What are your impressions of Arizona since you played them last time: "Obviously a very talented team. I think they have a good collection of, in my opinion, the best bigs in the league, across the board. When you have big guys that are able to catch, catch and score, face up and score, back to the basket scoring, rebound and score, also, make free throws, they have good size. Good length, physical guys. Gabe York has been very good for those guys for a long time, has made big shots for them for a long time. Allonzo Trier can score the ball, very talented young guy. Has a tremendous ability to put the ball in the basket. A lot of parts, and they're going to be a great challenge."
They didn't have Trier the last time you played them, and you didn't have Wallace, so do you change the game planning this time around? "I think what happens is, after you play a team the first time, you go back and watch the film, and I try to watch maybe their last four games, just get a gauge, see how the game flows, see how they play, see how certain teams play together against them, especially if the opposing team does some similar things that we like to do, whether it's offensively or defensively. Then, you go back to the game that we played, and figure out, first, try to correct our breakdowns, first and foremost on both ends of the floor. Then, figure out where the opportunities are to score the basketball, and make adjustments from there."
Have you noticed Ivan Rabb being more vocal and aggressive: "Everybody said that, watching, and for me, my job is, every day, I think he has the ability to be a really good leader, but everybody goes at their own pace, and as a freshman, learning how to gel and lead with a new team is not an easy thing to do, so it's just his timetable, but he does have that ability, because he understands what he's saying, when he says stuff. He has a good feel for the game. I've always felt like if you have your big guys be vocal and lead from the back side you'll have a chance to be really good, especially on the defensive side of the ball, because they see everything, and he has that ability."
Outside shooting during the seven-game winning streak: "Guys that can make shots, and I can't remember back when, but there was a stretch we weren't shooting the ball very well from the three-point line. So, it's been probably, to my recollection, the last three or four weeks, our guards, at the end of every practice, have to make at least 200 three-point shots. They have to make at least 200, so that means you're getting up a lot of shots. This time of year, there's not a lot of up-and-down, running in practice, physical banging in practice. You've got to get shots up, and I've always been a guy, this time of year, practice tapers off, so you have to be very detailed on what you're doing, but you have to spend a lot of time getting shots up, so maybe that's it, but also, guys that are making shots, they can make them, but it's getting them reps."
Is it just the guards taking the shots? "The guards, they shoot three-point spot shots around the perimeter, and the bigs, they get shots up, different things that we do with our bigs in the post."
Different guys are watching each other to count the 200? "They count in groups. There might be four guys on the blue team, and four guys on the gold, not necessarily competing against each other, but they might make a challenge -- first one to 15 -- but those shots have to be at least 200 made, and you have 12 minutes to get that done."
Talk about the difference when you started going big with Kameron Rooks and Kingsley Okoroh more (averaging 19.3 minutes and 10.6 minutes per game over the seven-game winning streak, with season averages of 16.3 and 10.2, respectively) and how that's affected your defense, and allowing Rabb to play the four: "I think we became a better team when Kam and King were in heavy rotation, just [their] physical presence around the rim, so that's probably for me, as a coach, not having those guys on the floor early in the season they have a physical presence, and not afraid to bang. They continue to work and improve on fouling situations, and sometimes I watch film on some of those, but that's part of it. They set a different tone, now that we take our chances with those guys going one-on-one, and doing a good job defending, especially when teams normally don't go down on the blocks all the time, we'll take our chances. In a lot of cases, they might score a couple, but they're out of rhythm, because that's not what they normally do. I think they've really helped us."
How much does it help Ivan to play his natural position, the four, and Jaylen Brown to play the natural three: "I think it really helps Ivan, but in some ways, Ivan was able to get away [with it] in certain games, at the center position, in the preseason, because certain teams were smaller, but from a physical standpoint, it still wasn't ideal for him, because he can score the ball and spread guys out. You're able to benefit from that, but we weren't a very good defensive team with the lineups we had on the floor, because of that, and not necessarily because Ivan was at the five, but it was more because our guards didn't do a great job defending and rebounding."
Was Rabb more assertive and aggressive against USC than he has been? "That's what people say. I just think, we talk about it all the time, and I go back to my days when coach [Gene] Keady wanted me to shoot the ball more. When I took one, I felt comfortable with it. I think that's the same thing with Ivan. He's a talented player. He gauges and probes, and he makes his decision. It's at his own pace, but I've always thought he was a better shooter than -- I shouldn't say what he's shown, because he doesn't shoot a lot -- but he can really shoot the ball. We do talk a lot about that, shooting the ball from the perimeter, because he can make shots."
With a guy like Ivan, who's naturally a selfless person, how do you balance that with him demanding the ball: "Really pushing him without driving him crazy, just really getting after him, and helping him understand that, at some point, he has to demand it more than I do. That just comes with time, because he understands. He feels it and he's very aware of the situation, and knows what he needs to be productive. Whether or not he's shooting the ball, the ball has to be in his hands. He has to rebound the ball, keep balls alive, whether you're running the floor, posting up early, making shots from the perimeter, because he makes good decisions with the basketball."
Rabb's high school coach said that he started to be more demonstrative on the court last year; did you notice that? "I noticed it, but it's a different level. Guys, in most cases, 90 percent of the teams he played against, he was the best player on the floor, in every situation. But, I don't know if that's necessarily the case. I was looking at a talent, not necessarily the results of the game."
What's his strength level now, and where does it need to be for him to start to maximize his skills: "I think his strength is good enough for his age, and the time he spends in the weight room, but I think, you're talking about looking at another year of his body really filling out, because you're not getting that much stronger this time of year. But, he lifts weights with the team, two or three times a week, but he's not putting on 15 pounds in two days. But, he holds his own, because he knows how to use angles. Sometimes, you'll go against guys bigger and stronger, especially with the way the game's officiated, it can be tough."
Walking around campus, have you noticed more buzz around the team: "I actually walked around campus, and I always try to go to campus just to check on guys, but for me, again, it's always the same. I like the same approach -- it you're there in the beginning, and you're there in the end, it's all the same. For me, it doesn't change. My job, it's hard work every day, making sure you go to class every day, be on time, work hard, and it's all the same. I still don't get a lot of sleep, but I think it's good for our fans and our guys, but for me, the approach is still the same."
Do more people stop you on campus: "Yeah, I mean, they did that before. I think our students don't get enough credit for their awareness. I guess what I heard on the surface about this student section, I think they've done a tremendous job, even when I'm around campus, because I try to spend a lot of time on campus. They've done a great job with their awareness, in my opinion, even before what is currently happening."
Do you meet players at class or coming out of class: "Both. Both. Before, after, whatever. As long as they see my eyes."
Was there a time in the middle of the year that you thought Rabb was frustrated with his game, not being able to operate without getting into foul trouble and deal with physical defenses: "I think so, because it's hard. That's hard, when you've played at a level of comfort, for so long, and all of the sudden, there's resistance. It's hard to overcome, then. I didn't feel bad for him, because I went through it, and that's part of going through it. I can say whatever I wanted to say, but he had to go through it, to get through it and keep moving."
What did you say to him? "Keep working hard. That's all you can say, because he's a talented guy. What we work on in practice will help you get you over the hump. Lifting weights will eventually get you over the hump, but working as hard as you're going to work, eventually, you'll get there."
Is he coming through that, now? "Oh yeah, and he'll still have days, because people know who he is, so they'll make him work. It's a matter of him fighting through it, and understanding what he needs to do to be successful, how to score the ball, rebound the basketball, keep balls alive, defend without fouling, moving his feet. He has to do all those things, and that will never stop, as long as he's playing this game for the next 15, 20 years. That'll never stop."
How much do you talk to Gene Keady during the season: "All the time, all the time."
By phone or by text? "Both."
What kind of stuff does he tell you: "He always texts me after the game, 'Great job,' and it's amazing, because coach uses these emojis and all that (laughs). Let me see the last one he sent. He had smiley faces. He does. After every game, he says, he stays up late and 'I watch all my guys,' meaning guys that played for him, coached under him. I talk to him all the time, because coach is like a father to me. He even sent one with shades on -- a smiley face guy with shades ... We talk all the time. We don't really talk about, 'You need to run this play and that play,' just, 'Make sure your guys are working hard, make sure your guys stay locked in. Don't overlook the little things,' because coach is one of the best at staying ahead of the game, being aware of it -- 'This might happen here, you've got to be prepared for this.' He's always on the defensive side, just making sure. He said, 'I never want you guys to look bad. People run a play on you, you didn't see it coming,' and he said, 'We don't want to look like donkeys out there.' That was his thing. He said we always want to be prepared, and always take that to heart. 'Just make sure you prepare, whatever happens, regardless of personnel. You want to be prepared at all times.' He spent a lot of time being detailed on those things. Now, when we talk, it's more, 'How's your family doing? How are the boys doing?' Never really about this particular play. He might get excited about a play, but we don't talk in those terms. I might ask him a question about something, and he'll give me his opinion, but it's never really about, 'You should have done this,' or that."
In that vein of being prepared, shooting 200 three-pointers, have you instituted anything of that type with free throws: "Same thing. Just technique. We doaa a lot of different things. We do one-and-one in practice, we do two shots, five in a row, make 10 in a row, shoot 'til you miss; we do a lit of different things with free throws. I just think, really, it's just a matter of confidence and consistency. I don't know if it's pressure situations. We have guys that don't mind the pressure, because if you look at them late in games, they're a lot better, but again, it's the technique, and at some point, it might just get contagious -- one guy misses, another guy misses. You know it's not a good sign when Mathews starts missing free throws."
Statistical similarity of Brown to Andrew Wiggins per 40 minutes compated to last season when he was at Kansas: "As far as talent, as players? I'll answer that for you in the future, and I'll give you the best answer, but Jaylen's a talented basketball player. From where he was to where he is now, it's a credit to his work, and understanding, and willingness to get better. I've been around guys like that, and it's hard for those guys to know and realize that they need to get better. He understood he needed to get better. Now, you see the results of that. It was never about having a lack of talent. I know a lot of guys with talent, I grew up with guys that are talented and they're still in the same neighborhood, struggling to make ends meet. He understood what he needed to do to take the next step. Again, you've got to feel that, and it might be painful to hear, but if you want to move forward, this is what you need to do to get it done."
Where do you think he's gotten better? "Slowing down. He's a really good athlete. His shot has really improved, in my opinion. I thought, earlier, he was shooting three-point shots and just shooting them. Now he's making them. I think it's more or less, 'I'm going to shoot this shot,' or, 'I shoot a pull-up because this looks like a good move,' but it wasn't the best move. Now, he makes moves, because, 'I need to attack.' If I can get a lay-up every time off this play, I'll make a lay-up. Now, if he stops and shoots a pull-up, he shoots his three right there because it's presented to me. Really, playing basketball, taking what the defense gives him and putting pressure on the defense that way. Defensively, he's gotten a lot better. He's gotten a lot better defensively."
How much has Ivan improved: "In Ivan's case, it's more the strength part, and then, I think the other part, even though Ivan had more tools than Kameron and Kingsley around the rim, and a skill level offensively, also, learning, consistentl, what it feels like to be a big guy. How many times have those guys really played against other big guys in high school, where you have to learn how to post deep, front the post, help recover. Even though their coaches teach that, it's hard when you don't feel it every day, have guys banging against you every day, just as tall, where you can't get your shot off, you're getting your shot blocked in college. That's the adjustment most big guys have to make."
How big of a measuring stick is the Arizona game: "Whatever happens, I think we're a good team, so whether you win the game or lose it, I don't think it changes anything. I think we're a good team. I've always looked at it as, the most important thing is beating an opponent within our league. Very talented team. Great environment. All of those things will be a great challenge for our guys to go against, but I don't know if you really need a lot of measuring tape this time of year. You are who you are, in some ways. You're getting better, or you're getting worse or you're stagnant. I think we're a good team. Whatever happens, happens."
Is there extra excitement: "If you're a ballplayer, you want a stage like this. This is what you play for. Our guys are excited about it. They'll be ready to go."
Jaylen, on twitter, will roll out phrases or sayings every day, and you have your pre-practice quotes -- bible verses, motivational sayings, thoughts of the day -- do you ever crossed paths and said the same thing before: "I've got to read his, because I follow the guys on twitter, but I'm not examining every step of the way, with what they're saying or doing."
Do you ever read to make sure you don't repeat him: "No, because mine are from the heart; they're genuine. I roll with it. If he repeats, it, that's a good thing."
What would winning a conference title mean for this program: "Man, that's big. That's big. That's history. I always tell our guys, when it comes to history, you can't get those days back. That is what it is. That's written in stone. That's 20 years from now, 50 years from now, that doesn't change. Those names, people remember those names. They might recognize -- I remember this guy was the leading scorer, this guy was a great this or a great that -- that's 16 guys that were in the trenches together, and did something special. It was a great feeling when I was at Purdue, to win, and we won three state championships in high school, so you're talking about three Big 10 championships at Purdue, and I was a part of two of those at Purdue. It's an unbelievable feeling, because it still stands to this day. I think, for that reason, the guys will be excited about doing something like that, because that's special. That means you separate yourself from the competition."
Jaylen's mature for his age. How do you see that off the court: "I just think he has a laid-back demeanor, and where I'm from, they call that an 'old soul.' He goes about his business. It's a level of wisdom of being around his mom, and that sort of thing, and understanding. Being around his high school coach, all those guys, he had a good group of people that were around him, and any time you're a young guy, you're able to sit in on some of those conversations, and you can learn and grow from it."
At what point during his recruitment did you realize he might be unique: "I just think, when you're able to sit down, because you go inside, and you're allowed to go to practices, his high school continues to do a lot of work in the A.M., like six in the morning. You can see those guys, see how they go about it. Even as a young guy, he was always there. They put work in. You saw the results. He was just a good guy. He was a good kid, at the time, a nice kid. You like to think they would all turn out to be that way, but I just thought he was a good person."
On Cole Welle and Nick Hamilton: "Both work hard. Cole came in, if I'm not mistaken, he might have been 195, and now he's probably 230 pounds. He's really put a lot of work in, in the weight room, and he's doing a great job in the classroom. It wouldn't surprse me, before Cole left, that he's playing. How many minutes, I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me if he's in the game playing, because of the work he puts in, improving his perimeter shot. He has size. He battles in practice. He's done a good job in helping Ivan, just from a physical standpoint, battling in practice. I think Nick Hamilton, if Nick can continue to progress, at some point, he could be on the floor, especially from a defensive standpoint, because he really pressures. He's physical. He's tough. I see both of those guys, at some point, they could get an opportunity to be on the floor."