Trent Johnson Pre-Italy Q&A

Stanford Men's Basketball left yesterday for a tour of exhibition games in Italy, immediately following 10 straight days of practices allowed by NCAA rules. Saturday was Day Nine and tested the players with an officiated scrimmage. Afterward we caught up with Cardinal head coach Trent Johnson to talk about the scrimmage, player updates and some new wrinkles installed on offense and defense.

What are some of the new things you and the rest of the coaching staff have been particularly focused with the team during these practices?

"Offensively, we are working on a two-guard front, as opposed to just having one guard handle the ball the majority of the time.  And then out of the two-guard front, we're looking to have more quick hitters at our 'three', at our 'four', at our 'five' and at our 'two' position.  Of course with international rules, you have eight seconds to cross the half and a 24-second shot clock, which speeds the game up, but we can't be so concerned with the international rules as opposed to what is going to be effective for us next year.  Defensively, we're working on a little 'zone', 'check and stay', 'endline OBs' and those kind of things."

The turnovers today, do we attribute that to guys not taking care of the ball or was it active hands on the part of the defense?

"Defensively, we're going to be better.  And the defense is going to be ahead of the offense now, especially when you're putting in new offensive stuff.  I wasn't concerned about that.  There were some careless turnovers from some experienced guys, Anthony [Goods] being one.  Will [Paul] was out there for a long time and had a couple turnovers.  Taj [Finger] and Peter [Prowitt] are banged up, and of course Fred [Washington] is not out there.  But from that standpoint, I thought we did a decent job taking care of the ball, considering that we are playing against ourselves.  The true judge of that will be when we get over there [Italy], because they're going to be playing against men in these games and the skill level is going to be extremely good - and their size.  So we'll see."

Any guys with whom you have been particularly pleased in how they have responded to these practices, or the work you can tell they put in over the summer?

"In general, I think the whole group has been good in terms of going eight days in a row extremely hard, again with Fred out, Taj out and Peter being banged up.  It seems like Peter is always hurt.  We're down to 10 guys basically.  The one guy who didn't come back in very good shape and who hadn't done anything over the summer, it's pretty evident, is Will Paul.  From that standpoint, it's been pretty disappointing.  The majority of the rest of the guys, I think it's been pretty good."

Anything that is a little bit different about roles or responsibilities for anyone from last year?

"We're evaluating roles.  Last year was last year.  Their roles will be defined based off six or seven games that we play over there.  We'll come back from the trip, and I will define their roles based off of the opportunities they all are going to get to play.  Drew Shiller hasn't played basketball in a year.  He sat out.  Da'Veed Dildy didn't play a lot.  Will Paul didn't play a lot.  Peter Prowitt was hurt.  For the most part, I know what I get out of certain guys, but when it comes to defining roles, this is a new year and a new season.  What happened last year is last year, and that's always the case for me."

Landry Fields looks like he has grown a little bit, and he looks like he is toned and defined a little bit better.  Have those physical changes manifest at all in the way he is playing?

"Again, it's been eight practices.  Landry is a basketball junkie.  He has improved his body, and he has gotten stronger.  He's grown a little bit more.  He shoots the ball well.  Landry is going to be a good player.  Again, we've had eight practices, and now we're going to go play.  Has he improved?  Yeah, he looks good, but it's eight practices against his teammates.  He looks good against his teammates - he looked good against his teammates last year in practice.

"I'll have a better gauge, we'll have a better gauge and Landry will have a better gauge of how far he has improved when we get back from Italy.  That's one of the reasons I felt this trip will be beneficial to us because it's coming off when we knew he would have a bunch of freshmen and sophomores.  Now this team is three seniors with a nucleus of juniors and sophomores.  It comes at the right time, so we'll see how much we have improved."

It looked like overall in the second half today a lot of guys loosened up and the offense executed more easily.  Anything you attribute that to?

"That's always the case when you put something new in.  That's always the case because they're thinking instead of reacting.  They got in the flow.  We also had different combinations and different groups.  Peter went down, so we had some guys who had to play out of position...  We looked at different combinations.  Drew, Mitch [Johnson] and Anthony played the 'one', and I wanted to get Kenny [Brown] to go out and play the lead guard out of the two-guard set with that fourth group, but Peter got hurt so I had to keep him at the 'two'.  For the most part, it's attributed to the tightness when you learn something new.  The defense is always going to be ahead of the offense."

I don't like to group them together, but it looked like Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez played pretty well in the second half and much better than in the first half...

"Well, you shouldn't group them together.  Robin played well.  Robin didn't make shots, but Robin always gives you effort.  Brook's effort in the first half was disappointing.  He has to get to a point where he can play through adversity.  When the ball is not going down for him, he has to play harder.  He has to be more consistent, and he is well aware of that.  But for the most part, Robin always gives you energy.  When he keeps his composure, he is going to be fine."

What do you think helped Robin have better success in the second half?  He did make shots in the second half.

"Because he slowed down and took his time.  But let's not predicate the ball going in as a part of his game.  That's a sad commentary for a lot of people who say that because you're not scoring points, you're not playing well.  He defends, he rebounds and he brings you energy.  It was nice to see him have some success offensively.  He just needs to slow down."

How would you assess Mitch Johnson's adjustment into this new two-guard offense?

"He's a basketball player.  It's just a different wrinkle.  Mitch is a basketball player, and he'll be fine.  His adjustment from eight practices and a scrimmage has been good.  He knocked down a couple open shots and made some good decisions.  Again, it's just eight practices and a scrimmage, so I'm not going to write the book now."

With that being said, I don't think you had much of Drew Shiller even in practices last season.  Not only was he redshirted but he was hurt.  So how has he looked these practices for you?

"He's healthy.  He understands what we're doing.  He can knock down an open shot.  The bottom line for Drew is: what happens when the lights come on?  He's healthy, and for us, we need everybody to be healthy.  For us on this trip and going into next year, health is going to be a key because we have a lot of guys who can play."

What is the Italy itinerary?  How many days and how many guys?

"Right now we have six, with the possibility of seven, in 10 days.  We were scheduled to play eight, but with Fred and Taj not being able to play and Peter being banged up, we're looking at maybe six games...  I don't have the itinerary memorized, but I think we're in four cities.  I know the first one is Rome."

What do you say to the team to prepare them for playing grown men who play professional basketball year-round?  What do these guys need to know before walking into that challenge?

"It's basketball.  We're not fighting anybody [laughs].  It's a game.  We're going to do what we do.  We're going to be aggressive.  We have to make certain adjustments in terms of the international rules, but in terms of our approach, I am more concerned and they should be more concerned with how we play.  It's a great opportunity for them, culturally and to experience something different.  Me, I'm 50 years old and have been over there before.  It's a game.  Whether we're playing professional teams over there or if we're playing the Lakers, it's basketball.  We're going into it like all the teams I've been affiliated with: an aggressive approach, and we're going to try to get better."

Will you guys see Tony Giovacchini over there?

"I don't know if we'll see Tony, but I do know we'll play Valencia on August 28.  They have Kevinn Pinkney, so I know that they'll be good.  But I don't know if we'll see Tony."

Did you have goals of what you wanted your players to achieve with these practices, and do you feel they've given that to you?

"Get an understanding of certain adjustments we're making offensively.  Like I said, we've changed some things with what we do out of a two-guard front.  We've changed our fastbreak early 'O'.  Defensively, the zone, check-and-stay and endline O.B.  Just to give them a grasp.  Yeah, yeah, for the most part I'm pleased.  All that being said, I'd like to have all of them out here healthy doing it.  Fred is behind.  Taj is behind.  Peter is banged up.  Will's conditioning could be better.  But for the most part, I've been pleased.

"Fred had surgery - I don't remember which date and time.  Taj had mono.  So they were both hurting before they got here.  Peter has been laboring, but he was fresh.  I think it's just him being able to play through pain - that's what I'm told by our trainers."

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