(On the team’s status in preseason drills) “What has been happening pretty consistently is I go to practice, and I am generally not pleased, and then I go back and watch the film and I am surprised that it is better than what I thought. I don’t know what that means.
“I don’t think we are playing as intensely. There are times when we succumb to fatigue. I am always trying to challenge their mental toughness. And then I go back and think “that was not quite as terrible as I thought it was.” I am not sure what that means.
“I am enjoying going to practice every day. That is a really good sign. I have been with teams where it was not always as much fun to go to practice. We have had a terrific amount of adversity. We are still undefeated so we don’t know what it feels like to lose.
"We have remained fairly healthy which is really important. Malcolm Canada tweaked his ankle for the second time in the past two or three weeks yesterday so he will probably miss a couple of days. That does hurt us because right now we have ten guys out there on scholarship that are playing. If you look, I probably average nine guys with double-digit minutes and there have been years when I average 10 guys double digit minutes, just the way I play so that does not leave a whole lot of room for error as far as injuries are concerned.
“(Director of Basketball Operations) Todd Golden has done a terrific job with analytics. I am looking at more film grading and statistical analytics than I had before. I love to watch and grade film. I just think it is really objective and pretty consistently Tahj Shamsid-Deen has graded out as our best player. He is always in the right place at the right time defensively. He puts up productive offense numbers because he is able to get off the bounce a little bit. He is making shots.
“I told the team that right now he is our best player as far as how he is performing and what we are doing. Is that a good sign? You guys saw Tahj last year. I think he was probably Auburn’s third best player. So if he is now our best player today, what does that mean? Is that a good sign? Has he gotten better? Is the system a really good fit for him? Those are just a few things that jump out at me.”
Tajh Shamsid-Deen is shown in action as a freshman. He started every game last season at point guard, but is moving to the shooting guard spot this year.
On Tahj Shamsid-Deen playing off the ball:
“He is just tickled pink about being off the ball. We still put him in ball screens and in situations where he is handling it, but he is not the primary ball handler or playmaker. He doesn’t have to break pressure--just go score and wreak havoc defensively. That change was done for two reasons. It was done because K.C. Ross-Miller and (Malcolm) Canada are both really good with the ball and not as good without it so to figure out a way to play them, I had to put the ball in their hands. I had to put someone who didn’t have the ball in their hands to take it from them, which was Tahj. I think it may work out where the guys are in the positions that they are supposed to be at.”
On playing above the rim: “We can’t throw the ball at the rim. We don’t have many guys that can go get the ball at the rim. We are not very long. My Tennessee teams were always really long. If you watch Kentucky or the NBA or some of the better teams, that play above the rim can be a high percentage pass. The way help comes over and rotates, if you can put the guys above the rim, there are not many that can get there defensively. It is a real high percentage play.
“We don’t have many guys that can play above the rim so we have to fit that ball into the narrower windows down on the floor and it could probably lead to more turnovers than I would like to have so that has been a little disappointing and limiting.”
On Cinmeon Bowers: “Right now Cinmeon and Matt (Atewe) are playing the center position. Knowing how physical and aggressive both of those guys can be, we will probably need all ten fouls. Even though there may be times where one of those guys wants more minutes, but I just don’t have the luxury based on the numbers of playing them together because they are the only two inside players I have. Right now in practice they are playing against each other all the time so they rarely get rest.
“When they play together and I get them playing shorter spurts, it is like rotating defensive tackles. If you have another guy in there, then you rotate those guys, there are fresh and furious. They are playing at a better tempo so I would like to see both of them going harder, faster and longer, and being explosive I don’t think either of them are in the kind of shape that I would like them to be in. To be in great shape in mid-October can wear you out in February and March. They have to get there they aren’t there, but I am okay that they are not there yet.”
On preparing Bowers to play: “Right now we haven’t determined the starter between Cinmeon and Matt. Part of it is because Matt is a little ahead defensively and Cinmeon is ahead offensively. Matt gets fouled a lot. They both get fouled a lot. The question comes up, ‘What do I need to do to start?’ The answer is often times are filled with ‘be on time and be on target everyday.’ I want emails from teachers telling me what a great job you’re doing in the classroom. I want perfect attendance at study hall. All those little things off the court and then let’s improve your defense and what you’re doing offensively. It is not just stuff on the court. That’s truly how I will evaluate it. They don’t seem to worry about where they are and how many minutes they are playing. They’re competing pretty well, but starting to inquire how they can get more of a focus.”
On the SEC: “We had two teams in basketball play in the Final Four last year. When I talk about the energy and momentum there’s great energy and momentum that our league has. With Kentucky and Florida playing in that championship and now, Kentucky being preseason number one by a long shot. They are in the SEC. They are in my league, in case anybody was wondering. I see three or four other teams that could be knocking on the door of the Top 25. The Top 25 came out a few weeks ago and I tweeted ‘Mark my words, there will be two or three other teams in our league that will be in the Top 25 by the end of the year.’ I really believe that.
“Beyond that, there are many teams that are going to be fighting for the bubble. I’m hoping that we are one of those teams. What is a bubble? A bubble is the middle of the league. Can we get there? Can we go from the bottom of the league to the middle of the league? When you get into the middle of the league, they start talking about postseason. Those are my goals for this team. I want to still be playing in post season. I want that for these four seniors (Malcolm Canada, K.T. Harrell, Antoine Mason and K.C. Ross-Miller). My guess would be that our non-conference record might be better than our conference record, but not that much better. If they are both close, but they’re both okay, it will put us in the middle of the league.”
On freshmen T.J. Lang and Jack Purchase: “They both show signs. They both have their moments. Jack’s had more moments than T.J. Jack does a couple of things really well. First of all, he can shoot it. Second of all, he’s got a very high basketball IQ. He’s an outstanding passer. He loves to play. He loves to be in the gym. He loves the game. That gives him a real chance. Right now, Jack would be in our Top 10. That means he could be out there playing.
“T.J. is at a position where I’ve got a lot of experience. He’s out there with four senior guards and it’s hard for him to get noticed in a positive way, but what an incredible opportunity to go against Antoine (Mason), at Kareem (Canty), at K.T. at Tahj, at Malcolm so he’s in a very competitive position. I need T.J. to be ready and to grow and improve. I need him to continue to compete, but he may not, by virtue of the numbers, need to be out there as much as Jack. They both showed signs.”
On Mason playing in the SEC: “I think he’ll be able to transfer a lot of his skills but not all the production. We’re going to have more balance than they did at Niagara. He could score more for us but my teams have always been fairly balanced. He is an unselfish player and he’s not going to shoot a bad percentage. If he is open, he will take the shot. If he doesn’t, he won’t force the issue.
“I would expect him to be one of our leading scorers, but I don’t anticipate that he will put up those types of numbers. Not just because of the level, but the role he will play on our team. Offensively, everything he brings translates. Defensively and rebounding, it’s a different level. That’s an area that he is working on, trying to become more productive.”
On excitement of the players: “That would be a great question for the players. We are trying to do things to promote our program and to be a part of the community and the campus. I think there is a lot of hope and excitement and energy. Just look at the season ticket numbers. We sold 2,100 last year and we’ve sold over 5,000 already this year.
“We’re doing things where we go on the road and have events. This will start in Colorado and Las Vegas. At almost every SEC game on the road we’re going to have an event. We’re going to have more people coming to our games because they are excited about our staff and our program. We’re way ahead of the curve off the court, but it’s going to take some time on the court. The response from the fans, community and department has been outstanding.”
On overcoming program’s struggles in recent years: “We have five players returning and we talk about it. It’s almost like even though I wasn’t here, I put myself in their shoes everyday like I was here, like we experienced the difficulties and challenges of last season. I watched them enough to know how they competed and didn’t quit. They were just outnumbered and physically overwhelmed. How much progress we’ve made in that area I don’t know.
"We lost three seniors (Chris Denson, Asauhn Dixon-Tatum and Allen Payne) that played a lot of basketball. We brought three or four kids in that are going to play a lot of basketball. Is that going to be a trade off or is that going to be how it’s been? Or is progress going to be made? That’s the challenge.
“Right now I don’t see us losing games because the fear is there of ‘oh. here we go again.’ I don’t see that being an issue. I think they feel good about where they are right now. I think they feel that they are going to be prepared and they are going to compete. That’s really a question for them. I don’t know how they feel about them.”
On similarities to first seasons at other colleges he has been at as head coach: “Every year is the same. Go back next year and look at this press conference. I won’t be able to tell the difference. I think that I don’t know that coaches can to tell you. I’d be curious to talk to (Auburn football coach Gus) Malzahn about if he’d be able to predict what happened against Arkansas the first game. Or did it confirm some things that he was expecting or wasn’t sure about? I don’t think you really know until you get out there, every year. Then you get to get out there and get exposed about what is good, what is not good and what needs tightening up.
“All you do every day is try to focus on those things. For me, balls screen defense, transition defense, rebounding, offensive execution, and free-throw check outs would be some things that I know need tightening up because I’ve been able to expose us to. Arkansas exposed some strengths and some weaknesses and you work on those. I really don’t think you know until you go through it.”
On having fun: “It’s a lot of fun. I love going to work and I love working by example and I want to make sure my players are confident in me because they know they’re prepared based on how hard we work and what we do, but I’m only going to be having fun when we win. I’m not going to be having any fun if we don’t win. Right now we haven’t won anything. I keep saying the undefeated thing and I haven’t had any fun since we haven’t won yet. When we start winning, we’ll have a lot of fun.”
On his experience coaching lineups with small guards: “Those guards (on his Tennessee teams) were small and quick. Our guards aren’t long, but they aren’t small. K.T. (Harrell), Malcolm (Canada) and Antoine (Mason) aren’t small men. They are good-sized men, they’re strong. Their bodies are different. The guys I had at Tennessee were small and quick. That’s okay, but we have to figure out if we are strong, fast and tough. That’s got to be how we put them in position to be successful.
“For example, if we press, with small and quick guys you might turn people over more, but if you’re fast and not as quick, you may not turn them over as much but you can create the tempo. I want to create the tempo, and can you do that without getting killed in transition? That’s going to be something we’re going to have to figure out. My guess would be that we won’t wreak as much havoc because we’re not quick enough.”
On Jordon Granger: “His confidence is about preparation. Jordon’s really worked hard and prepared. He has been one of our really good leaders. Jordon’s good in the locker room. He gets along with everybody. Our players respect him and he has got a chance to start for us at the power forward position. Jordon is never going to be confused with a power forward. He is a small forward. There’s not enough bodies to play him on the front line where he belongs. I’m glad he’s out there. He gets to the right spots defensively. He has a good passer and he can make some shots. I think he’ll play hard and play with energy.”
K.T. Harrell is shown at a preseason workout.
On Harrell: “He’s is one of the leaders for sure. He’s such an outstanding young man and such a hard worker. He’s got the respect of everybody on and off the court. That puts him in a great position to lead. I almost want to approach it from the standpoint of “let’s do it for him, let’s do it for Malcolm, let’s do it for K.C., let’s do it for Antoine, but let’s do it for K.T. We like him, we all respect him, and he’s been a great teammate.
“K.T. may not say some things as a leader that I would like him to step up and say so I’ll say it for him. But when we don’t sprint, we don’t check out, we quit mentally, we break down, you’re letting K.T. down. Nobody wants to let K.T. down. I think he’s in a position to lead just based on how he lives, trains and how loyal he is. I think if he just keeps doing that and we will bring the rest of them along.”
On Atewe: “When you come back from injury, there’s the physical challenge of coming back. Matt played on a virtually broken leg last year. He had a stress fracture that was nearly through the bone. I can’t even imagine how much pain he played with, and he did play with a lot of pain. We shut him down and he got surgery so there’s a rod in that leg. He still feels some pain but it’s not broken any more.
“We don’t know how much confidence he really has to push off on that thing. There’s the mental aspect of it, there’s the physical aspect of it, and he’s working through it. Without Matt’s speed, athleticism, and explosiveness, he is not an effective player. With those things, he is an effective player. He either works his way through those issues and is a monster out there, or he just makes the all-airport team and looks really good in warmups and he’s not effective.”
Physical Mason Ready To Take The Court
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