Q&A with Jerry Wainwright and Tubby Smith

On November 9th, DePaul Blue Demons coach Jerry Wainwright and Kentucky Wildcats coach Tubby Smith met with the media to talk about the Upcoming EA Sports Maui Invitational. Following is a transcript from that conference call. Aloha!

Jerry Wainwright: In all honesty to be a part of the EA Sports Maui Invitational is a great privilege for our school even though as everyone knows DePaul has outstanding basketball tradition and Coach (Meyer) -- even with his passing last year -- still casts a giant shadow in college basketball. And then to open against a storied program such as Kentucky with one of the best coaches and best people in America running it in Coach Smith is obviously a tremendous -- as I said an honor for our young team and really an incredible challenge. We do have a bunch of guys back. They're hopefully more experienced and really understand what it's all about. We're still relatively young. We'll only start one senior, but I'm excited about our prospects, you know, if we stay healthy and continue to grow I would hope that what we did at the end of last year will be a starting point for this year. We have a very difficult situation before we go to the EA Sports Maui Invitational in that we have two road games -- one at Bradley and one at Northwestern -- and then we have to play Eastern Illinois at home before we go out there so we'll either be staggering or we'll be over confident. I don't know if we'll be anything in between, but hopefully that early experience will get us ready for I think one of the best fields, a tremendous challenge for any basketball coach and program at this time of year.

Dave Gavitt: Thanks Jerry. Tubby Smith in ten years of Kentucky has established incredible records, national championships, so many sweet 16 finishings. As Jerry said, truly taking over one of the country's great programs and doing it with class and has earned the respect of the entire coaching community. Tubby, your thoughts.

Tubby Smith: Well first I'd like to say, you know, EA Sports Maui Invitationals will have (unintelligible) this is my third trip to Maui. Nice place to visit. And it's going to be a tough, tough tournament and, you know, looking at the people that are involved especially the players, the coaches, you know, a lot of great coaches and a lot of outstanding players. And certainly as (Jerry Wainwright) mentioned, you know, DePaul -- great tradition, UCLA -- great tradition and right on down the line. There are some teams there that we know and players that we have to be very concerned about. We're returning some returning players, not quite the depth that DePaul is, but I know in watching Coach (Wainwright's) teams play in the past -- I haven't had a chance to watch (unintelligible) yet but his teams are always well coached, well disciplined, you know, they're going to give you an unbelievable and incredible effort. So and you know he's been noted for taking down teams and cutting them down to size. He has some -- again, we have to be really concerned about -- and it's the players on the court. And this is why this tournament is so -- such a special event and kind of the tournament that really sets the basketball season off in college sports. So we appreciate this opportunity realizing that we have a lot of work cut out for us. You know, we do return a few starters and, you know, return the depth as far as scoring and rebounding of the Demons and certainly we need to be at our best when we get out there. It's going to be -- it's a tough trip for us because we play two games prior to coming out on Wednesday and Friday and we'll leave early on Saturday morning. But it's always an exciting time. It's a big part of our, you know, we'll bring a large contingency of a great fan base as I know DePaul and all the other schools will as well.

Dan McGrath from the Chicago Tribune: I wonder if you could just talk about some of the changes or some of the differences you see this year now that the team has had a year to get used to you and you had a year to get used to them, and the routines are more established.

Jerry Wainwright: Well (Dan) I think any time you go into a program, it's recruiting in reverse. You know, you're trying the things that you normally would say in a home. You're saying, you know, on a daily basis and hoping that the kids have a comfort level with what you're all about. Again as was mentioned, you know, Coach (Smith) has been there ten years. There's an established routine and a feeling for what he wants and he recruits to that. So I've asked a bunch of kids who picked DePaul and didn't pick me to trust me and I would think (Dan) that that's the biggest difference right now is that we have a greater familiarity for one another. I think they know what I want and I think I have a better feel for what they can do and we still have a long way to go again because of our age. But we've been able to be a little bit more sophisticated in what we practice and start to stretch our game a little bit, and the kids have -- as I told -- I think you know, I had one kid who could bench press 300 pounds when I got here and now I have one who can't. So we've made a lot of progress, but it's still in a work, you know, in process and hopefully this type of tournament will help us grow even more.

Katherine Belcher Maui News: Can you talk a little bit about the three freshmen meets (Jasper) and (Porter) and you are pleased with what you've seen so far this preseason?

Tubby Smith: So far, so good is really it and we've had two exhibit games and I've noticed they've really conducted and handled themselves well. They've -- in (Jody) we have a young man who's mature physically and is mature mentally and so is (Michael Porter), so is (Derek Jasper) and (Perry Stevenson). We have four freshmen that I think will contribute a lot to us this year. And I've been very pleased with their progress and how they've done everything we've asked them to do on and off the basketball court.

Larry Valden in Danhoe, Ky: Could you talk a little bit about what you think this trip might do for your freshmen and what you might be able to learn about them on this trip?

Tubby Smith: Well, you know, when you're playing a team like DePaul that has the, you know, the maturity level, you know, of some veteran players that are physically strong and mentally tough, you're going to have fight through. You're going to have some adversities, you're going to have to fight through that, you know, whether it's travel or all those will -- and the other thing that we see how our kids bond. How they come together and I think this Maui -- every time we've gone there we put together a pretty good year. We put together a good year in '99, in '98 and then we put a pretty good year together back in -- a few years ago when we ended up having a pretty good season. So I think this time is a good time for our players to get to know each other and get to know -- and this is the first road trip and so it gives you a chance to see how they're going to respond and how they will react in these type of environments.

Mike Decourcy from Sporting News: Has the two exhibits given you a handle on how you want to handle the two big man positions. Whether you want to continue to play Randolph and (Wu) together or go in a different direction?

Tubby Smith: Well it's, you know, everything is experimental at this stage. It's a work in progress so we're trying to figure out, you know, because (Wu) and Randolph are the most mature and the veterans, they have been ahead of (Perry) and (Stevenson). We've had (Sheray Thomas) who started quite a few games and was suspended for three games and so because of that, I think (Wu) caution and (Randolph) so they've been ahead of (Perry Stevenson) and (Jerry Carter) for the most part. So that's where (Bobby Perry) - we're trying to, you know, work him in as a wing player so that's why this -- but it's something that I, you know, the first two exhibit games has worked fairly well other than some foul trouble. So I've been impressed with the way they've played together.

Woman: (Unintelligible) from the LA Times for Coach Wainwright. In recent years with the early NBA defections, we've seen some more success by the so-called mid-majors and senior oriented teams. Having spent of your career with programs like that, I'm curious if you think influx of these potential one-year players to the elite programs with NBA limit will affect the so-called mid-majors ability to pull these kinds of upsets against elite teams?

Jerry Wainwright: Well I honestly believe and I think, you know, Coach Smith has also experienced in the past that coaching at that level that the gap between the so-called major and mid-major has been definitively closed. The longer your kids are in a program -- and again, you know, I had very good mid-major teams sometimes with not kids just there four years, but a couple of kids that were redshirted. And when you get somebody who's 23, you know, years of age, 22 years of age who's been through significant college experience, they're usually not afraid of anybody. And they're looking to play especially on neutral courts which tournaments provide the opportunity to show that they belong with the so-called names in college basketball. So I think - and I think again, our profession suffers sometimes from this and that people don't really understand how good everybody really is. And I honestly believe that everybody has a pretty good starting 5 in today's basketball. It's 6-10 that makes the difference and I think that's where early outs really affect the teams that maybe get one-year players or two-year players. Their depth is really affected by it and that's what makes a big difference.

Woman: So you don't anticipate any particular change in that trend with the more players dropping off?

Jerry Wainwright: Well, I think the way the rule is constructed right now I think the trend is going to accelerate. And I'm not a big proponent of the way things are set up. Again, I think any time you have a preconceived notion of what you're going to do, "I'm going to do this in a year…", first of all, you don't enjoy the moment - maybe I'm too old to understand all of what's going on but I think you don't enjoy the moment. And I think you're thinking ahead rather than taking advantage of the present. And I think it's pretty hard to get good at something in one year, to tell you the truth. And college basketball is markedly different than high school basketball, much less the next jump, which is an incredible jump. So I think you're going to see more of it and I think it will ultimately have to be addressed in a different way than it's addressed right now.

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