"It all starts now. The two exhibition games are over with. I'm glad we won them both. I thought we improved from the first one to the second one, in just about every area, most importantly, the foul shooting. We are now getting ready for Vermont, who has a good team. They've lost both of their first two games, both on the road, at Nevada and at Iona last night and had a ten point lead with ten minutes to go today. They have a lot of veteran players. (Taylor Coppenrath) and (T.J.) Sorrentine are the back-to-back players of the year in that conference, which is a pretty good conference, based on my experience back east."
Have you seen improvement in practice from the last exhibition?
"Our guys are working hard every day, and we're trying to promote improvement every day in practice. There are a lot of things to put in. I think we've had thirty practices now. We have today off, and then we have three days of preparation for Vermont, starting tomorrow. The thing that concerns me right now, again, is our depth up front. Without T.J. Cummings as a potential player for us, we're having to play more guys more minutes than is ideal throughout the starting lineup. Like for example, we'll probably start Trevor Ariza, at 198 pounds, on Coppenrath, who is probably 225 and an experienced banger, and knows how to use his body. So one of my concerns is that we don't get into foul trouble. We need to keep Trevor in the game without getting into foul trouble. It's going to be an issue all year, but it will be alleviated some if we get T.J. back. I can't make specific comments about his academics, but he's working as hard as he possibly can to be successful."
Are you on the optimistic side for T.J.?
"Yeah. I'm an optimist in general. I am optimistic that he's going to get it done. He was up until a quarter to four in the morning day before yesterday finishing a paper. I know that because one of my assistants was talking to him to make sure it was done before the next morning."
Is that a good thing or a bad thing, that he had to be up that late to do the paper?
"He has 18 units right now, so he has a lot. He's in a lot of units. 18 units is a lot to undertake, especially at a UC school like UCLA."
Do you practice as if he's coming back?
"Yeah. What we've been doing most of the time is trading off between him and Josiah Johnson. They get about the same amount of reps. We have been rotating more, and putting Josiah with the first team, and playing Trevor sometimes at the three, which is a possibility, even with T.J. not eligible. "Yesterday I held out Cedric Bozeman to give him two days to heal that ankle a little bit better. It was still showing swelling after practices, discoloration. So actually we were done Sunday, early because of the women's game. We were done at noon on Sunday, so that's 72 hours off that ankle before he practices again tomorrow. I thought that was a good thing for him to do to get that thing as healthy as possible as we start going into this stretch of games, Vermont, Riverside, and Kentucky in a week's time."
Are you concerned about Cedric's ankle?
"No, I'm really not. He played on it. What I was really impressed with, he actually had a sprained ankle and played on it the next day in the exhibition game. He actually needs that experience and time in a new system, in how we're doing things. I just wanted to be sure. So, yes, I am concerned about it. Am I concerned it will stop him from playing in any of these games? No. But we want to get it healed as best as we possibly can."
What's your reaction to national expectations being pretty low, especially for a school with this history?
"I don't put a lot into that. It's not about where they pick you, it's where you finish. I've been on both ends of that. Two years ago, they picked us at Pittsburgh twelfth out of fourteen teams, and we finished first place going away. So it doesn't really matter where they pick you. We're not concerning about that. We're concerned about where we finish."
There has been a lot of talk about whether Bozeman should be a one or a two...
"He's a one for us this year for sure. He's our starting one, unless he's in foul trouble, over 30 minutes every game. He's our best on-ball defender. He's the best point guard I've ever seen at stopping the ball in transition. The one thing that hurts us a little bit when he plays the one is that we don't let him rebound on offense. He'd be one of our best offensive rebounders. To me, it's more important he's the initial person that starts our transition defense. And he's really good at it."
Has his shooting improved?
"I don't know since I wasn't here a year ago. I can't really comment. I didn't recruit him out of high school. Just based on his stats in practice, he's over a 3-1 ratio in assists to turnovers, and he's really shooting his free throws well in practice. Yesterday I think he was 42 or 43 out of 50. He's working hard and has a great attitude. He was in at 7:30 in the morning getting treatment on his ankle. Most college guys, I know Don [indicating Don McLean, who attended the press conference] used to get up early in the morning to get his treatments, but most college guys are not into that. Getting up at 7. It's like clockwork with Cedric. He does whatever he's asked to do. He's a great kid. I think he's going to have a great year. I'm excited for Ced. That's going to be a fun thing watching him grow and improve throughout the year."
Trevor Ariza, being a freshman, has really jumped out, starting the exhibition games, and taking the first two shots of the game, do you ultimately see him as a three or four?
"Both. Really the only difference for us between a three and a four is who he's defending. He's a hard matchup for an opposing four man, because he can take you away from the basket and shoot the ball. For a three, he's more of a bigger, longer guy. So, he's a hard matchup at either position, and he'll have to play both positions. There will be times down the road if T.J. gets eligible where we'll have Dijon Thompson at the two, him at the three and T.J. at the four, as well as him starting at the four these first three or four games anyway. He did play very well in the exhibition games. The thing I'm most pleased with him is he had 19 rebounds in those first two games. He's our leading rebounder in practice. When you look at his stats in practice, they're very impressive. He's led the team in defensive rebounds. He shoots a very good percentage from three, as well as from the field. He is driven. This kid worked very hard in the summer. He really, really wants it bad. It shows in his play and in his desire. He and Brian Morrison are similar. They really want it. He's a competitor."
Are you concerned with a lack of ball-handling on the team? If opposing teams press you is that a concern?
"Not really. I think we're showing that we're a pretty good passing team. We're working quite a bit on the press offense, against different kinds of presses. Trevor has very good ball-handling skills, and he's a good passer, which helps us, having a big that can handle the ball."
Will the rotation be narrowed from the one we saw in the exhibition games?
"It remains a game by game thing. Ryan Hollins definitely is going to get his minutes every game. He and Michael Fey will be a one-two punch. Janou Rubin played well in the last exhibition and played well for us in practice. He's going to get his minutes. Ryan Walcott is going to get the minutes Ced doesn't get at the one. Josiah, at least to start with here, is going to be playing at the four spot some when we have to rest or move Trevor. It's hard to ask Trevor to play as many minutes as I'd like him to play. And all this is predicated on whether we're in foul trouble, or not in foul trouble."
You're a couple of days away from starting your coaching tenure at UCLA, what are you going through now?
"I don't feel like I'm just starting in a couple of days. It's the first game that counts, but I've been at work here since early April. I'm excited about the game. I'm excited for our team. I think our team is really looking forward to playing against other people on a regular basis. It's kind of tough. I don't like the fact that we only have six games prior to Christmas. You're going to have a lot of people who will play ten or eleven games. I look at the other teams. Arizona doesn't play non-league games during the league season, and I think that hurts us in the conference race, when you have to play non-conference games during the conference. I've always believed that that is a negative. Because we're playing 20 games now between January 2nd and March 4th or 6th. It's a lot more crammed in. We have to do it because of TV and revenue, but it's not the ideal thing for us. The goal is to be good in the Pac-10. Because if you're good in the Pac-10, you're going to make it into the NCAA tournament and you're going to get a good seed."
Do you think emotions will be different coaching a real game in Pauley Pavilion rather than an exhibition?
"No. We're ready to play now. We've already coached a few. They count now. Now it's a counter."
How would you measure success for this season?
"Part of it is going to be that we're putting in a new system, and we're playing hopefully a style of play...it's like any program. Kids are going to get better. I expect our players to get better every week, every month, in the program, and every year. I expect both Trevor and Janou will be much better players this time next year having been in the system, having been pushed to get bigger and stronger in the off-season. But in terms of measuring success this year, it's measured in terms of wins and losses. Yes, we're going to play hard, and play unselfishly, and try to defend and rebound. But the bottom line is measured by Ws and Ls, just like anybody else."
Is it a factor that Vermont has already played two games?
"I think it's good for them. Especially since they're a veteran team. They have older guys. Their starting center is a fifth-year guy. Coppenrath is a senior. The point guard, Sorrentine, is coming back. It's an advantage for them. It's not question. They've been on the road twice, they've had a chance to win last night against a good Iona team, and faltered at the end, in a close game where they were up ten with ten minutes to go. They're going to be a challenge for us. No Question. Every team comes into here that is a team in the non-conference to gain and nothing to lose, they play with a looseness because of that. It's like Northern Arizona or San Diego a year ago. It's the same deal. Pepperdine. Northridge. There have been a lot of teams that have come into Pauley and had success. We understand that everyone will come in here with that atittude. It's a great opportunity to knock off UCLA."
Is that something you talked to the team about?
"Yeah. Not so much as defending Pauley. But about, you respect everyone and fear no one. As soon as you look past someone, Cal Poly beats Cal."
What's your philosophy on the locker room not being open to the media after the game?
"It's just something I've always done since I was a head coach. I look at our locker room as a private and almost sacred place. It's for the players, number one, the coaches, the managers, and that's it."
How have the players responded to your emphasis on defense?
"It's something we always emphasize every day in practice. I'm sure they'd echo that to you. It's something that we praise quite often, when players make good plays defensively. Our players are smart. Most all of them have been in winning programs in high school, and that's how you win. It's no secret that defense wins games. When we do lose a game, most likely it will be because we didn't defend and rebound. It will be pointed right out in the film. We talk about it every day, all the time. The guys that have that heart and desire to play defense will be the guys who play more minutes and be successful."