Sweet Sixteen: Gonzaga Presser

The full transcript from Gonzaga's Thursday press conference featuring head coach Mark Few, Gary Bell, Jr., Byron Wesley, and Przemek Karnowski, courtesy of ASAP Sports...

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Gary Bell, Jr., Byron Wesley, and Przemek Karnowski from Gonzaga.

Q. Przemek, looking at their bigs, they've got two guys who are really highly touted coming out of high school in Looney and Parker. What are your thoughts on watching them?

PRZEMEK KARNOWSKI: They're very talented players. We faced them before in December. We played UCLA. And I thought, like I said, they're good players and we have to make sure we guard them well. They can shoot and drive and play well. Parker is another guy that plays back to the basket, you know, tries to get his position down low. We have to make sure that we push him out of the paint and don't let him get easy catches.

Q. Question for Gary. I was wondering, are there things that are being done differently pregame in terms of your preparation this post-season as opposed to previous post seasons, or are there any different type of mental approaches?

GARY BELL, JR.: No. It's really not. We pretty much do the same things we have at shoot around, we watch film and we come out and play hard. That's basically it.

Q. What do y'all call what Mark did after you guys made it here in the locker room? Was that headstand or how would you describe it?

THE MODERATOR: Gary, why don't you start with that.

GARY BELL, JR.: It's something that he usually does after every big game, so it wasn't a one-time thing. That was a handstand, I guess, you know, get's us pumped up after the game. Przemek usually ends it off with his signature hammer down, so that's something we do after every big game.

PRZEMEK KARNOWSKI: It's awesome. Coach loose a little bit after the game. We had the big game, played good. So for us to see that Coach is like that, I thought, like I said, like Gary said, it happened before so it wasn't a one-time thing.

THE MODERATOR: Byron, your thoughts on Coach's dance moves?

BYRON WESLEY: I always think it's pretty funny when he does it. It gets us pumped and going. It's good to see the Coach getting excited since we're also excited to have made it to this point in the season.

Q. Gary, can you just, the addition of Kyle, what it's meant to get a guy like that who went to Kentucky, decided maybe he wanted to transfer and picks you guys, what that meant to get that kind of quality and caliber of a guy?

GARY BELL, JR.: It was a great fit, you know, for our program and obviously for him and he brings so much versatility to our offensive package where he can spread the floor out when people play zone, we can go four out. Setting ball screens, guys can't really hedge out on them or give him pocket pass and being make those. Even 25-foot jumpers. He brings a lot of versatility to our offense. I'm glad we have him instead of Kentucky right now.

THE MODERATOR: Next question.

Q. Can you talk about what you thought about this UCLA team when you beat them earlier this season compared to what you've maybe seen on tape right now?

THE MODERATOR: Byron, you start.

BYRON WESLEY: Well, they're a much better unit as opposed to how they were in December. Coach has really told us not to get too caught up in last game that we had with them because they've made it to this point in the season for a reason. Just figuring out the new sets they have and the way they've been able to be effective against teams and trying to do our best to stop it.

PRZEMEK KARNOWSKI: You know, you cannot really count the game that was in December. They started playing much better. I think what we can take from the last game, that's personal like how to guard them, all that kind of stuff, know their strengths. That's probably they added some new plays and just started playing better. We have to be ready and to take their best shot.

GARY BELL, JR.: They're a very talented team. They obviously got better than Sweet 16 now. We can't -- obviously we can look at tape or see what we did good and what we did bad and make changes off that, that last game, but you got to come out and play hard and leave it all on the floor.

THE MODERATOR: Next question. Anything else for student-athletes? Okay, gentlemen, thank you. Coach Few?

COACH FEW: It's awesome to still be involved, what I consider the greatest sporting event in the world. Our guys are excited, staff is excited, and I think it's reason we're so excited is this has just been an unbelievable team to be associated with on a daily basis, whether it's travel or game planning or practicing or actually playing in the games. It's just been a real joy, and obviously we just want to keep that thing going as long as we possibly can.

THE MODERATOR: Questions.

Q. How is UCLA better than the December game?

COACH FEW: We're older. They got more games under their belt. Back when we played them, obviously Looney was a freshman and Bryce was just a sophomore still getting used to playing with all these guys and, so I think like any team, usually your defense really grows, looks like their defense has grown. They're doing more of a variety of things on the offensive end than they were at that time, experimenting with some different zone looks and things like that also. I would say all of those things probably add up to the reason why they're better. And probably moreso than anything, which is the most important thing in any sporting event, is they're playing with a high level of confidence right now. They're on a roll. They played well in the conference tournament, played Arizona tough and get two wins and put them in the Sweet 16. They're a hot team and feeling good about themselves.

Q. Mark, some of the players were just talking about the family atmosphere. They mentioned you having kids on -- around the team and just being around you guys, how important is that for you to build that with this team and maybe separate it from some of the other programs?

COACH FEW: Well, I mean, that's who I am, you know, and who we are. It's always been that way and, you know, it's a great luxury that I've been able to take advantage of, to have my kids come down to practice. They just stop in after school a lot of times and shoot on the side. They have a great relationship with our players, and I think, most importantly, Marci and I are comfortable enough, the players are great mentors and role models for them. You couldn't have a better situation as a parent than to have your kids around these kind of people and just been tremendous watching the relationships grow, and then they're across the board, managers, guys that play very little, guys that are red shirts to guys like Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell. But I think in the end, at least I've been told, you know, the players see that and, you know, I think hopefully as they venture farther down the road in their lives they can see the most important thing is you can work really, really, really hard and do your best, but at the end of the day it's a relationship you have with your kids and the type of time you're spending with them as a father is the most important thing and I'm blessed to have a place where I can do that.

Q. What would you say about how Eric McClellan and Kyle Dranginis have come along? They played significant minutes to end the Iowa game.

COACH FEW: That's a good call. They have. Obviously we've always had great confidence in Kyle, you know, he's always been somebody. He's a Swiss Army knife for us. He's that guy you want to have on that fishing and camping trip that can solve a lot of problems when you run into issues. Got a couple of my fishing buddies are like that. He's the guy in basketball that can solve a lot of problems. If you're not moving the ball, he comes in and moves it. If you need a long, rangy defender to put on some guys, he can do it, that you need to break a press, you can do that. You're playing a zone he's got a great feel with that. Eric, it's been harder. He had to sit out and then when he finally became eligible, we discovered a stress fracture in his foot so he had to sit out even longer, and then this team was really established by the time, right in the middle of a year and it's been harder for him to earn minutes. And he's done a great job in his role, but he has earned them and he's done a really good job with his minutes. You can see the effect he has on the floor. He's an elite level athlete and an elite level defender. The best thing that he does also on the offensive end is helps Kevin at the point. That's been really an underappreciated part of the year. We really miss Josh Perkins. We were getting ten, 12, 15 minutes a game out of Josh Perkins, which you could put Kevin at the two which allowed him to get a lot of different looks and just kind of you can rest him where he's not having to handle as much. Now, with Eric being a point guard all his life, we're kind of back to getting those minutes for Kev, either resting or going him some time at the two.

Q. Mark, people associate you guys with consistency every year, but it's been awhile since you've been in this spot. How precious is this just from your perspective understanding that you have to take full advantage of it? You don't know when you'll be back here and you also don't know where it's going to lead.

COACH FEW: Yeah. It's something like I said at the opening statement, it's what you want to be involved with. If you're a basketball player or on the staff, you know, you want to be involved with this tournament and you want to stay in it as long as you possibly can, and that doesn't make it, in my opinion, the end all, be all. But, again, it's the culmination of your year, and when you do love a team as much as I do, we did and they do with each other, you just want to keep it going, you know, because as soon as you lose, it's over and we're never back together again with that particular group. So, that's why it's important, you know, the 16s, the 8s, the 4s, all that is gravy. The biggest thing is staying involved, staying together, staying in the plan, staying playing. That truly to me, and I can speak for my team on that, too, this is a group that really cares about each other. That's what they're after.

Q. On the flip side of that, with all the success the program has had, is there maybe a sense and a pressure that it's time to take that next step and break through to a Final Four?

COACH FEW: I don't feel -- no, I don't feel pressure or anything like that. If it is, it's because again you want it so bad for the group, it's like you want your own kids to do well in a play or something or I want it so bad for those guys. I think that it's become a really big deal that everybody likes to analyze and overanalyze and lot of in that, in my opinion, is, you know, we start, you know, making a big deal out of teams that make -- might make runs in March but just have kind of marginal years. I mean, I have a ton of empathy for what Tony Bennett in Virginia has gone through right now. They had an unbelievable year and what Villanova is doing. They had an unbelievable year. The year that Wisconsin has had, Arizona has had, Kentucky has had. To maintain excellence over six months -- we've done both. We kind of had marginal years and got hot in the tournament, made some noise. That's a heck of a lot easier guys that sustain excellence from November all the way into almost April. It's not even close. You're on the top of your game every single night because somebody is really giving their best effort to knock you off. And so I think we just -- again, it seems like we kind of lose sight of that, and I was just so impressed with those guys, like I said, Villanova and Virginia, with the type of years they've had.

Q. Obviously you've had to travel in many tournaments, this is quite a ways away from campus. What type of fan reaction are you expecting from the people here in-house?

COACH FEW: You know, hopefully, you know, they'll like our team, like the way they play. They'll appreciate the way we play and they'll come out and get excited for us and support us, even though we're technically the team with the white jerseys on which a lot of times people don't always root for in the NCAA Tournament. You know, we had Demetri Goodson from down here in Houston. He's turned out to be an unbelievable story playing for us, starting for us, leading us to the Sweet 16 and deciding to go play football. Having a great career at Baylor and ending up playing for the Packers. I think that's an unbelievable story in itself. Maybe they'll remember us from having him up at our place.

Q. I'm curious, out of high school did you have a shot at getting Kyle then, and when he chose Kentucky and then decided to want to come back out West, how did that play out? And lastly, is Benihana's still on the dinner meal this week?

COACH FEW: They hit Benihana's last night. Yeah, that was part of the plan and well earned. So, checked that off the list. We recruited Kyle really hard. I recruited Kyle hard. Jesuit High School in Portland has been a place with great success and great players. We've had Jesuit players at our place. Mike Hart, you guys remember him, real great defensive player we had. Brian Michaelson is on my staff who played for me way back when from Jesuit. Lot of Jesuit kids that end up going to Gonzaga. So, I mean I tell everybody this, I literally recruited Kyle for two, two and a half years, and Cal made one phone call and he committed. So, don't underestimate the power of Cal and Kentucky. It was as amiable and up-front and professional a deal as I've ever been involved with, because Cal and I are really, really good friends. We probably talk once a week, and Kyle handled it really well. Usually when a kid transfers, you know, when you look at Byron Wesley, there was five, six, seven, ten, 15 schools that were after him really, really hard. This was staying at Kentucky or going to Gonzaga. And then it became really interesting because Kyle went on a trip to China with the Canadian national team. No communication whatsoever. You couldn't e-mail him, couldn't text, couldn't call. Just no -- I don't know what the deal was. Communism or something. I don't know what the heck is going on. Nothing. Nobody really knew what was going on. And Cal and I ended up at a same recruit -- at Nike recruiting event in Washington, D.C. We were sitting next to each other watching the games. "Have you heard anything?" "No, how about you?" While we were sitting together, we both got texts from Kyle. He said he made his decision. And again, Cal handled it just unbelievably with grace and dignity. He was genuinely happy. "You're getting a great player. I wish we had him. He's going to do really, really well for you." Wish they were all like that.

Q. Mark, what's more helpful to you in terms of scouting them, what they've done lately or going back to your game in December?

COACH FEW: Well, we've tried to just throw the December one out with just -- it's not going to have any bearing or any effect on this game, this is a brand new game, and really focus, you know, as of late on the other games in the PAC-12 tournament and the two in the NCAA Tournament. The one aspect we can draw from is we spend a lot of time on personnel in scouting. The fact that we -- our players have guarded this particular player, he's guarded them, they know what to expect, they've at least experienced, you know, that aspect and they have -- the players are always pretty good about, you know, remembering who they went against and where they've had success and where they haven't had success. That's the one area we'll spend less time on personnel than we usually do because of that familiarity. Everything else is kind of thrown out.

Q. You're getting production out of Sabonis who is a freshman. You have freshmen who are getting playing time. Then you have juniors and seniors, upper classmen who are contributing. How much in the one and done era does it help you guys to keep these guys for one to two to three to four years and build as a program which is harder to do for a lot of programs right now?

COACH FEW: That's -- we're kind of a mix, I think. We've certainly had guys leave early over the years, and, you know, the best thing that's happened with us is when the guys have left early, it's been done the right way. It's been totally researched. The communication lines have been wide open. We're not getting tricked by any street agents or people guaranteeing them things or promising them things that just aren't going to happen, and they've ended up being drafted right where we, you know, thought and hoped and everybody was on the same page there. That's all you want as a coach, you know, with that. But I mean that's who we are. Our program over the years, 17 years or even longer going back to when Matt Santangelo was here and started the first run. It's about player development and team chemistry. Those are the bedrocks of Gonzaga basketball. That stayed true, you know, through this entire run, but, at the same time, we've been able to add great talent and great players. You don't consistently get to this tournament and win games in this tournament if you don't have great players.

Q. How is your team different from the December game?

COACH FEW: Well, hopefully a lot. Watching that tape a couple times over, I think we're a much, much mature basketball team than what we were there. And again I've said that, it's such a credit to our guys because we were going through -- that was the start of a stretch, Gonzaga at home, Kentucky in Chicago, at Alabama, that they could have just turned the switch off. And then we got the reset button with the conference starting. And then we have to start on the road to Colorado and Utah. They could have just stopped and stopped again. I think that's where them trusting with us and trusting one another, they've stayed at it and kept working. It's a young group. It's a young, inexperienced group. They're going through it for the first time. They started to mature and get a lot better and we've won six out of six. And even I think going 14-6 from that point on, you know, even the games we lost at Arizona State, at Cal, at Arizona, those were losses for us. We were right there and played well in those. Just the maturity of the team, understanding roles, trust in one another, having only one senior playing in the rotation and having him be a good leader and staying with it even when we were going through some tough times, I think all that kind of has brought us to the point that we are at now.

Full transcript courtesy ASAP Sports.


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