Interview: Jason Kapono

The basketball team's returning high scorer, junior Jason Kapono, talks about Head Coach Steve Lavin, the freshmen, rankings and going to the NBA...

Jason Kapono, the 6-7 JR star of the UCLA basketball team, was on hand at the Pac-10's annual Media Day to give reporters something to write about. Although his shoes were the bomb, Jason's gray-green suit wilted in comparison to the sartorial splendor demonstrated by other attendees such as Casey Jacobsen, Sam Clancy and Fred Jones. Indeed, even Fox Sports writer Frank Burlison was more stylin' than Jason, a fact which Jason acknowledged, even if it was rather begrudgingly.

Fortunately for Bruin fans, Jason's fashion sense has little, if anything, to do with his ability to produce on the court. Since Jason was literally surrounded by reporters during the entire "interview opportunity," it was impossible to do a one- on-one with him, but BRO was able to contribute a few of the questions and here's a summary of Jason's answers to the collected multitude of reporters on a wide variety of topics:

On whether Coach Steve Lavin is too easy going with his players:

"Coach is always getting smacked for being too young, too nice. That is just not accurate at all. None of us has ever understood why people say that. I guess they don't come to our practices. He is very tough with us, bearing down on us all the time, telling us how much talent we have and how he expects us to use it. Maybe he's changed and gotten tougher this year, because we can be really good, but he was tough last year. He's been tough every year I've been here. The media likes to say he's glamorous and a nice guy. Uh-uh."

On freshman guard Cedric Bozeman:

"The first thing is, he's a legit 6-7 point guard, a pure point guard who's 6-7, and that's pretty amazing. He has a long wing span, like 9 feet 9, or at least it seems that way when he's out there. He is a true point guard. He thinks pass first. A lot of guys who play point guard in college, they are thinking about the NBA and they want to score, but he is a total team player. He can shoot it really well, he has the whole game, but everything about him is getting the ball to the scorers. Maybe there will be a game where he only takes two shots, but he will be doing everything else. Of course, he knows we have a lot of guys coming back who can score. He knows who the scorers are, and if he wants to make an impact, he better be passing the ball to me, to the other guys some, too. He knows that his job is to pass us the ball. He's played on traveling teams, summer camps, competed against the top players in the country at every level his whole life, so it's not like he's a freshman at all. He has the poise and experience of a much older player. He started playing with the first squad the first day."

On Jason's role with the team this year, and on the offense:

"I worked on my strength and skills this summer. You always work on improving your skills. I got tired a little bit at the end of the year and I wanted to come in stronger. The coaches want me to be more of a point forward this season, so I will get a chance to handle the ball a lot more and initiate plays, do some playmaking. Now that I'm a junior, I'm going to try to be more of a leader for the team. We have a lot of experience so we will get leadership from a lot of guys. Offensively, we have the 1-4 basic set, but we are going to use a lot of stacks, screens, and create more spacing for the shooters, and more spacing for the guys who can take it to the basket."

On why he came back to school rather than enter the NBA Draft:

"The biggest reason is that I just really enjoy being a student. I really love the experience and I would have to give that up forever and I realized I just wasn't ready. That was it, basically."

On the press and on the impact of the freshmen in that regard:

"Lavin is going to go 8, 9, 10 deep and we are going to press all the time, play up-tempo. That is what this team is all about. That's the style we like to play. The freshmen are going to be a big help there. We'll get a lot more steals. They're all so long and wiry, they can all run and jump, I've never seen so many guys so long and wiry before on a team, they are pretty amazing in that regard and they really fit into a press really well. Our practices are really different now from anything I've seen here with these guys."

On those who say he isn't athletic enough…

Well, I'm no Vince Carter and I won't ever be on ESPN doing a highlight dunk. I've never wanted to be a player I wasn't. I just love to play basketball and I want to just be the best player that I can be with what I have. People compare me to Larry Bird or Chris Mullin, guys who beat you with skills and fundamentals rather than by jumping over you or blowing by you. I suppose I am an old-school throwback in some ways. I just want to work hard, get better and keep playing."

On the Pac-10 race this year:

"The conference is still strong. The key will be winning on the road. The road is always tough in the Pac-10. Some of the top schools might not be so strong on paper. But look at Stanford. Casey is a great player, he will be more of a leader, more of a scorer this year. Definitely, with the Collins twins last year, it was like pick your poison. Do you cover the big men or do you cover the shooters? Maybe they will be more of a perimeter team this year, but they are always so sound, they always execute so well, I don't see how they are not going to be a really good team. Ricky Anderson is going to be a good player for Arizona, really good. He is 6-9 and he can hit the outside jumper and has a high release. I played with Ricky on traveling teams in high school and I know how good he is, so Arizona has a lot more talent than some people are saying and they are always really well coached, too. Those teams are always going to be good."

On UCLA coming into this season as the favorite to win the conference and as a top-ranked team:

"There is more pressure on us to start the season really strong, and not just to finish it strong. You start out in the top 5, but if you lose, you are not going to stay in the top 5. We want to win the conference and get the number one seed in the west and that means winning all the games, not winning in streaks. You have to stay tough and poised right from the start and maintain that, not take any teams for granted at any time, no matter what. Instead of trying to beat the favorites, you are the favorite and you know everyone is going to be trying to beat you. Some of it, being so highly-ranked, hasn't set in yet. We are going to maybe play Duke and Kansas in the Maui Tournament pretty soon. That will good for us, a good test, the kind of game where in the past if we lost we might call it a good loss. But the coaches are saying we don't get to have any good losses this year. No such thing."

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