“Right now bad sinus cold, I think. I hope that's all it is. I can't talk. I can yell a little bit. So we've already practiced, so everything is okay. But it's getting to be closer and closer, so that makes it more exciting. And more scary, too, because I've watched more Oregon tape. So it's a little bit of both, more exciting and more scary.”
Coach, there's some advantages coming in as a veteran team, but there's baggage that comes with it too. That was a heartbreaker last year in that final championship. How do you help the guys who were there last year and back this year, how do you help them get rid of that so they can just play the game they have to play?
“I think you're right, there is a little bit of both. But I haven't sensed that our team has many thoughts in a negative manner about what happened last year except the final outcome. And we use that as fuel to motivate us over the summer to work harder. And we haven't made it openly, with coach's advice, we haven't made it our mantra that we're all standing around holding hands, chanting 4.7 seconds or anything like that.
“So the kids know about it, even the freshmen. I said, hey, you didn't have anything to do with it, just be excited. And the older guys tried to tell them to be excited about it as well. But you're right, it's a heartache that you can't erase. It's always going to be there. But I do think that once the game starts, you know, or even the game-day preparations, I don't think they'll be thinking about that. I really believe they'll just be focusing on Oregon.”
In '05 you had a backup point guard who started as a freshman in Melvin Scott. In '09 you had the same with Bobby Frasor. This time you've got Nate Britt, who started as a freshman and he's been there four years now. Considering Joel's situation and how he might be limited, how valuable is it to have a guy like Nate? And how much does that experience help him?
“There's no question he's played a lot of basketball games for us with a lot of experience. Been there a lot of good times and a few bad ones as well. So that does help. I was scared to death in 2012 after Kendall got hurt because we really didn't have anybody that had been on a big stage. And Stilman did a magnificent job considering all the factors.
“But I like it better when you have someone who has been there and been asked to do it all year long and you're more -- the rest of the guys are more comfortable with him. So hopefully that will translate to better play on the court.”
What are C.B. McGrath's strengths as an assistant coach? And why do you feel like he may some day become a good head coach?
“He's extremely intelligent. Very organized. He has a passion for the game. He has a desire to put teams together to try to, as I always say, make sacrifices towards a common goal. Loves working with the young people. Does see the big picture all the time. I think he has every skill that you would want a prospective coach to have, if and when that happens.”
I know people have asked about when you and Coach Altman used to face off against each other at Kansas and Kansas State. Are those memories still fresh, the days of Allen Fieldhouse going out there? I looked it up, I don't want to make you feel old. The first time you met was ten days before I was born.
“Son, I'm older than anybody in here so you're not making me feel bad at all. But, no, I have good memories. I always had a great deal of respect for Lon Kruger and his staff, and that's who was coaching at K-State when I first got there. And then Dana took over.
“I'm very sincere, I said something about the jump shot that Anthony Beane made to beat us in the fieldhouse, we were number one, it changed about how I thought about that same scenario. Dana has done a great job there, and has done a great job everywhere he's been. And I genuinely like him as a person. But I have a great deal of respect for him and the way he coaches. He's a family guy. He appreciates the right things and good things about college athletics. Q. Last week you had a lot of success attacking Bam Adebayo getting out of foul trouble. How much does that help your team as you guys go after Jordan Bell and do the same thing? “It's basically what we've tried to do all year with everybody, we try to establish the inside game first. And it's helped us in a lot of games. It's the kind of thing I believe in, and so I would think that we would try to go out there and not shoot too many fade-away jump shots with our big guys. And I don't think I'll see Kennedy and Isaiah pull up from 3 on a breaker or anything. If we do see that, it will be the last time we see it.
“I've always felt like going inside was really important. And this year's team it's been important to them and helped us a great deal in a lot of games. The tough thing is that Bell's so damn athletically you can go right at him and he still blocks the shot. He's a very gifted youngster.”
We've talked a lot about experience and things like that. I'm just curious, what's your take in general in college basketball of the one-and-done rule?
“I would like to have some of those guys. I tried to recruit them, too, for us. And again those that got here late, I've got a terrible sinus deal running this morning and it's quite literally running. I'd love to have a great mix, would be my best choice, to have guys that you think are going to be around three or four years. But you always like to have that talent of the one-and-dones as well.
“Everyone would choose experience talent over everything. But when you play golf some guys like to hit a draw, some guys like to hit a fade, you're still trying to get to the middle of the fairway. That's the way it is in basketball -- you choose how you can recruit successfully and try to stick with that and try to get the best players you can that are willing to make those sacrifices. But there's no perfect rule. I don't think LeBron made a mistake, and yet there's a lot of guys that did make a mistake. I've used so many of these napkins this morning I feel I should get a cut. But I do think that that's what college basketball is. It's different guys having different ways to do things.”
I know Theo is coming out here, and I think he just crashed another press conference with Joel Berry back there. What is he and the lightness and the humor and the joking, how does he keep the team loose when you want to be in certain points of the year?
“He is a very shy youngster, as you can tell. I know it's very difficult for him to be involved in crowds. But that's who Theo is… It's harder that he ran back on defense all frickin' year. Truth hurts, big fella. But I do think he's good for our team. Everybody's got their own personality and I do try to let guys be themselves as long as it's not harmful or takes away from what we're trying to do.
“And I think he's a guy that everybody truly enjoys. And people enjoy laughing at him as well as they do with him. And he's full fledged. He gives you reasons for both.”
How much have you kidded Luke about his new-won celebrity, TMZ, all over every class, probably every restaurant, everywhere on campus, right?
THEO PINSON: “Yeah, it was funny because I just told somebody else this, me and Coach was at center court and we had shootaround on Tuesday. And Luke was over there by himself shooting by himself, after he just hit a game-winning shot.”
ROY WILLIAMS: “No rebounder.”
THEO PINSON: “No rebounder. Just by himself. Everybody else had a rebounder but Luke. We just had a kick out of it. He's handled it great. He's a great kid and really happy for him.”
JUSTIN JACKSON: “Yeah, I have the opportunity of being his roommate. I've probably been a little more mean to him since that happened just to kind of keep him a little more humble. Because to see his name everywhere, it's pretty cool. It's a testament of the hard work he put in in the offseason. Like I said before, he was in there a ton with me. He was in there with everybody, with Jonas, with everybody. And so it's cool to see that finally kind of translate and for it to be that big of a shot.”
ROY WILLIAMS: “I think one of the things Justin said that really sticks out with me is that everybody on the team is very proud of him, very happy for him, but they also realize how much work he put in and what he does in the weight room and the work he's done in the offseason to try to make himself be a better player. And so I think everyone is happy that that's been justified by how much work he did put in. And he was in the right spot at the right time and he made the right play.”
How much does the fact that you guys were here last year help in terms of experience? And is there unfinished business obviously, does that help with motivation?
THEO PINSON: “I don't think -- I mean, it's a new game. It's a new Final Four, new team. I think we're just taking it one game at a time. Right now we're focusing on Oregon. I think the same jitters will be there. But I think we'll be all right once the ball goes up. I think everybody is just ready to play the game. I mean, we did lose it last year, but at the same time we know what we have to take care of first and that's Oregon.
JUSTIN JACKSON: “I think the offseason was the biggest part where we felt like we had unfinished business. Like Theo said, now we're here for Oregon. And we don't look past that or anything. We're focusing on Oregon. And I think the whole unfinished business or revenge, I don't know how you can have revenge on a team that wasn't the person that took it from you. And so for us, we're just trying to focus on Oregon and that's it.”
Coach, what does your guys' length allow you to do defensively that you couldn't otherwise? And Justin what does your length allow you to do offensively that you couldn't do otherwise?
JUSTIN JACKSON: “For me, it helps to be 6'8". And so inside, I'm able to shoot over the top of people a little bit more. And then I don't necessarily need as much space to shoot over the top of people. So I think that's just a God-given blessing that allows me to kind of take advantage of some things on the court.”
ROY WILLIAMS: “And the same thing, I think what he said was great. And on the defensive end of the floor, it allows you to give the guy a little more space and still be able to bother his shot. But if you give him a little more space, then perhaps that helps him when he tries to take the ball to the basket off the dribble.”
Justin, Joel said he's about 85 percent. How much more confident are you guys now knowing that he feels pretty good today?
JUSTIN JACKSON: “I don't think we ever had a thought in our mind that he wasn't going to play. The type of competitor that he is and this type of stage, plus I feel like he's had an off day the past three days in a row (laughter) and so I don't think –“
THEO PINSON: “He better play.”
JUSTIN JACKSON: “If he can't play there's something more wrong. I don't think there was ever a thought in our mind that he wasn't going to play, just the type of guy that he is. But it does give us more confidence knowing that he'll be out there with us.”
ROY WILLIAMS: “Put him out in the street, him taking three days off.”
To any of you, how do you attack the lane differently when you have a shot blocker like Bell controlling the paint?
ROY WILLIAMS: “This is going to be good.”
THEO PINSON: “I mean, I think that's the beauty of the ACC. We're going against a lot of guys that's really good shot blockers. So it will just be another game. But that dude is a freak. I mean, he's really athletic. I remember him in high school. He affected shots then. But he's going to be another challenge. And then hopefully we can get him out of the game so he can stop affecting shots.”
JUSTIN JACKSON: “I think he bids for almost every shot that he thinks he can go get. So I think there's going to be a lot of times where pump fakes might be involved. There might be drop-offs that might be involved. And then other times you just gotta go straight into his chest, I guess. And like Theo said, whenever you're not on the court -- when he's not on the court, it's way easier to play. And so it will be key to try to get him in foul trouble and that will make it easier for us.”
ROY WILLIAMS: “No, they did a really nice job.”
Obviously you've been here so many times, and I'm guessing you never get tired of it. But can you talk about what it means to you to be able to continuously -- you have two schools that have never been here before. Oregon was here as far back as you can go?
ROY WILLIAMS: “Before I was born, yeah.”
Long before you were born.
THEO PINSON: “Really?”
ROY WILLIAMS: “All right. I'll give you the scoop first. We're going to have a change in our starting lineup.”
What's it mean to be able to, year after year, this continued success you've had?
ROY WILLIAMS: “You know, it's very satisfying. It means I've had a lot of good players. And that is really truthful. But I enjoy it. I mean, every year I think it gets better and better. The excitement of the first one in 1991, which was before either one of these guys were born, was just off the charts. And then I went back in '93 and I thought, well, I was supposed to do this quite a bit. Then we skipped from '93 until 2002. So it was eight or nine-year gap in there.
“So I think I appreciate it even more. I realize how difficult it is. And so I try to make sure that I realize how thankful I should be to have the kind of kids that have gotten me there. And I really do say it this way: If you find somebody that says it's different than what I'm just getting ready to say they're lying. I never say that I've been to nine Final Fours. I always say that we have been to nine Final Fours. And usually I put it that my players have taken me to Final Fours. And fortunately I've taken my high school coach with me to nine Final Fours.
“My mom was only able to go to the first one and then she passed away. And it was a really a thrill for her. But this is what you coach for. You coached for trying to get your team to be the best. And every year I hope we're one of those teams that can be talked about that has a chance to be the best. And I kid these guys, but we're getting ready to do my favorite practice of all time because we're going to go out and practice, and there's only four out of 351. And all those other guys are not practicing but I'm still practicing. So I love that.”
You've been to so many of these. It's unique the other three guys have not been to any. These social things that you do during the week and interacting with them, if they asked you any advice on how to handle this, would you give it to them?
ROY WILLIAMS: “I definitely would, Frank or Mark. I try to hold anything I can from Dana. (Laughter). No, we had a chance to talk a little bit last night. But the good thing is that I consider those three guys friends before this happened, guys I have a ton of respect for. Mark Few has almost been like a little brother to me for a long time. That's what I think of him. He calls me last year on his son's birthday to ask me how to play one of the card games we used to play on the Nike coach's trip because his son was wanting to make sure that I do it the right way, that kind of thing.
“And Frank's been a great friend, saved me one night. I land the plane, I didn't land it as far as flying it, but land the plane in Kentucky. Somebody was supposed to pick me up. It was pitch black dark. There is nothing there. There's one car sitting there, and the guy that was supposed to pick me up wasn't there. And I got no idea where I am, where I'm going. And sitting in the car thinking, okay, he's just not here yet.
“And another plane landed and it was Frank and Bob Huggins. And I see them in the rearview mirror. I slide down in the seat a little bit. When they walked by me I beeped the horn, scared the bee-geebies out of both of them. But if it hadn't been for Frank, neither one of us, me or Hugs, wouldn't know how to get to the dadgum game. So, Frank, so the story is, as Hug says, they saved my life for many times.
“And Dana, we had some great battles, great games when I was at Kansas. So I consider all three of those guys good friends to begin with. And then let's be honest, I've coached at two pretty good places. I've coached at Kansas and North Carolina. And it's not easy to get here, but it's easier at those two places, and I'm not trying to be humble, I'm being what I think is truthful. It's easier to get here with coaching at the places I've been coaching. I don't pat myself too much about that.”