UMass Basektball Pre-NCAA Tournament Press Conference Quotes (March 20)
March 20, 2014
RALEIGH, N.C. - University of Massachusetts men's basketball head coach Derek Kellogg, redshirt-senior guard Chaz Williams, junior center Cady Lalanne and redshirt-sophomore guard Derrick Gordon met with members of the media in Raleigh, N.C., for the pre-NCAA Tournament press conference on Thursday. Check out what the Minutemen had to say below:
Q. Chaz, up until last night, you guys didn't have an official opponent set. How has that changed your mindset going into today and how much work have you gotten in on studying Tennessee?
WILLIAMS: "We all watched the team last night, the game last night as a team. Some guys watched it together and others were in their room. But we got a good view of what we have to do and Coach gave us the game plan today and everything we have to do. We have to go out and execute."
Q. The last time UMass went to the Final Four, you were four years old. When they were in the tournament, you were six. There was a player, Winston Smith from St. Patrick's, who did go to UMass. My question is, do you know Winston? It's been a lot of years. What was your impression as you got older and became aware of teams around the country? What impression did you have of UMass?
GORDON: "No, I really don't know that much about him. I mean, NCAA tournament, there's a lot of good teams in this field right now, and honestly, the number about the team really doesn't mean nothing. It matters who wants the game more and that's been the game plan since we've been down here to just take it one day at a time and get mentally focused and physically focused."
Q. Cady, seems like this is a team that you have to play an important role against, given their size inside. You had a lot of success early in the season against some teams with some size. Do you try to recapture that level of play you had going early on?
LALANNE: "Definitely. Just watching film and going back to what was working against the bigger guys like that and what I was doing on offense, how the transition was working towards the big guys that were on the floor. So just looking back on that and seeing what I can do to adjust to bigger guys."
Q. Derrick, you're the only guy, on the roster that has played in an NCAA tournament. Have you talked to the guys at all about the experience of what you know and what to prepare for?
GORDON: "I talked to them about it a lot. It's one of the best experiences I've ever had playing basketball. I just told them just stay focused and stay together. There will be be a lot of ups and downs during the game, and we have to be able to keep our composure throughout the game. I referred that to plenty of guys on the team and I believe everybody got the message. We're ready to go out there and do what we have to do."
Q. Cady, one thing that Tennessee's very good at is attacking the glass on both ends of the floor. How important is it for you and some of the other big guys to establish a dominance on the glass early?
LALANNE: "It's really important. Everything has to start earlier, pushing them off the paint early, make sure they don't have good post position. As soon as a shot goes up, turn around and box them out. Both the big men both average a pretty good amount of offensive rebounds and that's how the team gets going too. So me, Sampson Carter and Maxie Esho, whoever is down there, just make sure we turn around and box them out and keep them out of the paint."
Q. Is that a different role for you, talking to the guys about your experience in the NCAA tournament, the new guy on the team that's played together a couple years? What's it like being a voice for them to lean on?
GORDON: "It's been different, because when I first came here, I was looking to go to Chaz more, just to find out about the teams and everything like that. It's different now. The NCAA tournament, I'm the only one with experience. I told them, just go out there, have fun. Don't put any pressure on yourselves or anything like that. I believe once the first four minutes is up and you get that first four minutes, it's going to be just like a regular game. Throughout these past couple days, I have noticed that my teammates are ready."
Q. Chaz, what does it mean to be part of the senior class that returns UMass to the NCAA tournament and really returns some luster to this program?
WILLIAMS: "It's a true blessing and an honor just to know that when we first got to UMass, those were our plans and those were the goals we had set for ourselves."
Q. Chaz, after the selection party, a few guys mentioned you kind of owed Tennessee one after the loss last year. Will you use that as motivation in the next day or so?
WILLIAMS: "Not really. Guys have been asking about teams we played earlier in the year and things like that. We're a different team from last year, a totally different team. So what Tennessee saw last year is not the same UMass they'll see tomorrow afternoon. It's not necessarily a rematch, but it would be good to beat them after they defeated us last year in the consolation game."
Q. This is for Chaz and Cady. Obviously, on Selection Sunday, being included, it hit you that you made the tournament. Since then, have there been things you experienced this week prior to taking the practice court, that has reminded you that, yes, you are actually in the tournament and it's a new experience for you?
LALANNE: "Just the fan base and how much support you see around the community, people messaging you, texting you, social media and all that. It feels pretty good having everybody supporting you. It reminds you that you're in a tournament, family, friends, feels pretty good."
WILLIAMS: "It's more like the atmosphere. The atmosphere is beautiful and it's tremendous. It gives you the kind of feeling like it's a Super Bowl, it's a World Series game. It's just pretty exciting just to know that we're here for a purpose and we have business to take care of."
Q. Chaz, do you look at that tape from Tennessee last year? How much did you scout that and how much did you use that?
WILLIAMS: "I saw a little bit of it last night. Actually, once we leave here, I have to go watch the whole game from last year. I feel like they did a great job against us and against me personally, the point guard. I'm just trying to find ways to creep into their defense and get Cady the ball in easy positions and Derrick Gordon and my other teammates."
Q. Chaz, the Atlantic 10 tournaments, the two games were not necessarily your team's best games. Is there some value in that to give you guys a measuring stick of where you are and what you have to do to work on now?
WILLIAMS: "Definitely. We understood what we did at the Barclay Center and we reviewed tape and Coach Kellogg got on us. We had to come to the realization with ourselves and understand that we have to step our game up if we're trying to compete for a National Championship. The last couple of days in practice have been truly competitive and guys are getting after it. It's good to see everybody come out with the fire under them."
Q. For any of the three players, obviously, early in the week before you had an opponent, you were focusing on yourselves. No matter how far you guys go in this tournament, if you have success, it will be because you do what well?
GORDON: "I'd say mentally prepare well. Feel good, play good is what I go with. These past couple days, everybody's just been locked in. We've been focused on the game plan. Even when we didn't know who we were playing yet, it was just more of making our games better individually and getting better as a team."
MODERATOR: We are now ready to start the portion of the press conference with UMass Head Coach Derek Kellogg. At this time, Coach, could you please make an opening statement?
KELLOGG: "We are obviously excited to be here. The city of Raleigh and the NCAA tournament has been fantastic to this point. We were up kind of late last night watching a basketball game. We're looking forward to our open practice and getting ready for a great game versus Tennessee tomorrow. The guys have enjoyed the experience, but now it's time to go play a basketball game."
Q. Coach, you were part of some pretty good teams during your college years that made the tournament as a habit. What does it mean to get to this point where this team has made it back or the program has made it back to playing these types of games?
KELLOGG: "It is great for UMass and the community and also our program to solidify a lot of the hard work that's gone into building a program. Three straight 20-win seasons, but our first NCAA tournament. I'd like us to kind of write our own legacy, our own history, as far as where we are, not always looking back, but now we're looking forward. Hopefully, this is an opportunity to get UMass where we are a team that's continuously looking for NCAA tournament appearances and postseason play. It has taken a lot of hard work by the guys. They had a great vision of what UMass could become and how we could rejuvenate it to be like it once was."
Q. Derek, Cady's production is not the same down the stretch as it was early in the year. How important is it to get him in there early especially because of a team like Tennessee with the front court size?
KELLOGG: "Just to play physical and tough and try to match the size and kind of width of Maymon and Stokes would be huge for us, because those guys have really dominated the glass. As much as his production on the scoring front, if he could do a good job of neutralizing them on the glass, that would be great for us and hopefully get us some transition baskets or on the offensive end, some easy put backs. If he can play with high energy and high intensity and be tough out there, that will give us a chance on the boards."
Q. Derek, is that a mindset thing with Cady, to have him come in with the right frame of mind to approach it correctly?
KELLOGG: "With most players, it's mentally where are you and also physically. I think he's in good physical shape. He's excited. It's good for him to have high energy and high intensity. Now he knows this is a challenge. Stokes is one of the top five guys in the country with double-doubles. That will be a huge challenge for Cady. When he has gone against guys like that, he's usually performed fairly well or at least brought some high energy and high intensity."
Q. Is that the thing for you to try to solve, getting Cady back in that frame of mind?
KELLOGG: "Well, one of the things would be to get him to just try to run hard and play hard and use his athleticism. I think the other things will come if he can get out of his way a little bit. He's practiced hard. He's committed to doing it. Now would be a great time. It's one and done. Now would be a great time for him to play his best basketball of the season again, where he was getting six offensive rebounds a game."
Q. Coach, is it nice to finally be able to prepare for one team instead of having to scout two?
KELLOGG: "It was. I'm getting old, so staying up until midnight or 1 a.m. watching tape and doing scouting stuff, that's wearing. Honestly, it was kind of a good week and also a trying week because we were able to spend some time on UMass, but at some point, you wanted to know, are we playing Iowa or Tennessee? To finally realize who we're playing and what they bring to the table is somewhat, at least, a relief in that you know what to prepare for and what we're trying to do."
Q. Derek, you mentioned that guys are enjoying and you're enjoying the experience, but now it's time to play basketball. One of your players mentioned the support from social media. There's that, there's this. Have you had to focus time and attention to focusing guys on the stuff at hand?
KELLOGG: "When we've done team stuff, absolutely. We've done team stuff to keep them busy. Especially, our school's on spring break, we had more time to spend on basketball or team building activities or hanging around with each other to make sure guys didn't get caught up in the social media or the hoopla that can go into making the NCAA tournament.
"The reality of it is that people are excited in the UMass community. They're trying to vie for guys' time quite a bit. I wanted to make sure while we enjoyed it on one hand, the real joy would come out of winning some games. So I thought we stayed pretty focused throughout the week. I'm hoping they stay focused tonight and then into the game tomorrow."
Q. One last Cady question. You look back at the early season, is the way he played against the Alex Kirks and the Johnny O'Bryants, is that kind of the ideal of what Cady can be when he's playing with that mindset you talked about?
KELLOGG: "Absolutely. I thought he battled O'Bryant and Kirk and a lot of other guys along the way. He played great at George Washington and other games late in the season. I thought he didn't play well coming down the stretch. I thought he played so well early, our expectations were pretty high.
"I still think he's capable of having a huge tournament here. When I say "huge," that means doing all the things that I asked him to do to help us win. If it means playing better defense, if it means running the floor harder so other guys can get shots, I think he's done a lot of that stuff. If he can get a touch or make a few layups around the win, that would help us also."
Q. Derek, do you look at the tape from last year? How much did you look at that Tennessee tape from last year?
KELLOGG: "We looked at it some. We're a totally different team and they're quite a bit different, especially with Maymon back and how they've played in the last, I guess, three weeks of the season. To even go back to the middle of the year this year, never mind way back, but we'll browse through it just to see how they might play some different sets we're running, ball screens or our press.
"I think you got a pretty good feel for who they are from watching them a ton on TV this year, knowing a lot of the players from recruiting, seeing them in AAU and whatnot. I think because of how often they're on television, we've been able to watch them a lot this year."
Q. Derek, when the brackets were revealed Sunday, there's been a lot of talk about potentially playing Duke on Sunday. Did you talk to the guys about not overlooking tomorrow for a potential game on Sunday like that?
KELLOGG: "That hasn't really come up at all. Not one time. Just because, I think, this is a tournament where you concentrate on the task at hand and the game at hand. I think with most teams, anywhere from that four-seed on up, maybe a five-seed on up, the games are pretty comparable. Both teams are very good basketball teams that have played a tough schedule and fall in that middle area where on any given night either team could win.
"We're trying to get ready for, at one point, it was Tennessee or Iowa, and now Tennessee, to make sure our guys are ready, they're in the right frame of mind, and that they come out and play well. That would be the goal."
Q. Coach, it seems like you said your players are aware of where the talking is, projecting them as potentially being an upset in the first round. Can that become a motivating factor? Can you say look, you guys are being labeled as a team most likely to get upset or one of the teams that is? Can you use that to your advantage at all?
KELLOGG: "I think they're aware of it. Yes, if they use it the right way. There's a lot of things that can be motivating factors, that potentially being one of them. There's some things that are motivational. There's other things that are just hearsay and talk. My thing with our team is we're ready to play. It's time. I think we're going to be ready to play and go out, add that to it a little bit and some other stuff that might be going on in there.
"There are so many people with access to stuff that you could go find this guy over here who's got an account and this guy said this about the game. At the end of the day, you know, you have to go play and be ready to go."
Q. Derek, no matter how long you play in this tournament, and who you face, what are some of the keys that you're looking for from your team that will hopefully let you play well?
KELLOGG: "We've played well this year when we've had great energy, when it seems like our whole team from the bench on down to the guys on the floor are moving at a certain rate of speed, are all kind of connected as one on the defensive end of the floor and then we're pushing the ball and playing a fast pace on offense. Those would be some telltale signs: the energy of how we come out, the commitment to rebounding and defense because of how good Tennessee is on the glass and how tough they play defensively. If we do those things, I think we give ourselves a chance to win the game. That's what I'll be looking for out of our team. Come out with energy, have fun playing hard and competing and trying to make something happen."
Q. Derrick Gordon is the only player with experience in the NCAA tournament. Have you seen him maybe take a more vocal role? Is that something you want him to do?
KELLOGG: "We've talked about it. Him and I met and I let him know that he's the only guy among our players that has NCAA tournament experience. So not so much to go out and try to do too much, but maybe inform the guys or let them know kind of the whole process of the media stuff and the open practice.
"This is a great experience. It's also a different experience than you have on a regular game day or day before a game. Take practice, come here, do this, open practice. Then you go and there's a pep rally and things of that nature.
"They have to take it all in stride, but know in the back of their minds that they are here to play Tennessee tomorrow afternoon. I think Derrick Gordon has done a good job of just letting the guys know the importance of coming out and competing at a high level. It's a one and done tournament. You lose, you go home. There's no more getting ready for next week."