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Tennessee's Sweet 16 Press Conference

March 27, 2014

Vols head coach Cuonzo Martin along with starters Antonio Barton, Jeronne Maymon, Jordan McRae, Josh Richardson and Jarnell Stokes previewed the Sweet 16 match-up vs. Michigan.

Head Coach Cuonzo Martin

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by University of Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin. Questions.

Q. Coach, can you talk about just the difference with Jarnell Stokes this season, obviously last year a lot of inconsistent moments, but what's changed with him both mentally and on the court?
COACH MARTIN: Well, I think first and foremost his body. He's 260 pounds. He probably played at 270, 270-plus, but he's 260 pounds. He's very mobile. He's improved his perimeter game. 15- to 17-foot jump shot.
He's always been a guy that watched film and studies the game. But does a great job preparing his body, eating right, getting his rest. But he also wants to be a great player.
And I think the thing I've said about Jarnell is he's one of the few guys I've been around that can take criticism or what somebody says about his game, listen to it, hear it, embrace it and try to get better at it. A lot of young guys will kind of run from that.
But he does a great job, if somebody said this about me, these are the things I need to work on to get better. That's why he's the player he is today.

Q. Coach, you guys have talked a lot about being a tougher breed this year. How have the ups and downs from the middle of the season helped this team grow and become that tough team to get you where you are today?
COACH MARTIN: I think, a lot of teams go through things through the course of a season. I think that's the great thing about a long season, anything can happen, trying to gel lineups and personnel, getting guys to play better and strengthen your bench. There are a lot of things that go on through the course of a season.
But I think for our guys they've stayed consistent. If you look at us over the past three years, one thing we've done is get better down the stretch of a season.
And we take pride and continue the individual skill part of our guys, the team scheme things, the guys understand what we're trying to do. We're defending better.
And I think this particular group have a love for each other and they want to be successful as a team. I think that's why you see the results you see. But you also have to have talent to do that and you also have to have the guys embrace what you're trying to do as a coach and not give up.

Q. Seems like just yesterday you were wearing a Boilermaker uniform playing in the tourney, here you are now, can you talk about the foundation that was put in place for you as a player, a coach and a man in your stints at West Lafayette?
COACH MARTIN: Well, with coach, playing for Coach Keady was a great experience for me. And I'll never forget when he came to my home in East St. Louis, a lot of coaches come in, sell me different things, talk about different things, the things that Coach Keady talked about was if you go to class every day you'll get a degree. If you work hard, you'll play, and that was really it. It was not a lot of promises going on.
And at that time I wouldn't say I appreciate it, but my mom, she liked it and she respected that and she said, I think you need to go to Purdue. It's probably one of the greatest decisions I made in my life because Coach was a good man. He was a fair man.
He taught me a lot of things. Obviously he's a great coach, but I think more of his teaching taught me things in life to be consistent.
And the other thing he always said, I'll try to use this, he said, If you go to class every day, you'll put $100 in your bank account. If you miss a class you'll take a thousand out. So that means you gotta go to class every day.
But just a good man. Worked extremely hard at his craft. He doesn't get the credit he deserves, even though he's a Hall of Famer. I think because of his humble approach that's why he's so respected.

Q. Can you just talk a little bit about what your relationship is with Glenn Robinson and what it's going to be like for you to coach against his son?
COACH MARTIN: I have a good relationship with Glenn. Obviously my roommate, teammate, a great player, probably the best I've ever played with and against. But just a good man.
I'm happy for him. I'm happy for Tre Robinson III and it will be fun playing against him. Of course, we'd like to get the win, but I'm happy to see where he's come, how far he's come as a basketball player. He's a great kid and I watched him grow up so I'm happy for him.

Q. Can you just talk a little bit about what kind of mindset you guys had when you found out you had to go through the play-in game and what that's done for you going forward and also if you've used what VCU used a few years ago as an example or as a standard?
COACH MARTIN: The biggest thing for us, we were happy to play in a NCAA Tournament. I'm not sure, maybe I'm clueless on the fact that people say the First Four. It's the NCAA Tournament. That's the most important thing.
Tennessee is in the NCAA Tournament, and that's all I was consumed with, and I was happy to be in it. Our guys were happy playing in it.
We are ready to play basketball. We were very grateful for the opportunity and I think that's why our guys are playing fun, playing for fun, playing together and enjoying the process.

Q. Your team went 2 and 4, stretch of that in February. What did your team take from that and build off of that to propel you into the postseason and into this tournament?
COACH MARTIN: I think with the 2 and 4 losing some close games finding ways to win games as opposed to losing them down the stretch, making big free throws and a big shot. Setting a good screen here.
But I think down the stretch of things when you lose games by two or three points you've got to get stops on the defensive side of the ball. There's a lot of things involved with winning things down the stretch.
I think for those guys they stayed consistent. We continue to watch film. Let's figure out a way to correct this so when it presented itself again we were able to make the adjustments and have success.

Q. East St. Louis, John's from Edwardsville. Kent's from Mount Vernon. Coach is from Harvey. Talk about those Illinois roots and those Illinois values that you bring to the table.
COACH MARTIN: Well, just all guys that came from tough programs, programs that had success. Coaches that taught the game. Get a good feel for the game. Understanding the game.
And I think for all our guys, maybe outside of Kent, our staff, guys were role players, became good basketball players at some point in their career so you understand all spectrums of a basketball player.
But again, you were taught the game and how to play the game.

Q. Obviously the issue of paying players has come up a lot with the decision yesterday about the National Labor Relations Board. As somebody who played in a big-time program and coaches that have won, do you have thoughts as what should be done for players, whether it's fair in an event that makes so much money that players don't see a whole lot from it?
COACH MARTIN: I just think it's extremely hard. Of course, when I was playing I'd say, yeah, pay players, you need some money.
But I think when you start playing players, how much are you paying, who is getting paid. Because if you're paying this athlete, I think all athletes are the same. You pay the tennis player the same you pay the football player, I don't think that changes.
But does the athletic program have the money to pay athletes? And I think that's the hard part. The one thing I would say, even when I played, and I was able to get financial aid as a player, I had some teammates who both parents worked, weren't able to get financial aid and I thought those guys really struggled because parents made enough money where they couldn't get Pell Grant or financial aid, but they didn't make enough where they can give their kids money on weekends to wash their clothes, that sort of thing.
I think there was a fine line. If you can get the money, because you want to go to a movie every now and then, to be able to wash your clothes and do those things, I think there's extra money. But when you're talking about tens and thousands of dollars, I don't know about that because then it becomes a pro sport.

Q. Curious about your relationship with Coach Warlick, do you have conversations with her at all and what's that like?
COACH MARTIN: With Coach Holly? Great relationship. We talk all the time via text, go by her office, she comes by my office. It's good. It's good.
She's about her players winning programs, have a passion for her players, it's fun being around her.

Q. You've talked a lot as you guys have gotten close to this point about wanting your players to experience this and have that that they can cherish forever. What's your message to them before they hit the court today and your advice to them about this weekend in general?
COACH MARTIN: We practiced this morning before we got over here. It was more of a grind-it, nuts and bolts of what we need to do. We got to this point. You've got to have fun with it. You can't be uptight in this atmosphere. Obviously you're doing something right to get to this point. You've got to enjoy it, embrace it.
You've got seniors that will never play in this game again. So have fun with it and do what we've been doing to be successful. It's the most important thing.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about how your health battle maybe changed your perspective on life and the game and if it did that?
COACH MARTIN: Well, I don't know if it necessarily changed my perspective on life, because I like to think I was a solid guy before that.
But what it does, it makes you value things, in my opinion, that are more important than others. Learning to appreciate life a little bit better. After five years, I had nonHodgkin's lymphoma, the chances of returning are like anybody else.
I don't see it that way because every day if I don't think about it, then it's a good day for me. It pops up when I hear about it, read about it.
But for me, I take one day at a time. But I don't think it made me a better person. I think it made me understand what's more important.

Q. What are your impressions of Michigan, what do you feel like you have to do against them?
COACH MARTIN: Very talented team. I think it will be the first team that we've played all season, in my opinion. Four guys on the perimeter. They can pass, shoot, dribble the ball, come off ball screen, can attack the rim, can shoot pull-ups. You don't see many teams like that that can do it on the perimeter.
I don't think Jordan Morgan gets the credit he deserves as a skilled big man because of probably how the offense is set. He can do a lot of things. A very talented basketball player.
For us, he's a key in what we're trying to do to stop those guys, even though they have great perimeter guys, Jordan Morgan's very valuable in what they do.
Again, a team with a lot of moving parts. Great spacing, make one-on-one plays, you don't see many college teams with multiple teams that can play multiple plays.

Q. Coach, will Josh Richardson draw the assignment on Nik Stauskas, if so, how important is that matchup going to be for tomorrow?
COACH MARTIN: Yes, he'll start on him. How they play, what we do defensively, there will be different switches. You'll see Jeronne or Jordan McRae. But he'll have the assignment out the gates, but it depends on some of the actions whether we'll switch or not.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach Martin. The Tennessee student-athletes will be along momentarily.

 

 

Starters Antonio Barton, Jeronne Maymon, Jordan McRae, Josh Richardson, Jarnell Stokes

We're joined by the University of Tennessee student-athletes. I ask you raise your hand, we'll get a mic to you, state your affiliation, to whom you're directing the question.
Questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Jarnell, obviously last season you had some troubles with consistency. What's changed for you mentally and physically this season?
Jarnell Stokes: I think as a team we've played a lot better. Guys have stepped up and it's hard for teams to game plan for me because we have so many different pieces on the team. And I think I've also lost weight and been able to condition my body better to go for longer periods of time.

Q. Josh, Coach said you're going to draw the assignment on Nik Stauskas starting out tomorrow's game. How important is that matchup and what can you do to limit his offense?
Josh Richardson: Michigan's offense pretty much flows through him. He's their best perimeter scorer, probably their best passer, and I think it would be critical to run him off the 3-point line as well as LeVert, they're probably their two best outside scorers.

Q. For any of the players, just talk about the complexities in Michigan's offense, how you have to be ready for any of the switches, any of the eventualities they have?
Antonio Barton: We've been watching film. They run a lot of sets and plays, you've gotta be down and ready defensively at all times and just communicate.
Jeronne Maymon: But their offense is pretty complex. They do a lot of backdoors, and it's going to be hard for us, but Coach Williams, head of the scout, he did a good job getting us ready.

Q. Jeronne, just how does it feel to be healthy this year going into a postseason compared to the injuries you've had to deal with in your career?
Jeronne Maymon: I'm just blessed to be playing with my teammates. I thank God for everything he's done for me. I'm just happy to be out here.

Q. Jordan, for when you look back at your freshman year, now you're here, you're on the stage at the Sweet 16, can you kind of just take us through what this week has been like for you in terms of kind of perspective-wise?
Jordan McRae: It's been a long road. As you know, I have great teammates and great coaches around me and everything came together at the right time.

Q. For any of you guys, when you saw the draw and saw you got one of the First Four games, were you happy, disappointed that you weren't in the tournament, you know, right away and how much have you guys used that as motivation?
Josh Richardson: When we started with the First Four, we were excited to be able to extend our season and have a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, and since we've been in, we've been making the most of it. So we're going to try to do the same tomorrow.
Jarnell Stokes: I feel like I was somewhat disappointed. I felt like we were a better seed than what they gave us. And the cameras were in our face and I couldn't even get up and cheer. But I knew if we got past the first game we were going to have momentum going into the second game, that's exactly what happened.

Q. Jarnell in particular, a lot of people saying that Tennessee has a significant physical advantage in this game. Do you guys see it that way? Is it something that you'd like to exploit?
Jarnell Stokes: I don't really get into like statistics and what people are saying. I feel like every game I'm going to we have a physical advantage against them.
But sometimes you just have to hope that they're missing shots and maybe they don't get as many rebounds because they are hidden shots.

Q. Jeronne, similar to the physical question, if you're matched up with Robinson, 6'6", 210, what are you looking to do against a guy that size? I'm sure you don't see that that often.
Jeronne Maymon: Just play my game. You don't want to do anything too extra or try to be overaggressive. That's how you get foul calls.
I think me being so big and Jarnell, me and him both being so big, we've got smaller guys on us, and we kind of duck in or something, they fly across the court, it's kind of like a foul on us. You don't want to be too aggressive, just play your game like you've been playing it.

Q. Jarnell, follow-up to saying you might have been a better seed, how much of a motivation is it to prove, with what you've done, to prove to people that you were better than you were seeded? For Jarnell.
Jarnell Stokes: I think it was great motivation to prove. I think we've been able to do so much in this last stretch. We only lost one game and that's against the No. 1 team in the country.
And we've been in so many close games this year. I felt like we're better than what our record said, because sometimes we just go cold in the last two or three minutes. And we just haven't been able to pull out games. But I think now we're figuring it out.

Q. Tennessee has only played Michigan once since 1985. Is it more of a challenge to play programs that you don't face on a regular basis and don't have any history with, or do you consider that fun?
Antonio Barton: I would say it's fun and challenging, challenging because you're not used to playing against them. You don't know what they run.
But it's also fun because it's a good experience. You want to play everybody across the country in different conferences, see what they're about.

Q. Stokes, you've talked a lot about coming here, wanting to turn the program around that was down when you got here. Is there something a little bit special that you guys are playing Michigan, a team that last time this team was in the tournament lost by 30 in the first round? Jarnell.
Jarnell Stokes: I wasn't a part of that team when they lost. But I definitely remember watching that game. It doesn't mean anything now. It's totally different players, different coaches. That's not motivation at all.

Q. Jeronne and Jarnell, if you could address this, when it came down to the level of criticism in Knoxville against the coaching staff and the team itself, when it was closed doors with just the players, did this kind of become an us versus them situation in terms of kind of countering the criticism that you guys were hearing?
Jeronne Maymon: You know, it was more so just having each other's back, I wouldn't say it was us versus them. But it's just having each other's backs, being there for one another no matter what the cost was.
Jarnell Stokes: I think all those talks definitely brought us together, made us more of a family. I felt like throughout our struggles it made us stronger, definitely when it counted. I'm glad we were able to pick it up towards the end.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.


Jarnell Stokes (Locker Room Quotes)

On being here:
"It's a very good accomplishment for us to be where we are as such a low seed in the NCAA Tournament. We've taken it game by game and we realize a team like Mercer can beat Duke so anything can happen in these games."

On how big they must be inside and on the boards to win:
"You can't really look at how many rebounds they have because they have shot a high percentage all season. We are more of an inside team, we get to the rim and that leads us to get rebounds. They know that coming into the game and I'm sure they have a scheme on how to box us out."

On being more aggressive:
"I have been doing that all year. I mean, we are winning now so that leads to more attention. When you are able to score and lead your team to victory, I guess you get more attention from the media."

On his success in the tournament and not having butterflies:
"When I was in Dayton, in the first half I definitely had butterflies. I came out sluggish. I was just surprised at how they got such a big lead on us and since I just haven't looked back."

Jordan McRae (Locker Room Quotes)

On the location and the stage of the event:
"It has a feel to it just because the court is raised up and we have to use steps to get up to the court, so it has that feel to it."

On what Michigan does well:
"Michigan is a team that runs four guards and they shoot the three ball very well. For us to be successful, we just have to defend and rebound."

On if they feel locked in over the last three or four games:
"We're playing good right now. We are defending at a high level and it's working for us."

On if they are enjoying this experience:
"We are having fun and a great time with this experience. This is a once in a lifetime experience and a lot of us are seniors, so this is definitely how we would want to go out."

On the leap Jarnell Stokes has made as a player:
"Jarnell is finishing with both hands well and is attacking the offensive end and the defensive glass well. We need him to do that for us to win.

On his passing out of double teams:
"It's tough for our bigs to pass out of double teams because they see so many throughout the year, but they are doing a good job of being patient and making the good reads."

On Michigan's perimeter game against Tennessee's interior game:
"I look forward to it. I don't see any advantage there. It's not an advantage."

On Michigan's Stauskas:
"He's a good player. He shoots the ball well and moves without the ball well. He is just an all-around good player for them."

Darius Thompson (Locker Room Quotes)

On playing your best basketball and being locked in right now:
"I feel like we are playing our best basketball right now at the end of the season. Usually, you would think you'd be playing your best around the middle of the season, but for us, it has been the other way."

On coming out at Lucas Oil Stadium and seeing the big stage:
"It's crazy. I'm watching a football team play on this and now I'm playing basketball on the same field they are playing on."

Antonio Barton (Locker Room Quotes)

On being in the Sweet Sixteen:
"It's just exciting. The lights are real bright and it's just a wonderful feeling to be here at this moment."

On playing on the raised court and the differences:
"You just have to take a while to get the touch on the rim. Because it's such a big arena, you just have to find your stroke on the rims."

On Michigan and what jumps out:
"All of their guards can create on their own. They can get their shot off the dribble and they are good when they spot up. They can create on their own and we just have to come out and defend."

On how big of a test Michigan will be for their defense:
"Every night is a test. You don't know what teams will throw at you. We just have to stick to our defensive principles and come out and play basketball."

On enjoying the experience:
"This is a once in a lifetime thing and you have to enjoy every moment. When we are in the locker room or the hotel, we let it soak in, but when we hit the court we are all business."

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