Steve Alford: I think he is fine. They all wear ice afterwards. And that is part of what we have been having him try to do. There is nothing wrong with it other than this time of year, you get banged up. New players have to learn the value of ice, getting iced down after practice, the night before games. As you get older, you learn the value of that ice a little bit more. Most young players don't understand that. We have been working hard with him to ice everything. You are at the point of the season where you get broken down a bit.
Q: Did you have to flip a coin on who to nominate for player of the week between Adam and Tyler?
Alford: Both had outstanding weeks, and Adam got the national player of the week, from Sporting News, which is a tremendous honor. We haven't had that in a long, long time. We share those things as a team and his teammates had a lot to do with it, and Adam would tell you that. Tyler would say the same thing. When you look at freshmen across the country, Tyler is doing some amazing things.
Q: Are you surprised with how Adam has elevated his game this year?
Alford: I am just happy for him. I know there is a lot of pressure. When Mike goes down, that pressure gets doubled. The first 8 games with one senior, that is not easy. He does a tremendous job. We have a lot of the year left, but we knew he would have to up everything offensively this year. He has always been good there, but to lead the Big Ten in scoring, doing the things he is doing, that is great. He has learned a lot of things about leadership as well. I couldn't be happier for him, because there are not too many as good as Adam as a person. You are always happy when good people do well.
Q: Have you worked with his shooting?
Alford: No. When you can shoot it and make shots, you are crazy for messing with anything. The only thing we have tried to do to help him is the art of moving without the ball, learning how to get open and get to the free throw line. He has paid close attention to those things. Pivoting; I am not a big jump stop guy, and he gets in trouble there. I think that can hurt your flow as a shooter. This year his free throws are up. His percentage is up, his attempts are up. He has done a great job of learning the little things that help great shooters.
Q: Is his jumper a classic jumper or far from it?
Alford: I am not sure that I know what a classic jump shot is. (laughs)
Q: Like yours.
Alford: Mine was 20 years ago, his is present day. He is bigger and stronger, more athletic. He has deep range. It came a little easier for me in understanding moving without the ball. That was easier for me. I had done some of that in high school and played for my father. I think I had to get more creative with how to get my shot off, because I was 6-2, I wasn't athletic. But I knew the value of the free throw line, and I got there a lot. He has learned all of those things. That is what has made him potent, because he is strong, he is athletic, he can post you, but now he has learned the value of getting open and getting to the line, and that is why he is having a special year now.
Q: How do you prepare for (Minnesota's Spencer) Tollackson, assuming he will be there?
Alford: Yes, we will assume that he will be there. We won't be surprised by anything. Just like last time, we knew he would be out, this time, we are figuring he will be here. He adds to them. They are averaging 55 points at home, with him in that is another 13. He gives them more potency down low they have not had. Williams is playing better for them, Payton is in the starting lineup, he wasn't the last time we played them. There are some new things we have to look at personnel wise.
Q: Have you changed your philosophy on recruiting prep school kids?
Alford: No, that hasn't changed. When I was hired here 8 years ago, someone asked if we were going to take Juco kids. That isn't a change in philosophy, when you have 7 scholarship kids and two of them failed and were gone from school; we had to get Juco kids that April. This is the same kind of thing. It's the evolution to what some kids are doing. If they don't like how the recruiting process went, they go prep school. Sometimes you are close to a test score. That has been the case with us with a few kids. Instead of Juco, they go prep school. It's just a year, if they are close to getting their test. If their GPA is good, which a lot of these guys, that is the case, but they need a test score. Go to a prep school for a year, then you have four years of eligibility. That is an option that they are taking now instead of going the Juco route. There are still three phases with us; high school, prep school and Juco, its just that the prep schools are getting better.
Q: If it's true that Tyler could have gone to Kentucky, why did he come here?
Alford: It's true. This kid was highly talented and there were other schools as well. One thing that helped us was Buzz Petersen, who was the coach at Tennessee and a good friend of mine and Coach Neal's. I got to see Tyler a lot, as I was recruiting in July and you hang with your buddies. When I had a down game, I would go with him to watch his kids and vice versa, and I remember several occasions going to watch Tyler. That helped, and Coach Neal did a phenomenal job in the recruiting process. He became great friends with his dad, his mother, Tyler and I think there is a trust factor built there with that family and Coach Neal which extends to our coaching staff which really helped make that decision for him.
Q: With the kind of year Tyler has had, the NBA stuff starts. How do you approach that?
Alford: The best thing for him, and he is like everyone else, your future takes care of itself as long as you live in the present. So many kids make the mistake, and this league has been full of them, you make the mistake when that is what you are thinking about all the time. You have to live in the present. 20 years ago, it was easier when I played. You didn't think about that. My senior year, there were 5 kids that left early. The numbers now reach 50-plus. Times have changed that way. There won't be 50-plus that make it. That is the difference. Are you living in the present, or are you looking towards the future. Future and past always bite you. But when you live in the present, that is what you can control. That is what he is trying to focus on.
Q: What are some of the things that you would tell a guy when he is evaluating such choices?
Alford: There is a lot more than goes into it than being ready as a player. You have to be ready as a person. The most difficult thing I had, and I was very fortunate to have been brought up in a great home and I was grounded. That wasn't a problem. But the biggest problem I had, I was almost 22 when the NBA season started. What you did with all that time at that age. You had so much down time, staring at hotel walls. How you handle your time as a young person, because you are full of energy. A lot of people are 8-5 at 22. The NBA is different. You have a lot of time. How you manage your time and money, how you pick and choose friends, because all of the sudden you get different friends that want to be attached to you when you have big time money. There is more to it than handling the playing standpoint, and that is hard enough. Reggie Evans has done a great job with it. I could not be more proud of him, considering his background and upbringing. He had a great mom, but he was not from much from a wealth standpoint. He has managed his money well and he takes care of things. I have not had an opportunity to speak to him much when he was in Seattle, to speak to him. He place over our bye week and I am trying like crazy to get out to see him, as he is closer now in Denver. I could not be more proud of the way he has handled things.
Q: Do you expect him (Tyler) back here next year?
Alford: We expect that. We are not going to hold people back from doing things from a future standpoint that is best for them. I think Tyler will benefit from more years in college. His stock is only going to rise and get better. We want it to be a slam dunk for him, not a gamble. He is too talented, there is too much there to risk for it to be a gamble. We will get to the spring and we are told that it's not a gamble, that it's a slam dunk, then those will be decisions his family has to make, and we will not hold him back and we will support him.
Q: He has a lot to work on.
Alford: There is no question. His jump shot, I think we can really help him there. That has to improve. His ball handling has to improve. He is getting an opportunity as as freshman to play 36 minutes a game that doesn't have a lot of scoring on it. There hasn't been a game where someone has scored zero, so someone has to score. Our team, that is Adam and Tyler. He has to defend the guard position. The thing I have been most pleased with is the way his defense has improved over the year. You don't see that out of a highly talented freshman. How he handles the ball and goes about shooting the ball consistently, those are areas where he can improve. He realizes that. No one shoots more shots than he does, but that spring, summer, fall work will help him going into next year.
Q: What about Adam's potential at the next level?
Alford: We are getting more attention, more phone calls, so I think all of the attention that he had preseason, he has lived up to it. When you lead this league in scoring, you are going to get attention. We are getting more pro scouts calling and wanting tape and schedules, those things. His stock has risen.
Q: Are you starting to think that if you can get to 10-6 in Big Ten play, and win one in the Big Ten tournament, that you might be able to make it to the NCAA tournament?
Alford: We have not talked anything about that. We are trying to show our guys what happens in the non-league and what has happened in the league, now here we are in 4th place and really trying to get those guys to take it game by game. It has been a struggle getting them to believe they could do it. They work hard and they are great guys, but they haven't gotten both feet in. The right foot says we are pretty good and the left is uncertain. You can't do that in this league. You have to put them both in. That was big at Michigan, for them to finally accomplish that. If we lose at Michigan, this past Saturday against Indiana would have become much more difficult. Everyone talks about the Michigan win being great, but to me, the Indiana win was better because they had just beaten Wisconsin, they beat UConn on the road. Their losses have been at Ohio State and Illinois. Everything tied to the Illinois thing makes that a difficult road game. They were playing to stay within one game at first place. The win at Michigan helped them believe they could win against a very good Indiana team that had them down 20 at Assembly Hall. Hopefully we can have a few good practices here and take things up to Minnesota.
Q: In years past, 10-6 almost guarantees that you get there, now they weigh the non conference.
Alford: I hope if they weigh it, they can do that without Mike, because injuries become a part of that. They can weigh what you have done with and without players. Mike played 1000 minutes last year; he started every game for us. Our first 8 games were totally without him. Mike wasn't in shape or playing full speed until the Cornell game, the last game in December. We went 12 games without Mike or a Mike that was trying to get well. That was almost the entire non-conference schedule.
Q: Bo Ryan said he wanted a 20 game Big Ten season.
Alford: We talk about that in May every year. They have changed the rules now where we can play more games. We always thought 20 was lengthy. I was never asked because I was not here, but I always thought the Big Ten meant 10 teams. It was easier in my opinion when we had 18 games and a round robin. Now with 11 teams in the league, I think that gets hard. 16 is tough, 18 reduces the problem a little bit, but there will still be a problem. 20 is the only way out of that, but it makes for a long season. It's long to begin with. You have to play 2 to 4 Big Ten games in December. Bowl games are not over yet, football is still going on. If you go to 20, look at the Missouri Valley right now. Two months ago, people were saying they will have six teams in the tournament. I came from there, and I am a fan of that league, but they were going to beat up on each other. Wichita State went from Top 12 nationally to .500 in the league. Unless they mount a big run, it will be hard for them to make it. That was going to happen to someone, because you are going against each other. The same way in the Big Ten. Someone wins and someone loses. If you go to four extra games, that means two more wins at stake, but two less wins if you look at the non-league schedule, because you could tack on two more losses. It's hard to measure, and I don't know that I have all the answers. But it's easier when you have an even number of teams as opposed to odd numbers. 12 teams is better. It won't go back to 10. Who is that 12th team going to be? It can't be just anyone.
Q: Are you getting to the point where the younger players hit that proverbial wall? What can you do to avoid that?
Alford: We talk to them about rest, and nutrition becomes a big part of it. Tyler's nutritional habits mimic Jeff Horner's, which drives me crazy. Pizza and hamburger, and that is not the best. We are working hard there. But we have to get them rest. We do more work in the film room, more walk through, more five on oh stuff, not the five on five body pounding. We work our execution more five on oh. We started that about two weeks ago, and we noticed our energy level getting higher. It was very high on Saturday. They had Sunday off, they were done just after 3 on Saturday and they won't have anything until 3 today. When you travel, you get a lot of fluids and get rest. We used to go in and shoot the night before and the day of. We will cut out the night before shooting now and help them get rest. I have always thought that wall thing is kind of a….you are either tough or you are soft. Guys that hit the wall are soft, because who doesn't want to be playing in February and March? The harder practices are in October, you have been through the non-conference, you have been through the league once around. February is the set up month for March, and its all about March if you have a passion for the game.