They had a size advantage on you guys tonight, either in height or in weight. Did you get the sense they were trying to exploit that?
Not really. They are a very good team--talented. They just have more depth at the big man than we do, so we had to move around more, get them tired, get them in foul trouble and open the game up.
You had a couple of confrontations--one on offense when you dunked on somebody and one on defense when you denied a dunk. It looked like you weren't backing down out there from anybody.
You, of all people, J.B. should know that I have never backed down from anybody, so that should be the least of your questions.
We all saw that out there, but you tell us what you saw out there and what happened.
I just saw that our team wanted to win, and we had a hunger and a desire to go out there and compete, compete, compete, until we win the game. I think that was the difference.
Several times this year, you've said, "This is a business now." Is it still fun, though? Is it so serious that you can't have fun, or are you having fun out there?
Of course it's fun. Doing anything you love is fun, but, for the most part, when you are trying to get the job done, you have to be serious. You can joke off the court, before practice, and things like that, but in the locker room before a game is serious. Straight faces must go out of here--let's get the job done.
Do you enjoy interacting with the crowd? When there's an intense moment, you really want to get the crowd into it? It seems like you enjoy having the crowd at your finger tips.
Well, for a while you know, I kind of forgot about the crowd the first three games this season because I was so focused on getting the job done. One little second out there was like, 'Oh, we do have a crowd.' I use that to my advantage.
Is this win more than just a 'W' to you guys?
It's a stepping stone to getting better. It's a very good team--Top 10. They're going to very good down the stretch. It just proves how good we can be and how good we have to be to beat the better teams like that. We have to work harder and harder everyday.
Across the front line, they had a height or weight advantage much of the night. Were they trying to expoit that?
Definitely, they were trying to use that to their advantage. I grew up watching the Big Ten. I always thought that was the most physical conference there is. They are physical. Illinois has a lot of big guys, 6-10, 6-11, seven-footers. It's going to help them down the line and they'll use it to their advantage.
With you as the main post presence, it's no secret where the ball is going when it goes inside, yet you were still able to create some space and get your shots off. How did you do it?
Just by having my teammates out there. Rashad, they can't leave him alone or he will knock down shots. Ray is going to knock down shots and Melvin is going to knock down shots. I think Jackie is such a threat slashing to the basket that it's hard to double off of him. You can't leave a guy like Jawad because he will knock down shots too. It's hard for teams to double against us and it means a lot.
What does this win mean?
It means we have matured a lot since last year. Just because we have a #9 ranking in front of us doesn't mean anything. It's just another team out there. We laid down a little bit against Cleveland State. We didn't want to come in and do that tonight. I think it just shows how much this team has grown in the past year.
Lots of people talk about this team's sophomore class. Do you think Jawad gets overlooked?
Ever since I got here, I've said Jawad was the most under-rated player in the country. People don't give him enough respect for what he does because he does it silently. Everyone comes in and they see Ray, Rashad, or me. They overlook Jawad and the stuff that he does. He had a career night in rebounds. I don't think anyone will notice that, but he does so many things for this team that it's unbelievable. Really, he's the heart and soul of this team.
You guys had some good help-side defense late in the game and got some blocks.
That was the problem at Cleveland State--we had no help side and they were driving straight to the hole. We worked on that both days in practice. That was a big thing for Coach that we have better help side. Late in the game, you can't have guys driving to the hole, so we did a great job of sliding over and being there for our teammates.
Sometimes you seem to be overlooked by those on the outside looking in.
I just go out there and do whatever I need to do to help my team get the victory. I'm not worried about fame or whatever. I'm playing the game because I love it, and I just want to win as many games as possible.
Why do you think you don't get much attention?
I really don't know, but, like I said, it doesn't bother me at all.
Tonight with 18 point and 12 rebounds--I see it on the stat sheet, but it didn't seem like that many watching from the sideline. Do you think you play on the court is similar to your personality, sort of quiet?
Yeah, I don't have to go out there and be the one dunking and hitting fade-aways and all that. I just go out and do the dirty work and keep my mouth shut while I'm doing it.
Rashad missed a free throw and someone tapped it out. Was that you?
Yeah, I tipped it out.
A play like that doesn't really show up in the box score. Again, is that something indicative of your personality?
Pretty much. It's something that's little, but it's a big thing, just like keeping your mouth closed in tough situations can do a lot of things.
Across the front line, they had a size advantage. Did you think they were trying to bang you around to get an advantage?
They tried to, but we worked on that in the weight room. We've been through it and we held our position.
With seven deep, do you have to be in great shape to keep it up at this pace?
Yeah, we have to keep it going. We try to play until the TV time-outs. If you can't make it, you give the tired signal. Coach will take you out, let you catch your breath, you put yourself back in. As far as being in shape, we've worked really hard on conditioning and now it's paying off.
Coach Williams said that he ran you guys into the ground. How does that compare to what you did last year, and do you feel like you are in better shape than you were last year?
Yes. Last year, we did a lot of running, more for distance than anything, just to have our wind. We did a lot more sprints this year. That's what the game is--all about sprints and changing direction.
You've been through one practice. How are things?
The first practice they threw a lot at me like I was a regular player. I picked some of it up. Coach Williams told me to take it one day at a time and that they'll work me in as much as possible to get me to know everything. I have some extra sessions coming in [on Wednesday] and on off days to come in and watch some film and get some stuff down on paper so I can see what's going on.
The guys are showing me a lot of love. If I need a hand on anything, they are willing to help me out. They pull me in the right direction. It's going to take some time before I get it all down pat, but I will get it.
Have they set a target date for you to be game-ready?
Not yet. It's too premature to tell right now. I think I'm learning pretty fast. I've picked up two or three of the offensive plays already. It's a lot to learn in a short amount of time, coming in from football, but I can adjust to it. If I can learn a huge play book in football, I should be able to learn a few plays in basketball.
Are you running the point or more on the wing?
Right now, I'm primarily at the point guard position. I move over to the 'two' sometimes, depending on who comes into the line-up, but right now, Coach has me primarily at the point guard position.
How are you handling classes?
It's a switch because I was in a routine for football, but now it's basketball. It will take a little adjustment. It's something I want to do, so it's something I have to keep up.
But it looks manageable at this point?
At this point it looks very manageable--nothing that has exceeded my expectations. I'm good for now.
The crowd was really loud at times. Did they help you tonight?
A lot. They were really loud. It was great. I wish they could travel on the road with us. I thank the fans. They were great out there.
Are you feeling 100 percent?
I feel really good. I'm just ready for the next game and ready to work hard in practice.
How much confidence does this win give this team?
A lot of confidence, but we also have to stay humble. We have to get ready for the next game.
Coming off of the Cleveland State game, what was the main difference tonight--was it what Coach Williams did in practice?
Yes. And we told ourselves we couldn't have that kind of game. If we did, we were going to lose by 30, and nobody wants to lose so we came out and played our hearts out.
Jawad had 18 points and 12 rebounds, some of the quietest points and rebounds I've ever seen.
His game has changed a lot from last year. It's more inside and not too flashy--no high-lights, not too many 3-pointers.
This team did a lot of running in the pre-season. Does it pay off in a game like this?
Yes, it pays off. I was tired, but it wasn't too bad. I had a minute's rest and I was ready to go back in.
When you see the other team grabbing their shorts, does that put a little twinkle in your eye?
Yes, it does. We have to keep going after them, especially when they are tired.