Regarding Washington State, obviously there are huge incentives for us. One, I think, they got us here and we the to lose twice to any team. Secondly, it would put us in a position to face Washington with a one-game lead.
Playing at Washington State is always difficult with the style of play. I would assume that they are drawing better now (8,600 on Jan. 19 vs. Washington). Hopefully that's the same situation for us. I hope we draw well. We play better when there is a lot of noise, regardless of who the noise is for.
ON HOW THE TEAM IS PLAYING:
At this point, I feel very good about our team. I think they are playing very well at both ends of the court. The key thing at Washington State will be our ability to keep pressure on them. In order to do that, we have to feel comfortable with our bench as well. It's pretty obvious that Kirk Walters is making progress. Chris Rodgers, Jawann (McClellan), Isaiah(Fox) – those guys certainly will be key not only for the game against Washington State, but for the remainder of the season. I'm happy at this point with the way we are defending, communicating and scrambling when somebody does get open. Guys are very alert and quick to the ball. Offensively, it's pretty evident that we are moving the ball. We're getting good shots and as a result of that we are shooting very well percentage-wise. With the league season, you look at .495 as our field goal percentage, but if you factor in the number of three-pointers, we actually scored 1,028 points on 929 shots. That's outstanding, plus the team free throw percentage is close to 81 percent (.807), is an indication that we're shooting the ball well. If you are going to shoot the ball well, then you have to have good shots, and I think that's been the case.
ON SALIM'S RECENT SHOOTING:
In Salim's (Stoudamire) case, any shot that's open is a good shot. It doesn't seem to make a different whether it's 25 feet or where it is. If he's open, he obviously has a green light. The nice thing with Salim now is that you don't see very many times where he is forcing a shot. Most of the time he gets a good look and he feels comfortable to put it up. I think his teammates are recognizing when he's open better than they have at any time all year. That was best in evidence in some of the fast break situations where the pass was thrown cross court to Salim filling that left lane and giving him the ability to knock the shot down off the break situation.
QUESTION: How would you characterize your time with Salim?
Well, he's been a challenge, but the good thing is that you feel good about challenges if the challenges turn out to be positive in the end. The last person that I can think of that things turned out really well in the end was Tom Tolbert (1986-88). He drove me nuts for a year and a half, and then the last half of the year all of the sudden the light came on. I think that's been very true with Salim also.
I think he's very comfortable with himself right now. He's comfortable with his role on the team. He's very comfortable with his teammates. He feels very good about them. They feel very good about him because he's been in a very positive mode in terms of dealing with them as well. That's very important if you've got a senior on the team if he can lead in a positive way. Before, it seemed like he was always down about something, or if he wasn't down about something, it wasn't a case of showing that he was happy about something. You just didn't see him smile very often. You didn't see him look like he was really enjoying what he was doing. Now, you can see that he is having a lot of fun and as a result I think his teammates are having more fun.
He's a good guy. He's been a good guy all along. He's just been reluctant to show that. He's very, very critical of himself.
QUESTION: Coming from a basketball family, did that add to the pressure?
I don't think he's ever felt pressure because of Damon because Damon has been so supportive of him. I think Damon has been a very positive influence on him.
QUESTION: How would you compare Salim to Steve Kerr?
If it's an open shot he and Steve Kerr would be very close to the same. The advantage Salim has over Steve is his ability to create shots. He's able to put it down, rock back off of that and create the shots. He's very strong to the basket. Sometimes he takes it when he shouldn't. I think the only poor decision he made on Sunday was when he decided that he was going to take it all the way to the hole.
You can't play this game with your emotions. If you are not under control mentally, you are not going to be in control physically.
ON SALIM'S MENTAL TOUGHNESS:
Well, anyone who says that now after watching him in the last half of the season probably may need to check their own (mental toughness). I have no doubt about that. He's a winner. The thing that gets lost in the shuffle is how tough he is defensively. If you took the game yesterday (Sunday) and just looked at the defensive end, it's not surprising that he's been selected the defensive player of the year for three years, and I would expect him to share that award with Chris Rodgers this year.
QUESTION: Will the tone for Thursday's game be set on the defensive end?
It's important with the way they (Washington State) play that we maintain good defensive pressure on them the whole time they have the ball. If we can do that, I think we can force turnovers. I think there is a chance that we can wear them down.
QUESTION: How important is it to have Chris Rodgers applying that pressure?
It's very important. What we need Chris to do now is put together back-to-back-to-back games. He might have been the most outstanding player on Thursday night. There have been peaks and valleys, and we need for Chris to balance things out. Defensively, he's always going to do a great job. The only way he gets limited time is if he uses very poor judgment on the offensive end.
QUESTION: Was the previous Washington State game a wake-up call?
It wasn't that so much. We played great against Washington two days before. We did not play badly. Against Washington State, they just shot the ball well. (Thomas) Kelati just killed us. That was the game that I sat Chris(Rodgers) out. Obviously that would have made a difference to have him out there defending Kelati, too.
It looks like Salim might break Jason Gardner's school record for threes. What are your thoughts on those two? They are similar in some ways. They are both great competitors. If it's a big shot, Jason was an unbelievable player at delivering the shot when it was needed most. I think Salim is that way, too. With Jason, he was a very strong leader for three years. I think he was stronger in that area. Salim is a better defender.
Whatever happens with the three-point thing, I'm sure Salim would tell you the same thing that I'm going to tell you. If that happens, it fine, but the main thing is that we win. The individual awards in the long run don't mean anything, because in the end the thing that makes the difference is how we do as a team.
ON JOHN WOODEN VIEWING PRACTICE:
Coach Wooden asked me a year ago if he could come in watch practice and it just didn't work out. We've never talked about that (the record).
It's been a very close relationship for a long time. It started back when I was at Long Beach City College and we had won the California State Junior College championship in 1971 and I was invited to speak at his clinic at UCLA in the fall of that year, which I did. Part of that was then Frank Arnold, who was an assistant, and his wife, Coach Wooden and his wife, and Joe Williams, who was the coach at Jacksonville University and the other clinician, and his wife and Bobbi and I all went out to dinner. That was really the start of it. Bobbi and Nell(Wooden) hit it off really well. I think that was the point at which it became a close relationship. He recommended me for a number of jobs which I had no intention of taking. But it was nice. People would call him all of the time for recommendations, but I wasn't interested in going down south or to some of the other places where the opportunities were.