Coach, you're ranked 22nd in the AP Poll and 25th in the Coaches' Poll. What does that mean to you?
"It most certainly is an indication that we're making progress. But at the same time, we all recognize that it's a real time snap shot. This early in the season, especially this early in conference play, those rankings tend to be very volatile. We'll put it in its proper place. It's recognition in some form that we're making progress, but at the same time it really is a snap shot for this moment in time."
You mention the recognition, but is there a little more there considering the fact that it has been 12 years since Arizona State basketball has been ranked?
"Anything that we can do to have our fans feel a sense of joy, like they felt the other night (after the Arizona win) is important. We shared that experience with a lot of loyal supporters last week. So from that stand point we feel really good about being able to do that. It really is a sense of community that we're continuing to foster."
Now that you're ranked you have the target on your back and you're playing on the road this weekend. You must be changing your approach for this week's games…
"I don't know that you play any differently. You're basically are what you are, and despite your best intentions usually, you become a product of your habits. When you play against top competition like Cal, on the road, you're gonna have to be extremely good, in fact you may play really well and not win, because they have something to say about it as well. They're so talented and so good and we recognize that."
"Even when you play at home, you're not guaranteed anything in this league. You still have to take care of business and play at a high level."
Will you say anything to your team about being ranked?
"I don't think I have to say a lot, I think they all probably (heard) of it…but I think our group has been really good, even last year focusing on the task at hand, the next practice, the next game. I really liked our men's approach to those kinds of things."
Can you talk about how your kids have bought into everything you've been teaching?
"We've been blessed with a really good group to coach and they've been eager to listen and to learn, anxious to improve…that doesn't mean that we don't hit our occasional speed bumps and have to take some detours. But for the most part we have a group that's intent on trying to do very well."
Some of the coaches of the teams that came here during the non-conference season, pointed out that playing Arizona State one night with your defensive style, and then playing Arizona the other night, would be difficult. How do think that will play out in the Pac-10? You're the only team that plays this type of zone defense…
"Everybody has their own personnel, own system that they do well. So I think by and large you're looking at a draw in the Pac-10 because both teams have the same amount of time to prepare. That one day in between is quick for everybody…It's a very short, quick turnaround."
Nebraska was the only true road test you had until now. How much does that experience (a 62-47 loss) serve your players going into Pac-10 road play?
"I think we come into today being able to draw on all of our experiences. Whether they were the good, bad or the ugly – every time we take to the court in practice or a game, we have an opportunity to learn. We have an opportunity to capitalize on the feedback provided."
"I think there were a lot of things to take away from that Nebraska game and we addressed immediately after that game. And it continued the next and the next day…we continued to move forward until finding ourselves where we are today."
"There was so much to take away from Nebraska. There really was in a good way. Not that we felt good about the way we played or the result of the game. But I just remember being a flood of things that we had to talk to our players about, things that we had to address…that next couple of days for us were good days to really take a look in the mirror and figure out what we have to do moving forward."
Both bay area teams that you're facing this week seem to have more size than what you faced until now…
"They're really enormous. Not just the front court, but in Cal's case they also have strong perimeter players. They can play big across the board."
You started the season off playing Pendergraph and Eric Boateng in the starting lineup. Will that still be an option for this week's games?
"We always keep all of our options available and want to remain as flexible as we can. But still you have to honor what you do day in and day out. It's hard to change dramatically, but we'll consider everything."
Are you pleased with the maturation process of the freshmen on this team. It appears that they play a lot older than they are…
"Guys have played with a good amount of poise and composure. That's one thing about this team is that they've really been able to keep their feet on the ground and not get swept away in the moment. In two of our home wins we were down by ten or more points and they've been able to keep their wits about them and just kind of keep on grinding and plugging away."
You talked about the maturation process. With a guy like Ty Abbott staying out of foul trouble in the second half against Arizona, and doing other things when his shot wasn't falling…at least in his case has it been a surprise?
"I think sometimes we have to be careful easily attributing everything to age or experience. Sometimes that's a logical and the right explanation, but we've seen fifth-year seniors get into foul trouble…as we talked about the team, we said from the outset, even though it was gonna be an usually young group, that we weren't gonna allow ourselves to use that as the first recourse of explanation. That wouldn't serve any productive end."
It seems that a lot of college teams now are so young. Does it become a factor when you get to conference play and they're still freshmen, or does that balance out because the other teams rely just as much on their freshmen?
"Some teams do (rely on freshmen) and some teams have more experience than others. I don't think it's an absolute. I think sometimes early in the season, one plausible explanation for the increased number it seems for the rash of ‘upsets'…and I don't what's an upset and what isn't some of time…is that you are playing a particularly young group and you run into a team that is filled with upper classmen. Early in the year that can be a real difference."
James Harden is a player that in high school was used to playing in front of packed arenas, being on television…going on the road does a freshman being intimated just not apply anymore because of the level of high school basketball now?
"I think for certain high school players, by and large, are exposed to more things at a younger age. The way the sport is covered, not just locally but even nationally. The travel that's involved, the number of games that they play…they're exposed to a lot more. But even more importantly than that, I just think some guys are just blessed with the ability to perform in the spotlight. They have collectiveness about them, a cool, a poise…it almost comes from some source within."
"I'm sure that the success he has had in every stop has helped foster that confidence and that self-belief that you gotta have. But at the same time James is a humble person too. He doesn't tilt so far one way that he falls over himself."
How much better can James Harden be?
"I think he can get a lot better. I think he's capable of improving in many areas."
Are you married to the zone defense until death do you apart or do you see yourself playing man-to-man down the road?
"I don't know. I can't predict with perfect certainty what will happen."
How do you feel about getting the recognition of being ranked?
"We're getting the recognition we've worked so hard to get. I like that. It's nice. I found out just a few minutes ago. People asked me if we're gonna get ranked and I said ‘you can't rank a team that's supposed to come in last in the Pac-10.' It doesn't make sense and makes them look silly, and then I get a text that we're 22nd. I was really surprised. It does help your confidence."
For all that you've been through here this last three yards it would have to be doubly gratifying for you…
"It's really nice. It's kind of a ‘take that' thing for everybody that said that we're not supposed to do anything, supposed to be last even with all this talent we have. I guess you're kind of contradicting yourself saying that we're supposed to be last in the Pac-10 and now you're ranking us…as long as we can keep on doing what've we've been doing and keep on getting better…"
And that's they key now – the bullseye is now on your back as a ranked team…
"Exactly. Instead of us beating them and our fans rushing the court, so now when teams beat us fans will rush their court. That's kind of a weird feeling to have. We're just so used to teams expecting to beat us all the time, get a split when they play us and Arizona. And it isn't like that anymore."
"In the past they weren't that many people in the stands when we played on the road. Teams expected to beat us and when they did it was no big deal. Now we really have to go against crazy fans, capacity crowds all the time. That's just anther element we have to adjust to."
How do you think the team will respond to beating Arizona and being ranked now that you head on the road?
"I think these guys will respond like they should and like it never even happened (beating Arizona, being ranked). We're gonna get our feet back from the Arizona game and we already started to have good practices from last week. We're gonna have to put all that stuff behind us, because when we go up there – Cal won't care that we beat U of A. Cal won't care that we're in the Top 25. They're gonna want to take our heads off and we have to prepare and be ready for that."
Can you talk about the challenge of going on the road this year. You played just one true road game this year and it didn't turn out very well. How do you think the team will respond to that?
"I think we'll respond pretty well. We're gonna learn from that, that's for sure. Coaches have been really emphasizing that stuff in practice – things are gonna be hard. Calls aren't gonna go your way. The ball isn't gonna bounce your way. Shots aren't gonna fall because it's a totally different gym. You have to be ready push through everything and fight through it."
Coach told us that if you guys wanna win, when things get hard you can't play like individuals and really need to play like a team, because that's how teams win on the road. We need to come together at times of adversity…that's the biggest emphasis we're having right now at practice."
When you look at that Nebraska loss, how much of it was having a bad day and how much was the road elements you talked about?
"Just being on the road period, that was really tough. The hostile environment is a big thing, especially if you're not on your game. The crowd will expose you and the other team will expose you and you end up digging yourself a hole. Coach wasn't happy the way we played at Nebraska and he wants to make sure that it doesn't happen again. He's putting it on us to prevent that."
What are your thoughts about Cal? One of your two Pac-10 wins last year was on the road there…
"Cal is tough. They're really talented. They lost good players, but like any Pac-10 team you always have new guys coming in and stepping up. (Jerome) Randle, (Patrick) Christopher, (Devon) Hardin, and (Ryan) Anderson are all doing really well. Anderson is leading the Pac-10 in scoring and I think he did last year too. So you have to be ready for a high powered offense, and try to slow them down a little bit."