Q&A: California Assistant Coach Jay John

The Bootleg's Kevin Danna was able to grab a few minutes with California Assistant Coach Jay John. Read about what his team brings to the table, how the season has played out for the Golden Bears, and what he thinks of the Cardinal in this interview conducted before Sunday night's contest.

The Bootleg: So first question, coach - you guys are coming off a road split in Washington. What did you take away from your most recent road trip?
Jay John: Well to be honest, we let a grand opportunity slip through our fingers by not being able to finish the job at Washington State. When you go into a trip like that, you know that it's possible that you may win both games, lose both games, or split. You have to take one thing at a time, and certainly we played very well and very focused at Washington and were able to come out with a win. And then when we had an opportunity to get a little separation with three home games coming, we lost our focus in the last eight, nine minutes and allowed Washington State to come back, and again, we missed a grand opportunity.

TB: Unfortunately the Washington State game wasn't on TV. So what did you think the difference was down the stretch between the Thursday win and Saturday loss?
Jay John: I think that Thursday we maintained throughout our defensive grit, energy, focus, intensity, and we did not against Washington State. We got into trading baskets and when you're on the road, that's never a comfortable place to be; you don't have the fans to help you out. For us, we've been at our best when defensively we have been able to impose our will on our opponent and be able to overcome some of our deficiencies in other parts of the game because of that will, and we lost it with like I said about eight or nine minutes to go. It got to a point where whoever has the ball last, or that type of stuff.  You're not going to be able to create your own opportunities if you can't stop the other team from scoring.

TB: You are currently in a tie for first place with Oregon at 6-2, but there are five teams within a game of each other at the top. What are your thoughts on how this conference race is shaping up?
JJ: I think my thoughts aren't any different from anybody else's. You just look at it, and it's an interesting thing to look at. You're like, "Hmm, which way is this going to go? We've got a lot of players in this pool" and that type of thing. So with all that, it gives those that have grand interest in college basketball, there's an interest level there. You've got a close battle. We won the Pac-10 championship two years ago here; that was the first time in 50 years. So to be in the hunt for another one right now on our side of the water, it would seem that there would be great energy and people are kind of jazzed about what's going on.

TB: Let's move on to personnel. Richard Solomon was a big loss, but Robert Thurman stepped in admirably in the Washington game, scoring 16 points and grabbing seven boards. What's going to be the key for him to have more box scores like the Washington game instead of the Washington State game?
JJ: To be honest with you, I don't know the answer to that question. For us, as it translates into Robert and what Robert hears from me as his assistant coach, is to continue to board and rebound. Everything else is gravy; just do those things because those are constants. The shots that he got were as a result of penetration and help and he made them. He got opportunities; now against another team, he may not have those opportunities. Every game is different that way. Richard wasn't a primary scorer for us, either. But he did board, he did defend, and he didn't get much more than dunks himself. So with his relation to Robert, we hope that those things can manifest themselves into some points, but there are other parts that he has to keep doing.

TB: Jorge Gutierrez has been the engine of this team for two years running now. What do you think has been the biggest improvement or set of improvements he has made from his junior to senior year?
JJ: Actually, I don't know that there has been anything significant. I think that certainly there's something that happens to you mentally when you're a senior. I don't know if Jorge ever operates under any sense of fear or cloud of insecurity as a player.  So I do think that once you're a senior, there's another group of freshmen that just joined the rosters, you get some separation in terms of an experienced veteran player.  Whereas last year, he may go up against a couple of [older players], he doesn't go against any [older players] right now. He goes up against other seniors and younger players. I would venture to guess that anybody who plays against him is uncomfortable. And he can create havoc; it seems like he's guarding two or three people at the same time. So his value that way- he makes all of us a tougher out in a dark alley. He just wills us into things we wouldn't do as much, so it's hard to put any kind of price on that value.

TB: Your team got a big boost when Justin Cobbs became eligible this year. How important has he been in taking off some of that pressure from Jorge and Allen Crabbe to produce in the backcourt?
JJ: He has, there's no question about that. What we don't have from last year is a consistent place to throw the ball inside like we had with Markhuri [Sanders-Frison]. We didn't have a point guard. As much as Brandon Smith was a different point guard, Justin can actually do some things that Brandon doesn't do, but it didn't hurt us last year because we could go inside with the ball. We don't do that nearly as much this year, and so actually in some ways we just kind of balanced ourselves out a little bit. So what we've gained, we've also lost in another area. But again, when you go play at Washington, if you don't have multiple ball handlers, you can't win; period. End of story.  And Justin is as good as or better athlete than any of what Washington has. Washington keeps you out of offense and what you want to do anyway, so Justin can play that way. So we had Justin and Jorge on the court at the same time; they can pressure us all they want, but we made them uncomfortable at their court, which any of us know up there is not easy to do.

TB: You have Stanford coming up on Sunday. How have you guys handled the eight-day layoff between games thus far? Any extra time off for the guys?
JJ: Yeah, it's just shorter practices. We'll take a day off [Thursday]. But our guys - this isn't the first rodeo. You get some time off and let them get back into the swing of things with school, but it's not that far away from here. It's a rivalry - you could play a game at three in the morning and everybody would be ready to play. You could call and give them two hours' notice; they'd be ready to play. So the same could be for the kids at Stanford, I'm sure.

TB: What do you think is going to be necessary for the Golden Bears to do in order to have success against the Cardinal this coming weekend?
JJ: We have to rebound. For me, that's the number one thing. Stanford has a lot of depth, a lot of height; we don't. The guys that we have are good, but without as much rest.  If the guys that we have can rebound with the multiple guys coming at them and subbing in, then at our place, I like our chances. And the other thing is I think that guard play for either team is of major significance. I think, really, the guards who have better control of the game are going to help their team immensely.

TB: Final question coach, with the halfway point coming up in conference play, what is your team going to need to do better in order to try to pull away from the pack in the final nine games?
JJ: Well obviously, the first thing is I'm not out of sight, out of mind too far from Sunday. We can't lose our focus; we can't give into things. We have to be able to play through some of the adversity that is our own adversity - we don't have Richard, so we are down on some people, but we can't use that as an excuse. We have to be tougher and grow that way. Our starting five is pretty good, but we have to get more help throughout our team so that we are more of a team.  And if there's improvement for us ahead, then that's where it has got to come from.

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