Coach Alford Meets Media

Iowa Men's Basketball Coach Steve Alford met with the media for 25 minutes late Thursday afternoon and touched on a host of subjects including recruiting, Arizona State, Drake, Jeff Horner's injury and when he expects his star guard to return, and much more in this HN.com Premium Quotebook.

What have you been able to do this week?

Well, it's a typical finals week. You've got guys that are staying up and doing an awful lot of studying and trying to finish hard academically. Everything we've been hearing, things are going very well. I don't think we're going to have any issues academically. That's always a positive this time of year. Practices have gone well. We've really tried to go hard, back off, go hard, back off, along the lines of what their heavy test days were. Monday and Wednesday of this week, we had a lot of guys taking multiple tests. Those are days where all we did was either lift and shoot or just shoot. We've really tried to stay away from the mental stuff, the film. All that will really kick in (Thursday) and (Friday) going into Saturday's game. It's been good. We've got a lot of good work on the floor. Yet, it's been quick to try to get them energized. They've been very enthusiastic this week, and then get them out. You read into what guys end up being moody are the guys that have had the tests. Some of these guys are just now getting to their tests on Thursday and Friday. Some of them are now finishing up. Mike and Tony are done. So, (Wednesday's) practice they were pretty energized. Then you have some guys that are only starting today with finals. It's been interesting kind of reading all of that.

Jeff talked on Friday about his hope of getting back by Drake. Is that realistic?

I don't know. (laughs) Jeff would just assume be back right now. That's what you like about Jeff. I'm strictly going on doctors. Shoot, I'd like to have him back for Saturday. I'd like to have had him back last Friday. I want to get him out there as quick as possible myself. But we've got to do what's going to be best for him long term and the team long term. I've not spoken to the doctors at all this week. That would lead to tell me that I know things are going well because he is doing things now that he wasn't capable of doing five days ago. His rehab is going very well. But to all of a sudden put a time frame on when he's coming back is probably hard at this time. And it's definitely not going to happen until I have a conversation with the doctors.

What is he doing for rehab?

John Streif can probably tell you more about that. I know he's doing the bike. And I know he's been doing a lot of swimming. He's been doing an awful lot of pool and bike workouts to try to just to stay in shape and it's pretty good rehab on his knee that doesn't have to do with wood pounding. He's been shooting the last couple of days. He's gone through very active shooting workouts with John. He seems to be doing very, very well on it. But John could probably tell you more about the specifics of his training.

From as basketball standpoint, was this break that you got good or would have rather just gotten that taste out of your mouth a few days later?

It was good. I'm on the feeling that if you've lost a couple in a row, there are reasons. It's not fun, but you need time to work out things. In out case, it's this simple – we played 10 games in less than 26 days. We had a very demanding stretch that involved travel, very good in-state opponents in their buildings, coming up on tests. It was just a really tough stretch on our guys. They needed it. The coaches needed it to kind of step away from basketball, step away from the grind and then figure out what we need to work on. It's been a good six- or seven-day break. No, I would hope that the players are like the coaches, you're pretty excited now to play three games or five or six days. It's going to be a tough stretch for us, but we've got them all here at home. If you're winning, you want to keep playing. You don't want that break to come sometimes. But this has given us a good chance to kind of get away from it for a couple of days and then really look at we've needed to work on both offensively and defensively.

Do you anticipate him playing in the Big Ten opener?

I hope so. I think he's way ahead of, and hopefully I'm not speaking out of turn with not talking to the medical staff, but just from talking to John and talking to Jeff, he's way ahead of that. When we sat with the doctors, we had obviously hoped that we could get him back by St. Louis so he could have a game under his belt before we go to Wisconsin. Then, if we got him back before that it would just be great, great luck that that would happen. I don't know if he's going to be available next week or not. I've not spoken to anybody on that. But my long-range hope is that he's definitely back by St. Louis.

What were those things?

Offensively, quick shooting. What was obvious at Northern Iowa, especially when you look at the time when Jeff was gone the last eight minutes and then the entire 40 at Iowa State, patience offensively just wasn't there. It wasn't a selfish thing. It was guys just wanting to make plays and prove themselves and wanting to do what they could to help the team. The quick shots and the turnovers really affected out offense. Then, it affected our defense. If you're always turning it over, especially at Iowa State, or you're always taking bad, quick shots then the best part about Iowa State's offense is their transition game. When we got them to half court, they were fine. I thought that they really struggled to get what they wanted at halfcourt. There was just too much open-floor stuff for them with bad numbers for us. A lot of that was a direct impact on what our offense was doing. Our biggest brunt of what we were doing this week was shaping up our offense, trying to be more patient, trying to move the ball four, five, six times, get the thing going inside out. We've been running every day for turnovers. So, there's been a heavy emphasis on turnovers. Defensively, it's just kind of brushing up on things. I don' thing there's any one bad thing, maybe the board play was a bit of a concern, especially early in the Iowa State game. But most of our defensive problems came out of what we were doing offensively.

How much when (Arizona State guard) Kevin Kruger (Lon Kruger's son) was growing up did you get to see him or know him?

Not a lot. I remember him from the sidelines when Lon was at Illinois. I got to watch him because he was involved in the Nike circuit, if I'm not mistaken, I think he went to the Nike Camp in Indy. So, I got to see him go through all those type of things. He's really turned into a very nice player. He's having a very nice career there, and he's off to a great, great year this year. He's doing a lot of good things. Up until the last two games, this was a team that was shooting 56 percent from three and leading the country from back there. He's a big part of it. When you look at Arizona State, you definitely have to start with the two Krugers (one is spelled Krueger). You've got to start with their back court.

Do you think it means a little something to him to get to play the Big Ten?

He had a huge second half (against Minnesota). He had two points at half and then he really got crazy in the second half. Of the guys that are on his team, he's the one that has some Big Ten ties because his father coached in this league. When he was in elementary and junior high, his dad was in the Big Ten. That's an exciting time as a youngster. He knows a lot about the Big Ten. Now, here he is coming into a Big Ten environment. I'm sure he'll be excited to play.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I'm going to ask you about ticket sales. It's looks like they're up this year. The student tickets are up. Are things a little bit better do you think?

(Laughs) You probably know more about it than I do. As we tell our team, you try to control the things that you can control. We're 7-3 and we're ranked in the Top 25 and it's mid-December. That's not all bad. We'd like to be 9-1 or 10-0, but we know we've played a difficult stretch of games and that's not just our opponents, that's the number of days that we've played 10 games. There are teams that are just getting to 10 games. I think Ohio State is 6-0. We've played a lot of games already. The guys have done a nice job. We've had to endure an injury to our captain, our leader on our team. Overall, I'm very pleased with what our guys have been able to do. The teams that we've played here at home, we're undefeated. We've had very good fan support. The N.C. State game was terrific. Our Hawkeye Challenge was very good of you compare it to other Hawkeye Challenges. It's like I've said before, if we can stay in the Top 25 in all elements of our program, then we're really making a step forward, whether that's ranking of the team, whether that's attendance, all the areas you look at. If we can be in that group, that's a pretty elite group when you're comparing that to 330 Division I basketball teams. That's a pretty good percent of the group to be in.

Are you happier with the marketing?

Rick (Klatt) is back. For a couple of years, I think he had switched over and now Rick is really back heading our marketing. He and I had several discussions this summer about some things we could do within games. He's terrific. Rick has just been outstanding, one, listening and then he and I kind of filtering through what might work, what might not work. Then, you just go from there. Ultimately it comes up to the fan of whether the fan likes the product and wants to spend the money on the product. That's ultimately what it comes down to. The administration lowering the ticket process for the students was something that was long coming and needed to happen. I credit them for making that adjustment and allowing that happen. Whether the (general population) numbers go up, I don't know. The students obviously have gone up. Overall, I don't know if the numbers are going to go up. But I know the volume, the atmosphere, what Carver can be like will change if you've got more students. And it looks like we're going to have more students.

If sounded like you were fairly happy with how Tony Freeman performed at Iowa State. Did he take a great leap forward?

Tony and Adam (Haluska) were in similar situations. Adam because he was under the intense pressure of transferring from there and Tony playing against tough guards in a very difficult place to play on the road, they had very similar games in that their first halves were very good. Then, it was almost like at halftime they went into the locker room and they just kind unwound. They were like, that's over. I didn't go out here and not score. And I didn't go out here and turn the ball over 10 times. I've been good. Then. They kind of forgot that there was another 20 minutes to go in the game. After looking at tape, it really looked like that. It looked like both of them were wired, ready to go, and really had good first 20 minutes but then relaxed just enough that their second 20 weren't near as productive. I hope that's the lesson that they learned that, yeah, you are good players. It doesn't matter what the circumstances are, whether it's your first start or it's a hostile environment and they don't like you because you transferred from their school. It doesn't matter. Go play because you're good enough to do some things.

Do you think Horner's injury might be a blessing in disguise? Not that anybody wanted to see him get hurt, but in terms of getting other guys more minutes.

That's hard to say. Now that it's happened, we hope that Mike continues to develop. Tony develops quicker. Carlton or somebody else off of the bench continues to work himself in and develop in the back court. But I don't know of any blessing in disguise or otherwise for loosing Jeff. I would have rather completed the Northern Iowa game with Jeff and went to Hilton with Jeff and had Tony's progress slowed a little bit maybe. Tony is going to play anyway. With that said, knowing that this is the hand we're dealt now, we've got to have that back court keep developing. And it's not just young guys. Adam falls into that. Bru, as funny as it sounds, falls into that. If you think about it, every game that Bru has played in since coming to the university, he's had Jeff with him. Now, all of a sudden, Jeff's gone. It affected Bru in the Iowa State game. When he missed the end of the UNI game, nobody knew if that was an injury where…I thought it was a turned ankle. Bru probably thought we were just going to finish the game without him. We didn't know we were going to miss games with him. Even the upperclassmen, it's affected them as well. They're the ones that have to keep developing as well because now our leadership really falls on their shoulders in game play.

What do you think Tony learned from playing against Iowa State?

Their guards are really good. Clark is playing at a high level right now. If Clark would continue that kind of consistency, that is a trio of guards that's very, very good. He's not going to come up against a trio that's any better than that all season long, maybe equal to in the Big Ten, but not any better. And he was able to prove himself. So, I hope he took away a lot of confidence, but then also learned from his mistakes. When he gets careless with catches or passes or all of s sudden shuts it down defensively, he's a terrific on-the-ball defender. He had to go against two pretty good guys that like to have the ball in their hands in Stinson and Blalock. I hope there are lessons he took, but also a lot of confidence he took from it, too.

What do you think of Carlton's play so far?

Well, he's like a lot of the guys. His minutes, being a reserve, you're not going to get the minutes that the starters get, he's just not making shots. If he can start to make some shots, that's going to start generate some confidence with him. He's struggled with his passing, especially off of the dribble. He's just got to relax. He's not a 25 percent foul shooter. He's not a 0 percent 3-point shooter. He's a lot better than that. As I've told him, when you're a reserve, you're minutes can really fluctuate. You're not an upperclassman that has earned that starting role to where a bad shooting night or bad shooting stretch affects things. As a reserve player, minutes can fluctuate a lot depending on production. That's what we've seen so far with Carlton.

Has he lost some confidence?

He probably has. He could probably help more on that than I can. But when you're 0-9 from three and shooting 25 percent, I don't know how you can be confident. That's a hard thing to be confident on. But we tried helping this week of understanding how important he is. He's quick. He's athletic. He can guard. He's a smart player. And we know he can shoot it. He needs to relax and just shoot it and not worry about things. That's the funny thing about this game and the thing about athletics, you can talk about that but it's really on the player to go out and create that kind of confidence and go out and make plays.

What do you think about Mike? He seems to be great and times and other times disappears.

Decision making. He's a very good defender, especially, like Tony, on the ball. He's been handling the ball pretty well for us. Most of his turnovers have not been ball handling. They've been decision making. What he's really trying to work hard on is decision making, not penetrating too far, beat your man, see the help, now make the right play. That breeds success and if I can get you an open shot and you knock that down that makes me feel good so that now when I get an open shot I'm feeling good about things. Instead, I turn the ball over trying to get it to you and now it'[s my turn to shoot and I'm uptight about it and I got pressure to make that thing. So, as his decision making improves, you'll really see him go to a high level. He's strong. He's athletic. He's got a great demeanor to him. His shooting will continue to improve if he's making better decisions with the ball.

What is the Arizona State match-up like in the back court?

It's good because we've had big match-ups. Kentucky, Texas, N.C. State, UNI and Iowa State, we've played a lot of good back courts. Here comes another good back court. We've at least had games against that. We think we've got a pretty good back court even with Jeff out. We've just really got to focus defensively. We've got to keep them in front. They like the dribble, drive and kick. There is a lot of ball-screening action that we're going to have to defend. Like any time, it's a tough match-up for your defense. But our defense will be OK if we're taking care of the basketball and getting the shots that we're going to get.

What type of defense do they play?

Usually man to man. They have shown some pressing and they've shown some 2-3 zone. We're prepared and we've seen a lot of different stuff here in the course of games. Our guys have had to go against zones at half court, zones in full court, man to man pressure. They've been about man to man pressure for the most part. They like to deny and really get into the ball, kind of like Illinois. It will be good prep for us. It's good prep going into next week. Drake is a full-court pressing, lot of pressure on you.

Are you playing at Arizona State next year?

Yes, in November not December.

Looking ahead to Drake a little bit, this looks like probably the best team that Dr. Tom has had. Would you agree?

I think so, at least the games I've seen on tape and some clips that I've seen of that team, it looks to be their most athletic team and a team that he's tried to build to as far as having a team that can really full court press for 40 minutes. They're pretty deep. They're playing a lot of guys, as he likes to do, 11 or 12 guys. We know it's going to be a very demanding game. We've already lost the first two in-state games, so there's a lot of pressure on that game. That's why Saturday's game is very important. We've lost a couple on the road here. We need to get a win under our belt and get some confidence going and try to get those next two games Tuesday and Thursday before we hit Christmas break.

You've signed three guys. Do anticipate signing two more (recruits in this class)?

(Smiles) Yeah. I believe. Probably. You know, I don't know if it will be two. Assuming, that's probably a good assumption that we'll sign at least two more.

What positions are you looking to fill?

The swing is a big position for us. Versatile guards are big positions for us right now. With Vanderbeken and Tate in the middle, both are having very good years, by the way, those are two guys that help us up front. Looby is redshirting, so that's a third big that we're adding. Looby kind of falls to this next class. Next year, three new bigs will come on the forefront. The swing position really become important for us. We've got to get more athletic. Our defense has improved greatly because of what Mike is doing, what Tony is doing, having Adam and his athleticism. Your defense starts with your back court. If you're not athletic to defend up in the back court, it really puts the pressure on the front court. Having Hansen back there has helped. Next year, Looby is a lot like that. He's a very good shot blocker. The back court is still where we're focusing of scoring, athleticism, big bodies in the back court.

You're averaging 67 points a game. Do you see it getting up to 75 or 80?

Going into the year, that was our goal and that's where we wanted to be. Now, you're getting ready to start Big Ten season where it gets to be more position oriented. I still believe that this team has the potential to do that. Jeff has probably got to be back healthy for us to really click to that level of offensive production. But if you look at it through 10 games, it's not like we've had one or two guys not shooting it well. We've really had a team not shooting it well. You go through odd stretches, but I would assume and hope that that's not going to be something to happen through the whole year. You may have guys come in and out of poor shooting performances, but not collectively through 10 games. You look at Adam, Adam is as good a shooter as there is. I wouldn't trade Adam's shooting ability for anybody in the country and yet his numbers are way down. His foul shooting is way down. We just haven't clicked offensively like I would have hoped we would have by this point. With that said, I'm more encouraged to know that our defense is ahead of our offense. Probably 10 games in, this is the first time that I've felt like defense is ahead of offense. If you look at our league schools, because of our non-conference schedules you end up playing four or five bye games to where maybe you win by 30 points and you're shooting percentages get really jacked up. We didn't do that. In our bye games, or in our games where maybe we were heavily favored, we didn't have shooting performances that were 60 percent, 65 percent that enabled those shooting percentages to be way up. Through 10 games, we really have had to rely on defense. That at least pleases me that we can win 70 percent of the games knowing that we have not shot the ball very well.

Do you see a No. 4 scorer developing? Early on it looked like Doug Thomas.

Doug can still get there. I really like what I'm seeing out of Alex. Alex is starting to come into that role. Another guy that I've really been impressed with and I probably made the mistake of not playing him more in the Iowa State game is Erek. Erek, for the minutes he's getting, is starting to score. He had 14 at Iowa State, seven rebounds. His rebound production is going up. If people are going to start forgetting somebody and they forget Erek, he is kind of a fifth-year senior. He's an old senior for us. Erek could end up being that fourth scorer behind Jeff and Adam and Bru.


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