What's Jeff's status for this one?
Well, just in talking to the medical staff, they're extremely excited about the direction he's going. He's way ahead of where they through he'd be. Whether they're going to pull the trigger and let him play yet, I don't know if that's going to happen. I'd say that he's probably doubtful for this week. But he had a good workout (Sunday) with John Streif and he's getting another good one in with our assistants (Monday). We'll probably know a lot more (Tuesday) morning. We've just really tried to not wear him down here in the last two days, but just escalate what we're doing with the leg. We want to see how that responds. I would say that he's probably pretty doubtful for Tuesday and possibly Thursday. My focal point was always trying to get him back by St. Louis. But I know he's wanting to get back and he's anxious to get back. It's going to be the medical staff that's going to make that determination.
He's had a tough season, the chipped tooth earlier in the season and now the PCL. How's he handling all of this?
He's been terrific. He's doing a great job. He's rehabbed tremendously. So, it's all about making sure he's 100 percent before he gets back out on the floor. Those type of things, he handles it well. He doesn't like being out because he's a competitor. But he's been very supportive of his teammates. He's been very active on the bench. So, all of those things are very positive.
Is there anything you can do as a coach to make sure he's mentally stays up instead of getting down on himself?
No, because I haven't sensed that. If it was a freshman, it might be something different. But this is somebody that's been in sports long enough to know that sometimes injury is just part of it. You've just got to rehab, listen to the medical staff and get back as quickly and has healthy as you possibly can. And I know when that day comes, Jeff, he'll jump right back into it. It won't be a gradual thing.
Before Jeff was injured he was struggling with his shot. Will having to focus in more on mechanics help?
(Smiles) Yeah, that brace will help his balance. (laughter) There were just some minor things that he was doing. Last year, he got off to an incredible start. So, that happens. Shooters, sometimes, it's a great start, sometimes it's an average start, sometimes it's not the start that you want. But we just want to get him back extremely healthy. He means an awful lot to us. These next two games, if our young guys can continue to learn without him and then when he's back in the fold, hopefully it makes us an even better team.
He had an ice pack on his leg (Monday). Was that precautionary?
Yeah. He's got to do that three or four times a day. That's all part of his treatment program.
How important is the practice time now with finals over?
It's real good. We're not getting as much practice. (Monday) will be really we go at it for that amount of length really until after Christmas. We play (Tuesday) night. Wednesday won't be much because it's the day after a game plus we have another game on Thursday. The guys will break Friday, Saturday, Sunday. We'll come back late on Monday for practice. Really, that practice time over break really starts next Monday. That's when we'll really be able to do a lot of things. But we have done good things over the last nine or 10 days even with finals.
Consensus says this is Coach Davis' best team at Drake. What kind of challenges do they pose?
This is the best team I've seen him have on tape going into our games. They've played Boston College tight. They've already played Iowa State. It's not like we're going to shock them with something different. They've played big names. They've played very good teams. They've been extremely competitive in those games. They're shooting the ball better than what they were two weeks ago. They're very aggressive defensively. This is probably the best pressing team that he's had since he's been at Drake. That's probably our biggest concern, a lot like Iowa State. Without Jeff, that concern of young guards, it's inexperienced guards trying to handle that kind of pressure. We're going to have to do a good job with it.
Is the difference that they try to get you in the full court and Iowa State tries to get you in the half court?
Yeah. Iowa State is more three-quarter (court) back to zone. This team is more full court back to zone. It's a little bit more aggressive. It's a little bit more on the ball than what Iowa State's is. This is a very athletic Drake team. We've got to be who we are. We've got to do what we do. That's kind of been a theme in our locker room. It's not about making a lot of changes. It's really about: This is who we are. Go out and do what you've got to do. And part of that's defending. It's a little bit harder for them if we're getting stops. It's a little bit harder for them to set up presses. Right now, if you look nationally, we're a pretty good defensive team. It really comes down to guarding and taking care of the ball. Those things go hand in hand. Same thing with Iowa State, we didn't do well. We've got another game under our belt now without Jeff. This has got to be a game where we handle the ball, but we really guard. If they're having a hard time putting the ball in the basket, then that obviously helps us.
Are you surprised that you're this good of a defensive team?
I thought we had a chance just because what was happening at the end of last year. What surprises me the most is I really thought that was going to be our biggest concern after February 1 last year. In retrospect, we've become better defensively. I just didn't assume that was going to happen. Late in the year, we were pretty good defensively. That was the key to us making the run that we made. Now, we've carried that over. The guys have done a nice job in the spring, the summer and the fall. They've really committed to it. I've noticed in comments that I've seen them make that there are more defensive comments coming out of their mouths now than ever before. That's always a good sign from a coach because they know the important aspects of the game. It's not just how am I shooting or how many points am I scoring or am I getting double-doubles or am I getting assists. It's how am I doing defensively? What's our team doing defensively? That is a good sign. That's our strength right now. All that can change, but hopefully that stays a constant and our offense gets in a little bit better flow.
How do you explain that sudden interest in defense?
It's a maturation process of your team and your program. We've had a lot of things happen to us in the last three years that have changed the look of our team personnel wise. Jeff, this is his fourth year starting the year with his fourth different back court mate. That's not always normal. All of those changes have made it harder to get comfortable with the system and style sooner. But we have a heavy laden senior team. These seniors, sometimes you go through it and think you can just outscore, but to really win consistently you have to defend. They really understand that now. Now, I hope that's good because that's teaching our young guys. Hopefully we can build on this year's defensive team and build that in years to come.
How does the addition of Al Stewart change the complexion of Drake?
He's so quick. We've kind of compared him to Chauncey Leslie. He's extremely slippery. He's explosive with the ball. He creates offense for them off of the bounce. It's going to be a challenge for our guards to keep him in front. If he's penetrating our defense and getting to the paint, that really puts a lot of pressure on our defense.
Is this a good team or a bad team to try to get your offense untracked?
Well, it was a little bit better against Arizona State. We took care of the basketball. We did some good things. We missed some easy shots. I don't know if it's a good or bad team. We've just got to go through these games. This is a pivotal stretch of getting ready for Wisconsin that's two weeks out. We just need to continue to work offensively to make sure we get the right shots. We've got new guys in the mix. Carlton's minutes are up. Tony's minutes are way up. You've got guys that are in a little bit different positions and roles now with Jeff being out. We know it's not going to click on all cylinders until Jeff's back. To be honest with you, my focus is to keep our defense where it's at and know that the offense will come. Jeff will be a boost to the offense when he comes back. And we were talking about it (Monday) that we thought Jeff was playing as good of defense as he's played in his whole career before the injury. He was really guarding people. Now he's been able to sit on the bench as a coach and he sees those things. Now, he's saying things to us. You don't ever want to sit there from an injury standpoint, but that is one of the positives. You get to kind of sit there and look at it at a different perspective. Now, it just reiterates how important that defensive end is. I really am optimistic that the offense is going to come. For whatever reason, it hasn't done that yet.
Greg Brunner is really climbing the career rebounding chart at the school. What's made him such an effective rebounder?
It's probably what makes all good rebounders – the effort. I've always thought that rebounding was effort and having that tenacity to just go at it. A rebound is a loose ball. It's free for anybody to go get. Reggie probably was as good as I've had an opportunity to coach as far as just pursuing a loose rebound. If Reggie had a four-year career here, the number would be at a really high level. Bru is right there in that league. He's not quite as big as Reggie, but he's got that mentality. When he really gets going, he can get rebounds in volumes. Big body, strong body, but just a hard-working, blue-collar guy that just gets after it. Something that you really appreciate out of Bru because the difference between Bru and Reggie is that there is so much more asked of Bru at the offensive end than what we were asking out of Reggie. Bru is more talented at the offensive end. We're asking to him to defend and rebound and then go down an be a focal point at the other end. That's hard. To do that at 33, 34 minutes a game, Bru is really doing a nice job for us.
At this current rate, the record could be his.
It's well within reach just like the 3-point goals for Jeff is in reach. You hope that they can stay healthy. They've had very good careers. Bru is real close now to a double-double (average this season). We thought he could be a double-double guy.
Drake is shooting 51 percent. Is that a product of the defense?
There's no question that they're getting layups. They're forcing 21.0 turnovers. Their 3-point percentage is at 37, which isn't bad. That has gotten better the last two games. Before the last two games, it was in the low 30s. They're forcing 21 turnovers game. That is an abundance of turnovers. If you're forcing 21 turnovers a game, you're getting a lot of easy scores. When we faced Iowa State, it was a similar deal. Teams that are forcing a lot of turnovers usually are getting a lot of easy things at the other end. That's why we have to do a very good job of valuing the basketball. If we do turn it over, it's post feeds. It's turnovers at the basket. It's not at our end. It's not carelessness that leads to a lot of easy shots for them.
Last year after the Air Force game you kind of declined as a team instead of improving heading into the Big Ten season. What do you want to do to make sure that doesn't happen again?
Well, we started that mindset against Arizona State. Officially, we were on break for that game. When we got to break last year, we were playing really well. We beat Northern Iowa. We beat Iowa State. Then, we had a two-game home stand with Air Force and St. Louis. The first half against Air Force was terrific. The second 20 was really poor. Then it was a really poor 40 minutes against St. Louis. We were able to hold on and win. Then, it was a really poor 35 minutes against Michigan, the first home game in the Big Ten. We had about a two-week stretch there where our play had really dropped off. We talked about that focus during the break starting withy Arizona State. After eight days off, our guys did a lot of good things in that game. Now we've got to see of we can continue that in the next two games before we get a three-day break.
Two years ago when Tom Davis came back in the building he was warmly received. You gave him that basketball. Is this more business as usual this time because he's already been back?
Yeah. We're not going to beat it up and just keep giving him autographed balls every time he comes back. (laughter) And Tom would probably want golf equipment. He's like me. It is business as always, but this is a great Hawk that is coming back, too. That respect and what he did here and what his program meant over his tenure here and what his players did, I would hope that that never dies. I hope that there's always going to be that respect of the coaching staff here, the players here, and obviously the fans here for the appreciation of what he did and how he went about doing his job while he was here.
Does that bug you? The comparisons are inevitable. They're always going to be there. What you've done. What he did.
No. No because it's different eras. It's a different…all those changes. It's like comparing myself, what I did as a player versus what these kids today are doing. It's different. The game constantly changes. The atmosphere, the environment of basketball constantly changes. No, I don't get involved with that. It's just like I follow Manchester and know that we've had about 14 winning seasons (in a row) and they're right around .500. I'm pulling for them like crazy because I want the streak to continue. SMS, it's a name change that they fought when I was there. Now that they're Missouri State, I know that they've gotten off to a tremendous start and they nearly beat Arkansas at Arkansas the other night. I hope that Tom is the same way that he knows what he did and the mark that he had on this program. I'm sure he follows it and other than (Tuesday) night is a big Hawkeye fan and wants us to be successful. I feel the same way in my appreciation of what he did and what he built here when he was the coach.