Pre Game Press Conference

Daniel Ewing, JJ Redick, and Coach Mike Krzyzewski met the media Friday afternoon

Q. Either of you, could you address the rough spots that Chris Duhon went through last year, could you just talk about that and how he's improved as a player, how he has come together as a person since his struggles of last year.

J.J. Redick: Last year was a real difficult time for Chris, with his basketball life and his personal life. He was really at a low point. He hit the low point of his career last season. It's really helped him become the player and person he has become for our team this season.

I think it's the reason why he's played so well throughout the whole season, because he experienced that downtime last season that allowed him to grow as a player.

Q. The perception here is that Connecticut is sort of the team to beat. Considering everything that Duke has accomplished, your guys' mystique, does that surprise you? Why do you think most people are sort of on the Connecticut bandwagon right now?

J.J. Redick: It doesn't surprise us that we're the underdogs right now. Connecticut has played as well as any team in the country, not only in the tournament but for most of the season. They were pre-season No. 1. They have a lot of future NBA lottery picks. They should be the favorite.

Q. UConn's guard place is one of their strengths. Just break down their guards, what skills they bring, and what kind of match-up problems they're going to have?

J.J. Redick: Well, like you say, they have a good backcourt perimeter team with Brown, Gordon and Anderson. I mean, all three guys are pretty much different. In Taliek Brown, he's a penetrating point guard that likes to get in the paint, distribute the ball pretty well, can finish in the paint.

And Gordon, he can pretty much score from anywhere. He has a good outside shot.

Anderson, he's a really good 3-point threat. We'll have our hands full tomorrow defending those guys.

Q. Thought about having all the guys from back home here at this event, having this event in San Antonio, just the Texas connection, all the kids from Houston.

J.J. Redick: I think it's coincidence. A lot of guys from Houston on the respective teams playing back in their home state for the national championship. I just think it's real good for the state of Texas to see some local guys from the state and from the city of Houston here representing their teams, trying to win a national championship.

Q. How do you feel about your shot right now? Is your confidence still high?

J.J. Redick: Every day I wake up and my shot feels great (smiling). I don't lose confidence in my shot. I know it's just a matter of time.

Q. Can both you guys address most of the time the perception of Duke is the flash, that style of play in terms of not being physically tough. Can you address the defense that you guys play, how important it's going to be in tomorrow's game?

J.J. Redick: This year's team is a little bit different than past Duke teams, than the vintage Duke teams, I guess. We're not a really high-scoring team.

To be honest, we're more of a blue-collar team. What gets us wins is doing tough things. Our identity throughout the season has been based on defense and rebounding.

J.J. Redick: Pretty much the same what J.J. said. Our team, we've been a lot better team when we play lock-down defense and shut the other team down and hold them to like under 60 points.

But, I mean, we obviously can put the ball in the bucket and hit our shots at times. But our biggest team has been when we play some great defense.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about the shooter's mentality. When you go through a slump like you were dealing with at the end of the season in the ACC tournament, how does that help you just confront that and keep pushing through it, knowing that, as you were saying, that shot is going to keep falling?

J.J. Redick: Well, the shooter's mentality is to have a next-shot mentality, next-play. It's important for me, no matter if I'm shooting great or if I'm shooting terrible, to just tell myself that I'm zero-for-zero and just focus on the next shot.

You know, it was a difficult time for me when I was going through that slump. But, you know, my teammates and my coaches made it pretty clear that they believed in me.

Q. Do you like the fact that this is the game that people are talking about tomorrow, that you do get the favorites right away?

J.J. Redick: I think you have to like that, just being a competitor. Playing for Duke, we play in these games a lot. We're used to big-time games. Tomorrow is a big-time game. I mean, it's going to have the atmosphere, it already has the buzz. The media is talking about it. We're going to be ready to play tomorrow.

COACH KRZYZEWSKI: We're in good health. Duhon is much better than he was at this time last week. He's actually practiced at least half the time this week. He's had contact. So if we can get through this practice in a little bit, then we should be in really good shape.

So I'm excited about that.

Spirits are up. I think we're ready to go. I know we have a tough, very difficult assignment. But it's why you're in the Final Four.

Q. The NCAA told us publicly yesterday they finally cleared up the Maggette incident. When did you hear about it, your reaction to it?

COACH KRZYZEWSKI: A while ago. They did it properly. I thought it was never an issue, so I never paid that much attention to it. It's one of those things, I knew it was -- I kind of knew the end result a long time ago, even though I wasn't told about it just because the nature of the situation.

Q. A lot of times we talk about, "This guy is going to be a great pro." There's a lot of great college players. I don't know if Duhon is going to be a great pro, but he's a great college player. What is the distinction when you look at kids, you know they're a great college player, maybe not a pro?

COACH KRZYZEWSKI: You know, we never try to look as if the kid is going to be a great pro. Can he get better? How good can he be? At some time, someone else can make that judgment, since I don't coach in the pros.

In Duhon, the first thing I liked about Duhon was his exceptional athletic ability, and his ability to be alert and a team player. He's an easy player for other guys to play with because he'll distribute the ball, he would pressure the ball, and also off the ball help his teammates both offensively and defensively. He is an incredible athlete. Again, someone else will make that, but he'll be a real good pro.

You know, he likes to pass, which a lot of them don't (smiling). And he likes to play defense, which a lot of them don't. And he'll show up every night, as evidenced by his record and his durability. He's won 123 ballgames in his college career. That means you have to be in at least that many.

He's an incredible kid. This year he's become even a man with his responsibility and the courage that he's shown. I love Chris. You know, when we've gone -- we'll go as far as Chris will take us. So far he's taken us to San Antonio, so that's a nice thing for him to do (smiling).

Q. There's a very good match-up of centers in this game that you probably don't see as much in college anymore.

COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Don't call them centers. They don't like that. Just "players."

Q. Do you think that "centers" can develop as well in college now as maybe they could 15 years ago, before the 3-pointer, all those things became such a big factor?

COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Yeah, I think better really, you know, if they go to college. I think there's a better chance of return. All of them would probably end up being pretty good. Actually, the 3-point shot has helped them because you have to play the perimeter. So it gives them more room to maneuver. The lane isn't as close to the 3-point line, like it is in international ball. That's why the trapezoid would be a horrible thing to ever do to our game, because it would eliminate the center position completely.

But, yeah, more so than center, beautiful low-post play. And that can come from not just a big guy, but it can come from a guard, you know, when you take a guy down there.

That's why I'd like the court to stay the same in college basketball, not even widening the lane. If we move out the 3-point shot a little bit, I'm not opposed to that. But we've got to make sure. There are different parts of the game that are beautiful to different people. One of them is low-post play, low-post defense.

In Emeka Okafor, you have one of the very gifted defensive players in my time in coaching, and he's a really good offensive player. But he's very gifted defensively in the low post.

Q. In the way you approach this week and prepare for this weekend, just feel about this week, how much difference is there in the tenth time around from the first time around?

COACH KRZYZEWSKI: To me it's equally exciting. I think probably the first time I was more nervous, but exciting. I'm excited because I'm around these kids. If you celebrated Christmas alone, and year after year, it might not be as good. But if you have kids and then grandkids, you see it through their eyes, or when they open the presents. When they get off the bus, when they're in this practice session, it not only makes you happy now, but it rekindles some of the memories of your previous experiences.

I'm probably more excited, or will be, than my players. As long as I can feel that and continue to see that through these kids' eyes, it's one of the reasons why I've always stayed a college coach, because there's a genuineness. It's one of the ending things "priceless." It's priceless, just like kids and grandkids.

Q. You have a point guard who has won 123 games. He has one that has won 101, 102. It's rare. Do you see similarities, differences? You spoke before about Chris. I'm sure if I asked you to pick one, you'd pick Chris. But why?

COACH KRZYZEWSKI: They're seniors. They've been through it. I think both of them are extensions of their coaches. They not only understand what we want intellectually, like X's and O's, but emotionally they can anticipate how we look, how we feel, what we're going to say, take that and translate it to action out on the court. That's invaluable. You used to get it almost every year. Now you're lucky if you ever get it. We're both lucky that we have it with these two kids.

Q. When you watch tape of Connecticut, do you see a point where they have taken it up a notch from being a good team to what you've kind of described as a really, really good team?

COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, I've watched some tape from early in the year. They were really, really good then, especially when Okafor wasn't battling his injuries.

What they have is they have a very powerful basketball team. It's exemplified in a few years the most. One is their transition. You know, a lot of people get it up the court quickly. They get it up quickly and with power. I mean, there's just like a thrust, they get it up the court. There's a will to score at that point.

The second area is their ability to offense rebound. Again, they're the best at that. The other area they're at the best is shot blocking. There's an assertion of just their will there, their power, and that's what I see.

Q. Mike, an unusual situation, the No. 2 seed is generally perceived as the favorite in this game. Does that surprise you? Is that a motivating factor for your players?

COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Nothing surprises me with seeds, predictions. No, because we never talk about it anyway. One of the reasons we don't talk about it is usually, I mean, almost all the time somebody's always saying -- the story is usually Duke losing, that we're the favorite. So we never talk about what other people think. I guess it's good not to talk about it now, since somebody says we'll probably lose.

I think that's healthy.

Q. What is Nick's role sort of evolved to on this team? Obviously, when he came, he probably hoped that he would see the floor more than he has. Now playing in the Final Four after sitting on the bench hurt in his hometown the last time you were here.

COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Yeah, well, Nick is invaluable for us. He's one of our tri-captains, but he's a fifth-year player. We don't usually get many 22- or 23-year-old guys on our team. He's been a great mentor for Shelden, Shav and Luol. He's given us minutes. We're ready to use him against Connecticut where he might have to battle Okafor.

He's not trying to do things he can't do. He's just trying to do things he can. He's been great. He's a true believer in what we're doing. He has been extremely valuable for us. He's that guy behind the scenes that kind of makes -- one of the guys who makes it go, but he won't get the credit for it, except from the people who are within the organization.

Q. Is Okafor a man that demands a double team? Can you talk about the college game in general where there's not many guys that demand a double team?

COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Actually, in college, a lot of guys in the post get double-teamed just because a lot of coaches teach naturally the double team.

I think you have to be selective when you're playing against a team like Connecticut that if you do that, it opens up for the other big guy to be completely on the offensive boards. It's one of those things that you just have to do selectively. They don't have weak guys. When you double team, you usually leave in a weak guy. If we double team him at any time, we'll be leaving someone who can hurt us from the board aspect.

Q. What did you see in Ben Gordon when you were recruiting him a few years back? What do you see in him now, especially his play in the post-season?

COACH KRZYZEWSKI: You know, it's one of those things. What I saw and what I see now is everything that I expected. I knew he was going to be a terrific basketball player, very offensively gifted, although he can be really good defensively.

Multi-dimensional, the combo, he can play point or two, shooter, driver. I think he's one of the top ten players in America. He's going to be playing basketball for a long time.

Q. As a veteran of the Final Four 10 times, what does it take to get here? Do you think ultimately the best team always wins this tournament?

COACH KRZYZEWSKI: No, I mean, the team who deserves it the most wins it because they've earned it. I mean, we've been in it a lot. At times we've been the best team, and other times we've been the fourth best team in the Final Four.

Everybody's got a chance. The other three -- if you're fortunate to get to Monday, maybe the team that would have beaten you Monday lost on Saturday. A lot of it has to do with match-ups. That's the beauty of the tournament.

I think any one of these four teams can win because, like Georgia Tech has beaten both of us, and Oklahoma State can beat anybody. Oklahoma State probably should have been a 1 seed.

Four really good teams.

Q. How different has the mood of the team been from last week in Atlanta when they were prohibitive favorites against Xavier, to today where somebody expects you guys to lose?

COACH KRZYZEWSKI: The same. We knew watching Xavier that we could get beat. I mean, they're really good. You know what, I'm not sure -- these kids are so focused on what they're doing, especially during a tournament, that I'm not sure you all realize just how much they don't pay attention to what's happening outside.

I mean, they're too busy to know what everybody is saying. So if you're here, usually it's because they're listening to what you're saying as a coaching staff.

Our guys are the same. They're really excited, though. There's no question about that. And they're very proud, like all these kids from all four teams should be, that they were champions of their region. That's what makes tomorrow the best day to me in sport, where you have four champions under one roof, everyone expecting great things to happen. It brings out unbelievable things from these kids and teams over the years.

I expect that to happen in both games tomorrow.


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