Hoops: Rappin' With Barnes, Tucker And Klotz

Longhorn coach Rick Barnes, sophomore forward P.J. Tucker and senior center Jason Klotz met with the media at the Big 12 2004-05 Men's Basketball Media Days in Kansas City. Here's the official transcript:

Q. Coach, we always hear so much about the recruiting football in the state of Texas, but how good is the state of Texas to recruit basketball in?

COACH BARNES: It has been good for a long time, and I just, for whatever reason, it seems like just the last couple years people focus on it more, but you go back, there is a pretty good guy in the NBA that plays for the Miami Heat from San Antonio that is a pretty good player. He came out, I don't know how long he has been in the league now, but Texas has always had good high school basketball, and for as long as I can remember being in this business, we have always, every school I have been in, we try to recruit Texas.

Q. Speaking of recruiting guys, can you talk about the freshman class that's in there, are they so highly regarded? Are they as good as advertised?

JASON KLOTZ: I think so. LaMarcus is a great, great, great kids, none of them have attitude. One guard we picked up, Dan Gibson has done a good job of running with the ball. They are great guys to work with. I don't think you could ask for a better class.

Q. P.J.?

P.J. TUCKER: Same. Like he said, all those guys were on McDonald's All American and stuff, but we have Dion Dowell and Connor Atchley, they come in, work hard every day, get better to make our team better. All those guys play together and make a good freshman class.

Q. Could you talk about how that freshman class has reacted to Coach Barnes' practices so far?

P.J. TUCKER: I mean, freshman coming from high school, you haven't seen anything as hard as college basketball before. You come in with open eyes, you have to learn everything. So, I mean, at first it's tough, you know, but you get adjusted to it and used to it. It becomes a little easier, but he keeps the pressure on us, so it always stays tough.

Q. Do you sell ?? in recruiting people, do you sell the school more or the conference more, about even?

COACH BARNES: No, I think we talk about what we have at the University of Texas, and I think when you get into recruiting there is a lot of things that ?? prospects you are looking for. I think certainly they want to play in a great league. I don't think there is any question about that. They like exposure. They want to know they have a chance to play great competition throughout, but we talk a lot about your program, how you go about doing things, and I think the biggest thing, you try to paint the picture of what it's going to be like and where they are going to fit in.

Q. Are you surprised or are you amazed, I guess, that the league seems to be recruiting so well, all 12 teams?

COACH BARNES: No. I think it goes back, I remember my first ?? one of the first times in the Big East (inaudible) and I said, "What made you think about forming the Big East?" And he said, "Really and truly, we got sick of losing the eastern players to the ACC."

We asked them why they were picking it over the eastern schools, they said because of the conference. There is not a conference up here, so they formed the Big East.

As they formed that league, every year more and more players started staying at home. I think that is happening in our league. I think with the formation of the Big 12 now, I think players know they are playing in one of the best leagues in the country year and in and out. You look at the success we have had post?season. It's here, and they know they can find that. I think every year this league gets older, it's going to ?? the rivalry is going to be that much more intense. So it's important having our league and the type of exposure we are getting now.

Q. Coach, you lost so much fire power from last year's ball club. How much of that is going to fall on the incoming shoulders of the freshman class?

COACH BARNES: I have always said this, and still believe this, where we begin right now is with our returning players. You go back, you have two guys sitting right here that were starting for us at the end of the year. I think that ?? I thought what would really be important for our younger players coming in would be the type of leadership our returning players would provide for them. One of the best things that I have watched and witnessed in the last week has been the way that Brad Buckman and Mike Williams have gone at each other every day, but the best part is watching Brad Buckman coach him and work with him.

I see Jason doing the same thing with LaMarcus. I have seen P.J. doing it with Daniel Gibson. There is no doubt in my mind they want to be a successful team. The younger guys know the older guys are going to help us. The younger guys know the older guys have been through it and know what it takes. What P.J. said, that was very accurate, these guys did not walk on campus expecting to be treated any way but the way that we talked about when we recruited them. You have to come and earn your way. They have done that.

But our older guys have given us great leadership and we are counting on those guys to set the tone and lead us.

Q. P.J., what did you gain by playing on the USA team this summer?

P.J. TUCKER: The main thing I gained was just being able to play with all those good guys that played on the team. Coach Sampson coached us. He did a good job, a lot of future NBA draft picks on that team. We came together to win the gold for the USA. We had to set ourselves aside and play different roles and just had to pick it together. It was a lot of fun. It was a whole lot of fun.

COACH BARNES: He told me he realized how good a coach I was. You can say that, P.J. .

MODERATOR: Further questions for the players or coach? I can't believe you all are being this quiet. Randy.

Q. For Rick, for a lot of teams in this league that are trying to get better, there is a ceiling, you can only go so far because of the great teams in the tough conference. How tough is it to build a strong program and make headway when playing in the Big 12?

COACH BARNES: I can only speak from experience. I think being at Providence in the Big East and Clemson in the ACC, I think the bottom line is we all want to do well in post?season play, and I do believe that you feel like if you can finish in the top four or five in this league and you get in the NCAA tournament, you probably feel like you have a chance ?? because of the competition you played, you have a chance to compete for the whole thing. Winning a conference championship in a regular season is very, very hard to do.

Obviously, it's not a true round?robin because of the way our league is set up, but yet it goes back, you have got to get lucky. I think that we all know that injuries can play a part in it. You never know what's going to happen that way. But you just have to keep grinding. Really, I mean, it's tough. It is tough to win a regular season championship. The ultimate goal is to get to the NCAA championship and play for the whole thing. You don't have to win your conference championship to do it, but you have to be at the top fighting for it.

Q. Rick, given that, a follow?up to that, the fact that you and Oklahoma State are in the round?robin, which isn't (inaudible), how much more difficult does that make it for you and the Cowboys, this particular year, that you have to play them there rather than on your home turf?

COACH BARNES: Well, I mean, that's the way it's set up. You have to deal with it. You really do. Because I don't want to use the word cycle, but sometimes it cycles around. When I first came into this league, I remember everyone thinking it was the other way, that the Big South ?? that the south division at the time, when you refer to it as the south division, was easier than the northern division.

Over the last couple of years, I mean, I think the league is balanced now. Obviously, I don't think it's easy for Kansas to go to Kansas State or Missouri or Iowa State. Those are tough places to play. So we have a rivalry with those schools probably because we play them twice a year. It cycles. It does. I said I didn't want to use the word, but I just did. It cycles around where, over time, you feel like you are going to get it done.

Q. To follow up that, it looks like a situation for you and perhaps Oklahoma State to find out who the best team in the league is after the league is over.

COACH BARNES: Well, I don't ?? you know, I know that a year ago when we played, I think we were up at Oklahoma State last year around March 1st, somewhere in there, it was a great atmosphere. These guys were there. It was great. Even though it was probably playing for a championship for that day, for the most part, I think we would have ended up tying them, I think. I am not sure.

Still, you have to play. I am not very analytical. I mean, I don't sit down and look at the schedule and say we have to do this and that. I go one step at a time, and it's just ?? if you are good enough, you are going to win. If you are not, you will go to a conference tournament, you could be good enough to win three or four days.

Like I said, the ultimate goal is to get to the NCAA tournament because you get there ?? with all you have gone through, I think you have got to believe anything can happen. You can get started in that tournament, get moving, anything can go. The key is, I guess, really trying to be the best you can be at the end of the year.

Q. Jason, you were on a team that went to the Final Four with last year's team. You have been on some tournament run teams with so many experienced players. With this group of young guys, are the goals changed? Is there a ceiling for this team in terms of what you can do?

JASON KLOTZ: Not at all. We can get just as far as we have in the past with the guys we have added from last year, guys coming back, we have a great team. 1?5, we can all play. We have substitutes. We are going to run the floor. One of the main things you have to do is get the young guys to realize how hard you have to play, run the floor during the games and power on defense. Guys can score: Oklahoma State, they can score.

Once we get the basics down with those guys and just play, I think we will be all right. (Inaudible) only do so well in conference. We are going out there trying to win, no doubt about it.

Q. Jason, how does Danny Gibson, how does he compare to Ford?

JASON KLOTZ: You know, they are both guys from Houston that can play and great guys to be around. Being with T.J. for two years, he made plays that just left your mouth open. He threw passes I couldn't even catch. With Daniel coming in, he definitely can shoot the ball, and T.J. has range and vision. He sees things, pushes the ball, and does a good job getting the ball down the floor. We like to get easy baskets, throw it out and run on guys, try to use that running game to wear people down.

You know, as far as him and T.J., I have had fun playing with Daniel in the last four weeks. Last year we had a guy that was made into a point guard and did a really good job. With Daniel being a pure point, I think it's going to really help out this team. Giving T.J. (inaudible) I am looking forward to Daniel.

Q. Jason, how about the scouting report on LaMarcus Aldridge?

JASON KLOTZ: It looks great. I haven't been around a guy that works so hard. He gets up a lot of shots. He works on his game. He listens to you. He looks through your eyes and wants to get better and soak that in. Just playing with him is really ?? he has helped my game a lot, too. He can contest shots and he is a great athlete, gets off the floor really quick. There are times he gets a hold of my shots and helps me out.

There are not many guys that I played against last year that are as athletic as he is and can block shots like he can. He can block out the shots. He can score the ball, too. He is going to be great. He is going to be a really good player.

Q. Does he have enough bulk?

JASON KLOTZ: For what he looks like, he is strong. He has a good base to him. Just his quickness makes up for so much. He has long arms. He can deny the post and get his hands on a lot of balls. I don't think that will even be an issue with him.

Q. Rick, you like to play man. You have some long guys this year. Will that influence your decision about going to the zone more maybe?

COACH BARNES: I think we will play zone. We have got to be a better defensive team than we have been the last couple of years. I think these guys will tell you we have spent a lot of time with our man defense, and I think we will be better defensively simply because we are longer, more athletic. We do have ?? we had to help each other more. Our help defense hasn't been that good the last couple of years.

We will play some zone, could maybe press more than we have in the past. We are really kind of experimenting around right now to see what's going to be the best way to play defensively. I do think that when we look at our team, we have some guys individually, I think, that can really defend the ball. P.J. Tucker was excellent doing that. Daniel Gibson is way ahead of the game there. He has great feet.

We were talking about it coming up here, how good Daniel is defending. He is really an outstanding defensive player for a young guy. The fact that he will do that, I mean, it's not something that ?? he is good at it. The thing that we have to get him to understand now is what he needs to do away from the ball. He certainly should be a guy that can do some anticipating away from the ball. Then Dion is long, athletic. You mentioned LaMarcus, he makes plays every day that you don't see a lot.

Jason could tell you that he helps him and we haven't had a guy with the type of hands that LaMarcus has, but, you know, you go back and look at our team, we have to improve defensively. Man to man?wise, we have to defend the ball. We will play zone. There is no doubt we are going to play around with it and see. I think a guy, a key guy right now, I think these guys would tell you, too, the guy that has been as impressive as anybody up to this point is Brad Buckman. What he missed and where he was, he was great in the spring and missed some time with his knee being hurt, but he has come back. Wouldn't you agree, he has been great? He probably has been our most consistent guy. He wasn't happy with the way he played last year. He put more time in than he has ever put in, and it's paying dividends for him.

I think moving P.J. is going to play strictly more away from ?? I shouldn't say away from the basket. We know he is able to do that. Defensively P.J. can guard anybody on the court, but with him playing more the small forward wing position is going to allow us to, I think, have another rebounder out there.

So it's going to ?? we have worked with that and we are still working with it to figure out the exact way we need to play defensively. We do think we can mix some things up because of where he is playing now.

Q. Rick, I know you lost your top assistant to become head coach at Miami. How does that impact what you do? Could you say something about his replacement?

COACH BARNES: Well, we replaced Frank Haigh with Ken McDonald. Ken played for me at Providence for two years and we left and went to Clemson, he came down and joined our staff as, really, our graduate assistant position. When Dennis Feldman left the Clemson staff and went to Western Kentucky, it was his first full?time job, then Ken went with him. He wanted to join us here at Texas, and I think that he knows, he has been around me, he knows me. I don't think we have missed a beat.

These guys have worked with him, and they could maybe expand on it a little bit. He has a great feel for the game. I think he really understands the game and understands what we are looking for. He has done a really good job with post players. I think with Rodney Terry being with me for now going on his third year, and Russ Springmann, I can't mention our staff without mentioning the work that Todd Wright does. He is valuable. I have been very lucky at Texas, I think we have been smart the way we have hired. We have hired guys that are extremely good coaches, guys that understand the game.

Probably the best thing I could tell you about my staff is I do know this program means as much to them as it does to me. I am excited about having Kenny with us. He probably knows me better than anyone on our staff because, again, I recruited him, he has been around me a long time.

Q. And he came anyway?

COACH BARNES: He came anyway. He looks older than I, about 16 years. You saw a picture of him, P.J. Would you not agree with that?

P.J. TUCKER: Maybe.

COACH BARNES: First of all, you look like you are 35 yourself, which you might be, right? How old are you, P.J.?

P.J. TUCKER: I am 18.

COACH BARNES: Is he a big guy to be 18? Do you believe that, Mike?

Q. I am not going to get caught in the middle of this.

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