Opening Statement: We're obviously excited. This is always an exciting time. The weather starts to change. It really changed in the last 48 hours and resembles a lot like basketball season. This has been a fun team here in the fall. We've got a lot of question marks. When you look at our team, there are only three guys that have lettered more than twice. That's Seth and Adam and Mike. A year ago, you look at our roster and everybody has got those little asterisks that end up being lettermen. Last year's team was a lot of fun going into the season at this time because you knew what you had. You knew the parts. You knew the experience you had. You kind of knew what to expect out of this group.
This group is a little bit different. The enthusiasm is still the same, and that's kind of what makes coaching fun. We don't really know all of the parts yet. We're going to get to know that as we start practice (on Friday) and get into the games. It's a team that's going to be a lot more athletic than what we've been in years passed. That's exciting. We've really tried to focus our recruiting with athleticism, leading into the '07-08 recruiting.
But as we watched tape throughout the summer, you just need to realize out good last year's team was. We were not able to get the job done in the NCAA Tournament, and that was heartbreaking because it was a very special year and it was a special team. And after watching a lot of tape, our challenge will be to get our defense equal or try to improve on last year. That's going to be very difficult because after viewing that tape all summer long and then through the fall, that team was special defensively; Top 10 in just about every defensive category. It had the defensive player of the year (in the Big Ten) in Erek (Hansen). They just bought into how important defense is. We won a lot of games last year when our offense wasn't clicking, but our defense was extremely consistent. So, hopefully, this year's team can continue that.
Then, we've got to find new ways of scoring. We don't have the post threat that we had in Greg Brunner, who was awfully special inside. And we don't have that guy in Jeff Horner that did things that no other point guard has ever done before. We don't have that. We don't have the leadership that the seniors brought to the table as far as having five guys.
So, there are a lot of different things that this team presents, but we're pretty excited about the future and hopefully getting better as November and December pass into the Big Ten.
Is it better to have your leaders be your guards; you're two seniors?
That's hard. Obviously, that's where the ball starts. That's where your defense starts. Your offense starts there. But that's varied. Last year we had five that were our senior leaders. Justin Wieck didn't play a lot. He's a grad assistant for us now. But he was awfully good. I remember as a player. The season is so long. You'll go through things to where you'll want to come up with a lot of excuses. That's blaming coaches; blaming your opponent; blaming yourself. Justin was incredible at the end of our bench and in training table situation and in closed-door meetings of just standing up and saying, "Hey, you guys have got to make plays." He was really good at that. So, finding someone who is going to present that role; that's at the end of the bench that understands that all the way up to Doug and Erek and Jeff and Bru; three of the four guys were post players. So, no, I think that varies. I don't think it necessarily has to be a guard. A guy like Tony Freeman is going to be a leader on this team this year. He's very vocal. He's had an outstanding summer and he's had just as impressive fall for us. You're going to see Tony Freeman extend his leadership.
Coach, can you talk about the inside game? You're going to be pretty inexperienced there.
Right, we kind of talked about that last year. Everybody said that we've got to get production out of that five spot. One of the questions last year was what would you be happy with that five spot because you had Bru at the power forward position and you had your entire backcourt back. The question mark last year was the center position. The center position gave us the defensive player of the year and the sixth man of the year. We got an awful lot out of that center position. Doug and Erek were as big a keys to last year's success as anybody.
We come into it again now with new faces. What's going to happen to the center position. When you look at it, Seth, Kurt, Josh are all guys that are fairly new. Seth has had a little bit of playing time. It's very inexperienced, but I've had really good experiences with them seeing what they've done over the summer and into the fall.
Josh is a late get for us. We feel pretty fortunate to get him that late in the process to where he can give us some spot minutes when we get in trouble, similar to Seth's role over the past few years. Seth went on the Big Ten trip. I talked to Coach Amaker and really liked what he was out of Seth. Seth gives us a seven-footer that can go out and shoot the ball. Erek wasn't somebody that was going to go out and shoot the jump shot. Seth can do that.
The bigger question mark is what we do defensively. The brunt of our offense is going to be backcourt, but Seth can score. You watch Kurt, and I swear you're looking at Erek. He runs the floor like a gazelle. He blocks shots. He tip dunks. Those are the things Kurt has got to bring to the table for us.
But up front is a question mark for us. Our power forward is not Greg Brunner anymore, it's Cyrus Tate. We're excited about Cyrus. He's left-handed. He's got a big time, Big Ten body right now and we've got him for three years. That's a special get for us, yet he's obviously not as seasoned as what Greg has been. So, up front is going to be kind of a work in progress. That's why early in the season our backcourt has got to be very solid.
Do you see Justin Johnson giving you some of the scoring that you've lost?
There's no question. Justin has kind of been off the radar because everybody has kind of talked about the other guys in that class. But Justin has been very impressive. He's 6-4. He's long. He's athletic. He can guard all three guard positions, and offensively he can play all three positions. If we get in trouble at the point, he can bring the ball up the floor. He's got a great demeanor.
Coach Marquis, who was at Indian Hills and now is at Tyler Community College, we've got a lot of his kids. Kurt was one last year, and now here comes Justin. It's the same scenario. They're yes, sir; no, sir. They're passionate about getting better. Kurt has really improved over the last year. He's excited. We're down on the floor and we've go the new scoreboards. These scoreboards are kind of like Kinnick where the players…it's the little things with players today, but they love it because they're name and number and where they are from can now go on the scoreboard. And Kurt comes up to me when I'm down there before I got ready and was like, "Coach, really appreciate the scoreboards." (Laughter) It's the little things. And you appreciate the players that enjoy those little things. And Kurt and Justin are like that. You're going to see those two guys just keep getting better. Now, it's going to be new for them. Playing our non-conference schedule, five of the first six games we play are away from here. So, that's going to be an adjustment for them early. Hopefully by the time we get to our December home schedule, they'll have some minutes under their belt to where they'll be a little more comfortable.
What type of rebounding team do you think this cane be?
Well, our guards are awfully good. Mike got awfully good late in the year at rebounding. Adam has always had the potential of being a real good rebounding guard. Tyler could be an exceptional rebounding guard. Justin can be a rebounding guard. Our backcourt can rebound. That always makes you better because our rebounding was always Brunner and Doug, but Jeff would get you five or six a game just because he'd tackle two people to get to a loose ball. So, your backcourt has to rebound for you.
But Kurt has gotten a lot better at it. Seth has to continue to learn to pursue the ball instead of just getting the ones that drop around him. Cyrus has got the chance to be a real good rebounder.
There are obviously question marks because when you lose Greg Brunner, the all-time leading rebounder, rebounding becomes an issue to where, OK, where are you going to get them? But you look at our athleticism and size in our backcourt, we've got to make sure our guards are doing a good job with board play.
You've had big names come in here like Recker and Horner that have become the face of your program. During the preseason, a lot was talked about with Tyler Smith. How does he compare as he comes in and what are his abilities to become the cornerstone of your program?
I talked to him this morning. He was in getting his picture taken before he went to class. We're going through individual meetings. I always like to meet with all of them after the fall conditioning and before we get into the practice. I was just talking about his role. I brought up Luke because they're very similar except that Tyler is about an inch and a half taller and as gifted as gifted as Luke was athletically, Tyler is more gifted. That's scary. The players have talked about him having a mini-tramp set up inside somewhere. He can play and then all of a sudden he plays at a different level.
My whole concentrated effort in talking with him was you can't take plays off. Young players have to learn that. Every drill we do is for a purpose. Every possession is for a purpose. You've got to go at it with everything that you've got. When he learns that, he's got a chance to be very, very special. He's so gifted. He's a 6-7 guard that can shoot it but he can take you off the bounce. He dunks. He's very, very strong. One of his best traits is that he's very unselfish. There are going to be times this year, and I never like using the word selfish, but he's got to become more of a dominant presence offensively for us, especially early in the season as our bigs are trying to develop and understand their role of when they get there points. It can't just be Adam. We've got to get point production out of Tony and Mike and Justin and especially Tyler early in the season.
Have you tried to shield him at all from some of the expectations That are coming his way? Jeff came here as the savior. There's a lot of buzz around Tyler like that.
Yeah, with Jeff it was more because of in-state and because of Luke's situation, he played in the Big Ten at Indiana, goes to Arizona, which was Coach Olsen who coached here. There might have been a little bit more (focus on them). As our season goes along, I hope that buzz of Tyler continues to get more just because that means he's playing at a high level.
But it's just about communicating with him. I remember when I played. People said this is what you've got to look to when you play in the Big Ten; this is what it's like playing for Coach Knight. You can be talked to all you want, but until you live it, you really, truly don't know. You have to experience it. Unlike Luke in his first year and even Jeff, Jeff got the ball right when he got here. He had a phenomenal career for us. We hope that happens in Tyler's situation. But great players learn to handle the hype. I've told Tyler, ‘Hey, some has been true, some hype hasn't been true. You can't worry about hype. When you're the player of your caliber it's about getting better every day.' Hopefully, that's what can happen.
Is Adam ready to be "The Guy?"
Well, I hope he is because as we told him he's going to be the focal point. Jeff and Bru were his buddies and they're gone. He kind of go the opponent's third defender. When you looked at last year's team, it was how are you going to take Jeff Horner out of the game, how are you going to take Greg Brunner out of the game? And then, oh yeah. We've got to play attention to Adam because he can really score. This year, the first guy they're going to talk about is Adam Haluska.
He's ready. He's been in college long enough to know. He's had Big 12 experience. He's going into his third year of Big Ten experience at a high level. He's very healthy. He looks great. He's excited about this year's team. But I'm sure there's some anxiety a little bit with him, too. Guys that he grew up playing with, especially Greg and Jeff…and again, that's how special that senior group was, Greg and Jeff were able to help Adam. Now, they're gone. Can Adam do the things that he needs to do? He can. We're confident that he can. But we've got to go through the season to see.
Will you have enough outside shooting besides him to kind of take the pressure off?
I hope so. Justin Johnson can really shoot it. Justin is a very good shooter. Tony, his shooting has really improved. Tony is all about just slowing down. Tony just gets going a little too fast at times, but he had a great summer shooting the basketball. Tyler can shoot it. Our bigs, Cyrus is a better shooter than what Doug was. He doesn't play above the rim like Doug, but he's a better shooter. Seth is a better shooter than what Erek was. We're going to have ample shooting, but we didn't shoot the ball very well last year as we look over things. That team really had the mindset of, "OK, if we go 0 for 10, you're going to go 0 for 11." I don't know if we want that mindset, both ways. I'd like to go at least 2 for 10. I like the 0 for 11 on the other side. We will, but that's just getting some confidence early in the season and guys getting in the gym and getting a lot of shots up.
With all of these new players, your national expectations aren't very high.
Yeah, and that happens, Brooksie. Last year, we had everybody coming back. Those expectations were high. You've got the pressure of that. There's pressure every year. Our guys did a tremendous job of handling that pressure last year. They were very consistent. It was a team that only twice lost back-to-back games.
This is the earliest we've ever opened up, the second week in November. It's a long season. To go through the schedule that we play, every year we're playing a Top 25 schedule. We play very difficult road games, very difficult home games. We had as difficult of a Big Ten schedule as anybody in the Big Ten last year. To only lose two in a row twice and one of those was in December when Jeff was hurt, was very impressive. It was a very consistent group. This year, you have a lot of new faces. The expectations on the outside might not be great, but I can tell you in our locker room they are. Our new guys have been told all summer from our veterans and from the coaching staff this fall, that what has been established the last several years by that senior group is supposed to now give you a blue print to continue to move things in a forward position. It doesn't mean it's going to be easy.
But they're paying attention to that home record. That means a lot to them. They're six wins away from tying the all-time school record from back in the 40s when we won 24 consecutive home games. We're at 18. We have the third longest home streak at home. That means something to them.
I know our student body, we're getting ready to have a Hawks Nest party here in about two or three weeks, they've had a big part of that. So, the team has been talked to about that. They know the pressures that are out there. But that's why you come to a level like this to play. You don't come here thinking there's not going to be pressure. There's pressure when you're in the Big Ten. Now, you've got to learn how to handle that.
Does this increased athleticism change how you guys play; how you guys will look or not?
Not a whole lot. We're a little quicker offensively. We want to play up and down. We want to be up tempo. We've never been a style that wanted to play slow. That's probably why we don't like playing Northwestern and don't play very well at Northwestern. We haven't figured out how to change tempo up there. We've got them coming to our building. I told the staff that we better start watching tape right now on how to change tempo with them.
But as a team we can do a little bit more full court, just some full-court pressure. We're not a big zone staff as far as pressure or at half court. But just picking up man-to-man, extending it when you've got Tony and Mike and Wessels is a kid that likes to get up and get after it. Justin is very long. Tyler and Adam are athletic. We have about six guards deep that can extend pressure in a more of a wear you down a little bit. By the time you get to the 10-minute mark in the game you're a little bit tired of seeing us at that spot. I don't know how long or how often we can do it, but I hope we can extend our defense a little bit and then offensively just learn to run. We've really focused on that in the fall. You look at our wings – Tyler, Justin, Adam – they really can run. They're very athletic. Make or miss, how quickly can we get it to the other end and just get offense initiated?
I don't think it's going to be a different look as far as our system. But our style might be a little bit different. Hopefully that will come about as the year evolves.
How are the new assistants fitting in?
Outstanding. We've had a lot of fun. Coach Buckley brings an enormous amount of experience. He's sat in the seat that I sit in being a head coach. He already as assisted in numerous ways of just preparation for the season.
Coach Garrett has been somebody, just like Tim, Coach Neal and I have known for a long, long time. He's been in Chicago. He's from Indianapolis. As I told Coach Garrett, really the main reason he was recruited here is he's got a sixth-grade son that can really play. (Laughter) And my son (Bryce) needs a backcourt mate. That was a big get for me from that standpoint. Right now, my son is seeing more of those benefits than I am.
But Coach Garrett and Coach Buckley, it's brought a whole new element to our staff. And we're excited about that. Having Paul Weir as the director of basketball operations, you know Paul has been behind the scenes with us and has a great knowledge of how we like to do things in setting up our program. You know, Jerry (Strom), we're going to do something for him later in the year. This is his 25th year. Twenty five years in the Big Ten and at an institution like Iowa, that's a special tenure. He's been with Coach Olsen, Coach Reveling, Coach Davis. That's special. We feel very fortunate that we have Jerry as part of our staff and congratulate him on 25 years in the program.
To read Part II of Steve Alford's Media Day Press Conference, CLICK HERE