Amaker and Players Prepare for Minnesota

The Michigan basketball team will face Minnesota (9-5) on Wednesday night (Jan. 22). Head coach Tommy Amaker, Gavin Groninger, Bernard Robinson Jr., and Daniel Horton met in a Monday press conference to discuss the big match-up.

Head Coach Tommy Amaker

On the focus of the team during the winning streak:

"I think the focus has been on Michigan as far as what we have been doing to make ourselves a better team. Our kids have really worked hard to improve as individual players and as a team. Then our focus has been on the next game. As long as we stay within that framework, I think we have the makings of becoming a good team this year."

On the role confidence has played during the winning streak:

"I think for us the confidence has helped us. I think that has been a big key for a program like ours that has not enjoyed a tremendous amount of success over the last number of years. I think anytime we can have things go in a positive direction it will help our team become a better team. So far we have been able to use it to our advantage."

On the difference between 0-6 and 11-0:

"There are a variety of different reasons but for me there is none bigger than LaVell Blanchard. When you have a senior captain that is our best worker and our best player that have been able to produce for us, things fall into a nice format."

On scouting Minnesota:

"When you look at their team the first thing is that they have a preseason player of the year. I think they were picked to finish second or third in our conference. They are a team that certainly has all the ingredients and the talent. Then certainly Minnesota's size and their depth on the front line concerns us. This is a great challenge that we have in front of us. They are coming off a big win at home against Michigan State. They played extremely well in that game. I am sure that their confidence and momentum will be at an all-time high."

On what he has done as a coach to improve the defense:

"I think you have a philosophy that you try to implement and we have gone about that. You also want to make sure that you are giving your kids the best opportunity to win. I think at times we are trying to pick our spots when we should press a little more or things like that. I think we have done that better this year with game strategies and backing off at certain moments and changing defenses at times. Sometimes when you do that your pressure becomes more effective because you have more things that you are going to, but never losing the core or the philosophy that you started with. That has been something that has been helpful to our team."

On the disadvantages of having younger players in the Big Ten:

"It is a physical conference and a tough conference. We have been playing a lot of young players. When you hustle and play hard and are giving your best all-out effort you are not as concerned with all of those things. You seem to make up for a lot of those deficiencies because of all-out effort. We have put forth that all-out effort and we have been rewarded for that. We have been fortunate at times, but sometimes you get that because of the effort you put into it."

On what has led to the success on the road:

"I think when you get the first win you have a point of reference ... you have a moment that you can reflect back upon and that gives you strength and confidence. Certainly getting the road wins in the conference is a different story and just a tremendous accomplishment for any team in our conference. I think it has to do with our players believing and their tenacity and hustle and work."

On why the freshman players have not struggled so far in Big Ten play:

"It is still early. Obviously it is just four games into the conference race and there is a lot of basketball to be played. We certainly are going to have to rely on our freshman players to help us through the season. I have been very pleased with their development. When you have (LaVell) Blanchard and (Bernard) Robinson Jr. playing their roles and playing up to their potential, it allows those younger players to fit in and at times it allows them to look spectacular. We have seen that. When we ask them to do things that they are unaccustomed to doing, that is when we are going to get in trouble."

On how long he feels it takes a freshman to fully understand the concept of help defense:

"That is a key part to becoming a good defensive team: when you understand that your teammate is going to be there to help you and that you will have someone helping the helper. It is not good enough to help but who is going to help the helper. For a freshman player at times that is a little foreign to them. You can tell there are certain players who come in with an understanding of that because of their training and background and coaching, and at other times it is new to them at this level. It varies amongst the players. We have seen a few of them that are a little more advanced. I have been extremely impressed with Chris (Hunter) and Graham (Brown). I do not think I have seen two young big players come in with the understanding of being help defenders that they have displayed thus far. Being in a stance, arms out, talking and having understanding and the ability to see the floor. They have been taught and coached very well. To see that in big players is very encouraging and exciting for me as a basketball coach to know what we have to work with down the road."

On the progression of Chris Hunter:

"I think with all our freshman players I can see them becoming more confident and comfortable. I think Chris is probably a big statement when we talk about how our freshman have developed and come along. It is very nice to see that Chris and Graham (Brown) have developed into players that we can use out on the floor for one another and also with one another. I really like to see their development and they are really progressing. I think Chris is playing with more intensity and being more assertive and playing with more confidence. It is nice to see that and it is a great time for that to happen for us."

On if he is worried Chris Hunter may wear down as the season progresses:

"As we go along in our conference, starting on Wednesday, we will worry about getting worn down over the course of a conference season. Thus far our kids have made up for it with the effort and the hustle. I think with Chris he has relied on his quickness. He is a pretty agile big guy and he has been able to get around people and front and the fundamentals are there for him to block out. When you look at all the little things, you can make up for some of the deficiencies that we have had."

On the versatility of Graham Brown and Chris Hunter:

"They give us flexibility. I think both have shown the ability to play as a power player or to be a quicker post player. I like the fact that they have been two kids who have bought into everything from day one. You can see their confidence to perform better and play in difficult circumstances and enthusiasm out on the floor. As a coach there is no better feeling in the world than to see players becoming better. Certainly Chris and Graham have displayed that."

On Bernard Robinson Jr.'s defense:

"I think he enjoys that. He draws the toughest assignment on the perimeter for us. We need him to embrace that, which he has. It is never just an individual matchup. It is never just Bernard against the other team's top offensive player. It is about help-side defense and communicating and having your teammate's back. That is when you know you are becoming a pretty good defensive team. To have Bernard to draw that assignment and use his athleticism and his size and his range and his quickness really helps. The fact that he can do those things and become that kind of stopper, help us on the offensive end, I think Bernard more than anyone has seen that you get dividends for playing good defense. You get out in transition and finish the ball and he has done that as well as anyone on our team."

Gavin Groninger

On what the winning streak has meant with all the problems the program has endured:

"It's been really big for us, it's our battling cry. After we lost our first six games we said that we were going to drop that off and start fresh and since that we have been able to pull off a lot of games that we probably wouldn't have been able to win last year."

On the importance of a good start in the Big Ten:

"It's always important for any team in the Big Ten to take care of home games and win on the road, which is huge too. You win games on the road in the Big Ten you are going to be a contender, and taking care of your home court is something that you have to do to be successful."

On fan support from the students:

"It's nice and a lot of them have been there and obviously there are more there now. That Wisconsin game was a great feeling and knowing that we have their support up on campus is a good feeling and gives us a lot of confidence."

Bernard Robinson Jr.

On the confidence that the winning streak has provided the team:

"Confidence plays a big part and it makes you willing to try extra things out on the court, one of the keys for us is that everyone has been helping each other out."

On adjusting to the physical nature of Big Ten play:

"I feel that we have adapted to Big Ten play very quickly, especially adapting to the way that the refs call the game. It has been a quick adjustment for us."

Daniel Horton

On the team's confidence as it relates to the winning streak:

"I always have high confidence to the point that people are questioning why I do things. Even when we were 0-6 I had confidence in my play and the team's play, however, we just had to figure out how to do certain things so that we could win games."

On when Michigan was 0-6, how did he know they were going to turn it around:

"We have a lot of talent on the team. It's hard to keep good talent along with good coaching down for along period of time. We worked hard along with correcting some things."

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