Howland's Tuesday Press Conference

Ben Howland talks at length at his press conference about a variety of topics, including the expectations at UCLA and the injury status of Tony Parker, who's started doing yoga...

Ben Howland talks at Tuesday's press conference:

BH: how's everybody doing?

Q: good.

Q: you guys have a true road game. Obviously, you guys have a lot of freshmen. What do you tell them about the experience they're about to face?

BH: that they're going to yell nasty things at you. Get used to that. But in reality, it's different. It's us against the world. And they've all played road games, but not a road game like you do in college where it's bigger crowds. We kind of talked about that before practice yesterday a little bit. My whole thing is, I explained to them, when I go on the road or at home, I'm not hearing anything. I'm totally locked in with what we're doing. That's what I recommended. Never respond. Because that's what the crowd is trying to get you to do is to lose focus and concentration when they're saying something personal or yelling at you.

Q: do you lean on your veterans more in road games like this, especially with a younger roster?

BH: not necessarily. We're leaning on everybody that we count on. We're not treating anybody differently. The travel and hitting the road. It's going to be a good test for us.

Q: how's Tony Parker doing?

BH: good. He had a good practice today. And I was talking with our trainer, the last 2 days in a row now, he's gone to yoga. We have a yoga instructor that also is employed by the Clippers who's really really, really good. He's been working with our players since Jordan Farmar started working with him. And you could see Tony moving so much better today. He was just looser. I worry because the plane ride has affected his back in the past. We have to make sure he's able to get up and down and move around every 20 minutes. Once we go up in the air, there's a lot of sitting, but yeah, he had a good practice today. Really moving.

Q: the back thing. Is it an ambiguous thing? Is this where you're not going to know from day to day with him?

BH: no. I think this yoga thing is really going to help him. I really believe in it. And I wish that Kent [Katich] could go with us on the trip. He's really good. This guy works out Kevin Love, whenever Kevin's in town. Kevin's religious with him. 3 times a week when he's in town. He works out with all the Clippers. He's [Kent] was telling me, this guy is a yoga instructor, said Blake is better than he [Kent] is. Blake is a freak of nature. How limber he is. How strong his core is. I asked him, who's the guys that are really impressive [with yoga], he said Kevin's good. Blake is unbelievable. The Wears have worked with him in the past. We have to get Shabazz in there to help with his flexibility as well. Speaking in terms of Tony, you could see a noticeable difference. You can ask our trainer. Our trainer, who's great, said yoga is making a difference. And he came [to practice] right from yoga. It's good.

Q: Coach, how would you grade the freshmen at this point?

BH: they've been fantastic. They've really, really done a heck of a job. I'm really, really pleased with their growth. I thought our last 2 games were our best defensive efforts of the year. And that was really important. And they've done a great job. You can talk to each of them individually, but as a whole, collectively they've done a great job.

Q: Coach, you've seen a lot of really talented players come through that you've coached. What sets Shabazz apart from the average player?

BH: he's so driven to be great. Like today, he came to practice and his knees were bothering him because last night, he's working out in the gym after we've already had a 2.5 hour workout, with his dad's best friend who played with his dad at USC. And it's like there's diminishing returns here if you're doing too much. Because you're knees are hurt and you're sore today. But he's just driven. He really wants to be good. It's a work ethic. It's a desire to be great. It's a toughness. And he's getting better and better and better. Constant improvement. You look at all the great ones. I use guys as examples. Magic [Johnson] came into the league shooting less than 75% from the foul line but when he left, he was top-5 in the league. Michael Jordan wasn't known for his jump shot coming out of college. He was one of the great jump shooters in the history of the game. Guys that are great, that are really special, just keep getting better every year that they play. That's what it's about. You look at guys that we've had that have gone on, how they continue to improve as players. Growing as individuals.

Q: how would he compare to some of the top freshmen that you've coached since you've been here?

BH: thus far? Right up there. Special. Speaks for itself.

Q: when you talk about the growth of the freshmen and defense, was that concepts that they had to learn or is it just understanding the level of effort that you need [at this level]?

BH: both. It's definitely concepts. It's like, when we talked about this back in November, trailing a player who's a shooter, without separation. Being able to be in a defensive stance off the ball and being ready to go. The intensity level that you have to play. We're talking about hedging. Or fighting to get back in front of the ball. There's all sorts of little things and those players would be better to ask than I would for that. They can speak to this as well, I'm sure. About what their thoughts are.

Q: do you have any idea how long it would take…

BH: it always takes awhile. We've had very few freshmen that have shown up that were just "ready". It starts with, depending on where you're from. [Luc Richard] Mbah a Moute and probably Arron Afflalo were probably the 2 most exceptional freshmen defenders that I coached. And they still made mistakes. I think back, especially to Luc. To do what he did as a freshman and then play at such a high level is really such a rarity. He's the exception to the rule. Most players coming in have a lot to learn.

Q: Coach, there's so much pressure on this team, with all the guys on the squad, and then it didn't start off perfectly as everyone expected, I guess. Since then, certainly a turnaround. How do you say, I guess, focus? Keep those distractions aside? People are calling for your head and everything else. It's got to build up at some point, right?

BH: we have very high expectations at UCLA. It goes without saying. It's why I wanted to be the coach here. I love those expectations. I think it drives your players to be the best that they can be. To always have expectations that you're supposed to win every time you play. And it drives you to get better. I think our kids have really improved a lot over the course of the season. We still have a long way to go. I'm really feeling good and confident about our team. Our biggest thing is just staying healthy. We're getting better. Like Norman Powell had a great practice today. I really felt good about how he practiced today. Tony had a really good practice. That was good. You see how Larry Drew has really improved throughout the year. He's #1 in the country now in assists-to-turnover ratio. #2 in assists overall. He's really grown as a player. It's just fun. I think the greatest joy that I get, and I was telling Mr. Reed earlier, is watching kids improve and watching them grow as players. There's nothing more fun for a coach than seeing that happen, and we're seeing that happen.

Q: What do you want to see your team still improve on? What do they need to work on still?

BH: rebounding. We've been really crushed, giving up too many offensive rebounds, in particular our last 3 games. I think we've given up like 57 of them. Like 17, 18 a game. We're not going to win at Utah, come Thursday night, if we don't do a better job blocking out and limiting second shot opportunities by our opponent.

Q: what do you credit most for Larry's improvement?

BH: it's just hard work and determination. He's really coachable. And trying to do the things I want him to do. It's been great. I thought he was maligned coming in here. I think he's really done a heck of a job for this team.

Q: have you pushed him any harder than the other guys, given that…

BH: I don't know about that. He's a fifth-year senior. He's a man here now.

Q: how was he maligned?

BH: I thought, coming in here, in terms of a lot of national media, talking about Larry Drew, talking about how it all ended for him at North Carolina. A lot of people were like, "Larry Drew? Why are you taking him? What are you thinking about?" I said this to the media recently that I screwed that up. If I had done a better job by being more patient in recruiting, I would've had him here for the last 4 years and that would've made my life a heck of a lot better. Because he's really a good player, and we're seeing that right now.

Q: given how maligned that maybe he was, is it especially important that he has that distinction of leading the nation in assists-to-turnover? Do you think that's good for his confidence?

BH: I think he's very confident with who he is. And I think he's having a lot of fun. He's having fun. These guys are still kids. They're supposed to be having fun. There's so much attention. There's so much… we're talking about pressure. And all the things that are put on them because of how everything is so connected now [through the Internet], but ultimately, it's still about having fun. These guys are kids.

Q: what have you been telling Tony, given his discontent with his minutes? And his…

BH: Tony's been great. Tony, like I said, today had a great practice. I was really excited about… especially for him just to be healthy. His health thing has been a real tough thing for him. Right from the beginning. Which started in July where he hurt his hamstring. Sprained his ankle which was a pretty serious sprain. And then he had his back issue again crop up a couple different times during the season. So I hope this is going to be a good trend for him. He's very diligent. When they were in high school, he used to practice half the time of the week at 5:30 in the morning. And I was like, "woah." Literally, they were getting up at 5:30 a lot of times throughout his entire high school career. He's a kid that has a great work ethic and disposition. Tony's going to be a great player. He's really learning a lot. A lot of stuff is new. He'd be the first to tell you that. I was excited today. He was beating up Travis [Wear] today. And that's how he has to play. Tony, coming in here, it wasn't part of him to be physical and knock people around like you think it would be with his body. And he's learning to do that now, and that's really effective for him because he is strong and he has the ability to be very physically tough.

Q: with his yoga, is that more about him getting healthy or getting better at basketball?

BH: well, they coincide. Being healthy is going to help you. No question, it's about him being more flexible. Like today or yesterday, or maybe today, I learned for the first time, he had a broken toe when he was younger. That changes your gait a little bit. I've never knew he had a broken toe. These are all things… you can see how it changes your gait a bit. This is something the yoga instructor picked up on. And so he's telling us.

Q: he had a broken toe?

BH: he had a broken toe, I think in high school.

Q: Coach, what's the difference between Shabazz of 2 months ago and Shabazz now?

BH: conditioning and experience. He's a better defender than he was 2 months ago, for sure. But his conditioning is so much better.

Q: do you find that every time you suggest something to him to work on, you see that he's doing that?

BH: yes, he's very coachable. Very coachable. And I thought about that yesterday as I was talking to him in my office. Here's the #1 player in the country, and as he's leaving my office, I'm thinking to myself, "what a nice kid." To have all of that attention. Everybody telling him how great he is. To always be in that limelight. And to always remain a truly nice kid is really special.

Q: Coach, the next 4 out of 6 games are on the road…

BH: don't remind me.

Q: what are some of the things you guys are kind of keying in as a coaching staff to learn about and get better as a team?

BH: it just comes down to the basics. Again it comes down to the basic fundamentals. One thing I mentioned is our blockouts. We have to get better at blockouts. We have to get better still at transition defense. One of the things that we're seeing is teams being really patient on the offensive end, and we have to learn how to be able to grind those games out. We would rather, "yeah, let's get up and down". That's how we were playing this year. We're scoring a ton of points. This team is really good offensively. We have 2 point guards out there at the same time a lot of the time. Kyle [Anderson] and Larry. That makes everybody… we really shoot it well. The Wears have open shots and are knocking it down. Obviously, Jordan [Adams] and Shabazz and Norman. We have guys that can shoot. So we just have to keep growing. Keep getting better in our execution. Like yesterday, we came to practice yesterday, we did no contact. We spent about 35 minutes just working on our shooting. And then we spent over an hour just executing all our different plays. Our sets. Our zone plays. Our out-of-bounds plays. Everything that we're doing at full speed. Which was taxing.

Q: do you have any concerns about going up and down in the 2 cities at altitude like you have this week?

BH: no, we're in good shape. We'll be fine.

Q: with Larry [Krystkowiak, Utah head coach], do you see similarities between his coaching style and [Mike] Montgomery's?

BH: yeah, they get their players to play really hard, really tough, really physical. I remember Larry as a player. He was an unbelievable player. He played the biggest guy. I played at Weber State. Obviously, I'm older than him. But I remember him playing for Montana, for Coach Montgomery, and watching him play against UC Irvine down when they played in Crawford Hall which seated 1500. And Irvine had this great team of Johnny Rogers and Tod Murphy and a bunch of really good players. I think there was like 20 pro scouts there. Krystkowiak was just a beast. I go way back and I have great respect for Larry. They're the #1 team in field goal percentage defense in conference. They do a great job defensively. They very much pack it in. He's going to be really good there. And he obviously played for a great coach in college. And he's doing a great job and had great success at Montana.

Q: did you win in college when you were at Weber?

BH: we actually did. Jerry Pimm, my boss at UC Santa Barbara, was the coach at the time and we won there once and lost there once.

Q: so this is no problem them?

BH: *shrug*

Q: Coach, [audio difficulties] do you look forward to that with Shabazz?

BH: it is what it is. But that's getting way ahead of ourselves. I'm more focused on tomorrow's practice and trying to be Utah on the road here on Thursday.

Thank you.

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