Mark Gottfried's Opening Statement:
Well, I'll say just starting off, I think we're like every team, we're excited to be here, it's a great privilege for our program, for our kids, but at the same time I think that our team's a very hungry team.
That seems to be a great thing with our team. So we're excited, no question, but at the same time very anxious to play and have a chance to continue to play.
Understanding that your team is still very hungry, do you kind of feel like you guys are kind of playing with house money at this point?
I've been asked that question and I don't, I don't see it at all that way. Because I think what do you if you put your mindset in that frame of mind where we're playing with house money, we're not really supposed to be here. I just don't know that you value it as much. I think our team feels like we have earned the right to be here, just like anybody else, and we certainly feel like we belong.
So I don't buy into that house money theory at all.
What happened with your team eight games ago when you guys just went on this terror, got hot before the ACC tournament, and have continued that?
Well, I think our team, it's not just the last eight or nine games. I think what's happened with us is we're a team that just kept getting better. We played a very good non-conference schedule. Our league schedule is very tough. We played really good teams. We didn't win a lot of those games, and I just think our team began to figure out how to defend a little bit better, what we needed to run at certain times and who needs to do what for us.
So we were a team that just has continued to get better.
Then we had the four-game losing streak and at that point we were out of room for error. There was no room for error. We knew it. Players knew it. I think they just responded to that in a very positive way.
A lot of people say the NCAA tournament is all about matchups. Do you subscribe to that their reason how does these two teams matchup, NC State and Kansas?
Well, first I would say, I'm not sure I would agree with that, the matchup thing. Because what happens in the tournament is so unpredictable. You may think you have a great matchup and some guy that you're not counting on rises up and hits three or four threes in a row. You just never know. The games are so unique and I think anything can happen in any game.
So that's kind of my thought there. What was your other question?
About how these two teams matchup?
Well, first of all, when you watch Kansas, and you start to study them, every time you watch them you start gaining a little more respect for Robinson, Withey, I think the two guards, Johnson is improving, he's better now I think than he was early. Releford's an awfully good player.
But what I like when I watch their team is they just keep finding ways to win. You watch some games and there's that eight-minute mark in the second half and it starts to look like it's teetering one way or another and here they come, bang, bang, bang. All of a sudden they made some plays. I think that's a trademark of Bill's teams. They have always done that. They find ways to win.
So a lot of good players on both sides in this game. We feel like we have got some guys that can step up and make some plays. I'm sure they feel the same way.
What's the single biggest challenge of coming in to a program as a first-year coach with established players? Is it psychological, can you talk about the process that you went through.
I think any time you take a job. It's always different. It's never the same. Sometimes you inherit a job and maybe the talent level's really low or really high or maybe the team has been winning. That's difficult to walk in there and take over a team that was winning.
Ours was unique in that the previous staff did a nice job. They recruited some nice players, good players, but we were just seemed to be very disorganized and we just didn't have great direction. Our accountability was down. We just needed to tighten everything up.
And I think our staff, when I look back from April throughout this year, I think that our guys, our staff has done a great job with these guys, building good relationships, building trust, giving them a system that they can believe in, which I believe in our system.
And it's won for me and for those I've worked for, so they seem to buy into that. But I think a lot of the credit goes to our staff. They have done a good job with our players I think all year long.
You did a pretty good job of limiting Nate Lubick and Henry Sims last week. Now you got Thomas Robinson, Jeff Withey. Can you talk about how good they are down low and what C.J. Lesley and Richard Howell are going to have to do to limit them?
When you look at Withey and you look at our league and take a guy like John Henson at North Carolina, and Withey has more blocked shots than Henson. That jumps out at our guys real quick because they have great respect for North Carolina's front line.
And when you watch Thomas Robinson, he's just a grown man. I mean he's a physical guy that can manhandle you for position. It's hard to get him off of where he wants to go on the floor, where he wants to be.
Watching tape, I think everybody in the Big-12, they have tried everything. Whether it's doubling, post-to-post, whether it's sending a guard down to double him, front the post, I mean you've seen it all and he just finds a way throughout the game to figure it out and still be very effective.
So those two guys, I think inside, obviously they're very good. And Withey has gotten a lot better. You look in the last maybe a year ago right now and look at him now, and he's had great improvement. It's a big front line there and it's going to be a great challenge for our interior guys.
How much do you think that your previous associates with ESPN has kind of helped draw attention or gain some notoriety for what you guys are doing, or is it just that compelling a story that NC State after five years is here and in the Sweet 16, that has made this kind of such a really kind of an interesting story that everybody seems to be following?
I've got good relationships, obviously, but unless you're winning, unless you give them something to talk about, they're not real interested in just talking about some guy that used to work there. So I don't think that has much to do with it.
I think our players have earned that. I think throughout this year we have been that team that's kind of right on the edge. Couldn't get over the hump, but did some good things at times.
And then late in the year, we tell our players that we played our way into the tournament, and we began to play some very good basketball here late. So I don't know that that has a whole lot to do with it. Every now and then, those guys will say something nice about me because they're my buddies, but that's about it.
Curious as far as Debbie Yow's leadership, what impresses you the most about that?
Well, there's a lot. I've known Debbie a long time. One thing that I have probably grown to appreciate even more working for her is how competitive she is and how willing she is to help.
It's been said a lot of times, but and I don't know who said it, but administration win championships. They help a program win, which I think is the case with us, without question.
And so I'm excited about it. I am. I'm excited to have that relationship with her, she's very helpful, she wants to win, not just basketball, all the sports that we have. And she's trying to find ways to help each program. How can I help you? That's exciting when you're in my position to have somebody like that.
The ACC with basketball has set the bar so high for so long, this year it kind of perceived as a down year for the conference, but yet here you are and there are two ACC schools here in the Sweet 16. What does that say about the conference as a whole?
Well, I think that the perception has been a little down, I think our league is improving a great deal. I think it's improving quickly. I think over the next couple years when you watch, hopefully our program, you look at Miami, look at Maryland, Georgia Tech's going to improve, Clemson's getting better, the depth of the league I think is going to really take a step up.
And then obviously we're getting ready to add in Syracuse and Pittsburgh as well. So we're excited about where our league is heading to.
I think for the league what has to happen, it's happening right now, slowly, but we can see it because we're in the league. You've had two programs that are very successful, and the rest of the programs need to come on. They got to get better. Period. Got to schedule better, schedule tougher. We have to win more games in November and December against quality opponents, all of us in the league. That's what elevates your league.
So I think we're in the process of that. I like the fact that I think in another year or two or three, our league will be the best basketball league in America. I don't have any doubt about that.
I'm assuming those two schools are Duke and a North Carolina?
Yes. Obviously. Yeah.
You played in three Sweet 16s yourself. How do you use that experience to talk to your players coming into their Sweet 16?
I haven't used it a lot. The only thing I told our guys, You got to understand that sometimes you always think, Well, I'll be back here again. Hopefully you are. Hopefully your program is one where you're in the Sweet 16 regularly. But it's also very difficult, too.
And so you don't want to lose the opportunity. You don't want to be happy just to be here. You think you're going to be here next year and the next year and again hopefully we are, but you never know. So you got to believe you're good enough.
Now played on three different teams, we never advanced as a player. And I thought the first year, believe it or not, we lost to NC State in Denver, in the Sweet 16. I wasn't sure as a team we thought we were good enough. We didn't really know. We were unsure.
In '87, Providence, Rick Pitino went to the Final Four, they beat us in Louisville. Now that year we felt like we were good enough and got beat.
But we approached it different that year. Because we believed. And so I think that's number one. You got to believe you can get a win and advance.
C.J., could you talk about matching up with Thomas Robinson. And Lorenzo following up with his matchup or your matchup with Tyshawn Taylor, pretty high-profile matchups and a lot of the nation's looking at it.
C.J. LESLIE: Well, we know that Robinson is a very strong player and the matchup is -- basically I know he's going to use his strength and I'm going to use my quickness and that's pretty much how we're going to matchup.
LORENZO BROWN: I guess me and Tyshawn's role are controlling the teams and we both are quick on our feet and we're both going to score. And it's going to be a great game, I guess.
For C.J., what did Coach Gottfried say to you and how did he go about coaching you to make you as productive this season as you've been?
C.J. LESLIE: Well, more so probably a little mid-season he basically told me to step up and be a leader. Be a leader for our team, do the things that I need to do to make my team get better, as far as bringing energy and keeping our team in it, basically.
Had anybody ever asked you to do that before?
C.J. LESLIE: Not while I've been in college.
I don't get the sense, C.J., that confidence has ever been an issue with you. But watching you this year, has your confidence reached a level where you believe in yourself more than you did at the beginning of the season?
C.J. LESLIE: Definitely. I mean, I really didn't know I was going to do this season, but the point guard role, coach put it in my hands and I mean that's where my confidence came from, it came from him.
Your run has been so spectacular, people are starting to refer to your team as a Cinderella team. Do you guys feel that's an appropriate way to describe what this team has done in getting to the Sweet 16?
LORENZO BROWN: People are going to talk. I think we are a Cinderella team. Nobody expected us to be here. We just keep believing in ourselves that we're going to make it to at least the Final Four.
Lorenzo, you played AAU ball and then now collegiately with Richard Howell. Can you talk about his demeanor on and off the court?
LORENZO BROWN: Richard is a silly guy, I guess. He's always excited and up to par. I mean it's hard not to like him. On the court he's aggressive dude. I think that's where he gets his fouls from, from being too aggressive at times. But it's just fun to play with him.
C.J., another Thomas Robinson question for you. There's a lot of really good big guys in your league that you guys have played against. Is there any that you have seen on tape so far that you would compare him to?
C.J. LESLIE: I would say he's in a different category of his own. But if I had to compare him to anybody in our league maybe against the Plumlee brothers: big, strong, quick, but then again that's a rough comparison.
For both Lorenzo and C.J. coach has talked about there's a difference between wanting to win and being confident and expecting to win. It seems that this team has gotten to the point where they're confident and expect to win and I'm curious where does that come from? Does it come from coach? Does it come from some of the results over the second half of the season? Does it just come from greater discipline and accountability in practice? Where does that come from, that belief?
C.J. LESLIE: You can get it from a number of places. It comes from coach, it comes from playing in tough games, and a tough schedule that we played in in the beginning of the season. It comes from that. It comes from believing within yourself that you can win these types of games.
So it can come from a number of places. I don't think you can just say it came from one place. It comes from being with your team and knowing that your team can win tough games in tough situations.
LORENZO BROWN: I have to agree with C.J. I think that the main thing is having fun. Because I think if you come out and you have a bad attitude and you don't want to play, you definitely are going to lose the game. But I think that it's having fun with your team and having a good staff like we do, it helps us a lot.
For both of you, another comparison question, Kansas, do they remind you of anyone in the ACC that you have seen, that you watch them on tape?
C.J. LESLIE: Are you asking me to compare them to another team in the ACC?
Yes. Do they look like any other teams that you played?
C.J. LESLIE: If I had to compare them I would probably say maybe North Carolina. That's about as good as I can get, I guess. LORENZO BROWN: I would have to say Duke because they have quick guards and a good big man.