Tuesdays with the Team

The Bootleg.com's tireless staff writer Daniel Novinson sat in on the weekly men's basketball press conference Tuesday following the Cardinal's weekend split with the LA schools over the past weekend. Read on for Daniel's takes and for the coaches' and players' perspectives on the team's performance in the conference-opening series and the team's preparation for OSU and Oregon this week.

Tuesday Press Conference Quotes & Thoughts

So, it basically goes like this - Trent Johnson and a selected player or two hold court with the media for about 10 minutes apiece before their Tuesday afternoon practice. This week, Johnson spoke about the Oregon State game and his impressions of his team nearing the halfway mark. Lawrence Hill opened up about his slump and what he's doing to try to snap out of it. Brook Lopez was supposed to be at session, but was too late to make an appearance. (Hopefully he was at the library).

Trent Johnson and Lawrence Hill On Law Hill: 

Back in November, Johnson told us, "Don't worry about Lawrence. He's going to be fine." Unfortunately, it's January now and Hill still isn't playing at the All-Pac-10 level he did last season. My biggest takeaway from today is that Johnson and Hill both recognize and admit to the slump, and that both have realistically adjusted their approaches.

Personally, I think Hill's pressing too hard, which I support with 1. Hill's words below, 2. my own eyeballs, and 3. that Johnson tries to shift the focus from Hill's slump to topics that will build back up Law's confidence.

First, let's let Hill speak for himself about his season [Note: all emphasis added.]: 

Hill on Hill: "It's been very bittersweet. It's hard to complain about anything when you're 12-2, but seeing what I can do in practice and not doing it in games is very difficult though. … And, yeah, teams game plan against me now, and I know that, but I'm still given an opportunity to do well. The way I play, it's kind of like 'don't mess up.' If I don't execute the play, the way I play, it's hard to do anything else. But if you look at Anthony, he can go one-on-one, he can create on his own. Or Fred, he's incredible at that. So if I don't create in the system, I don't feel like I'm doing anything good. But my defense is a lot better this year. … "Creating my shot is something I can do, but creating a play that can lead to a good shot or a pass is something I need to work on. I actually hold back, there's lots of shots I don't take. Last year, it was a lot easier to pick and choose what I wanted to do. This year, one of our first games, I only shot three times. It's like I haven't flipped the switch yet. I think it'll be better soon, I'm working harder on being more aggressive."

I think most of us agree with Law that the weakest part of his game is his difficulty creating his own shot, but we're curmudgeonly fans. For an All-Conference 20-year old to readily admit his biggest weakness shows an awful lot of maturity and self-awareness.

Hill adds that he's turning to his coach for advice: "I haven't talked to him this much this year, we communicated a little last year. [We discuss] just little things about the game, like shying away from contact. When I try to force contact it's not a small basketball move."

Johnson meanwhile, is trying his best to set an optimistic tone for his cerebral forward: "There's a natural tendency on the outside to say if a kid is struggling, he must be pressing too hard. Law has tendencies you can read to see if things are bothering him, and they're not. … A lot of it is why should he [be as productive last year?] We're getting more contributions from everybody."

Johnson, in a similar vein: "There's more attention paid to him this year, but he's getting the same shots as he was getting last year. I've told him, 'As long as you're not pressing or worrying, I don't want you turning down shots.' I thought he turned down shots against UCLA and USC."

Hill agreed he passed up good looks last weekend: "In the first half, sometimes you get open looks, but in the second half, after teams have more of a feel for each other, then you have to make plays. A game like USC, I feel like I should have put up 20 shots, I think I put up 11. That was one of those games though where the whole team was in the same boat."

Johnson pointed to scheme when analyzing why Hill had such a better rebounding day against USC: "We made an adjustment against UCLA of not sending our three to the offensive glass because Kevin's so good with the outlet in offensive transition. There's no secret also that [Law] rebounds better at the four than at the three."

Finally, Hill also chimed in on his comfort at the four versus the three: "I like the four better. It's easier. It's not as tiring. I can play 40 at the four and I can only play in spurts at the three. I don't think it's a conditioning thing, because I've played in the post my whole life, I haven't adjusted to changing speeds at the wing. At the four, I can go finesse or go strong, but at the three, run me off screens and I'm thinking catch-and-shoot only sometimes, instead of catch-and-create."

My other major takeaway from today is that I don't know which side is moving toward the other, but our perception as fans and Johnson's perception as the coach have never been this similar in previous years. You'd think Johnson was copying and pasting off our message boards with quotes like these:

Johnson: "We were very fortunate to have a split this past weekend and my concern is we have to play better defensively. We didn't take care of the ball. I can live with shots going down, but we got to take care of the ball and play with more composure when shots aren't going down."

"Where Brook is, it's a combination of a couple of things. When he's playing within the system, he's playing aggressive and he's taking things to the basket, he's going to be fine. Foul trouble, those are expected given the kind of fouls he's getting."

"We lost our composure against USC at crucial times. We lost our composure at UCLA. Against USC, I thought we just buckled down and fought and we grinded it out. We need to play better."

"Mitch is being more aggressive of taking advantage of what a team's giving to him. As much as he's handling the ball, he's taking care of it.

"We're playing at a high level [on D], don't get me wrong, but there's certainly room for improvement. Josh Shipp shoots three open jumpers? We're in make-miss, coming out of a timeout. We had some rebounding breakdowns against Fresno State. I don't pay attention to the numbers as much as what I see on how active we are with hands on the ball. That's one of the areas I'm concerned about, because we're so big, we don't rack up the loose balls or long rebounds like other teams. We're not as quick."

Miscellany: Hill on USC: "I love that we go out and shoot less than 30 percent and win. We forced a lot of turnovers. Our turnovers are characteristic of us sometimes. Because we were shooting so badly, none of us thought we were doing that well [on D], but we held that team to 46 and held down their best guy after he scored 34 the game before."

Johnson on starting lineups: "If teams go small, I could see where we have to go with Fred in a three-guard lineup, because he's one of the best ballhandlers. A lot of that will have to do with the flow of practice."

Johnson on Mitch's turnovers against UCLA: "There were three of them were he had to be aggressive and was trying to make plays. He's going a real good job in defending right now. A lot of things that go unnoticed to the untrained eye. Fresno State, we're running out the clock running five-up. Brook is supposed to set the high pick and roll, but he set the high pick and went somewhere else. [My jaw was on the floor and so I missed the next few sentences verbatim, but the upshot was that when the play breaks down, Mitch knows he's supposed to shoot the open jumper, but instead drove the lane this particular instance. Mitch came into the huddle at the next timeout and told Coach he knew he should have shot it, instead of pointing the finger at Brook, which really impressed Trent Johnson.] A lot of other guys would have gone off on their teammates there. We talk about trust at crucial times and that's what we got to have."

Maybe this is making too much out of nothing, but I can't recall a time Johnson specifically called out a player by name for a mental mistake like he did with Brook right there. (In fact, he inadvertently mentioned that it was Fred who had left Shipp open for those threes before catching himself and omitting the name.) Between specifically calling out Brook and then throwing in that last sentence about trust (and, you know, the last six months), I think you'd all agree that if Trent had to rank how close he felt to each of his players right now, Brook would be near the bottom. I think his favorite might be Taj, and what crystallized that for me was hearing TJ tell an out-of-town reporter a few months ago that Finger reminds him of how he played in college - not the most talented, but the hardest-working.

Also, I didn't know this when I started at Stanford, and so I'm sure someone reading this doesn't either: "Five-up" is perhaps Johnson's most frequently called play, and seemingly the only play called two seasons ago. It's the one where, in theory, the center sets his guard a pick in the high paint to jump start the offense, and then rolls into the low paint. In practice, everyone in the arena knows it's coming and so it often doesn't jumpstart much of anything, though, in recent seasons, the respect defensives must afford the Lopez twins somewhat negates this play's predictability.

And, finally, the mandatory, Lou Holtz-inspired talking up of Oregon State by Trent Johnson: "Any day now, any minute, they're going to get on a roll. CJ [Giles, Kansas transfer], when he's on, he's special. Jones is probably as athletic and complete a player as we'll see. Going to Corvallis, we've never had any success in terms of playing well. There's 16 games left and no easy games for us. There's some talent on that team, there's some young talent."

On CJ Giles: "He's no different than a lot of kids. When he's engaged and playing right, he's on. And he's going to be on. There's familiarity there, Mitch played against him in high school, and it's their first home game."

On Omari Johnson: "Very smooth, very fluid. A little undersized but very capable."

On lineups: "Oregon State's a team that can go big or small too, so I think it helps us with an experienced team that if they can go small, we can. There smalls might be quicker than ours, but I think the guys have confidence we can play without one or two guys over the course of the game. Looking at this past week, I thought UCLA and USC both made us go big."

Hill on OSU: "Oregon State is a team that's kicked our butts on the road every time I've been here, before we pulled away. Last year, we were up by four at half, and it was back-and-forth the whole game until the last couple of minutes. Two years ago, that was the game we lost Matt."

Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website, as well as our full-length feature articles in our glossy magazine. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up) and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!

The Bootleg Top Stories