can't get discouraged. I told them to keep battling, keep fighting.

I think after the A&M game, just the vibe, the music, Luther Vandross singing, I thought it was great for your guys, just to feel for it, because, you know, they probably don't listen to it as much. They probably just look at the highlights of the game.

Then we showed it, we actually had the music without the graphics. So just the music. And just let them feel it and I thought it was great for our guys.


MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We're now about to begin the student athlete portion of the Mercer press conference. At this time, we'll open up the floor for questions.

Q. For Daniel, what do you remember about the game in Knoxville in the NIT that you won? I think you guys were 7 of 7 in that game. What do you remember about going up there and winning?

DANIEL COURSEY: I remember we had a lot of good passes from Lang. He had 15 assists. I remember getting some dunks. And Jarnell Stokes was a load to handle down in the paint. That dude is a good player.

Q. Just to follow up on that, Langston, the Tennessee players made a lot of reference to that game last year, and it sounded like they not just with the NCAA on the line, but they owe you some payback. When you saw they were in your path, did that come to mind, that it was a rematch for you?

LANGSTON HALL: We didn't really think about it. We were trying to take it one game at a time. We were focusing on Duke.

Now that we saw Tennessee won, now our focus is on them. They have a lot of great players. They're really long and athletic. Inside they're really strong and physical. So we've really got to play and get on the boards.

Q. I want to know what kind of feedback you got from your dance.

KEVIN CANEVARI: Oh, the dance. My phone's been blowing up over it. It's been kind of crazy, but it's just some fun to get everybody going and I think it really just shows our excitement to be here.

Q. Were any of you in the locker room when Coach K came in and what reaction did you have to his comments?

JAKOB GOLLON: I wasn't in there.

MODERATOR: You were here with us.

KEVIN CANEVARI: I wasn't in there when he came in, but he had a lot of great things to say, as everybody saw, and the whole locker room was just, it was a real class act by him.

DANIEL COURSEY: It was pretty crazy to watch him walk in and just do that after they just lost a game like this one. I mean, it was really classy of him to do that. I was in there when it happened.

Q. This is for any of the guys. Do you consider yourselves a Cinderella team, considering how many seniors you've had and the success that you've had?

JAKOB GOLLON: Every time there's an upset in March, people tend to call it a Cinderella story. But we know how good we are and in the past couple years, we've beaten a lot of high major teams. So we expect to win a lot of these games. In our own eyes, we're not, but we're not going to be upset if that's what the media wants to call it.

Q. Langston, I was wondering, how long of an adjustment period did it take this year with the new emphasis on hand checking and freedom of movement and everything. How long of a defensive adjustment did it take to get used to that?

LANGSTON HALL: Our team, we're not really into getting up and pressuring you. We try and contain you and stay in the gap. It didn't take us that long, but maybe a few games where we really got used to it. So it was pretty easy for us.

Q. Not that you were looking at the bracket, thinking we could potentially get a shot at Tennessee, but have you thought about how odd it is that the team that you guys played in the NIT is now the team you're playing for a trip to the Sweet 16 and what do you think about that?

DANIEL COURSEY: It is pretty exciting to play them again. We beat them last year in the first round of the NIT and that was a big win for us. And we just got to come back and do it again and just focus. I mean, we don't really have I don't know. We're not really like going out against them or anything, but we've just got to focus.

Q. Langston, you guys were playing Duke in their own back yard, but you had a pretty big cheering section that was pretty loud. Have you been trying to get folks from Macon to make the drive tomorrow?

LANGSTON HALL: Definitely, we had six bus loads of students come down for the game against Duke. This time they're saying it's going to be nine or maybe ten bus loads and people driving. It's going to be a crazy atmosphere. We love our fans and they've done a great job all year.

Q. I'm wondering if this Tennessee game doesn't really work in your favor, because there's no sense of overlooking you, that you guys beat them, so they're going to have a little axe to grind. They're not going to overlook you in any way.

JAKOB GOLLON: Well, we heard Coach K, one of the things that he pointed out after the game was that they definitely didn't overlook us either. And there was a lot of talk of us being a good team going into the tournament. So I don't think anyone has taken us lightly, especially after what happened with Gulf Coast last year.

Our conference has been taken a lot more seriously than in the past. So I'm not going to say that it's we're at any kind of disadvantage because of that. I think every team in the tournament is trying to prepare as hard as possible. No one wants to lose a game here. So I think they're going to prepare just like as hard as they usually would, just like every team should prepare and we're going to do the same.

Q. For Daniel, Jakob mentioned the schedule you guys have played non conference over the years where you've played Missouri, Ole Miss, power conference teams. How it does prepare you to play against Duke or play in the tournament against an SEC team?

DANIEL COURSEY: It's been huge. Us seven seniors have been through a lot together. We've played huge teams and had huge wins.

A game like yesterday, we've been there. We've done that. It's nothing new to us. I think that really helped us prepare and not really get anxious or scared during the game. And we just played.

Q. I'm going to have to quiz you then. Has it really been there, done that, when you beat Duke in the NCAA tournament?

DANIEL COURSEY: Not exactly, not on that stage or level or national exposure. But I mean, we've been in close games.

This year alone we've been in four, five overtimes. We've been in triple overtime, double overtime, and we've only lost one of them. So we've been in close games before and we know how to handle it.

Q. For Daniel and maybe Langston, could you describe your coach and how you feel about him, how he's helped you to become the men and players that you are?

DANIEL COURSEY: Freshman year, he was hard on us, to say the least. Especially me. I'm sure these guys could say that. I think he just doesn't accept what we are. He's always trying to make us better.

Even like a big win yesterday, we come into practice and he's telling us do the details, do the little things. He wants us to get it right, and I think that's what has made us so successful and good as players.

LANGSTON HALL: I agree with Coursey. Our freshman year was pretty tough. He was always on us about everything. It was tough coming right from high school to college. That was the hardest thing. And he was always on us, always on us until this day. Even if we mess up a play in practice, we're getting on the line, we're going to run for it. He doesn't accept just mediocrity.

MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Good luck tomorrow.

We're now ready to begin the press conference with Mercer Head Coach Bob Hoffmann. At this time, we'll open up the floor for questions for Coach Hoffman.

Q. Do you have an update on Monty Brown?

COACH HOFFMAN: Yes, he wasn't at practice today. Doesn't look good, but we're hopeful that he'll be back. We're not hasn't been completely ruled out at this point, but it doesn't look good.

Q. Just to follow up, I saw a report online that he doesn't remember the game yesterday. Is that accurate?

COACH HOFFMAN: He remembered fixing breakfast. So I don't know what timeline that is. But that's what he said he didn't remember anything, which is unfortunate with the big bodies that we're getting ready to play against because he did a great job on them last year. And we need some girth to bang around a little bit and he would have definitely helped us there.

Q. To clarify his injury, what exactly happened? I didn't see it.

COACH HOFFMAN: He got hit in the head, and I guess it was the hip that hit him. It was a they ruled it a possible concussion. That's what they're looking at at this point.

Q. Also wanted to ask about Jakob. Six years is a long time to have a guy. When you have a guy that old playing against Parker, who just turned 19, how much does that experience matter?

COACH HOFFMAN: Oh, I think it's huge. Just think of all the different practices and all the different games he's been in. He's played against multiple guys that are in Europe playing that were on our team in the past. So he plays against them in the summer.

And beyond that, Jake has great confidence in who he is and a belief that he can do a lot of things, and he's carried out most of those on the floor.

And no matter how good you are, you just look in the pros, guys with more experience, they're going to be better even though the talent level may be great. There's one or two that are exceptions from time to time, but for the most part, experience wins out.

Q. Coach, as you were watching Tennessee yesterday, what kind of jumped out to you about how they played against UMass?

COACH HOFFMAN: Very athletic rebound. Two pulling guards that could play football that are playing in the lane. Can't imagine what they'd look like with pads on. I mean, wow. And they're coming at you. No doubt about it. McRae can fly in. Josh Richardson can fly in too.

So you know where they're going, and even though I got to scout the game, a lot of it, I like live scouting because you don't get to do that much in Division I. So trying to get calls, that was fun. In fact, that's what I like most about college basketball is trying to figure out what others are doing and try to take it away.

That's what we're going to try to do tomorrow, but I think they're more athletic than they were last year. Maymon didn't play against us when we played against them in the NIT. He just gives you another person you've got to worry about inside.

Q. I wondered if you could tell me a little bit about your scheduling philosophy non conference, because you guys have played major conference teams and not only played them for the experience, but you've beaten them and how much that helps when you're in this situation, whether it's against Duke or an SEC team like Tennessee?

COACH HOFFMAN: I think it was one of the most important factors for our win yesterday is being in those arenas against different teams and playing with sellout crowds or big crowds, noisy arenas and being able to find ways to finish. And the confidence in each other grows and the confidence in yourself to be in that moment and know that you're as good as those folks, even though maybe they didn't recruit you but that you can play.

Basketball is a simple game. It's a very simple game. You just try to find the best shot every time, and you try to take away the other person's ability to get a good shot. And if you do that as a team, you're going to have a great chance to be successful every time out.

And with the kind of athletes we have and the assistant coaches that do such a great job preparing them, that's why we've been in those games because of their mindset.

Q. You mentioned how having some girth would be nice in this game to match up with

COACH HOFFMAN: I have the girth, but I don't get to play.

Q. I'm curious how maybe being a little bit undermanned will influence how you try to defend Jarnell Stokes.

COACH HOFFMAN: Yes, but I won't tell you what that is. The most important thing for us is having attack mentality. We're not going to back down. Even though if it was a fistfight, I'd understand if our guys chose to back down. But I think where we are and mentally how our guys are feeling about who they are and how they can get it done collectively, what we just walked through and what we'll walk through again tonight and tomorrow, they'll be ready once the ball goes up and we'll have a plan for tomorrow night.

Q. Coach, with such a veteran team, has there can you talk about the maturation process of this team from when they got there to was there a point where you realized that these guys are men?

COACH HOFFMAN: Well, the end of their freshman year, the seniors anyway, the guys that came in together, we had a series of injuries and we were struggling winning.

In fact, Monty Brown started for us at the end of the year. Bud Thomas started at the end. Langston had started every game since he's been here.

When we started winning those games at the end of that season, when it was the most difficult time of the year and we'd had all those injuries, I knew there was something special about those guys. You could look at Bud Thomas and think, what does he do? But then you get on the floor if you're a basketball guy, he's in the right place. He gets deflections. He gets rebounds. He understands the game at a high level and he's just continued to mature at that.

You could just talk about that on every one of those guys' levels, including Daniel Coursey and how he's just blossomed into the player he is now is because of how hard he's worked at his game and wanting to be the best he can be.

A lot of players say they want to be good, but a lot of them won't give the time and effort to get to that point. And I think that's probably what characterizes these guys is how hard they've worked and their desire to be the best.

Q. Two questions for you. Obviously, there were several upsets, North Dakota State, Dayton. Is the NCAA not getting these seedings right? Are they undervaluing?

COACH HOFFMAN: You don't want to get me started. I would tell you what I think about the RPI.

Q. Tell me.

COACH HOFFMAN: I don't think it is the right instrument anymore. I mean, it's not like it used to be. I mean, used to be power conferences I mean, the lower level teams were a lot better than teams in lower leagues, but that's not the case any more.

So the RPI carries the lower level teams and those major conference teams, even though they're not any good. And teams like in our league, you can't go anywhere because of all the bye games you have to play for our institutions, and then you're playing each other and your number is so high, you're in the 200s because you played all those bye games on the road, and the major conference teams play no road games until they get into conference play.

So how do you evaluate that? To me, it's I don't know how you decide, but to me that's a flawed instrument. I don't know how much they use that, and I'm not a very smart guy. I just like coaching hoops, but I think that is something that doesn't make any sense to me.

Q. The other question, you're moving to the Southern Conference, correct?


Q. How will that impact the program?

COACH HOFFMAN: Well, it's storied conference, great teams. A lot of good teams are moving that we would have been playing against. We've played a lot of teams in the past. The great thing about that league is there's multiple teams that look just like us that are as far as institutions, private schools, faith based, close by, closer to get even better rivalries. And then you throw the football element in that we're going into and I think it makes perfect sense.

Atlantic Sun has been tremendous for us. You know, I mean, we were a charter member. We've been there forever. It's hard to leave. I mean, the offices are in Macon. So those folks have worked hard and helped us along the way. It won't be an easy thing changing. But we're looking forward to another challenge.

Q. Coach, I'm not trying to be a smart aleck about this at all, but do you recruit against Tennessee and teams like Duke, whatever?

COACH HOFFMAN: That's a great question. Josh Richardson, we did recruit, because he actually played for a player of mine, Dan Edmond. So I knew abut him. We didn't get very far, but we recruited him because I knew about him before.

Cuonzo ended up getting him because he had recruited him at Missouri State and ended up taking him to Tennessee when he changed.

There's multiple guys on Virginia's team that we recruited, some of the first people we talked to, Malcolm Brogdon. I mean, there's just all down the line, but that's what you do. I mean, you go after really good players and you have a good list and sometimes other people bite on them and go hard and sometimes they don't. As in the case of Langston Hall, there were some Ivy Leagues and some other people in there, but not any of the power conference teams.

Did that answer your question?

Q. Coach, that NIT game last year, why do you think you guys were able to win it? Do you think that game gives you guys confidence, knowing that we beat this team last year in its own gym handily?

COACH HOFFMAN: I don't know that it would make us believe. It's just going to be automatic. I think it will give us confidence in the sense that we know we've won in those environments, like I mentioned earlier, against a very good team.

It was a great basketball game. We were able to get some easy shots on some different screen rolls. I'm sure based on what I've seen, I know they've got different coverages. Maymon didn't play, like I mentioned before.

I think they're more athletic, so I don't know if that game matters from that standpoint. But we were thrilled to win that game, no doubt about it. And it's something we continue to talk about whenever anybody asks us. We're happy to talk about that we won that first round game in the NIT on Tennessee's floor.

But when it comes tomorrow, with the confidence they're playing with and how good they've played the last three weeks, I mean, he's done an amazing job. They are playing at a high level. They just look like a very confident team.

So we know we've got our work cut out for tomorrow.

Q. Not in terms of matchups or on the court stuff, have you had a chance to sit back and say, Man, it's kind of weird we're playing the team we played in the first round of the NIT for a chance to go to the Sweet 16? What were your thoughts when you saw that was how it was going to stack up?

COACH HOFFMAN: I thought about it when I was watching them yesterday after we won. I got the privilege to scout, which was great, eat a hot dog, sit in the stands. That's as good as it gets, popcorn, hot dog. That's what you really like about hoops and drink a Coke along the way too, I guess. I guess I can say that since they're a sponsor.

But just kind of, when I was watching them and it was kind of déjà vu from that standpoint, hearing them make some calls and remembering some of their calls from last year, that was kind of fun and in my mind. I was going, Man, that is strange, a year later and here we are and we're hooping it up again. So it should be a great game.

Q. Your players mentioned your passion a lot when we were speaking to them. Where does your passion come from?

COACH HOFFMAN: Well, I'm a psycho. I mean, I'm just a big psycho. Whatever I do, I'm all in. Whether it's at church worshipping, if it's on the floor coaching, if it's eating fried chicken, getting my iced tea, I'm all in. I'm going to give all I got, and that's just how I'm wired and it's important to me to get guys that want to be coached that way because that's what the most important thing that a lot of people don't understand. These guys, even to this point, and no matter what, they wanted to be coached today. They took what I told them. I got on them a couple times. We ran some sprints today for things they didn't do. But to me, that's about passion, want to do the best. It's about excellence. How good can you be? Well, you better bring it every day if you're going to be the best.

We don't take days off. We may not go hard, but we're trying to get better mentally. We're trying to get better physically. Might be getting better spiritually, whatever. We're getting better somehow to be a better man so we can be the best we can be when we step out on that floor.

Q. Coach, you mentioned how Tennessee is different, is better. They've had Maymon since last year. How is your team different and how has your team gotten better since you last saw Tennessee?

COACH HOFFMAN: Well, we lost two great players who were very athletic, Travis Smith and Chris Smith, who aren't related, who played in that game. They were big time players for us.

I think we're more athletic this year too. I think we're more athletic. Ike Nwamu is a special athlete. Darius Moten is playing more minutes. He's a walk on that is playing tremendous, like I mentioned. I mean, we love how he plays.

I think beyond that, Daniel Coursey has even gone to another level with his play. And he's playing more consistent night in, night out and that's been a big deal.

Then probably the last piece is Anthony White was on last year's team, but he's taken on more ownership. I mean, who could have been more excited for a young man to see what he did yesterday in hitting that big shot toward the end of the game and just raising up, hitting that three.

So all those guys have played a significant role on our team, and I think we've been together, we continue to be tight, and that's because of the leadership of Langston Hall and Jake Gollon. So I think every day they're together, they're going to get better and that's part of the reason.

Q. For you personally in the last 24 hours, can you talk about the emotions or the feelings of it? I'm sure you've gotten a lot of text messages.


Q. Have you gotten any kind of unusual, Hey, way to go or anything like that?

COACH HOFFMAN: Basically, I've heard from a few players on every team I've ever coached, which when you're as old as me, that's a lot of folks all over the country and all over the world getting messages from all over the place. So that was a blessing.

Fun to reminisce when you saw it, and then hit them back, which was hard, because that took a long, long time to hit everybody. And I'm not very good at any of these technical things, as you might imagine. I barely can do email. So I had lot of those, but I was blessed to get the opportunity to do it because of the situation.

It's nice to know you have people that care like those folks did, to reach out. Emotionally, I was much better yesterday than the championship game at Florida Gulf Coast, I lost it totally. And that was because I was just trying to get those guys to the finish line because I wanted them to win.

MODERATOR: Any other questions? All right, Coach, thank you very much. Good luck tomorrow.




  • Loading Tweets...
    1 second ago