March 31, 2008
NEW YORK, N.Y. -
On Monday, the NIT held a press conference at the Marriott Marquis with all of the head coaches and several members of each team in the NIT Final Four. It was a great time for UMass head coach Travis Ford to interact with his close friend and mentor Billy Donovan, the head coach at Florida. Along with Ford, the Minutemen were represented by their four New York native starters in seniors captains Etienne Brower, Gary Forbes and Dante Milligan along with junior points guard Chris Lowe.
Lowe had a good time meeting with former high school teammate and friend Jonathan Mitchell of Florida. The UMass players and Coach Ford did numerous interviews with local and national media at the event.
They posed for pictures and enjoyed their time.
Each coach took part on a formal press conference which was emceed by ESPN's Fran Fraschilla. Here are Coach Ford's comments.
"I want to thank Coach (C.M.) Newton and the entire NIT Selection Committee for inviting us to be part of such a great tournament. It was an incredible environment at Syracuse. People talk all the time about if you team is excited to play in the NIT? When you take that Syracuse game and all the excitement surrounding that game and almost 25,000 people in the Carrier Dome, it was definitely one of the great basketball games of the year. With about 10 minutes left in game, it probably didn't look like I would be standing here, but our team has had a great resilience about it all year long.
"We are honored to be a part of the NIT Final Four here in New York City. It's great to part of such a great group up here on the podium with Coach Matta, Coach Kennedy and Coach Donovan. I know all three of these guys and have followed their careers very closely. It is an honor for us to be a part of this tournament.
"A lot has been said in the last couple of days about the relationship between Coach Donovan and I with UMass playing Florida. Coach Donovan has had an incredible amount of influence on my basketball career, as a player and a coach. Its not the first time he and I have played against each other in a basketball game before. I know he is excited to be in New York and we are excited to be in New York. Our basketball team has three seniors from the New York City area, it was their goal when the NIT started to get here. It was something they talked about as a group to get back to New York City and end their careers where it started with high school. That has been something that is very exciting for me as a coach over the last couple of days. To see the excitement from the seniors about this UMass basketball program and for them to get back to Madison Square Garden and be a part of the NIT Final Four in New York City, where they have so many family and friends, it has been exciting personally for me.
"This should be an exciting game between UMass and Florida. We both like to get the ball up and down the court. We both like to play a fun and exciting style of basketball. I am really looking forward to it. Again, I want to thank the NIT committee for allowing us to be a part of it and look forward to some great basketball."
Here's what the others at the press conference had to say:
"First I want to congratulate four real quality teams and coaches for earning their way to New York City to play for the National Invitation Tournament Championship. Each of these teams have won three games against quality teams, some on the road and some at home. I want to congratulate each of these coaches on the kind of leadership and expertise that you have provided your programs. We are delighted these four teams are here. These are four quality basketball teams.
"I am a long time believer in what the NIT has been and what it stood for. This Championship has been restructured in a meaningful way. With Greg Shaheen as president of the NIT and with the NCAA taking this tournament over, we have totally restructured. First of all, there is a professional staff in place that works on this on a daily basis. They work out of our office in New York City. We have a NIT committee of former coaches. These are basketball people. We have had a really great time with this.
"What we basically do is watch games, go to games during the year and our job is to select the teams and then to seed those teams one through 32 and then to bracket those teams. We also are responsible for making basketball recommendations, not decisions, to the NCAA related to its championship. We got the field to a perfect number where there are no play-in games. We also honor the automatic qualifiers who are conference champions who get defeated in their tournament and are not selected in the NCAA tournament. We had nine this year and at least you are rewarding teams for quality seasons.
"Teams that are not selected in the NCAA are excited to play in the NIT. It is a great basketball tournament. We have great crowds. I marvel at the quality at the crowds. The NCAA has opted to make this financially feasible. Our TV partners have televised every game. Again, we are not the NCAA tournament. That is in a league by itself but this championship has been restored and restructured to be a true national championship. We look forward to having a great championship."
Introduction of Billy Donovan:
"I think the coaches here would acknowledge that sometimes coaches get too much credit for success and sometimes too much blame when things don't go well. Ultimately it is always about the players and there will be some outstanding some players in this tournament. Having said that, we have four of the rising stars of college basketball today. We will start off with a guy's whose star continues to rise but he already has two NCAA championships under his belt. Former New Yorker, great player at Providence, former New York Knick and now the Coach at the University of Florida, Billy Donovan."
Billy Donovan Statement:
"I first want to thank CM Newton for all of his work he has done for college basketball. I was fortunate to start off at Kentucky when he was the Athletic Director. The commitment he has made to trying to make college basketball to what it is today is something that is really special. It's a credit to all of the people that have helped create this opportunity and the way they have restructured the NIT has been a great opportunity. I am standing up here with great guys and terrific coaches. We are excited to have the opportunity to play a terrific UMass team. We are a team that is continuing to improve. Our team is excited to be in this tournament and playing. It is an opportunity to grow and get better. We are excited to be this far in the season and still playing basketball. We are just happy about the opportunity and excited to be in New York. Hopefully our team will be play and perform to the very best of our ability and I know Travis' team will do the same. We lost six players, five draft players. I am not surprised. This is a path we have to go through. This is a great opportunity. This could be more valuable than anything we could have experienced. This is a great experience and opportunity to get better. This is an invaluable experience being here in New York."
Introduction of Travis Ford:
"CM mentioned some of the great crowds in this tournament. The next coach, Travis Ford of UMASS, can speak to that specifically because the last time he played last week there were over 20,000 people at the Carrier Dome. I think it says something about the meaning of a NIT game. Travis' team is the only team to beat Syracuse at the Carrier Dome twice in one season."
Introduction of Thad Matta:
"Our next Coach, Thad Matta, Ohio State, very similar situation to Florida. He has lost a lot of players to the NBA but has a very young and exciting team. I think Thad gets to use this experience in New York to build a bridge for his team and program. He has already done an incredible job already at three schools and has one of the country's winningest percentages and is one of the classiest guys."
Thad Matta Statement:
"First I want to acknowledge the NIT and the job they have done, I consider this an honor when we were selected. We were fortunate enough to win our first two games in the preseason NIT. Now we are in the same scenario. As we went into the NIT, I am very proud of our young players, we have had some of the best practices that we've has all year. The pressure almost seemed to be taken off of them. To be playing for the second straight year in April, I couldn't be happier. Some of the crowds, for our program, we had filled to capacity. What I think that did for our program and fan base, I could not be happier. We are playing a tremendous basketball team in Ole Miss. We are honored to be here and hopefully we will be playing our best basketball tomorrow night."
Introduction of Andy Kennedy:
"One thing that should be pointed out, the field was also seeded. It is interesting that Florida and Mississippi went on the road and beat two very good basketball teams. That says something about getting your team ready to play. I think Andy Kennedy has done as good a coaching job as anybody in the country the last two years. For his Ole Miss program to come to New York and experience the NIT tournament is an invaluable to them."
Andy Kennedy Statement:
"I want to echo the three (coaches) before me and thank the NIT for having us. This is a tremendous experience for our kids. I actually went on the NIT All-Star trip back in the day. I played in this event back in 1989 and still have fond memories of playing in the Garden. I am hopeful that our guys will create a memory for themselves. Ultimately I am a big believer that this is about our seniors and creating a lasting memory. I knew how important it was for us to get to the NIT (championship). It was a strong NIT field from top to bottom. It speaks to the leadership of the NIT in putting this field together. We are flattered to be here. It is our first time ever to be at Madison Square Garden and we are excited about that. I think the experience in going through this NIT, again for our seniors, is hopefully something they can look back at fondly and for our young guys an opportunity for growth. Hopefully we can play our best basketball tomorrow night against a guy in Thad Matta who we have great respect for and the job he has done with the elevation of the Ohio State program."