A.J. Ratliff talked you emphasizing that everyone on the team needs to be No. 1 in everything that they do. Tell me about that conversation?
It was with the whole team. We have to try to be No. 1 in everything we do, across the board. We're trying to create the mindset of a champion. Whether we're doing weights, sprints, whatever we're doing.
The same goes for the staff. In recruiting, in your approach, your preparation. You want to be No. 1 across the board, and there's no reason why we can't be that. We want to get the guys to understand that part of what we're trying to do. When you have that mindset every day in practice and in everything they do, it's important.
You're not going to be the toughest team in the country if you don't work at it. You're not going to be the best conditioned team in the country unless you put some effort into it. It's just about making a commitment to effort.
Is there any doubt in your mind that this can be a championship-caliber team?
This is definitely a championship-caliber team. Whether we do that, a shot here, a foul here, an injury here can have an impact as well. There are some other really good teams in this conference that are really good. I think this is going to be the deepest the Big Ten has been since I started coaching here. It's really deep.
You have Iowa, you have Michigan, you have Michigan State, you have Illinois, you have us, you have Minnesota with Grier coming back. It's not a cakewalk for anyone, but this team has the talent to do it. It's just a matter of us playing together and really being on the same page and buying into what we're teaching across the board.
D.J. said one of the things he's excited about is all the different looks you can throw at teams, whether offensively or defensively. How many different things can you do to opponents?
We can do a lot, but we're going to keep it simple. We're not going to have to run as many offensive sets as we have in the past because we are talented. When you are talented, you don't have to trick people to create wide open shots. We're going to push the ball up the court.
We're going to be like an old-fashioned football team. We're running right on the sweep, so you've got to stop us. That's what we're going to do, we're going to push it. We're going to make teams make mistakes, in transition we're going to try to hit it quick.
If it's not there, we want to have the patience to go inside. I want 90 percent of our plays going inside to our bigs and playing off of them.
Do you feel the offense has to go through the big guys inside?
Definitely. We're not going to take wild, contested shots like we have in the past.
We want to get it inside. We have four or five post guys that we can go to, no matter who is in the game. I don't want contested, tough shots. I want us working for open shots.
There's always pressure at a school like Indiana to win. Is the pressure greater this year?
Pressure is when you don't have a whole lot and you're trying to do a lot. Pressure is looking at your schedule and thinking, ‘we might go .500 in the preseason.' To me, that's pressure. Pressure is looking at everyone you play and thinking, we don't out-match anyone, talent-wise. That's pressure.
We have the talent this year. It's just a matter of us playing together and gelling together.
You look at what we've done, even though we didn't win 20 games last year, we didn't lose games that people expected us to win. We lost at Northwestern, but that's a tough place to play. We lost to North Carolina, we lost to UConn, we lost at Ohio State and Bracey didn't play. We lost at Minnesota, which was a game we should have won, but we weren't predicted to win those games.
It's not that we underachieved. We just didn't have the personnel that we have now. You have to have that to be really, really good at this level.
This year, our preconference schedule, we have to play hard at Indiana State and Western Illinois, because those are two teams that played us right down to the last two minutes of the game. Then, you look at we have to play UConn, Duke, Kentucky and at Charlotte – that's four tough games. But we have the personnel where we can go into those games and compete. Whether we win or not I don't know, but we can compete with anybody.
Are you excited about the opportunity to play the Dukes and the UConns this year with the talent you have?
Definitely. This year, you don't look at those games and say, why did they pick us to play those guys. You don't do that this year. Now, we look at those games as a chance to see where we are as a basketball team. Win, lose or draw, we can see where we are when we go against a Duke, a UConn and a Kentucky.
A.J. Ratliff is someone who had some stretches of great play last year, and he's put on some weight in the off-season. How good can he be for you this year?
A.J. can be as good as he wants to be. I've told him that from day one. He just has to play harder. He's made that commitment to playing harder and tougher. When he is tired, he needs to let us know, and he can come out, and then go back in.
From a talent standpoint, he's got it. We have talented players. It's a matter of us playing as hard as we can for as long as we can.
Robert Vaden almost seemed like the leader of this team a year ago. What are the intangibles that he gives you?
He can play a lot of positions. Last year, I think he played his best when Bracey went out with an ankle injury. When Bracey came back, he kind of took a back seat.
He's a tough guy, a tough kid, who knows how to play. He's won before, he's a champion. He knows what it means to be a champion. He knows the amount of effort you have to put in to be a really good basketball team.
I'm really happy with him the last couple of practices he's had, he's been unbelievable. He's shooting the ball the way he shot it in high school, he's playing the way he did in high school It's good to see him stepping back up to that level of play. Last year he didn't play poorly – but there were times I played him at the 4, and he had to do so much for us last year.
For a freshman to step in and average 10 points per game, and he had about eight games in a row he scored in double figures as a freshman against really good competition.
It's time for him to really step up. I thought he had a great freshman year – don't get me wrong. But he's even ready to take it to another level from a performance standpoint.
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