“I was counting up today see how many months, but I think it has been five months ago that I was here or was it six that I was here? It has flown by so quickly, but we have made some great steps in the right direction since those days, and one of the most significant ones has been the hiring of staff. So I know you may not know some of these guys, but I was just going to ask them to step forward very quickly since way back in that day when I came up here like the Lone Ranger and said, ‘let me find out what is going on.’ I think that we have really made some great strides. Mike Jackson if you could step forward. Mike as you know was on the staff before and has rejoined us and is doing a great job. John Mahoney… John was with me at West Virginia and he will be one of our assistants as well. Jerry Dunn… I think many of you know who he is… he is the associate head coach, and will do a great job for us again. Since Jerry joined my staff at West Virginia, the success speaks for itself. In the back of the room is Brian Townsend. Brian if you could wave your hand. Brian is a former football player here. He went to Pioneer here and was a head coach at Pioneer, won the state championship and then went on to Ohio University as a football player who loves basketball. Tracy Hamner, as my administrative aide that is in the back. He was with me at Richmond and at West Virginia as a GA. Tyler Bluemling way in the middle is the graduate assistant manager that he is a former player at Duquesne… a very good player… and will help us run our managers and do a lot of things to free the head coaches up to their real jobs of coaching basketball. So I think that was what we have.”
“So at any rate, time has flown by. We cannot wait to get to this Friday, 7 p.m. when we begin practice. We have been limited since the day that I walked in here that we got two hours in, in one week and then another two hours, and then we were so curious about what we really had other than initial impressions. Then knowing the limited time, I never got to see K’len Morris play because he was injured at the time. Manny Harris, I saw for a few minutes at the Nike and at the Peach Jam. We were not recruiting that position that year before, so I had not seen him a great deal. Kelvin Grady, I had never seen him a great deal, only on tape. So we have had since then approximately, I think it is eight hours that we have been able to be together and see each other. I know more now, but it is so different than if one, you have a team of veterans that you have been around like I have been for the last few years and two, if you follow that recruit since he was a sophomore or junior, you know a lot more about what you have. So in these last eight hours that we have been able to be together, I love what I am seeing. I am not sure just yet where people will play, but their attitudes have been terrific. We have come a long ways but there is an awful long ways to go. I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t like the direction where we are right now, but I know that it is a long ways to go to get to where we can compete really at a national level because of the inexperience on this team. Not just in playing college basketball but under this coaching style.”
“The schedule, I think is one that we will see where it is at the end of the year, but it would be tough to argue that it is not one of the tougher ones that the University of Michigan has ever faced, but that is not an out, that is just a fact. We will go and embrace that schedule and make every game another learning point for us to win, whether win or we lose. It will get closer on track of where we want it to be.”
“The practices and just the general demeanor of how we run our program and the philosophy of our program is just as far as away as the first game. How our kids present themselves and the way that practices are run. I was sitting with Mike Jackson today and we were talking about different drills that he has never seen before that we sort of have to explain to him. John Mahoney has never done them. He has watched them. Jerry (Dunn) has been a big part of them. Teaching the manager of what he should do it. We will have a manager class shortly just to teach them how to rebound and pass the basketball, because if they are passing here it and passing it here; it doesn’t make for good shooters. There is just so many little details that have to be done, but everything that I have asked the University of Michigan to do so far to help us get in that right direction, they have been very helpful with.”
“So why don’t we take some questions and if you want to ask any of the assistants, we can certainly bring them up as well. But I have met many of you and that is another compliment I would like to give. All of you have been so professional that I have been in touch with and I hope that you are going to find that I will be very easy to get along with and respect the great job that you have to do to bring news to the public. Our practices, I have never really been able to close practices because of the arenas that I have been in have been sort of open to the public. Right now, I feel that we will probably have media days like this where we will say okay and right after this practice is open come in and watch it. My guess would be that we will be by invitation only. People will be coming to practice or if you call and say that you would really like to attend this practice, we might say, ‘well why don’t you come tomorrow that will be a better one to come to’, because it is a bigger fishbowl that we are in than probably than I ever imagined. So I am going to have to be a little bit guarded in what we do and not open up everything we do to everybody on the earth. So how about some questions. Lets talk.”
Question: What is a reasonable goal for this team this year?
“Well I am asked that question, if you have an experienced team or you have a team that is like this. I’ve never answered that with any other goal than the goal is to get better every day. That is a pretty simple goal and the end will take care of itself. But I think that I would like you to watch this team and say are they getting better and I hope that you are going to see that. Because if that takes care of itself, you are gradually going to get to a point where you are good enough where you are playing in postseason play and you are playing for a while in postseason play. But I am not going to put any number on any thing. Like I said given the inexperience of the team, the schedule. You cannot even put a number on it right now.”
Question: Are there a couple of specifics about this roster, about these guys that you know now through you workouts that maybe you didn’t know about before?
“Yeah, I think we are starting and I do not want to comment too much. I am starting to get a mindset in what we do. Whether it is the man, whether it is the zones, whether it is the offense. For example, where does a certain player fit into the scheme of things. Where I really had no idea and we after a couple of days made a couple of decisions in recruiting for the future because of what we were seeing on the floor right then. So that will continue to change as the year goes on. But I am getting more comfortable, I think with who will be best suited for a position. Things will change, all of a sudden we are finding a kid; imagine this, you go from a total now of probably 12-14 hours total in almost 6 months. We are going to go from there to 20 hours in one week. The learning curve is just going to go from me and for everybody, is just going to go off the charts. We will find out that maybe this kid can really do this, but we may find out next week that he quit on us in practice three different times in three different drills that he emotionally might not have been ready for something. So there is all kinds of things still to be learned that says it all. We are going to see more by next Wednesday or next Thursday, as much as we have seen in the last six months.”
Question: How long do you think it will to fit your system? Will it be a matter of maybe come January or something like that?
"You know it is really unique, the way that we have had young men pick up our system like this (snaps finger) and others it may take two years. Seriously, it may take two years for people to think like we think. Last year, we probably had a young man who learned 2-3 different positions within the first preseason and it took others, who still didn’t know it by the end of the year. They may have had very different grade point averages in school. There is not a correlation here between SAT and basketball IQ. It is all over the place where people can learn. That is our job as coaches and teachers; I think it is John Wooden’s book, ‘you have not taught until they have learned.’ So we will find, lets say Kelvin Grady is having trouble learning. Well lets change the approach. Maybe he needs to watch more video. Maybe he needs to get over on my board and do the little stuff on the board. Maybe we need him to draw out the plays himself. So there is all different ways of reaching them and that is what our coaching staff will try and do.”
Question: Did you have an opportunity to look at the nonconference schedule and maybe change it or maybe make it less challenging and why did you keep it the way it is?
“I did not think there was a choice. I think you have contracts written with people and we asked for a couple of opportunities to take a break and to just listen, ‘we are in a tough situation right here, we are going to have a young team, would you consider playing us on another year’ and we never got the right answer. So we just said okay lets just play. Lets just play. In fact, what happened, the week after we got the job, we did have to stay compliant with the NCAA; we actually had to get rid of two games. So it was a matter of getting back down to the 27 games plus the tournament, plus the Alaskan tournament. If a university makes a commitment to play a game and a new coach comes in, then I think it is up to that coach to honor that commitment and as much as it will be difficult it is something that we have to take on and do our best with and not use it as a crutch one time.”
Question: With the system that you have and looking at your personnel, what do you like about what these guys can do?
“I like the versatility. I like that we are not too big. You can be way too big in basketball. I know people do not think that, but you can be way too big. And we are not too small. We have a lot of guys that are interchangeable. I do like that. We have long guys, we are pretty athletic. I like parts of that. There is an awful lot of people that can play three different positions for us. The areas that we are going to have to focus in on is leadership and certainly toughness… basketball IQ. All those things will be things that we will be watching very closely right now because we have not ever been the type of team that plays 10 or 11 guys. It is usually seven, eight, or nine at the most. So we have pretty good candidates we think to get in there. Now are they good enough to be an NCAA tournament team? Who knows. Right now, I think we have enough that we can put them out there and see where they are and still have a chance to win some games that would be our hope.”
Question: How much are you going to rely on the three?
“I think that is still to be determined; we did some testing yesterday as a matter of fact and the 3-point shooting, in the test at least, has increased dramatically. Now can they make them when the lights are on? That is a whole different thing. But we will be working hard at it. It depends on how people play us. But it will also depend on what we have. When we shot between 30 and 40 3s a game sometimes, it was not only because of how the defense played, but we had awfully good 3-point shooters. We are not going to shoot that many… if we don’t see it in practice every day then we probably will not do that. But that will be determined later on. We tweak our style to what fits the players. We do not change it completely, but we do tweak it.”
Question: How have Manny and Kelvin been so far on the court and off the court?
“Very well. They have done a wonderful job of just sort of being freshman and actually acting a little bit above their years in what their responsibilities are. How they acted in summer school when they came in here. The maturity that they need to act with… and both of them yesterday as far as our shooting drills, graded out as high as anybody on the team. That was really good to see. I sensed that they both want to be coached. They have had good high school coaching and now they want to be coached at the college level and sometimes you will get a freshman who thinks they invented the game and when you start to teach them they resist. These two have been great with that.”
Question: With an inexperienced team, what is the biggest concern? Just the fact that they do not know what they are doing?
“We have a saying… and Brian Townsend mentioned it before; ‘they don’t know, what they don’t know.’ That sounds like a Yogi Berraism and I think that has been used maybe on other players, but they don’t know, what they don’t know. So that is what you are trying to figure out is what they don’t know. When you look at it, your two leading scorers coming back (averaged) five or six points a game somewhere in there, and maybe that is good. I don’t think we have anybody that is coming in with any agendas about ‘I am trying to get to the pros.’ I am trying to get to here. I am only a few points away from the all time record for this or that. We just got guys who hopefully their only agenda is ‘how can we improve every day so that we can win.’ ”
Question: Is there one leader of this team or somebody that you want to step up and lead this team?
“I hope that Ron Coleman will emerge because it is natural, he is the senior. He has done a terrific job in all of our preseason drills. He has been a great leader as far as that would go. Now after one week, I have seen him more than I have seen him in six months and I will be able to give better answers. But I think to a point, a part every class that I have noticed, even the freshman are assuming some leadership and that is good. That is good. Each kid should feel ownership of this team and I think that that will be a theme throughout the whole year that you have a big part in this rather you are a non-scholarship walk-on, you are the manager, or the coach… you got a part of this team and how are you going to affect it.”
Question: Who are the returning players that you are looking to step it up to get to that next level that you are talking about?
“I think every returning player we have to look at. Particularly the ones that have some type of playing time in the past. I think a guy that has been real impressive so far is Jevohn Shepherd. He had a great summer with the Canadian team. I think he made as many 3s in one game as he made all last year. He has really been a good influence on a lot of the players. Here is Jerret Smith, he was the starting point guard last year in the Big Ten. We are hoping that he is going to be able to really show that type of leadership during the year. I think that sophomore class between Zach Gibson, Ekpe (Udoh) and Deshawn Sims, they really have shown that they have some ability. Now as sophomores are they ready to step out front, that is still a tough task.”
Question: About Deshawn, he had a lot of struggles last year for a variety of reasons. How is he doing now and how have you found him responding to you coaching?
“He is no different than the other ones. We have found that most people are very receptive to our style and what we want to get done. Do they know all the components, I mean sometimes we come to practice and I see almost a fear in their eyes with what is next; ‘how hard is this going to be?’ We say listen, any adversity that you face in getting in shape and weight training and understanding how we play, it will not be adversity for long, as long as you do it the right way. He is no different in those respects. He has done a great job in some areas. Obviously he is like everybody else, he needs to develop in others, but he is just like everybody else.”
Question: Do you kind of put the past aside (for the current players), because there is so much turnover on the team. Obviously your system is different?
“What I asked the assistants to do was to make tapes, make cuts, for example of Jerret Smith… some of his best games and just best plays within games. Take his top three and four games, cut it up for me and show me all his plays. I did not watch complete games. I did not want to prejudice myself the other way. I just wanted to see what they could do so that I did not dwell on what they can’t do. So I try to take a very positive approach to every kid as they came in. I do have some knowledge, but I did not pour over their tapes. Because the style is so different, you go from a team that led the Big East or was atop the Big East in assist/turnover ratio, to one that was at the bottom of the Big Ten. You go to a team that led the Big Ten in rebounding from a team that was at the bottom of the Big East in rebounding. The styles are just very conflicting and there is not a whole lot that you could gain from watching those two differences.”
Question: Michigan was on the short list of places that you would go to. How has the reality of it been for you, has it matched your perception?
“Wherever you go, you find out, ‘wow this is incredible’ and then you also try to say, well maybe this suggestion that I am seeing right here has really worked for us that people will be receptive to it and they have been. I think any time we have come into a situation where I have come in, where you have replaced a coach, you did not replace him because everything was running smoothly. There are some areas that you have to try and clear up. The administration here has been great to us. To try and say okay coach, this is what we hired you for, tell us what we got to do. We have made great steps in a lot of those areas. We have a lot more to do, just like the team. It is very similar to the team.”
Question: What are the keys to coaching up? You say emphasis on 3-point shooting; how do you coach a kid up, who is a competent shooter, but he does not think of himself as a guy that can shoot 3-pointers?
“We sort of have a theory. You can make a bad shooter average, you can make average good and good – great. You cannot make a bad shooter a great shooter. It is very difficult to do. So what we have tried through the different tests that we do and the practice system, for a lack of a better word that we have, we will find out who has the ability to make them in games. Now you got guys that are great practice players that are not gamers and you have guys that are gamers that are not good practice players. I am not talking about effort. I am just talking about when the lights come on they can make shot and in practice they don’t look like guys that are world beaters in their shooting. I think you try getting the idea of yes I can, you can make these shots. These are shots you make everyday in practice in a much more difficult situation. That you are coming off of screens, you are tired. You just ran sprints and now there is somebody in your face, there is somebody hitting you with a bag and you are making them. Sometimes it is getting to be harder than it will be to make them against another Big Ten team. It is that constant positive reinforcement, yes you can do it, and you can do it. Take that shot or you are coming out. That brings some success.”
Question: Talk about playing in Alaska?
“Yeah, I think that would be a great bonding thing for us. I did not have that on my list of 10 things that I wanted to do in life, as to whether to spend a Thanksgiving in Alaska. I do have a sister who lives in Buffalo, who has traveled to so many of my West Virginia games, always by car. We will really see how loyal she is on this one, if she is going to make that trip. My sister Molly. It will be a bonding thing. It will be great. Does it have Texas, Florida and UCLA? No, but it has teams that can beat Texas and UCLA and Florida in it. So it is going to be one week. We will virtually leave Sunday and come back the following Sunday… and win, lose or draw, we are going to be a better team down the road. We got BC right away on Wednesday too. But we are going to be a better because I think whether it was while we were dog sledding together, we bonded or the fact that we spent 24 hours in a plane. We will make it. We are going to make it a positive somehow. If we win the tournament now that is really a positive.”
Question: Are you done with your ’08 recruiting or do you feel like you have to take another kid with that last scholarship?
“We have a scholarship right now that we will look at a lot of opportunities. I think one of the biggest things for us, is to find out what we need and we still do know. We have some ideas, obviously we are losing Ron Coleman so that is an obvious thing. Can some of our freshman replace Ron Coleman at the small forward. We do not know. If we have a scholarship hanging around for a transfer or for someone who surfaces late that would be great.”
Question: When the administration asked, what do we need to do coach? Can you share anything about the types of direction that you would like?
“I think at a place like Michigan, our whole philosophy should be that we should be trying to be the best in everything that we can be. No matter what it is. Whether it is the way our team conducts themselves with how we run our academic support. Whether it is my radio show, my TV show, our facilities. We all should be saying, what do the teams that really win do? What does it take to be at the top level? Because that is what Michigan should be. Michigan would never build a new business department here or they would do anything and say lets just do it halfway, or lets find a mediocre teacher to teach this accounting class. Michigan is going to do it that way (the right way) and that is the same idea I want it. Everything we should be doing, we should be trying to be at the top.”
Question: How would you describe your system. What is the ideal identity that you would like to see this team have?
“Our system? Which component of our program and how we run it?”
Question: Playing style.
“I would think that we try to be very versatile in both our offense and defensive approach. Instead of just being a team that just shoots 3s or a team that just throws it inside. Be able to have a scheme that we can do a lot of different things. What was the second part?”
Question: Do you have a kind of ideal identity
“I want the identity to be a team that the score is on the left side, if we are on the right side. Whatever it takes. Whatever it takes. I do not think that we have to say, ‘hey, we have to shoot 40 3s a game to win’ or that we have to out rebound our opponents to win or we have got to have more assists. We want to find ways to win. Maybe that will be the identity, a team that is searching to find ways to win all the time. Whether the team is old or whether it is young, be innovative a little bit in what you do and don’t ever say we cannot do it. We are going to try and find a way to do it. Some of that discover may be very painful, to discover that you couldn’t win this way so that you could win later on that way. There is a lot more to it. I wish I could give that in a simplistic answer, but it is not that easy.”
Question: What has it been like talking to fans and alumni? What kinds of things have you heard since you have got here, any advice to you on how you should run you program and things like that?
“I am sure that I will get more of that. I have not met the thousands of assistant coaches that I will have here in a couple months. I think everyone is very hungry to get back to the point where they are following us in postseason play in the NCAA tournament. They are coming to games and they are having a great time at the games. They are watching the team that they want to see play. Like I said, there has been great strides in the last 4 years to do that. Now we got to do even more than that. We will be trying to create an atmosphere here that when people come to games, they like coming to the games, they love the style, they love the atmosphere. We have gone down and I have met with the Maize Rage. We will do whatever we can right to promote this thing without being Barnum and Bailey. I still got to coach basketball.”
Question: How much salesmanship did you have to do with Manny? Did you have to sell him on what he could still do here?
“I think to a degree. I think because we never met before. He led Michigan and he wanted to go to Michigan and all of a sudden comes this coach from West Virginia who now is his new coach. I think there was a typical, ‘this is not what I signed up to do to go to Michigan and go to play for this guy.’ So within the first week or so, we talked often. Michael Jackson who had rehired at that point, was a big part of that. Ever since the day that Manny just called and said coach, ‘I still want to go to Michigan and play for your coaching staff’, he has been nothing but just a pleasure to be around every minute.”
Question: What are you going to look for to make sure that this team is on the right track, especially early on?
“I think for our kids to really know that there is an understanding there
is a process that we are going to go through and the only way we can be successful
in the process, if we learn from our failures. Failure is fertilizer for growth.
We learn from our failures and we just continue to practice every day like it
is that one practice that is going to get us into the NCAA tournament. It is
that one practice that is going to help us beat Duke. Who knows what it is going
to be, but just focus small and dream big, I think people say. Lets get this
done today and then in the long run it will take care of itself. Just like I
said in the beginning statements. Thank you very much.”