What do you like about this team?"We have great chemistry. Last year the majority of our players who are back on this year's team contributed. They are a very close-knit group. And although we will be small because of our lack of size maybe around the basket, we should be able to be dangerous around the perimeter."
Preseason publications and picks have Alabama winning the West. Do you agree with that assessment?"I think at one time knowing who was going to be potentially on this team, I think that was maybe an easy prediction. Obviously losing Gerald Wallace to the NBA and then three more potential guys who were post players--now that changes. Now we have to live in the reality that it's a little bit different team now with Sam Haginas not being here and a few of the recruits not making the grade that we're a little bit different team. I don't know that I would still pick us to win it knowing that today."
What leaps did the team make last year that will carry over into this season?"One, we grew up a lot. I made a decision two years ago to start all those freshmen together. Those guys are now juniors--Rod Grizzard (G), Erwin Dudley (F), Terrance Meade (G) and Kenny Walker (C). They now have the experience. They're stronger physically. They're stronger mentally. And I think they've made a lot of improvements just in their overall game.
"I looked at that Purdue game in the NIT. On the road it was a real growing up moment for us and hopefully that will carry us into this year."
What improvements will we see this year?"`With the freshmen we have coming in we have some help in the backcourt. Our freshmen, although they are young, are going to be in a position to contribute and that will be a big plus for us.
"Obviously our schedule is very difficult this year and it will be a great challenge for us. So, hopefully by the time we're playing in the SEC our young freshmen guards will have gotten a lot of experience plus we will have played in some high calibre national type games. Those things should make us better."
Strengths?"Experience right now. Even though we don't necessarily have a senior on the squad who's a starter, our strengths will be that we have a lot of players that played a lot of minutes. They understand what it takes to win. They have paid a price and now as juniors, what I call the 'meat and potatoes' of this team should be ready to take this next step."
Any weaknesses?"Right now the obvious weakness is around the basket. We don't have enough bodies or people to compete night in and night out and we've got to be creative and find ways where that weakness doesn't hurt us. Kenny Walker and Erwin Dudley are two post players and Reggie Rambo is a guy who will have to play more around the basket. And outside of that, we don't have a lot of size. We've got to find ways for that not to be a problem for our team."
Will we see any new looks?"We may look to press a little bit more. We may have to use our zone defense more only because, again, you look at the lack of depth. I was taught a long time ago 'teach what you know and know what you teach' and for that, we play a lot of man-to-man defense. We're trying to run and score points and I think those things will stay the same."
How do you like your schedule?"I think our schedule will be as challenging as anybody's in America. I think it's a schedule this group needs to have.
"It's easy to assume that because we did not make the NCAA tournament last season that this schedule is a direct result of that and that's not entirely true. Some of these games were scheduled last season. And I think they're great opportunities for us to get national exposure--the Jimmy V Classic, the John Wooden Classic, the Sugar Bowl Classic--all are nationally televised. Our game with Utah is also.
"I think this schedule is going to challenge these guys and I think they should be ready for that step as they have matured since their freshman year."
How does the league look this season?"Our league will be as balanced as it's ever been. I look on the West and I think all six teams have a legitimate chance to win the West. I think in the East Kentucky and Florida may be ahead of the other four yet from top to bottom in this league there's just not very much difference between one and twelve.
"Our league is the best basketball league in America. Our coaches and people in this part of the country believe that and I think this year will be no different."
Will this team still be playing in the postseason?"Our goal is obviously to play in the NCAA tournament. We fell short last season. We have to look in the mirror. I think it's easy to try to blame the committee or other factors, and we can't do that. You've got to look in the mirror and we've got to remove ourself from being on that bubble per say and be a bona fide NCAA tournament team.
"That's our job. That's what we're going to do. Our players understand that. They're hungry for that. And we've got to go out and get that done."