Q: There are a lot of things that were accomplished. But winning those end games situations is that the defining point that's left out there to accomplish next year?
I think with the talent that we had available on the team, in many ways as a staff we tried to come up with a scheme that would utilize them to the best of their abilities. I think sometimes, though in the maturing you need to have someone on your team that you can give the ball to that is capable of creating opportunities for their teammates or making plays for themselves. At times, we did that by committee. We tried to develop an offensive system that moves the ball and gave people opportunities to make plays.
We are looking at our three seniors coming back next year, those guys have developed. We have some guys that will be moving into their junior years and we hope those guys can make the same progress that AJ and Al made from their sophomore to their junior years. And I feel very confident that our freshmen are on the right track. Now if Tony Douglass can come in and give us some positive play and we get our freshmen coming, hopefully they'll be farther along then the freshmen this year, I can see us maybe closing that gap where we were in some of those games. Maybe we will have a few more pieces where we can do things a little different and we can have a little more quality depth. Maybe we can be improved in enough areas where we won't get down to those last few minutes.
Q: From last season you have to be pretty pleased with how far this team has come?
Like I said last night about going back and watching the films. We had our opportunities. I looked back at the Boston College game and we had our opportunities. Most of the games we have been in, even the ones we have lost in the last four or five minutes, we've had a lead or we've been right there with an opportunity to win the game. So, we're confident that some of the things we have in our schemes match the talent that we have. More than anything else, I think learning the mental part of the game, how to maintain that level of intensity and focus and that allows you to be more consistent.
I think if you look back at the last four games we have played, I think you've seen us not have a drop off with intensity and aggressiveness. Prior to that period, we would play two or three real intense games and seen as we would have a third or fourth game where we didn't seem to be as sharp. You've seen a team that finished the season showing that they are making progress in that area, which gives us hope that we will be a little more consistent in that area next season.
Q: When the season started, you started off being a very good perimeter shooting team. As the season wore on, the 3-point field goal percentage kind of dwindled. Has that become a focus, or a maturity situation?
I think what happened is that people start adjusting their defense to what they saw as strengths of our team. Just like when we played people in the latter part of the season. Miami was not nearly as effective in shooting their three?s as they were up here. People have all your films and study your tendencies. Thank goodness that our inside game started to become more effective and so we started throwing the ball inside. We started taking people off the dribble more and that's an area of our game that we?ve been trying to get to. Even last night and the night before, you saw Jason taking the ball to the basket more, you saw Isaiah taking the ball to the basket more, you're seeing Ralph attacking the basket off the dribble and I think what you've seen is that in different parts of the season, we've improved in different areas.
The thing that has not been as consistent is our perimeter shooting. Jerel is a tremendous perimeter shooter, but he never got his confidence. He had the injury early in the year that I think really affected his legs. I think Casaan Breeden is an outstanding shooter. And you will probably find it hard to believe, but Uche is a pretty good standing jump shooter. I expect Jason to improve. Isaiah showed little glimpses of what he?s capable of doing last night. And I'm hopeful that you'll see us next year become a team that executes the offense a little better, so we now have a better understanding of patience, and ball reversal, and inside-outside and the proper balance. I thought earlier in the year we spent too much time shooting on the perimeter. In the latter part of the year, you saw us attacking the basket on the pass and the dribble. Now, I think when we look back at this season, we'll see that sometimes we struggled against those teams, Virginia Tech on the road, they were extremely patient. The team last night, they were extremely patient. I saw a tremendous improvement in maturity from the beginning of the year to last night.
We did put a lot of emphasis on offense this season. No. 1 we were not a good free-throw shooting team last year. I think we improved in that area. Our field-goal percentage was off a little. Our 3-point shooting was off a little. I think we took care of the ball a little bit better. We faulted a little bit defensively, but I thought the last third of the season our defense picked up and we became a team that understood more how to fight screens and contest shots. I think we made improvement. Our we satisfied? Absolutely not.
Q: With four starters returning and a probably fifth starter becoming eligible do you feel like you have the most groundwork going into a season?
I think you need to be careful not to start picking starting lineups in March because I think you have to give everyone an opportunity to show what they are capable of doing. I wouldn't be disappointed if someone who was a non starter comes back in and beats someone out who maybe is a projected starter. In the game of basketball, you just don't inherit positions.
Q: AJ and Al wouldn't discuss their future last night. Where does that stand?
I?m going to make this as a general comment. There are absolutely not secrets in this business. We have been evaluated just about every time we play by 10, 15, sometimes as many as 20 scouts a game. Where any players future is, that's well established by this point. There are not many mysteries in this process. It will be clear as day as to what the right decision ought to be made.
Q: You heard the criticism the fact that you played a lot of people, it wasn't a set rotation. You can sit back and laugh about that because what you did worked.
That's where we are and what we're about at the present time. You noticed towards the end of the season, certain players were getting more minutes than they we earlier in the season. How we are playing are players is in direct proportion to how consistent they are in practice.
We realize that maybe it was to our advantage to develop quality depth so that we could maybe neutralize superior players in certain positions. Right now what we're going to do is assume that the system we have works until someone steps up and separates themselves to the point where they are so far superior to the other players that their talent and their consistency demands us to change that philosophy.
You know deep down inside that every player wants to contribute. They know that we are trying to be fair. This time has really been a pleasant team to work with. I've never been around a bunch of players that seemed to enjoy being around each other like this team.
Post Season Q& A with Coach Leonard Hamilton
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