Purdue Pregame: Coach Alford

Iowa Coach Steve Alford met with the media at Carver-Hawkeye on Monday to talk about his team's Wednesday match-up with Purdue. The bench boss also talked about Tony Freeman's injury, Jeff Horner getting closer to playing with a brace, the improved play of Adam Haluska and Doug Thomas, the rise of Justin Wieck and troubles of Carlton Reed and his feelings about students rushing the court. Read all about it in this HN.com Premium Quotebook.

What is Tony's status?

We're waiting to find out. We'll know more when we get going (Monday). John (Strief) said he's still pretty sore, but he's gotten better. So, I don't know if we'll hold him out one more day. I would think he'll be able to play by Wednesday. Hopefully he'll practice Tuesday and then get to play Wednesday.

What did he do?

It's just a strain. It's just a strain to his calf, like a more severe Charlie horse; just a cramp that turned into a strain.

Is it the left or right leg?

(Smiles) I have no…it's a good question. (laughter) Right or left. (laughs)

How confident are you with putting Justin Wieck in if Tony's still hobbled or even if Tony is healthy?

I'm very confident and have been probably for the last three weeks. I haven't made that move for whatever reason. We've given others opportunities and it's Justin's turn. Justin has been practicing extremely well. He knows what we want to do at both ends. He's very passionate about his team. He's really got a good urgency of helping his team. You're really looking at that role being anywhere from a 5-10 minute role on most given nights. We really feel like he's earned that right. That doesn't mean he's got Tony's minutes. But I do think you're going to see Justin getting the nod first now in that fifth guard spot.

What happened with Carlton? Has he just lost confidence?

It's hard to say. But when you're in that role of 5-15 minutes, that might be a little different role than the 25-30 minute role but it's still about production. When it doesn't happen, than you've at least got to give some other guys some chances. Justin has earned that right and we're going to see how Justin does.

Steve, can you talk a little bit about Doug Thomas in terms of how far he's come since high school?

Like a lot of young men coming out of high school, he might have had to endure even more so. It's a long way. There are a lot of big differences between Iowa City and Pasadena, Calif. He's come a long way. I just appreciate his perseverance. Now, he's making the most of it. Late (last) year, he was really playing well. He really turned the switch, not just basketball, but academically. The second semester last year and the first semester this year he did well academically. He's really played well. He's been really consistent for us. Now, he's gone to an even higher level for us at both ends. You look at our goal board that we do individually through tape breakdown. Deflections, steals, hustle, defensive award in Ohio State was all Doug. Charges (were) Doug. He dominated that board against a Top 20 team.

When he signed with you five years ago, he probably expected to be a four-year starter. It looks like his career will end up in a reserve role?

I don't know if any of us expected him to be here four years. During the process, we knew he probably was going to be a junior college kid. And offensively, he was pretty raw coming out of high school. The reason we liked him was because we were losing Reggie (Evans) and he reminded us an awful lot of Reggie, his explosiveness, board play. That's happened. It's just so happened that he's played behind Greg Brunner and now Erek Hansen. Really, Erek and Doug are splitting minutes. Erek's minutes are up a little bit more than Doug's. But he's pretty much playing the role I think we envisioned him playing. He's done a very good job with that. He's done more than just be an athlete. He's learning to guard. He's getting more comfortable with his offense. He's met our expectations. Hopefully he can finish it that way.

How important was it to have him come from a winning atmosphere at Southeast?

He was part of a winning atmosphere and it was in Iowa. He got up here a lot so he got to be familiar with his teammates and our system. That all helps instead of just going, boom, Pasadena to Iowa City. That might have been too much for him. It was a good transitioning stop for him.

How did you find him?

Through AAU basketball in the summer.

No Iowa team has ever gone undefeated at Carver-Hawkeye. In the overall scheme of things, how important of a goal is that for you guys?

Our guys had a goal at the beginning of the year to go undefeated at Carver and we're four games from that. If you lose early, that goal gets shot. They haven't. They've won 14 in a row, which is one shy of the school record. This is the best start at home in school history. They've already done some good things. Their ultimate goal was to protect home the entire year. That's in their sights now. It's not going to be easy because we've got outstanding opponents.

If you meet that goal, you meet the bigger goal, right, competing for the Big Ten title?

If you look at the past, the teams that have won the league titles are always the teams that go 8-0 and 7-1 at home and then they win four or five road games. Now, how this is going to play out, we're still yet to see. But the rule of thumb throughout our league, unless something really special happens, if you go 8-0 (at home) and 4-4 (on the road), if you don't win the league, you're right in it. That's still a possibility for us.

So, you'd take your chances at 12-4?

No, shoot, we've only loss two. I'd just as soon be 14-2. I don't ever like selling our guys short. I don't like putting too much pressure on them as well. It's really just game by game. Our issues have been our defense at home versus on the road. We're giving up 69 points versus 53 points. We're giving up 44 percent shooting versus 34 percent shooting. Our board play is plus-7 at home and it's even on the road. We're more anxious and interested in can we go on the road and do the things that we've been doing at home? If we do that, we get a very pivotal road win on Wednesday before we come back here. But we're just trying to take it game by game. A lot of goofy things happen in February in this league. The parity is incredible. We've got to stay healthy. Tony got hurt. We've got to get him back. We don't need a starter getting hurt. We're like a lot of teams. You get to February and you're banged up, you're beat up a little bit. You've got to get some breaks in that you stay healthy. Hopefully we can do that.

Is Jeff going to have to play out the season with the brace?

I hope not. The doctors were talking about 2-5 weeks. It's been eight. He's kind of gone above the board trying to do what he needed to do to get that knee strong. All indications that I'm getting is that he's right at 100 percent. I know that he would be a lot better just mentally without it. So as long as he and the medical staff feel like it's not going to hinder him at all health wise, it's time to put that thing to sleep.

Do you think wearing that brace has affected him?

It's affected everything that he does. It's hard for him to move lateral. They're a lot better than what they were 15 years ago but those things are still heavy and cumbersome. It's tight on his leg. I'd just as soon it be Jeff and just play. That's best for him here down the stretch and it's definitely best for the team.

Other than the brace, do you see anything else that might be affecting his shot?

Last year, he had a phenomenal start to the season. This year just didn't go that way for him. But he's a tough kid and he was going to bounce back from that. The brace affects how he gets up off of the floor. You're carrying more weight on that leg. Mentally, it would really do him good knowing that he had some freedom. But really, his thing has always been shot selection. When he's taking good shots, when he's got his feet set, he's as good as anybody in this league shooting the ball. Like anybody else, when he's shooting from 25 feet, those are hard shots to make. He, Adam, it doesn't matter who you put out there, 25 feet out is a lot different than 19-9.

Does it seem like Adam is more animated, showing his emotions more?

He's maturing. He knows that in a year from now this is his team. And he'd be the first to tell you how good the seniors have been for him and how good the seniors have been for this team. That's what's nice. We're starting get that in our program now to where these younger guys understand that. Younger guys coming into the system now either do what they're supposed to do and do it passionately for the betterment of the team or the junior and seniors are going to run you out. That's the way that it should be. That's the way that it was when I played. When I was a freshman and a sophomore the upperclassmen did a good job of showing me the ropes and how it was. Shoot, in my four years, there were three or four guys that left the program just because they couldn't handle it. They couldn't handle what we needed to do to get to the level we wanted to get to. They wanted easy street. That's starting to happen in our program. The seniors have done a great job and Adam is getting much more confident knowing that he's about two months away from assuming that role.

He really seems more emotional recently.

He's a very passionate player and somebody that's very easy to coach because he comes every day to get better. Some of his closer friends on the team are those seniors. He wants to perform so well for them because it's their last go. And he should be in that class. So, he's very close to that group.

He is the co-Big Ten player of the week. Is he in that category now as a Top 10 player in the league?

We think so. I'm bias. He should have got it last week or the week we played Penn State. He kind of got penalized just because we only played one game. But when you look at it, nobody had one game like he had. He's very deserving of it. And when you ask other coaches when they prepare for us I would imagine Adam's name comes up quite frequently. He can shoot it. He's athletic. He's starting to gain the respect defensively. And he just keeps getting better. As he continues to improve like other guys on our team than our team has a chance to get better.

How good is Matt Kiefer?

Real good. And Matt (Painter) has done great job of instilling his system. Some guys have bought into it. Those that haven't have had to go. It's an odd thing because you want your system and you want to do it the way that you know you've got to do it and guys that don't buy into it have to go. To compound the problem, you've got to fight some injuries. That's hurt them. But watching them on tape, I don't know of any team that's playing any harder. And Kiefer has really stepped up his play. He's really hard to guard. He's shooting the three. He's driving it. He posts you. He's working defensively. They've been pretty good at home. I watched the tape again playing Michigan on the road. They had Michigan beat. They really outplayed them most of the game. We know that we've got to go in there and play well. You look at Minnesota and Purdue and they're sitting there at 1-6 and 1-7. They have those records because of how good our league is not because they're poor basketball teams. That's what our guys have got to understand.

Northern Iowa made the rankings this week for the first time in school history. You know what it's like to be in the Valley and trying to crack the Top 25. What does that mean?

It's very difficult and it's a great accomplishment for them. They're at 19 wins. We knew they had a special team early in the season. I follow the Valley as closely as any other league. That's as competitive as I can remember it since my third year there. The parity and talent level of that league has gotten there again. Top to bottom, that league is very, very demanding. So, if you get ranked and you get to 19 wins this early in the season, you've done a lot of good things.

What has Adam improved in his defensive game?

He's just understanding help awareness. He still hasn't taken a charge in his career (laughter). We're still waiting. He tried in practice once. After a review of the tape, it was not a charge. But his help awareness is getting better. He's rebounding better at the guard position. He's getting back in transition better. He's talking more. He used to be somebody that just got glued onto his man and it was all about his man. Now, he's really understanding that if Doug's man scores that's two points against the Hawks. It's not Doug's man scored but my man didn't mentality.

What's you understanding about students not being allowed to run on the floor?

I've always stated that rules are different once you get south of the river. I grew up thinking that way being a Big Ten guy. That's recruiting. That's a lot of different things. But Florida complained about Tennessee running on the floor when they got beat at Tennessee. That just stemmed a lot of different things. Coach Neal showed me an article from ESPN saying why it shouldn't happen. In my whole career, player, coach, I've never heard of any problems with students running on the floor. It's not like they're tearing down goal posts like they do in football. There's never been any damage done. Nobody's health has ever been in danger. It's the peers coming on the floor. The only issue is getting the visiting team off of the floor. With the way our arena is set up, the visitors are always exiting that way with fans coming in from the other way. I don't like it. That's part of college basketball. As long as it can be managed, it's always been a part of college basketball. We're always constantly hearing that we don't want to be like the NBA. Yet, here's another deal to where this probably comes from the NBA.

Has there been some kind of directive from the NCAA or Jim Delaney?

Not that I know of. It never came to me. Whether it came to Bob or administrators, you'd have to ask them. I heard an announcement from our PA, which I wasn't told about. So, that's one of the reasons why I wanted myself and the team to go over to show the appreciation to the student body (after Ohio State). If they're not allowed to come and see us, then we'll go see them. They've just been tremendous.


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