Coach Alford Meets Media

Iowa Coach Steve Alford conducted his weekly press conference ar Carver-Hawkeye on Tuesday. He discussed Wednesday's game against Minnesota, the health of Tony Freeman, the improvement of Erek Hansen, changes to the team's approach to post defense, the acadcemic status of his team with second-semester classes starting, and much more in this Premium Press Conference Transcription.

How's Tony?

I think pretty good. We didn't put him through much (Monday). He did the bike and did some shooting, but he didn't do any live work yesterday. That was more precautionary and just giving the foot another day's rest. It was just a mild strain. We're encouraged that he'll go (Tuesday) and tomorrow (Wednesday). That's our hope anyway.

How dangerous is an 0-3 team?

Nobody likes getting off to tough starts. We got started on one last year. That always makes the climb a little bit tougher. This is a team (Minnesota) that has two senior guards in the line-up, two of which are fifth-year seniors in Hargrove and Boone. And Grier is as good as any guard in our league. Their bigs are tough. The concern with them is they force so many turnovers. Yeah, they lost to a very good Wisconsin team, but they forced 22 turnovers against a Wisconsin team that doesn't turn it over 10 times a game. We've got to do a very good job of taking care of the basketball, valuing possessions and making sure we get good shots each time down. We know this is a very good basketball team. We know we're going to have to play well. It doesn't matter if it's Minnesota, Penn State, Northwestern, Michigan State, Indiana or Ohio State. We have to play well. We can't have below average performances and think we're going to win.

Do you think they'll press or not because they're on the road?

Well, they've been doing it a lot. They did press Purdue. That's really their only road game outside of Arizona State and Maryland. They did it at home to try to change tempo. Dan (Monson) did a great job of trying to change tempo because they got off to such a bad shooting start. We've been preparing for it. They've hurt us in the past with that half-court trap. But they've been awfully solid when they match up with you man for man at halfcourt. That has always been their staple defense.

After this game, you have Michigan State, Indiana and Ohio State. Is there any worry that the guys will be looking past this game?

You said after this game. Before this game, it's a difficult stretch. It's not after this game. Beginning with this game, we're in a five-week grind. It starts with Minnesota. This is a team we split with last year. They won more Big Ten games than we did a year ago. They got to the tournament just as we did last year. And both of us return a lot from last year's teams. We've got a veteran group. We did some good things at Penn State. Penn State was picked last or 10th in our league. We didn't go up there thinking we're playing a team that can't beat us. Our guys did a good job during practice of knowing that we were going to have to play well. We did have to play well. We had to score 80 points to beat them; shoot almost 50 percent on the road to do it. This is the No. 1 league in the country. Every team we play is going to be capable of beating us just as every team we play we're capable of beating them.

The women's team has had four knee injuries this year. Have you ever heard of that happening to a team?

It's a difficult situation. Michigan kind of went through it last year in the men's side. We've had some injuries, but not that many. You feel for them. The coaches and players and Lisa's staff do a great job. They work awfully hard. I know that they'll band together. After each injury, that's all they continue to do is band together. You have a lot of youthfulness there, but Lisa and her staff do a tremendous job. We can only hope that they can continue to play well.

How has Grier's game changed?

He's has some injuries he's had to deal with. That's a little bit of a concern for us because they haven't had their whole team to practice a lot. They're starting to get that now. They're back healthy. They started the Big Ten season still a little bit beat up. Now they're two weeks in of having practices together. This is going to be a team that's going to keep getting better. He's somebody that can into a rhythm in a big-time hurry.

Having played with his father, how long have you known about Tony or how early did you see him play?

I graduated and Tony's father transferred back to the Chicago area. I didn't really stay in a lot of contact until Tony was a junior. Early in his junior year, we spotted him on the AAU circuit. That's when we got that relationship back again.

Have you been to that park in Chicago he always talks about playing in?

I've been to all of that area. We have fun with it because I've tried to compare Baker Park in New Castle to it. (laughter) He doesn't like that comparison. I try to tell him that Baker Park is just as mean and tough. I don't know if he buys into that.

How did your guys do academically?

I can't divulge everything academically, but it was probably our best semester since I've been here. The guys have just done a tremendous job. We had absolutely no issues academically at all. Our seniors are all on pace to graduate by the first of June. We had probably four, five or six guys that ended up having their best semesters. Jeff was Dean's List.

Is there anything you can put your finger on for that success?

You've got a mature group. The program and the system evolve. It's like the defense. As coaches, you keep harping on the important things. But the individual has to go through the maturing process. I've talked all along about their leadership. Their leadership is not just good on the court. They do a very good job of making sure the younger guys are doing what they need to be doing academically or what they need to be doing in the community.

Considering there were issues in passed yards, did you hammer it harder or did the support staff?

No, I don't think so. I don't think we've handled it any different. They understand the consequences that happen. If anything, they've seen how we've handled things when they've gone astray. They learn from that. Players have had problems and have had to leave school. It's just like playing the game. They either get it and do it or they don't and you have to face the consequences that's there because of it.

Looking at Michigan State, is their athleticism the biggest challenge for you?

I couldn't even tell you. I'm on Minnesota. I know we have another game this weekend. They're picked to win our league. Until somebody knocks them off, they should be picked to win the league. They have a lot of guys back; great guard play. All those things are going to be the same every time we've faced Michigan State. And, we've never played well there. To set that game up, Wednesday's is awfully important for us.

You guys have only worn the gold jerseys once this year. Is that something you've gotten away from?

Somebody asked me that on my radio show last night. I have so many things to think of what color uniform…if they want to wear black at home, that fine with me. It's really what the seniors want to do.

Is anybody on your staff or team a Broncos' fan?

I haven't heard anything brought up about Denver. J.R. Angle and Greg Lansing are Colt fans. So, they were pretty quiet yesterday. (laughter) (Alford is a Steelers' fan)

Jeff has been back for four games now. Can you talk about his progress and how he's adapted to playing with the brace?

He's been tremendous for somebody that's never had to ever put anything on their leg. He's never worn a knee sleeve. Now, he's got an offensive lineman brace on his leg. That's difficult. He started wearing a mouth piece. He knocked teeth out in an exhibition game. He has had a lot go on his senior year that he hasn't had to deal with in the past. He's just done a tremendous job. He's our quarterback. We go as he goes. Can we win when he doesn't play well? Yeah, we've proven that. But it's a heck of a lot prettier and it's a lot easier winning when he's playing well. He just does so many things for us.

Erek seems to found a groove. He's got some big match-ups coming up with Michigan State, Indiana and Ohio State. How do you see that?

I know I keep harping on it, but it starts tomorrow as well. Tollackson is somebody that he gave us some problems in here. If you remember, Erek fouled out with no points last year. He knows that. I understand what you're saying. Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana have big time front court people. But every night out, Erek has got to continue to prove himself. Do date, he's done an outstanding job. He's been the different. Bru and Adam and Jeff have been very consistent. It doesn't mean they don't have bad games. They do. But those three are pretty consistent. That X-factor, if that's the right word, Erek has been a very good piece of the puzzle. As the bodies get bigger and the competition gets tougher, it's just a matter of continuing to prove yourself. This is going to be a key two-week stretch for him.

Earlier in his career, did you project him to be somebody that might average 12-14 points, 6-8 rebounds?

I don't know if we ever thought that. I don't know if we ever put a number on it. I don't think we ever saw him being a big-time scorer. He just didn't have that kind of offensive makeup. He was really recruited because if defense. You have a big guy that can change shots. You work your defense from the basket out. It's very similar to Kurt Looby. Kurt Looby is not somebody we anticipate scoring 10, 12, 15 points a game in any season. Hopefully he does. Maybe that's something he develops into. But he is somebody that I think can block four or five shots a game, anchor our defense and then when the ball goes to him have a chance to do some things.

Craig Neal said on your TV show that you're fronting a lot of centers instead of playing behind. What when into that decision?

We talked about some different things we could do to look at to see. I took that concept to Lubbock. It didn't go over well because coach isn't a front-post guy. I've struggled with it. We've gone back and forth depending on who we play. But it's helped us. I was worried mostly about the board play more than anything else. For whatever reason, we haven't been hurt in board play. We've been a better rebounding team this year. You wouldn't know that from the Penn State game. It has helped us with our post defense when we've had to do it at times. And we've obviously got some bigs coming that it's going to be a big part of it is keeping it out of there.

Do you see coaching in the futures of Brunner and Horner?

I don't know. We try every day to discourage them from getting into this crazy profession. Coach Knight did the same thing. My dad did the same thing. Coach Neal did the same thing. Sometimes sons are too stubborn and they don't listen. Jeff has talked about it some. I haven't heard Bru talk much about it.

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