THE MODERATOR: Joining us today are Louisville student athletes Andre McGee and Terrence Williams. Questions for the student athletes.
Q. When the president released his bracket yesterday, looked like he had you guys picked to win and scratched you out and put Carolina in, I just want to know what your reaction was.
ANDRE MCGEE: I actually didn't get a chance to actually see that, I just actually heard about it. But that's the president's picks. He's like anybody else. He has his thoughts on who he thinks is going to win. But it doesn't really affect the game at all, actually.
TERRENCE WILLIAMS: I actually seen it, and I asked J.C. and he told me no. At least he had us in the final game, I'll take that. But like Andre says, president's pick, everybody entitled to their own pick just shows you who is watching and shows you how important March Madness is.
Q. Can you guys talk about the difference that Jerry has made? It seemed like he kind of was under the radar for a lot of the season, but especially in the Big East tournament, seems like he's kind of stepped up.
ANDRE MCGEE: I think he started working harder in practice. He didn't start the season like he usually does. I think it took a toll on him mentally as far as him being a junior and him playing a larger role on our team. I think he just started to work harder in practice. And as that happened, he started to play better. He started to make his shots. He started to after practice coming in the gym getting more shots up, working on his game harder and it started to show. He started to hustle more.
He was starting to get more steals and make better plays and play like the Jerry Smith that we're used to seeing. I think the second half of the season he started to really show that, and he was a big part of us going on our winning streak and helping us get these championships.
TERRENCE WILLIAMS: I agree totally to everything Andre has said about working harder and getting extra shots up. I kind of told him to block out everything and just come out and play basketball. And he started to do that, and I told him you shoot so well that you pass up a lot of shots. So he started to ball fake instead of going to the hole, step to the side and shoot a 3, because he can make shooting 47 percent for his career.
So it is a mental thing, and I think he got over the mental thing at the right time of the year, and now we're playing much better basketball as a team.
Q. The Notre Dame game aside, playing in the league such as the Big East with the competition, does this mean pretty much that there's no possibility of ever taking a mental night off? By mistake, ever falling into that trap of taking a mental night off?
TERRENCE WILLIAMS: We had our mental nights off early on in the year. Notre Dame, it wasn't a mental night off. We tried we played hard. They were just more hungry than us that night. They needed that game. They knew they needed that game. So everything they shot went in, every rebound they got. It wasn't a mental night off. They just played more hard.
But we had our mental lapses early on in the year, with our losses in the preseason, so we know that, like you said, coming from the Big East that you can't have mental nights off in the Big East because you could lose to anybody every single night. So that prepared us for March Madness because one loss and you go home. And we're not trying to go home.
ANDRE MCGEE: I think the Big East gives you great preparation for this type of tournament, this type of environment because you're playing against so many different style of teams, and the emotions are there, so any given night you can be beaten by any team, as you could see earlier today. Memphis had a tough game with Cal State Northridge, which few people knew about. So it's wide open for everybody just like our conference. Some people had other teams picked higher than others. You can see how it finished up. A team like Georgetown, which was regarded as a great team, ended up going to the NIT and it was such a tough conference.
It shows night in/night out you have to bring it at this level, especially during the NCAA Tournament, because that one loss, it's only six games and that one loss can get you shipped home.
Q. Could you both just talk about a lot of times the underdogs, you let them get off to a good start and hang around and get their confidence, you find yourself in the game, how important is it for you guys to come out and establish yourselves early on in the game tomorrow?
TERRENCE WILLIAMS: It's very important, and you guys know that. We know that as individuals, and I think that we're smart enough to not put ourselves in the hole early on, like our past two games, losing at halftime. So I think that we're hungry enough to come out and we're so fired up, especially guys that haven't been here, especially guys that's back here, we're so fired up to play in this game and playing in the tournament because it's tournament time, that I don't see that happening. I think that we're mentally ready.
But it's very important not to get in the hole because you don't want to let it become a factor. It might be tied up and they shoot from the court and they win and you go home. You don't want to be in that type of case there.
ANDRE MCGEE: I think this tournament, so many times teams come and jump on other teams or you see good teams or higher ranked teams come out going into shooting slumps or something like that or start off cold.
I believe starting off with a good start always helps a team. Either it's us or any other team you have to come out and have a fresh start. That happens by executing your coach's game plan. You really can't deviate from what you guys talk about in the locker room. The coaches set up a game plan for us to be successful, and for us to do that we have to go out there and execute it. So we have to make sure we focus on what the coaches are telling us, how we're going to run our offense, what defenses they're running and just try to go out there and play our style of basketball and not try to play any different style.
Q. Obviously you guys are focused on your first opponent. But you're in the rare opportunity of being at a site with another No. 1 seed. Are you at all interested in checking out Pitt and seeing what could be a showdown down the road?
TERRENCE WILLIAMS: We don't look forward to no days. We cherish right now. We work on this right now and take care of the task ahead of us. We played Pitt before, our move on Pitt every time they play because they come from the same conference as us. It's like family.
We don't look past that. We don't check out no team to see what they're doing. We only know that Memphis almost lost because we were told. We don't sit here and watch games and hope other teams lose. We just take care of the task that's in front of us.
ANDRE MCGEE: Like he said, we just concentrate on everything about what we're doing, focus on our task at hand, and as far as what's happening around the tournament or different cities or different regions, it's out of our control and not our concern right now. We have to focus on the role we have and the path we set and the mission we're trying to accomplish.
Q. What is the most surprising thing you've learned over your time about Coach Pitino?
TERRENCE WILLIAMS: I always knew that he had a will to win, but the most surprising thing about that is whether it's me or Earl, whether it's Chris Brickley, that you guys probably don't even know that don't even play. He won't play until next year, he'll still probably be a back up when he do play next year, he coaches everybody the same no matter who they are on this team. And that surprised me because whether someone, say, this person is a superstar, he doesn't treat this person any different than he treat the person that would never play in the game. So that surprises me a lot.
ANDRE MCGEE: I think the most surprising thing is his professionalism and his work ethic to succeed. I think it just starts off every day he comes into the office early. He instills in us the attitude to always be early, never be late or even on time to things. Always be ready before things are ready to go and just always have a professional attitude with the way you present yourself, the way you dress, the way you handle the media, the way you talk to people. The way you treat others, is everything with him is professional from top to bottom and from every day.
And he also is the type of guy who isn't really moody. He doesn't really come in sulking on days or after a loss. He'll get on us after a loss, but he knows we've got to make sure we focus on the next thing. He's always concerned with the precious present, tells us to cherish these moments because they go by so fast.
You look at us two now this is our third NCAA Tournament. This is our last year.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Coach, if you will please begin with an opening statement.
RICK PITINO: We're excited to be part of the tournament once again. I think it's the time of year that everybody looks forward to. These three weeks I think the casual fan, the expert fan, everybody who is involved in college sports loves this time of year, and certainly we're excited to be part of it.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Have you been in a pod situation with two No. 1 seeds before, and if so does that change the overall dynamic at all for this first weekend?
RICK PITINO: Not for us. Obviously it doesn't affect us in any way and we don't affect them in any way. It's just good basketball, certainly, that you get a chance to watch in your region.
But right now we're just totally zoning in on Morehead State, and hopefully advance.
Q. How does this group rank on your coachability scale?
RICK PITINO: Well, they do things that I like to coach. They press very well. They're very active athletically, they get their hands on a lot of balls, and they're fun to coach in that regard.
They started very slow offensively to get continuity, because we did so much with this young man, David Padgett, and it took us a while to get used to playing without him. And I think they've adjusted very well, right around Christmastime.
Q. Over the last 10 games you guys' scoring average has gone up, field goal percentage is up, 3 point percentage is up, what has gone into the change over the last 10 games?
RICK PITINO: We just put more of a heavy emphasis on passing. We try to stay under because we understand our offensive skills. We just try to stay under six challenge shots per game, and every time we have faltered it's been 11 or 12 challenge shots per game. We've done a good job staying under 6.
It was interesting, even in the Morehead State game, we took 9 challenge shots in the first half and shot 29 percent. In the second half, we took 2 challenge shots and shot 67 percent. And that even though that was a long time ago, that's a true indicator of what we do well, and when things don't go our way it's due to poor passing and taking challenge shots. We're conscious of that and I think we've improved dramatically because of it.
Q. Rick, Donnie Tyndall has credited you to being an inspiration to him as a coach. Have you had a chance to spend any time with Donnie, and what do you think he's done of the job he's done at Morehead at this point?
RICK PITINO: We were talking about a lot of basketball during the beginning of the year. They came down to watch some of our individual instruction practices, and we all share ideas and concepts, and he's done a terrific job at Morehead in building enthusiasm, in recruiting players that are athletic that fit his system. Done an excellent job rebounding the basketball.
So he's a young basketball junkie, and it's really great to have him in our state.
Q. Bob Huggins made a comment about getting through the Big East this season, could be as hard as getting through the NCAA Tournament. I'm wondering what your thoughts are, if you agree with that.
RICK PITINO: It was very difficult. Last year I thought it was difficult. And we played Georgetown the last game of the season to win a regular season championship. And we both had three losses. Going into it this year I thought it would be four or five losses to win it.
And the teams at the top started pulling away a little bit altogether. And it was a fight to the last game of the season again. So those six, seven teams at the top, it would not surprise me to see any of those teams get to a Final Four because they're all very, very strong, and West Virginia is certainly one of those teams. But West Virginia, Villanova, Syracuse, Pitt, they're just all great basketball teams that bring I've seen almost everything I could see as a coach in terms of offense and defenses. That's the good and the bad of the Big East.
Q. Forgive an off topic question. You coached Travis Ford. May be curious to see some of his games on television. They have a kid on the team who is maybe five eight, five nine and people say, Oh, my gosh, he's like Travis Ford as a player. As the guy who coached Travis Ford, have you seen Keiton Page play and is he anything like Travis?
RICK PITINO: I followed every one of Travis's games, but I only got to see him but one time. And Travis was a great college basketball player. He was 5 foot 10. He was sort of a combo guard, tough guy. Very smart. The ultimate competitor. The ultimate competitor. He would compete any shooting drill he wanted to win, anything he did, he wanted to win, and he was a great college basketball player.
I remember he had to make two free throws in front of the world to put the game into overtime against Michigan in the Final Four, and he was there standing by himself and there was no question in my mind both of those free throws would go down.
So he's the ultimate competitor. Oklahoma State is lucky to have him, because he's such a passionate basketball coach and really cares so much about the game. So I was real proud of him to coach him and real proud of him now as a coach having great success in the business.
Q. You look at Memphis today, Northridge got off to a great start, got their confidence going and really made a game of it. As the heavy favorite, is it a little more imperative to maybe try and get off to a better start so you don't allow those teams to get in the rhythm and get confidence and give themselves a chance to pull it out late?
RICK PITINO: You know, you're just going to face all different types of things. I remember in '96, it was I believe it was San Jose State with Olivia St. Jean at the time, I believe he changed his name, and somebody asked the question before, How does it feel to be the largest favorite in the history of the NCAA Tournament?
And I said, Well, we don't get into those things. So I changed the question. And at halftime we were either up 1 or down 1. I think we may have been down 1. And you go in at halftime. We had a great basketball team and you've just got to stick with your game plan and understand that balls of the 3 point line, because of great players getting hot or changing defenses, anything can happen at a half. You just have to stick with it. And whatever point that you're going to have your run, you have your run. But you can't dictate how you get off in a game. It just doesn't work that way. So we understand Morehead's going to bring a lot of emotion. We understand they could make some shots early in the game. You've just got to stick with what you do and hopefully have your run throughout the course of a game.
Q. Just to go back to the two No. 1 seeds being here. You said you guys are zoning in on Morehead. But how do you get your players to do that and not let them get caught up at all in maybe trying to get a glimpse of Pitt, or is this just a focused enough group that you don't have to worry about that?
RICK PITINO: I know our players watch the games on television. But I'm not sure Pitt's going to be on TV for this area. I don't know how that works.
But we've seen enough of Pitt. We want to take a break from Pitt. We don't want to see Young and Blair at all. So we've got great respect for them. But we really do concentrate. And you have to understand, in this game today, just anybody can beat anyone. Northridge was just mentioned there earlier.
These teams get there because they have talented basketball players. And we realize Morehead is a talented team and that if we don't take care of business it could be the same type of game.
So we have great respect for what they do, and if you don't, that's how you go home. If you don't have great respect for every little detail, you go home earlier than expected. So we know all about Pitt, but we're not looking at Pittsburgh at all.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.