GMU Saturday Press Conference

DAYTON, Ohio – George Mason coach Jim Larranaga, assistant and former UNC national champion Scott Cherry, along with players Lamar Butler, Jai Lewis, Tony Skinn and Folarin Campbell addressed the media on Saturday from the Dayton Arena. Read and listen to what they had to say…

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On getting Tony Skinn back from suspension for Sunday
"When the team returned to the locker room after last night's game against Michigan State I don't know who, but one of them put on the board a message. And when I returned after the press conference, it was the very first thing I noticed, someone had written "Tony is back." So I think it meant an awful lot. Not only to Tony, but to his teammates to give him a chance to play in the NCAA tournament. He's meant so much to our program. He's made some incredibly big shots and he plays such a big part. I had a long talk about him this morning about his role. He will not start tomorrow. Gabe Norwood and the group that started against Michigan State will start tomorrow. I think they earned that by their performance. I asked Tony to come in and give us a spark off the bench and with all smiles' he said `that's what I'll do."

On the program's evolution in his eight years at George Mason "When I arrived at George Mason University, the program had suffered through seven-straight losing seasons. One of the most important things to us was to get a feel for players already in program how committed they would be to a new coach, a new staff and a new philosophy...I told them what we wanted to do and boy they were fantastic. We had six or seven guys returning and every one of them bought into the program. The program has risen from seven-straight losing seasons eight consecutive winning seasons...This program has come a long way, this year has been a magical year because with that at large bid classifies us in a difference category than any other CAA team. Nobody in our league has been able to do that in 20 years."

On the short turnaround between games
"This has been a very mature team and a very consistent team. We've only had one bad game all year. We played poorly against Creighton, maybe they just made us play poorly. But every other night the team came ready to play, played hard, and played pretty well. Some nights better than others. People might use the expression `we didn't come to play' I've never felt that way one time all season. I feel pretty certain we'll come to play tomorrow."

On his assistant coach Scott Cherry, a former North Carolina player
"If we win tomorrow, Roy (Williams) will be mad at recommending Scott seven years ago. I was at the Nike camp, and I was needing to replace Derek Kellogg. I was standing behind Roy Williams and I asked him to recommend somebody. He said `I'm not sure if he's available...but I think Scott Cherry is the guy you're looking for.' I was looking for a point guard, a leader, somebody who knew how to run a team. Because a lot of the responsibility we give our assistant coaches is to prepare them for being head coaches one day. I knew who he was from the 1993 National Championship team. I called coach Smith and asked him for his recommendation and he endorsed Scott whole-heartedly. He's done tremendous job. He really runs our offense. One of the nice things today was in going over the preparation for the game tomorrow was all those Carolina terms that come from the Dean Smith system and the Roy Williams system. Scott knows them very well. I don't know if that will help us tomorrow, but it made the preparation easier."

On what an at-large bid and beating Michigan State means to the Colonial Athletic Association
"We've represented our league on two other occasions. In 1999 and 2001 we won our conference tournament. And the NCAA selection committee doesn't have a choice, they have to seed you. When you go in as an at-large team, they selected us. We had to do something to impress them. Our resume had to be strong enough compared to every other team in the country. You're not being compared to just the CAA teams, you're being compared to the ACC, the Big East teams, the Big XII, Pac-10, SEC type programs. And to know that the committee members thought strongly enough to select us means an awful lot to me as a head coach. And it should mean something to you guys as players, because no one at George Mason has ever done it. We should not go in here wondering if we're any good. We're not going to come in here nervous, thinking we might not belong. Even though some people questioned whether or not our resume was strong enough, we never did."

On the Michigan State win providing exposure for George Mason
"My emails are ridiculous. I was up at five in the morning trying to answer hundreds of emails. I know if I'm getting that, the University is certainly feeling it as well. Most people don't know if George Mason University is a private school or public university. Because we're such a young school we don't have name recognition that a North Carolina or Michigan State does. But we have the quality. Our players know they're a part of something very, very special and the fans have just responded so well to this team. We set a record for student attendance at our home games. Friday, the fans did a fantastic job of cheering us on. I thought our fans were the noisiest fans in our games. I was really proud of our fans on Friday night."

On Will Thomas
"Last year, Will was a terrific player as a freshman but mostly he was a defensive stopper. He takes great pride in playing defense. But he told his high school coach in September... that he was going to change his approach offensively. He let the upper classmen lead the way, but he felt he had more to contribute. We worked very, very hard with him with his low-post game. He's just gotten better and better. Jai Lewis and Will Thomas are about the smartest players I've ever been around. They know how to play the game, they recognize things extremely well, handle double-teams extremely well, they see things and anticipate things that a lot of other players don't see. When we prepare, they understand the preparation. They don't forget assignments. Will Thomas has become total all-around player at both ends of the court."

Compare matching up with North Carolina versus matching up with Michigan State
"Some of the style is the same. The up-tempo, get it out quickly, run up the court and try to shoot a lay-up before the defense has a chance to get set. Michigan State is great at it, and Carolina might be best in the business. They also have a great go-to guy on the inside. Michigan State had Paul Davis, Carolina has Hansbrough. And both require a great deal of attention from you defense. Probably the greatest difference is that Carolina has a lot more weapons and a lot more depth...We have a lot more decisions to make defensively in matching up with them. But the nice thing is, I think they have some of those decisions to make with us because we have a lot of different guys who can handle the ball. Will and Jai have been playing very effectively in the low block. Hopefully they can continue to be effective down inside."



On talks about him possibly venturing into football after his college basketball days are up
"I don't know what that talk is, I'm just focused on basketball right now so, whatever the people are talking about, I'm not thinking about that until after the basketball season and I'm just focused on helping my teammates get as far as they can right now."

On good performance covering Paul Davis in the second half of last first round game versus Michigan State
"We just focused on trying to keep the ball out of Paul Davis' hands, and you know he is comfortable in the A area, so you try keep it out of his hands and it gets him out of his rhythm."

On his footwork and hands
"I just try to be very smart about the game, try to anticipate what other players are going to do before they make their moves, so basically that's what I do."

How much do you tweak your game plan if you guys make any changes at all, especially with Tony Skinn back in the line-up?
"We're not changing game plan at all' we are just sticking to what we've done all season. That's get the ball down to Will and I, and if we get double teamed, get it out to our guard and make sure we get back on defense. As long as we play our defense and keep them off the glass, we should be fine."


On what it was like watching last nights game from the bench
"I think being on the court is a whole lot easier than the bench, because it's like a roller coaster ride on that bench, because people are playing real hard and its like being a coach there on the bench. But it was a good feeling watching them go out there and play the way they did."

On how the last 12 or 15 hours have been and how many phone calls or text messages they have received
"It's been a great feeling, a blessing to be out there playing with these guys, I haven't slept. I maybe slept four hours last night, I woke up this morning a little mad, but it's been a great feeling." (Lamar comments) "I had about 21 text messages, Tony I think had about 30."

If he has played anyone like Hansbrough and the type of player he is
"I don't know if I played against anyone similar to him, but you know he is a great freshman, averaging 19 points a game. It's going to be difficult playing against him, we jus have to keep ball out of his hands focus on him, if he gets any great looks at the basket we know he is going to knock it down. So we just have to focus on making sure he doesn't get comfortable, and just keep the ball out of his hands."


On the condition of his leg after last night
"I'm fine, I'm 100 percent."

On walking around in high spirits today
"Brand new day you know, we fought yesterday and got the win, so now it's another day, next round, looking forward to it, and that's why I'm happy. Especially since it's my first time being here, so I'm enjoying it."

On the similarities between Michigan State and North Carolina
"They like to get ball to Tyler Hansbrough' he is a monster when they box. We have to just take him out of his rhythm and get him uncomfortable in paint and move him out a little bit. That's one thing we noticed about Paul Davis, he's the same way, so we have get ball out of his hands as much as possible."

About coach Larranaga being around them and how he talks about when he played at North Carolina
"He talks about the championship they had and the great coaching and atmosphere at Carolina. He just always talks about being a Carolina player alumnus. Basically that's about it. We really don't have any inside scoop because Roy Williams is a different coach than Dean Smith. Every time Duke plays North Carolina all we hear about is how North Carolina is going to win and that's about it."

Describing Jai Lewis' demeanor on and off the court
"Jai Lewis off the court.... Oh man... goofy!! He has this thick laugh about him. He is a really funny guy to be around.... on court he's just loud manner, his demeanor doesn't change at all. It doesn't matter if we are up 30 or down 30, he's not going to change, and if we need a big bucket, you can count on giving Jai the ball."


On the main things about the George Mason program that people may have not realized yet or are starting to learn about
"We focus a lot about energy on defense so we just go out there and play defense first and I just get the ball down lp to my big men."

On what it would mean to George Mason to beat North Carolina
"Just playing against North Carolina, when I was young I wanted to either play for a big school or play against one, and we get our opportunity tomorrow so this is our chance to show the nation how good of a conference and team we are. For us to beat the defending national champs would be good too."

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