Transcripts are at the bottom
COACH PITINO: We realized two of the players up here, one has been part of multiple Final Fours, the other young man — two of them have won a championship, and they know what this moment is all about. For Q, Terry, and Mangok, although Mangok witnessed it, it’s a first for them. Just to understand, there’s six guys in the locker room that don’t have a clue what this would become if we are to win. So we’re very excited. We’re very pumped up. We know we’re playing a great program, and we know we have to be on top of our game to get a victory.
Q. Montrezl, at this time last year, you were considering leaving school and going to the NBA. Obviously, you’re here now. Part of that decision process, was it at least thinking about the opportunity to be here now with the opportunity to go to another Final Four?
MONTREZL HARRELL: Well, my decision to come back to school, I felt like it was best for me to come back to school and to work on my game. I felt like I had a lot of things in my game that I needed to work on before I really took that next step to the NBA. With the team I had coming back, I felt like we could make a strong run towards another national title and another National Championship. It’s just a blessing to be back where I am and for us to be in this situation that we’re in. We worked so hard throughout the whole year to get where we’re at, and we really just don’t want to go home early. So we’ve just got to make sure we do anything and everything in our power to make sure that we head to Indianapolis.
Q. Wayne, you have the chance to join exclusive program and get to your third Final Four. Is that something you think about? What would it mean to you personally if you guys could advance tomorrow?
WAYNE BLACKSHEAR: It would mean a lot. Luckily, I played on some great teams my last three years here, with a lot of great players, Russ, Peyton, Gorgui. I’m just grateful to be a part of those teams. We were successful throughout those years. If we can get one done tomorrow, and hopefully we can go into Indianapolis with another one.
Q. For Montrezl, Tom Izzo was in here a few minutes ago and said that he didn’t want to show his players video of you so they wouldn’t get nightmares last night. He said you can dunk with your ankles. I wonder if there’s anything you’ve seen from Michigan State that would give you a similar concern.
MONTREZL HARRELL: We know that they rebound as a whole team. They send four people to the glass, and they shoot very quickly on the break, and they really shoot at a high rate from the three-point line. So we’ve got to treat this game just the way we did with NC State: Limit them to one tough shot. Get our hands up on the three-point line and rebound as a team like we did last night. We know they’re going to try to shoot early on the break and get a lot of those shots back and send four people to the glass. We’ve got to make sure we put a body on somebody and make sure we give them one tough shot.
Q. For any of the players, what have the last 12, 24 hours been like for Anton after last night? How did he celebrate back at the hotel with you guys?
MONTREZL HARRELL: He was just really excited to be able to have his opportunity and have his name called. He said he just really went out there and just tried to do anything that he can to make sure he gave it his all. That’s just the way Coach coaches. I feel like anybody he puts on the floor, they’re going to come on the floor and give 110 percent, no matter who it is.
Q. Montrezl, you’re a high-energy player. Branden Dawson at times can also be a high-energy player. How much are you looking forward to that matchup, and what problems does he present if you end up being on him?
MONTREZL HARRELL: Like I said, we know that they don’t only send up four or five to the glass, they also send the guards to the glass as well. So we know we have to make sure we keep them off the glass. I haven’t seen too many players play with the energy that I play. I don’t take any plays off. I go in and make sure I play 110 percent every play. If he has as much energy as me, it should be a good game tomorrow. I don’t see him running with as much energy as I have.
Q. Rick, with the amount of success that you’ve had since you’ve been at Louisville, are you at the point where every year, no matter roster turnover, problems, whatever have you, that you’re expecting to be at this point on the doorstep of the Final Four?
COACH PITINO: You know what, I don’t think you can expect it. I think you truly just live day to day in this coaching profession, and you just try to every single day get the most out of what you have. I don’t think you look too far ahead and say, we can go. I think the most important aspect of any basketball team is to stay humble. I think, when you expect it, that’s when you get knocked out. So I think humility is a major key to this basketball team. These guys haven’t watched — you asked the question about Dawson. They haven’t watched a whole lot of tape on Michigan State yet. They haven’t even gone through the personnel yet. We just looked at a few things this morning. This afternoon, after we’re done with you, they’ll watch it for the first time. So they don’t know a whole lot about Michigan State except what we told them. So they’ll see the players up close and personal. I happened to see them quite a few times, and they’ll experience it a lot more. They don’t know a whole lot about them right now. So I don’t expect anything except getting through the day the best we can in terms of improving the guys.
Q. Rick, you guys, you and Michigan State, Tom Izzo particularly, had two memorable NCAA Tournament meetings: One whereby seeding they upset you, the other whereby seeding you upset them. What is it about Tom Izzo’s teams and your teams seem to be almost a test of will when you guys meet up?
COACH PITINO: Well, it always comes down to — especially with one-day prep, it always comes down to trying to take away two or three of the strengths of the other team. The team that can do that is going to win the game. We know how good they are. They’ve had seven, I think, overtime games. They took Notre Dame at Notre Dame into overtime without one of their better players, I believe. And they took Wisconsin in the championship to overtime, actually had the game won. So we know they’re a great team. Were they mis-seeded? Anytime you play the type of schedule that Michigan State plays, you’re going to come away with a loss, but you’re going to have the ability to be right where they are right now because competition makes you better. So we know they’re a great team. There’s no question in our minds. Our players don’t know it yet, but before they go to bed tonight, they’ll know it.
Q. Rick, Tom Izzo referred to your zone as “crazy”. That was his word. How often do other teams attempt what you’re doing on defense? And is there an advantage for you against teams that have never seen it before?
COACH PITINO: Well, Mick Cronin did it earlier this year. He called me early in the year, and we talked a little bit about it. He said, how tough is it to teach your guys? I said, it’s like anything else, repetition is the key. Obviously, it changes based on scouting, based on what the other team does, and it always morphs into something different, predicated on what the other team does. Last night we did a very good job with it except they can make long threes. Now you’re going against a team that shot 27 threes last night. Everybody expected Oklahoma to be the team that shoots it really well. Well, Michigan State shoots it quick. The thing that’s misrepresented about them, they’re a great transition team. They shoot the three in transition, and they chase the ball on the backboard very well. So it’s a very tough game to match up with with one-day prep. The good thing is they have one-day prep. We’re playing half-court offense in the last two weeks about as well as we’ve played all year, and that’s a good thing for us.
Q. Rick, I think people look at people like yourself and Tom Izzo and wonder how you kind of ride the roller coaster and the ebb and flow of the season to emerge here. I guess the question just is, how do you it?
COACH PITINO: Well, I think in today’s basketball world, the highs are really high and the lows are really low. I thinks that’s the key to managing success is really don’t get too low because you’ve been through it before. Especially when you’re in an environment like Louisville or, I’m sure, Michigan State, where the fans get so paranoid about one or two losses. They just get very, very upset in their minds, like the season’s going to end. And we know — at least I know, being a professional basketball coach — and you see it all the time in sports. You just see — my mind’s so fried right now. I can’t think of the great quarterback from Green Bay — Aaron Rodgers said to his fans, “Just relax. We’re going to be fine. Just relax.” You always see that in sports today. People see it. Brady said, “We’re going to be fine,” and they win the Super Bowl. They say he’s slipping at the beginning of the year when they had one or two losses. People panic. I think coaches, because we’ve been through it so much, we just don’t panic with losing. I’m most concerned when I’m up at halftime, not when I’m down at halftime. When you’re up, players think it’s going to be easy. The other guys, coach is tearing the paint off the wall to get his players ready for those first five minutes. So I wasn’t concerned about being down to them yesterday.
Q. Can you, just from the basketball perspective, as maybe fans or outside viewers see this, as two programs that have had a lot of success, two coaches who have had a lot of success, and two teams who have had their troubles this year and overcome them, can you see the intrigue as to what this matchup might be tomorrow?
COACH PITINO: What I told our team, I think adversity always makes you strong. If everything just keeps going your way, and then when something doesn’t go your way, you don’t know how to handle it. Our team really knows how to handle adversity, and we’ve had a lot of it this year. It’s just part of a normal family situation. Guys have stepped up. Like I’m kind of amazed at what Quentin Snider has done, being just unflappable and thrown into a situation he didn’t expect, but he didn’t miss a beat. So I think teams that have adversity, if they handle it well, they become stronger. If they don’t handle it well and they start pointing fingers and making excuses, they go the other way. The ones that own up to their mistakes, handle the adversities, overcome it and become stronger.
Q. Tom was clear about what he enjoys and respects about what you do in coaching. Flip that. What do you enjoy and respect about what he does with his program?
COACH PITINO: We sit at a lot of AAU camps and talk a little bit. We’re very similar in a lot of regards. We don’t believe in Twitter. We don’t believe in too much social media. We’re kind of old fashioned in that regard, but we’re still young at heart in a lot of different ways. So our similarities in the way we run our programs, I think, are very stark. I’m a big fan of his. Always been a big fan because he stands for the right principles in our sport, does it the right way. He really loves his players, coaches them the right way. Makes them mentally and physically tough. When they leave, they’re tough in business. They’re tough in sports. He believes in education, all the things that I admire.
Q. Coach, a lot of times you’ll hear players say, when they’re matched up against a great player, sometimes it can bring that little something extra out of them. Wonder if that carries over to coaches. When you see coaches on the other side, does that bring anything out of you?
COACH PITINO: Just the respect level of the way they play. Coaches are overrated a little bit in that regard come game time. The players really have to — guys like Anton Gill last night, he comes in and turns around important moments for us. Always somebody rises to the occasion. But you know when you go in — I’ve had the distinct pleasure in my life, I remember coaching against Frank McGuire in his last home game in South Carolina. I coached against Dean Smith. I’ve coached against so many great coaches that I’ve admired, and Tom Izzo is in a class with all of them because of the way they run their programs and the way they care for their players. So I’m honored to be playing Michigan State and what they represent, but I don’t think you look down the sidelines and say anything except the game’s not going to end with a Tom Izzo team until the last possession. You know that. They’re not going to give in. They’re not going to cave.
Q. With Montrezl, he said he came back, Rick, to improve his game. In what specific ways have you seen him improve? Does he compare to any previous players you’ve had maybe who went on to the NBA?
COACH PITINO: No. He has a little Kenneth Faried in him. But he’s really improved his ball handling, his passing, and his 16-foot jump shot. Somebody said the other day, reading a scouting report that somebody said about him, they said, he still hasn’t learned to shoot the three. I don’t know what pro team would want to draft Montrezl Harrell to shoot the three. It’s bizarre. This was actually a legitimate pro guy saying that. I mean, you’re drafting — right now at the Denver Nuggets, “Come on, Faried, get out there and shoot the three.” It just doesn’t make any sense to me. You’re getting a slasher, a dunker, a great athlete who stays on the glass. It’s very similar to the young man with the Clippers, DeAndre. You have to draft accordingly, and what you need. You need energy, athletic, shot blockers, that’s what you draft. If you want him to shoot 3s, then you don’t have that type of athlete. So sometimes it’s so hypocritical when they say those things. It just doesn’t make any sense to me at all.
Q. Rick, considering everything this team has gone through off the court and the challenges as well on the court, are you surprised to be sitting there?
COACH PITINO: You know, I remember my first few years at Boston University. We’re going to make the tournament. We’re going to get there. And the chances, they hadn’t been to a tournament in 15 years. You always just want to get into Tournament. You take nothing for granted that you could be here at this point. But once you get to the Sweet 16, it really becomes fun. The first two rounds are nerve-racking. Especially the opening round for me is a nightmare because you’re scuttling and looking through all this stuff, and you don’t know a whole lot about the opponent. You haven’t seen them on television. Then the second round, obviously, we played a great Northern Iowa team. We were as well prepared as any team could possibly be for that game because of the amount of respect. And last night we’re playing. But it’s more fun when you get to the Sweet 16 because it really takes on — you know you’re two games away from the Final Four. Now you know you’re one game away from the Final Four. If you get there, you know you’re two games away from the National Championship. So it keeps building and building and building, and you get more excited as it goes along. I didn’t expect — I’m not surprised. I didn’t expect it. All you hope to do is just — our one goal was to get a double bye in the ACC. We wanted to get a double bye. We did it. And now we’re one game away from the Final Four.
Q. Rick, just to follow up on what you were saying before, the intensity of the fan base where you are. What is it about the state of Kentucky that breeds such great programs? I’m from the same part of the world that you are. What will it take to get college basketball really back on the map from our home turf?
COACH PITINO: That’s interesting because I grew up on 26th Street on the east side of Manhattan to like age eight, nine, then moved to Queens at 14, and then moved out to Long Island. Actually commuted one year and then moved out for three years. I never paid any attention to college basketball. It was just the New York Knicks. St. John’s was not in the Big East during those times. You knew a little bit about North Carolina, but outside of that, college basketball was just not too big. Then the Big East came into play, and then St. John’s became good. P.J. took Seton Hall to the Final Four one year. Like anything else, it’s where the high school players are. This is a little fascinating. I lived in Long Island those three years, and there were 1.5 million people. There were over 30 Division I high school basketball players that went on to college my senior year. I bet you can’t get five now out of the population being double, three million people on Long Island. Why is that? Affluence, lacrosse, soccer. Affluence leads to lacrosse. Soccer comes into play. Less people play basketball. So the population doubled, and you can’t get five Division I athletes from Long Island. Long Island Lutheran was coming. St. Agnes was coming. St. Anthony’s. They were all coming with Division I players. To get it going, it starts locally and bridges out. Kentucky, think about this. Kentucky and Louisville are always top three in attendances. We’ve been the number one revenue producer in college basketball 13 straight years by $20 million. We have no professional sports. So I grew up a Knick fan because that’s the only team you rooted for. In Kentucky, what pro team do you root for? I don’t know. They could care less about that. You’re either a Wildcat or a Cardinal. So it’s just different. It’s a different culture all together. College basketball in our state — and at one time Western Kentucky was very big as well. So college basketball is just gigantic. I think, when you keep your local talent home and you get the Mark Jacksons and the Berrys and the Mullins and those guys. St. John’s was a lot of fun back then. They’ll get it going again. They’ve just got to keep some of the local product home, but the local product has sort of not been as big as it once was.
Q. Just to follow up on that, obviously, St. John’s has a coaching opening. I know you’re concerned about your own team, but do you think they’d be better hiring sort of a young go-getter, recruiter type or an older, more established guy linked to 1985 perhaps?
COACH PITINO: College coaching is a lot different than pro coaching. Pat Riley leaving the booth, going into coaching, Steve Kerr, it’s a little different. College coaching is all about recruiting. It starts with recruiting. So whoever they hire, if he has the potential to be a great recruiter, regardless of how much he knows about basketball — because you’ve got to be on the phone with AAU coaches. You’ve got to get in at 6:30. You’ve got to work until late at night. So you’ve got to understand the dynamics of it. Now, there could be a guy out there like that. There could be — I couldn’t even suggest who would be that type of person. But the dynamics of it, you have to understand, college is so different than the pros. You’ve got to understand the game. The recruiting game is what it’s all about. There’s a reason why Kentucky’s Kentucky. Not only are they well coached, recruiting is a big part of that, and they get the best players. You’ve got to go out there, and it’s a whole different animal. I’ve coached at both levels. You’re dealing with a different animal all together.
Q. You are 12-1 in Sweet 16 games, which is a fairly remarkable occurrence. Can you attribute that to anything? Is it your preparation, staff? Obviously, you’ve had terrific players, but just talk about that.
COACH PITINO: If the NCAA hadn’t messed up and put us with Kentucky last year, we could have been 13, but they had to get a lot of people and make money. You know, I really don’t know how to answer it. I think preparation has a lot to do with it, but it comes down to the culture that you set up with players. I think we have a really good culture right now at Louisville. We started it about six, seven years ago, and it’s plastered over our shirts. Louisville first. Everything is done for the name on the front, and nothing is done for the name on the back. And if everything’s done for the name on the front, the back will prosper someday. So that is what we believe in. I’m sure Michigan State believes in it. I’m sure all of these teams that are left believe in that. So it’s just what we believe in. I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason why we’re whatever our record is in that situation. I’ve just been — there’s only been one major, major surprise in my life in this game, and that was ’87 with Providence. That was the only major surprise I’ve had. Maybe 2005 with Louisville, also, but outside of that, there haven’t been any shocks in my life.
Q. If you could please describe what Rozier brought to the team last night during the game.
COACH PITINO: Well, he wasn’t feeling well, and he had a real bad cold. So I knew he was going to be a little short of breath. But he’s an amazing basketball player because he’s really tough. He’s a great athlete in the open court, but for a guard to get 14 rebounds and the way he goes about it is gigantic. He has really been fun to coach. He competes every day. He acts like a professional. Everybody in Louisville always says, is he coming back? Is he coming back? The more I say, “He’s not coming back,” if he has one mediocre game, “He’s coming back.” And I keep telling them, “He’s not coming back.” He deserves a shot. He gives us so much, and he’s such a good athlete. I think he’s going to be a tremendous pro because what he can do with a 24-second clock. He can play very fast. He’s got a lot of — everybody knows he mimics D-Wade all the time. Every time he drives to the basket, he’s on the floor, just like D-Wade. I tell him, “You’re going to be hurt just like D-Wade if you keep doing that.” He loves D-Wade and tries to mimic him all the time. He’s just a special basketball player. And the nice thing about these guys, when you see it happen, Terry was a very easy recruit to get. He wasn’t a top 50 player, neither was Montrezl Harrell. Russ Smith was a two-star athlete. So when you see that sometimes and they become first team college All-Americans and we’re sitting here and getting all the fruits of their labor, it’s a lot of fun to see. Terry was someone who really basically chose us. He wanted to come to Louisville, and it was exciting to have him. He’ll move on to better pastures after this. I’ve been very blessed to have coached him for two years.
COACH IZZO: We’re just excited to be here. I can guarantee you that. We were watching a lot of film last night. We’ve got our work cut out for us, but we’ve had our work cut out for us all year in different ways. Different teams present different problems for us. This team presents a couple of problems. Harrell is an incredible player. Rozier is playing so much better. Rick’s got experience. He’s been here. We’ve had some great battles in the Sweet 16 and the Elite Eight games the last couple years. I know our guys respect him. But this is a chance that — we knocked on this door last year probably played two-thirds to three-quarters of a game good enough, and we watched another 7 seed not only beat us, but go on to win a National Championship. Maybe we hope history repeats itself.
Q. Gavin, for you, it’s important, as big as they are, to have a breakout game, or do you just need to play at a certain level? What are your expectations on you after watching the film, to beat Louisville?
GAVIN SCHILLING: I just need to defensively hold my ground, and I think I’ll be ready for the challenge. We have a good frontcourt. We’ll be up to take that task.
Q. For Denzel and Travis, you were in that locker room when you guys lost to UConn. Can you talk about what Keith Appling and Adreian Payne in that setting did for you in terms of motivation, and what it would mean this year to get there.
DENZEL WASHINGTON: It was a big motivation factor seeing those guys go through what they went through. Those guys were crushed, seeing their faces and how they reacted, it was a big motivation factor for us. During this time, we think about that. We want to make sure that’s not us.
TRAVIS TRICE: As disappointing as it was to see them go out like that, that hurts us, too. It’s been a dream for us, to go to a Final Four and play for a National Championship. It’s added motivation for us, too, because we want to get there.
BRANDEN DAWSON: Just what Travis said and Denzel, just by seeing Adreian and Keith last year, that’s definitely going to motivate us this year. Like Coach said, we play good half the game, and we’re so close. So that feeling in the locker room, and Denzel telling one of the reporters, “We are gonna be in this position. We want to get back here.” So it’s definitely motivated us, especially myself and Travis.
Q. Travis, what do you make of the opportunity that was given to you this season and how you responded, especially over this 14, 15-game stretch, and what do you make of it?
TRAVIS TRICE: I’m just blessed with this opportunity and just appreciative of it. I know there’s people — I remember in high school, just talking to people there, saying, man, you’ve got a heck of an opportunity. I know people who wanted to go to Division I and didn’t get an opportunity to go. So I’m just blessed and appreciative of it. I just try and take one day at a time really.
Q. You guys talk about the feeling last year. That was the first time four-year players under Coach didn’t get to a Final Four. Is that anything the two of you guys have talked about? What would it mean for you to get back there and start a new streak?
BRANDEN DAWSON: It’s really not something we’ve talked about, but we’re aware of what happened. Keith and Adreian were the two seniors that didn’t make it. Coming into this tournament, people doubted us. People were saying that we were going to be out of the Tournament, and good luck even making the Tournament. Myself and Travis, we just knew we had to lead this team. We lost some good guys last year. So we knew that, coming into the season, we had a younger team. With them not making it, it has added fuel to the fire and definitely motivated us.
Q. For Travis and Denzel, take you back to the next to the last week of the regular season, you lose the overtime game to Minnesota at home, you go to Madison and lose. How much would you have believed someone that went into your locker room up in Madison that weekend and told you that exactly one month later you’d be one game away from the Final Four?
TRAVIS TRICE: I would have believed them. This is the closest team we’ve had since I’ve been here in all four years. There weren’t major mistakes we were making. It was the minor things we needed to clean up. We have faith in each other, and we have faith in our coaching staff. We’ve never lost that since the season, even with all the ups and downs. We knew it was just a couple of minor things we needed to correct, and we could become a great team.
DENZEL WASHINGTON: I mean, I didn’t doubt it because we played all the top teams. I think we played three out of eight teams in the Elite Eight. So we knew we could play with anybody in the country. So that being said, we just took that mindset on, that we could play with anybody in the country, and we’ve been just taking it one game at a time.
Q. For Branden, Montrezl Harrell, I’m sure you’ve been studying up on him. What does he do so well? Can you just break down that matchup for us.
BRANDEN DAWSON: Obviously, as you can see, he’s a good player. He’s a bona fide scorer. He’s relentless, plays with high energy on both ends. We saw that. We’re going to have to do a good job on him. Like Gav stated before, we’re going to have to stay solid. Can’t get into foul trouble, and we definitely have to rebound the ball. I think if we play solid and don’t get rattled, I think we’ll be fine.
Q. Gavin, during the season, you seemed to pick up a foul coming out of the locker room. You obviously have to stay on the floor for this one.
GAVIN SCHILLING: I’ve just got to learn how to play smarter, especially the first five minutes of the game when they’re really paying attention to every single action and really calling it close. I’ve got to learn how to keep my hands up, move my feet, and just play smart.
Q. Travis and Denzel, you obviously have been around the program quite a bit, and you’ve made friends with the other guys who have been through here. Who are the guys that have reached out to you the most? What messages have they given you that have stood out the most? And what parallels do you see with this team and any other team that’s been through here?
TRAVIS TRICE: For me, that’s one of the great things about Michigan State is it’s not like there’s one or two guys. Both of us probably have multiple guys that would text us. I know the biggest two for me have been Mateen and Draymond Green. I’m getting texts or having conversations almost every day between those two. They’re just trying to drop words of wisdom and trying to help you get through what you’re doing. A lot of it is praise and encouragement. I’ve definitely got to thank those two.
DENZEL WASHINGTON: What Travis said, the main two are probably Mateen and Draymond. That’s what I love about Michigan State, we can talk to those guys at any time, call them up or text them, and they’ll respond. Give us words of advice at any time, doesn’t matter what time of the day or night it is, and that’s what makes Michigan State so unique.
Q. Tum, for you, you trust your speed. Is this a game where you’re going to almost have to trust your vision more than your speed and knowing when to turn the jets on and when to back off?
LOURAWLS NAIRN: I think I’ve just got to be smart. Even when they trap full court, you’ve just got to be patient and come let them come at you, and see where your guys are open on the floor.
Q. For you guys in general, first of all, being the lowest seed left, do you feel like Cinderellas? A 7 isn’t typically associated with that, but there’s so many high seeds left. Secondly, if you could comment on playing a program like Louisville, who’s obviously got a ton of tradition and actually has a winning record over Michigan State all time.
BRANDEN DAWSON: I’ll say that it really doesn’t matter what seed you are, as long as you know everyone is on the same page, playing great basketball and that you have guys that play as a team, I think you’ll be fine. Louisville, they’re a great team. They’re coached by one of the best. They do a great job scoring the ball, and they make guys rattle with their zone and with their press. I think that, around this time, we’ve been playing great basketball. Ever since the Big Ten Tournament, our chemistry has flourished a lot.
TRAVIS TRICE: Louisville is a great team. They’re a storied program. Got one of the best coaches. But when you talk about the seed, that doesn’t mean anything. It’s not like going into the game, if you have a higher seed, you get a ten-point lead right off the bat. So our thing is going out there and playing the way we know how to play, executing our game plan. Our coaches do a tremendous job of preparing us and breaking down the other team. So it’s just on us to go out there and execute.
Q. Branden, when you were a freshman they played Louisville in the NCAA Tournament and due to injury you had to miss it. What do you remember about having to sit that out? Does it kind of come full circle getting to play them again here?
BRANDEN DAWSON: Yes, I feel great. This is a great opportunity. I was talking to Draymond, and he said that, if I would have played that game, we would have went to the Final Four. I remember I was in my dorm by myself watching the game. It was hard, just sitting there and not being able to play. I think, come tomorrow, it will definitely be a man’s game tomorrow. It will be great for myself being able to play against these guys for the first time.
Q. Denzel, you sometimes have been called a poor man’s Magic, a Lansing kid. Do you have a special relationship with Magic or any relationship?
DENZEL WASHINGTON: Yeah, I have a relationship with Magic. He’s been around ever since I’ve been a freshman. So whenever I can get to talk to him or see him or get some extra advice or wisdom, I always pull him to the side whenever he comes. He’s a busy man. So phone calls and texts, we usually can’t do, but whenever I see him, I try to get as much as I can out of him.
Q. Tom, can you just walk us through your time and what you’ve done since you left here last night.
COACH IZZO: Well, we have a little routine where we go back and have a little something to eat. No matter what time we get back, I make them watch 10 minutes, 15 minutes of film, just want to get rid of the team we just played and start dreaming about the team you’re going to play. That was around 1:30. So the late night start makes it a little more difficult. We got them up at 10:30, let them sleep in a little bit, gave our coaches a chance to do a little bit more and pare it down. Then we lived in our 20 minutes: 20 minutes — we had them down at ten minutes to 11:00. 20 minutes of film. Then we had breakfast. 20 minutes of walk-through. Then 10 minutes of film on some other things and a little bit more walk-through. And now we’ll get to practice and do the same thing at dinner and same thing tomorrow morning. I figure their attention span, they’re tired or this or that, so I try to keep it shorter. It’s worked well for us. The assistants have done an incredible job, and a lot of the work is done throughout the week. Just put kind of the frosting on the cake once we find out if we’re still playing.
Q. Tom, a lot of people talk about what you do this time of the year with surprise. Are you ever surprised with what your teams have accomplished, and more specifically, with what this team has done?
COACH IZZO: Not a lot of years I’m not, but this year, I guess I am, to be honest with you. What we do, I have two staff members that have been with me for quite a few years. I don’t think they do get enough credit for what we do because they put it all in, and I get to direct it at the end. This team has surprised me a little bit. Not totally, because I thought we could be a good team, maybe a very good team. You don’t get to the Elite Eight unless you’re a very, very, very good team. It’s like being a poor man’s Magic, he’s a poor, poor, poor man’s Magic. Let’s get that straight right off the bat. Love the guy, but it’s a special guy we’re talking about. So I think one of them said it right, we knew we were some free throws away from winning four or five more games. Which means that we did the things offensively and defensively we had to. We just made a couple of mistakes, and I probably made a mistake or two in what I would do at the end of a game. I had my reasons for doing it the way I did it. The combination, we all made some mistakes, and we all learned from them. I think we went into those last 10, 12 games knowing we were — I used to bring stats into the film room every week and say — trying to convince our guys don’t listen to the Twitter people. Don’t listen to the other people. This is where you are. This is statistically where you are in the league. We were ranked 1, 2 in our defense. We were ranked 1, 2 in three-point. We were ranked 1 in rebounds, 1 in assists. I mean, three-point shooting, we were very high. We had some incredible stats for a team who at one time was 13-7. That’s why I think we did a decent job as a staff selling them on glass — I’m usually a half-empty guy. I made it a little more half full. A couple times I was trying to go to three-quarters full. And I think some of it worked.
Q. Is it almost fitting, you and Pitino having so many Final Four berths, so many Elite Eight appearances, and to have both been involved, and had some inconsistencies and ups and downs this season, to be meeting in this game tomorrow?
COACH IZZO: Sure as hell is fitting for me and I’m sure for him. I’m sure there’s other coaches that don’t think it’s too fitting. I think it is. I think we both kind of came through similar kind of years and in different ways but similar. I think a lot — and I say this not humbly, I say this honestly. There is too much made out of it. There’s so many great coaches. I can think of some of the great coaches in the Big Ten that never made it to the Final Four, and every time I’m in this situation, I just think of them because I have so much respect for them. These players play the game, and the players — the assistants do a lot of the leg work. The players play the game. Maybe we’ve got a bunch of players that love March, not a coach. I mean that honestly. As he said, some of the veteran players, some of the former players, they’re the ones that light up in March. And I think, when you have relationships with them, that really helps those players understand that it’s another season, it’s another important time. The one thing I always tell my football counterparts, we get to make a few mistakes during the year and still have a chance to play for it all, and that’s what makes our sport unique.
Q. Tom, you had kind of a rare group last year. Would getting to the Final Four with this group ease some of the pain of the way last year finished for you?
COACH IZZO: Yeah, it really would. It really would. I think, to be blunt about it, it would be one of the greatest things we’ve done at Michigan State. But last year’s team — I just got a text before I walked in here from Gary Harris that says, “Coach, I’m still believing.” You feel for those guys that kind of were tagged with the burden of being the first team that the seniors didn’t make it because it’s kind of ridiculous when you think about it. I mean, it was something that was going to end sooner or later. But that team had been through so much with Appling’s injuries, Harris’ injuries, Payne and Dawson missing the games at the end of the year, and still bouncing back to make an incredible run until that doggone 7 seed went and ruined the party. They ruined it, and they went on to prove their colors, too. So that’s kind of the battle cry. It doesn’t matter what you’re seeded. Playing anybody, anyplace, anytime is, I think, what we live by at our place, and I think it still benefited us in games like now at the end of the year. You really have to lean on what you’ve done. For me, my whole career, but for these players, Travis and them are like third or fourth most winningest class. They’re setting their own mark. They’re setting their own footprint, and I love when people set a footprint in the sand so they can leave knowing they’ve done something that few before them have done, and they’re doing that. It could be capped by getting to a Final Four, and then of course, double capped by going beyond that. But the Final Four is everybody’s dream. I think that place for college basketball. We’re 40 minutes away to have a chance to do that, and it’s a special time.
Q. Watching Pitino from afar, what are the qualities or things you think have enabled him to put together the record that he has? And do you see those qualities in this team?
COACH IZZO: I do. His teams always play hard. He has so much passion and energy watching from the sideline, and he’s living every shot. He’s trying to — if he gets out on the floor tomorrow and traps one of them, because he’s been close, I’m going to protest that. Other than that, I love what he does. I love his energy. I love his enthusiasm. I love his passion. It’s easy to see. It’s not because he wears it on his sleeve. It’s beyond that. For a guy who’s done it at different levels and different schools, I haven’t done that. That’s why I do have great respect for Rick. He’s found a way to get his team back, and I think it’s because of some of the players he has. And we found a way to get our team back to a position, and I think it’s because of the assistant coaches and some of the players I have.
Q. Tom, Dean Smith used to take the NCAA Tournament and divide it up into three weekends of two-game tournaments. Do you have an approach to March? Or do you change anything about the way you’ll coach a team when it gets into Tournament time?
COACH IZZO: I don’t. I think I have approached it that way. I try to explain to my players that during the season you can win a lot of games playing one way, but you can only win championships and advance deep into the Tournament, you have to play another way. So you try to play that way all year. Whenever we don’t, I always say, you know, we can win our nice 18, 19, 20 games, and that just isn’t very sexy at Michigan State anymore. Not getting a date with that, I’ll tell you that. So you try to preach that your whole time. What I do know is I sell the one and done. I sell the “my bads”. They talk about “my bad”. “Coach, I only made one mistake.” That’s fine. That’s great. Do you want to get to a Final Four? Do you want to win a Big Ten Championship? Do you want to win your 18 to 20 games and everybody can be somewhat happy with you? So I don’t know if it’s any different. The sense of urgency for me is all year long, but I get to make some mistakes. And I think scheduling like we do, I don’t make as big a deal about it as other people do, but I do think, when you get punched in the mouth, you learn how to get up. Last night, for the first ten minutes of that game, we got rocked. I mean, they came at us as hard as any team has come at us. We were kind of close to staggering there. I think all the things you go through during the year, what you preach all the time gives you the ability to bounce back.
Q. Tom, you were talking about showing Louisville film at 1:00 in the morning. Can you give us a sense of what you showed them and what kind of attention span they had at that hour? Were guys falling asleep?
COACH IZZO: I made sure that Montrezl Harrell was invisible because I didn’t want them to have nightmares. I just wanted to show them some film. We had our video guy cut out anything where he was living with his head and feet on the rim. Other than that, we just showed a little bit of each individual player and just a little bit of their maybe seven or eight basic sets and just a touch of their press, so that they can go to bed thinking, understanding, knowing. Wake up in the morning feeling good and then realizing we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. I’ve done that every NCAA Tournament game I’ve been in. The last two years, though, I’m pressing it. When you get back at 1:30 in the morning, it gets a little bit harder to do that, but it’s what we do. So we did it.
Q. You mentioned getting punched in the mouth, I guess. Richard Pitino in Minnesota did that. Are there similarities between what Richard does and what Rick does and how much carry-over?
COACH IZZO: There is some carry-over. I think Richard is taking what his dad does. He’s taken some of Billy Donovan’s. And he’s got a little different approach, but there’s some similarities. Right now, I’m not sure he has the same players as dad does, and yet we’ve struggled at times against them. I don’t know if any of those things matter. What matters now is we’ve got two teams and 40 minutes. Some of these kids have worked — when I just think, I look down and see Travis and Denzel for sure and I think how many hours they put in this summer, all that for 40 minutes. Does it get any better than that? It reminds me of an Olympian, you work out all that time for a 100-yard sprint that you could screw up at the start. That’s what’s great about sports. That’s what’s great about what we have. That will be the pre-game talk. Hey, you’ve earned the right to be here. We didn’t take an easy route to get here. We had to beat a lot of good people. So you’ve earned the right to have some swagger, but just understand that there’s another team that’s earned the right, too, and they play hard as hell, too. It should be a hell of a game as far as that goes.
Q. Tom, thinking back about ten years ago, how does this team mirror and parallel what the 2005 team did for you guys?
COACH IZZO: That team, I think, was a little more talented, to be honest with you, but it was an interesting team, too, a bunch of good guys that we kind of fit in. And we made some changes on that team, too. We took a couple of starters and made them subs, not as demotions, but just trying to get the chemistry right and the right guys coming off the bench. That team took us on a hell of a ride. It’s funny, late last night I got a text from Alan Anderson, who got hurt in that Elite Eight game in the last play of the game, and barely played in the game against North Carolina, which we led at halftime and couldn’t quite finish or we would have had an all-Big Ten final. He just said, “Make sure the guys know this is a chance of a lifetime.” It’s so much fun to listen to the former guys because they know they don’t get another chance. You try to in a positive way sell that without putting too much pressure on guys. Every team’s a little different. Every team that’s had a similar journey, you try to find similarities. The similarities there is we had to beat Duke and Kentucky down in Austin to get through. We beat a 3 seed in Oklahoma. We need to beat a 4 seed to get to the Final Four. At that time, it was a 1 and a 4. That was close. We beat a 2 and 3 already. So all good. It’s all good.
Q. Tom, what are your impressions of Quentin Snider and how efficient he is with the ball? And did you recruit him? What do you recall from those days?
COACH IZZO: When he de-committed, we did recruit him for a little while. I went down there and saw him once. My staff had seen him a few times. I think he’s improved a lot, even from then. I just think he’s very solid with the ball. Maybe not quite the athlete Rozier is, but his ball skills are good. He’s shooting the ball better. Pretty confident to come in and take that many shots when he just started playing a lot of minutes. Sometimes there’s addition by subtraction. I don’t have any idea what the circumstances and what they lost, but sometimes it gives other guys a chance to shine. In this case, he’s taking advantage, and I think he’s going to be a great player someday.
Q. Just as a followup, I think he’s had three turnovers in three tournament games. Just how impressive that is at this level to be able to be that efficient with the ball.
COACH IZZO: Sounds to me like you’re trying to ruin a good press conference. (Laughter). I got enough I didn’t sleep about last night. I got a guy that’s dunking with his ankles, and you tell me about a guy who doesn’t turn the ball over. He’s good. He’s solid. He kind of knows, it seems like, who he is, and he’s got a jet alongside of him. And he’s the facilitator and not taking chances and doing what a freshman should do. So now he’s even moved up another notch. So I appreciate the info.
Q. My apologies.
COACH IZZO: Anytime.
Q. Coach, his name has come up a couple times today, what’s your relationship with Magic Johnson like? And what’s it like to have him around your team?
COACH IZZO: Well, I think I have a good relationship. I remember I started it when he used to still come back. My first year as a GA, my job was to unlock the baskets. We had these covers on them, so he could come in in August and start working out for his next season. That’s where it started. I’m sure that he was one of the guys that had to support me for me to get a job like this from an assistant. He’s been so good. It’s not just the NCAA Tournament. He comes back during the year. He comes back during the summer. He’s always back. He comes back for football games. His family lives there. But if you watch him during the game, he has such an appreciation. Whenever he talks to my team, he knows them better than I do. So I always loved him as a player when I watched him. I got to love him as a person. But then I really got to love the fact that anything he touches, he has the same approach to his business world as the same as his athletic world. He’s a role model for me because you watch him in the stands, it doesn’t matter where he goes, he doesn’t need bodyguards. He doesn’t need people around him telling people “no autographs.” He does what he does. I think he’s one of the greatest winners that ever played in any sport, and I think he’s just an incredible. Every time he flies in, I tell my guys, “Don’t forget, when you leave here, act like him. Come on back. Share with the younger guys your knowledge, your experience, and your passion.” I’m telling you, he’s done it as well as anybody I’ve ever seen in sports.
Q. Tom, you’ve had time to think about Louisville. What are your keys? What are the things your guys have to do and that you’re emphasizing in these 15-minute sessions?
COACH IZZO: Well, we can’t turn the ball over a lot because they can get out of there and turn over into a touchdown really quick. They’re really good at that. So turnovers would be definitely key. Transition defense, they run very well. And their big guys run very well. I think that will be a key. And not to panic on the craziness of their zone. It’s not something you see very often in very many places. I know very few teams that play it like he plays it. Sometimes I think you can get enamored with all the movement, and you’ve just got to make sure you keep it simple and do your job. And probably the last thing is rebounding the ball, because they’ve got some guys that go after it. So you’ve obviously got to make shots, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that, but I think taking care of the ball is one and maybe how we attack their zone would be the other.
Q. I was going to ask about the defense, but that question took it. I guess my next question would be, the team, your current players did so much to get back in the Tournament and beat Georgia in the first round and take the program to another level, 18 straight Tournament appearances. Is there ever a time when they led the program, and then the program flips around and pulls the players?
COACH IZZO: When you say “the program”, the program is not the coaches. The program is the former guys that played here. And, yes, they do. They do it often. I mean, to me, it’s amazing that there’s an expectation — and a lot of schools have it. A lot of schools have great programs. I think I’ve got one thing that very few schools have — Duke has it. Syracuse has it. But Gus Ganakas is still my radio guy. He started in the early ’70s. Jud Heathcote, I worked for. Gus actually worked for me for a little while. And then there’s me. And what Gus did is he did an incredible job for me of bringing back the guys from the Johnny Greens, guys from the ’50s and ’60s, making them a part of it. And then, of course, Jud’s guys in Earvin and Gregory and Shawn Respert, Steve Smith and Scott Skiles and all those guys, but we’ve all been part of the same family. There’s been a real connection, and that’s the one advantage. Because there are some disadvantages to staying in the same place, but I think there’s a comfort level amongst the former players and they want to come back because, hey, Gus is still here, and Tom worked for Jud. We’ve had like, I don’t know, 45 years of the same people that are still there. That even beats Boeheim by a year or two. He’s been here so long. But I think that helps, and most programs don’t have that. North Carolina had it with Dean Smith and Roy, who worked for him. And Mike’s been there and done such a fabulous job at Duke. But most programs don’t have people that stay that long or survive that, and there’s not a comfort level, I think, with the former players. So I think the program does drive the players because of the guys that built the program.