Media Day: Coach Alford Part II

Iowa Basketball conducted its annual media day on Thursday and head coach Steve Alford said a lot. He spoke for 35 minutes on his team and this is the second half of that session. In this installment, read what the coach had to say about the off-court issue with Mike Henderson and Tyler Smith, his contract extension, the Big Ten race and more in this HN.com transcript.

Can you talk about the reasons or the processes of selecting just one captain this year?

Well, there was probably going to be two, but we had an issue. Anytime you have an issue and kids make mistakes, there are consequences. Part of Mike's consequences is losing that captaincy. Adam will start it. I don't know how that is going to evolve as the season goes along. I've already mentioned Tony. Tony is going to be empowered with a lot as a young player. And really, that's kind of looking towards the future. We only lose two guys this year. Both of them are in the backcourt. Both of them have been here three plus years. They understand what our system is about. But in only losing two guys, we have to be ready for the future. So, we're already thinking about empowering Tony. I don't think we're empowering him as a captain, but as far as leadership on the team, he's going to be a guy we're going to look to to provide some of that leadership as well.

Will Tyler and Mike miss any playing time?

We've talked about it. There's going to be playing time missed. Kids make good decisions and you've got good consequences for it. They make bad decision and you get bad consequences for it. Kids have to learn that. As I've told this team, and I said it before it ever happened, they know how I feel about it, I'm not going to tolerate poor behavior and bad decision making, whether that's on the floor and I'm obviously not going to tolerate it off of the floor. Both Tyler and Mike made very poor decisions. I'm not happy about it. I'm not going to tolerate it. We're handling things internally. They're doing the things that have been set up for them right now from a court standpoint with community service and some other things that they've got to do. We're adding to that. As the season unfolds, that will come about.

Mike being a senior and before this happened having a captain put on his shoulder…you've got the C on your jersey, you're at a whole other level. I'm a head coach. I'm probably put on a little higher level on how I'm supposed to act and behave than maybe an assistant coach is supposed to. My judgment comes a little harder than maybe an assistant would. It's the same way with a captain. A captain is responsible in my mind for a lot more than an incoming freshman. You'll see (the punishment of missed playing time) come about. We're a month away from opening the season, so that will come out publicly as we get to it. Right now, they're going the things they're supposed to be doing whether it's from the court or us internally, all those things are getting handled now.

When you say playing time, will that be X amount of games?

That's what we're looking into. That's all part of their process of seeing how they handle things.

Can you talk about Brett Wessels?

Well, Brett was outstanding last year. We like to kid him. We do a lot of different things whether it's testing vertical jump or testing speed. We do a lot of agility stuff. We're now testing what they can do in a five yard and back; 10 yard and back. We like to kid Brett a little bit because I think he's got the lowest wing span on the team. But Brett is one of our hardest working kids. That's what you want in a walk-on. When you get a walk-on, you want somebody that loves putting on the Iowa uniform; understands what putting on the Iowa uniform means. Then, he's ready in case anybody messes up and doesn't perform well, he's ready to step in. We've had a long line of those – Jason Smith in '01 when we won the championship; last year in Justin Wieck in '06 when we won it. These guys were phenomenal guys. Brett Wessels is going to end up being one of those guys.

And he's young. Jason was a senior when it happened. Justin was a senior when it happened. Brett is still very young in his career. Last year, we probably would have said it's not somebody we needed to put in the game if all of a sudden we get in trouble. This year we go into the season saying if we get in trouble at all in the backcourt, we have no problems with putting Brett Wessels in the game. He has been a pleasant surprise and been outstanding for us in all areas of our program.

Can you talk about the Big Ten race?

Yeah, you know, last year we kind of knew the four or five teams that were going to fight for it and then there's always a surprise. This year, you look at Wisconsin. Wisconsin returns everybody. The preseason favorite is Wisconsin. Penn State returns a lot. This is their most veteran team that Ed has had since he's been there. Michigan returns a lot. Outside of those three teams, the other eight of us have an awful lot of question marks; a lot of newcomers. What will the newcomers do? Ohio State has had a great recruiting class. You'll have two things – Newcomers, what they mean to the league and teams; and the guys that might have been freshmen and sophomores are now going to be sophomores, juniors; how they've evolved and what role they take on on their specific teams will probably lead to how well you'll do in the Big Ten. That's why the non-league is so important. To the majority of our league, the non-league is going to be important of getting experience out of those newcomers and getting experience out of those guys that are playing a little bit different role.

You've talked about the consistency of this defense, especially the last two years. Would you like to be labeled as sort of a Wisconsin, Cincinnati defensive program? Is that the stamp you want then they thing Iowa?

You know how that goes. It doesn't matter what I would like to be thought of. People are going to change and do all kinds of different things. Cincinnati and Wisconsin, and you're probably alluding to when Huggins was at Cincinnati, that's a different style defensively than what Bo's style is. Bo is going to protect from the 3-point line in. Huggins extended you 94 feet. So, it's a little different kind of defense. And Bo is going to run the swing offense. I think of Bo I think of teams that don't turn the ball over. I know they're good defensively. I know they do a lot of good things off of it. But the thing that I marvel at of what Bo gets out of his kids is that they just don't turn the ball over. They're turning it over eight, nine times (a game). Playing at the level that we play at, that's amazing how they do that.

But yeah, I hope that's always going to be something defensively. I always think you can be in games. I look at tape last year. We win 25 games and, good night, there must have been 10 or 12 games where we shot barely 40, 41 percent. From a defensive goal, we're trying to hold teams to 40, 41 percent. If we're doing that ourselves offensively, how are we winning games? When we look at it it's because we're holding teams to 34 and 35 percent shooting. You look at our home record last year, we were 17-0. In those 17 games, teams averaged like 34, 35 percent shooting. That's incredible. I don't care if it's home or road. I don't know if we can do that again, but I do hope that our mainstay is that when people play us they know we're going to guard them. I'd like to be more efficient in what we do as far as shooting the ball and those kinds of things, but we've always been a good rebounding team. Our defense the last two years as been much more what we would anticipate. And then foul shooting, maybe the percentage hasn't been where would have liked it every year. But over the last six or seven years we've had a tendency to make more free throws than our opponents shoot. And that is a tell tale of really how our offense is executing. Those are kind of the things that I look at each year. What we end up being known for each year kind of…I would have hoped going into last year it was defense, and it ended turning out that way. But you just never know year to year.

Can you talk a little bit about the two-year extension and how that impacts your program?

It impacts us very positively. I'm very appreciative of Gary. Gary has been tremendous and he's been doing 100-yard sprints since he arrived in July. So, with everything he's had to do, I appreciate his confidence in us. He's had a relationship with Bob and obviously Bob was the one that hired me several years ago. So, he's been able to have some talks with him. We've had some great talks since his hiring of kind of where I would like to see the program to continue to evolve to. And I wanted to hear what he had to think. Those both really came together and meshed very nicely. It's always very good when you've got the support of the administration. I've always felt that since I've been here that I've had great support of the administration; how we go about doing it; how our team is supposed to be presented; how it's supposed to look, and try to get that better each year. Now, that's our goal. We've been able to win two Big Ten titles in two of the last six years. Only two other Big Ten teams have done that. We've had six straight winning seasons. There have been a lot of positives. Yet, we haven't advanced in the NCAA Tournament in a while. That's hitting a nerve. We're very motivated; we're just very intense about getting that done. Hopefully we can continue to evolve into that type of program. But the leadership that I've always had and the people in the administration have always been tremendous. Gary is continuing that and I really appreciate that.

Does Mike need to be more offensive this year?

Yeah, if you look at tape from late in the year, Mike was like that, even early in the year against Kentucky. He broke down Kentucky's guards. If you can break down Kentucky's guards and a Coach Smith team's backcourt that really prides itself defensively, Mike's got that ability. He can really take people off of the bounce. His shooting has gotten better. Late in the year, he started to really know down shots. So, yeah, our production offensively early in the season, you're going to see it in the backcourt. As the team evolves, hopefully the frontcourt can catch up and give us some things that we got last year that release some of the pressure from the backcourt.

Do you feel that you're still maturing as a coach?

Oh yeah because I've got to go through so many things each year that I've got to be maturing. At least I hope I am. But yeah, I hope it's always a work in progress. I'm 41 years old. I feel very blessed. I look back over my career and I try to evaluate that each summer and I try to be as critical as possible because that's what I did as a player. I was telling Tyler that this morning. I came in as a freshman and I was 6-1½ and 155 pounds going off to play in a Bob Knight system. There were a lot of people that said you couldn't do this, you couldn't do that and I ended up being team MVP for four straight years. I did that because I was critical of myself each year. I didn't try to stay status quo. I tried to challenge myself every year and I try to do that in coaching. We had a tremendous year last year. The more tape I watch and the more I just look at what happened last year that was a very, special season. It doesn't happen very often. It came to too quickly of an end because that was a team that had the opportunity and had to know-how of advancing in the tournament. That's the thing that crawls at me to this day because of how special they were. That's helped me analyze and try to critique myself as a coach of how you handle things; how you handle each individual; how you handle the teams. There are so many different things that happen each year. This year, it's a whole new team. So, how you put those parts together and how press this button and that button. But all of those things have evolved, getting my staff to where it is now. I'm so excited. They're going to help me in numerous ways. That's a big time positive. And then just seeing how the legacy of those seniors last year, that bar has been raised, a lot more so than maybe four years ago. That bar is at a different level now. Every newcomer that comes in now they've got an understanding of what's expected of what needs to be done. That's exciting. But there's no question that I hope that I'm maturing and trying to get better and taking steps forward of how you go about teaching this game. It's not easy. There are different things now that you didn't have 15 years ago that you have to deal with now. Iowa is a little bit different of an animal than Manchester. You learn that, and you keep evolving. Hopefully we're doing that in a positive direction.

Can you trust Henderson to be a leader again?

Yeah, there's no question. He made a mistake. I told him, ‘You made a mistake. You're going to pay those consequences, but you're a senior and seniors have to act differently; not just in regards to this, but you have to react differently in how you prepare for practice.' For Adam and Mike, it's not just about getting Adam and Mike ready for a practice. For instance, this year we're going to practice a lot at 8 in the morning because of class conflicts. They can't be here at 7:45 to get ready, neither can Kurt Looby and Cyrus Tate and Tony Freeman. It's their responsibility to make sure everybody is here at the right time in preparation for getting ready for practice. It's also their responsibility of how that practice goes. As a freshman, you're Tyler Smith and you come in and a lot of it's about how you're doing in practice. By the time you get to a senior, it's about not just about how you're doing but how is Josh Crawford doing? How is Tyler Smith doing? That's a much bigger responsibility. But as you grow and develop, that's what supposed to happen. Coach Knight always told me that going from good to great is not worrying about what you are anymore, it's about how you can prepare the guy next to you. That's how you go from being good to great. If Mike and Adam want to go from good to great, individually and as a team, a lot of what they do this year is going to be depending on how they make Tyler Smith; how they make Justin Johnson; how they make Kurt Looby. That's going to be a role they have to play.


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