"We had a great start, and had a poor finish. I'm looking forward to next year. I had a chance to get out this weekend, see some kids, back to the recruiting trails."
How much will the incoming class have an impact next year?
"The four freshmen that we signed are all good players, and they'll all come in and compete with the current players. My feeling, and history shows us, that with any good program, that the kids returning to your program will be the key to your success next year. Although we have a great recruiting class, a top ten recruiting class coming in, it will still come down to how hard our players in the program now work in the off-season. They have a better understanding of what it's about now. With the exception of Trevor Ariza, two back-to-back tough seasons. It will be a commitment to the weight room, a commitment to improving in the off-season that each guy needs to focus on as players. Being in the same system for a year is always a positive. We'll be improved next year. The incoming freshmen will definitely help us."
Do you think they'll all play?
"It's too early to say. The one thing that is important is that we'll have much better competition in practice, especially on the perimeter, from the standpoint that three of the four incoming kids are perimeter players. Lorenzo Mata is an inside player. We lose T.J. Cummings. Now, Matt McKinney hasn't been a factor all year. He was able to practice a little bit toward the end of the year. He's a body that hasn't been there, so it gives us a little more depth up front, from the standpoint of having more bodies to work with. And having a healthy Brian Morrison is going to make a big difference for us."
It's hard to quantify in terms of victories, but looking back on the season, what do you think Morrison's loss meant to the season?
"I don't want to blame our whole season, the fact that we were 11-17, on losing him. But he was definitely a huge factor. I thought that we were really turning a corner December 21st. There was a lot of pressure involved in that game, not just because it was Michigan State, and the Big Ten champion as they ended up being, but it was the John-Wooden-court-naming day. I thought he really responded well and played well. I think he had a big impact on that game. He never really got back full strength. Even the last game of the year, he played well against Washington, but he was still making plays since he hadn't practice enough. Like the up-8, 73-65 with 7:28 to go, jump in the air, he's a little wound up and excited on that possession, instead of understanding we had the ball, up 8, don't try to make a play that's not there and throw it away."
Did he show you enough in key moments late in games when he was healthy that he could be the kind of guy that wants the ball in the last minute and wants the shot like he did the other night?
"He did that, but more importantly, defensively we missed him, in terms of guarding a quick player, chasing him around, trailing on screens, taking charges, like he did the other night, dive on the floor and play with enthusiasm and passion, which is an infectious thing. Playing hard and playing tough. That's as big a factor as anything in my mind that we missed from him. I thought that kid Hill was a very good player for Michigan State, he did a great job on him in that game, trailing him everywhere. That guy's a heck of a player. There's no question we missed him and that was a big blow. We were starting Trevor and Dijon Thompson at the wings and neither of them is truly a two."
I know the incoming class has already started talking about bringing intensity, so can you anticipate pretty spirited practices?
"Good competition breeds improvement. That's the thing we're looking for, to improve and get better. The intensity at the college level is much higher than it is at the high school level. I'm looking forward to having those kids in the program, and I'm sure they'll add to our team."
You're not conceding anything to them?
"No. The kids in this program coming back have an advantage. They've been in the program, they've been through a season, they've been through the Pac-10. Some have been through two or three of them. It really comes down to how hard they're going to work in the off-season. My first year at Pitt we were 13-15 and we only went to 19-14. But we were 15-12 going into the Big East tournament and went on a roll and won three in a row. We really started to come on late that year, and we had almost everyone coming back that was in the year before. A couple of them redshirted. Brandin Knight was just a sophomore. I tell you, it takes time. It's not just going to magically turn around just because we have these four freshmen, and we're going to all of sudden be a top five team in the country. It's a process. It's going to take a lot of hard work and dedication by players, coaches and everybody involved."
Do you think you turned around the attitude of the players in the program?
"I really feel good about the way they approached games. Going into some of those games at the end, it was a very important thing for them to try to win. We had three disappointing losses in our last six or seven games that could have gone either way. Maybe you win some games early in the year, those go your way. We couldn't close the deal. The kids in this program understand the emphasis. We did not win a game all year when we were out-rebounded. Now we lost some when we out-rebounded them, including the last one, but it was tight one. It's funny, I listen to all these guys on TV, all the bracketology and watching all those shows yesterday. All the successful teams, the high-seeded teams, the Oklahoma States, the Pitts, they're all good defensive teams. That's what everyone was talking about. Teams that play really good defense are the ones that are projected to go far in the tournament. Kentucky is a very good defensive team. Stanford was the best defensive team in our league, when you look at rebound margin and field goal percentage defense. It all spells out. We have to get better in those areas without question."
Did the players compete better, compete more as the season went on, or did they accept losing too much?
"I think every kid is different. I don't know you can generalize. I was pleased with Ryan Hollins, even though he has a long way to go. I think he continued to progress throughout the year. We're counting on Ryan, and need more out of Ryan to be a real factor for us in the next two years. A lot of that will have to do with him getting stronger and getting valuable experience."
Do you see him as a four in the future?
"He could play some minutes there. But ultimately he's still a five. We have to get a low-post threat who can score for us. It's very hard to be a good team, and not have someone who can score down low. That's what both Stanford and Arizona have in their program, that makes them two of the top three teams in the league."
Is Mata potentially a guy like that?
"Mata is potentially a guy like that. But he has a ways to go. He's not going to step in and be Leon Powe right away. He's going to help us. He's going to get better. Kareem is not coming in next year."
Is the four spot a whole in your lineup?
"Yeah. When we look at the 2005 class, that's one of the big things we're looking at, trying to find a power forward in that class. We're going to try to get the best guys we can."
Do you think the fans' expectations could get to be a little over-blown for the incoming freshmen?
"All I know about are my expectations and what I expect. In a storied program, with high-profile recruits, there are always going to be high expectations. I think sometimes, for certain kids, that's good. That's going to motivate and drive them, to live up to expectations. These guys will work very hard. Right now, the one thing I know is that the incoming kids are really excited about the future and they're excited about being here, and I'm sure they'll work really hard in the off-season. I'm counting on our current players. I'm meeting with them in a couple of hours, and we're going to talk about what we're doing. Basically they're focused on trying to catch up academically for all the time we missed in school and travel. With finals starting next week, they have a week leading up to finals. Then we're on spring break. So when we get back from spring break, we'll start officially lifting and individual workouts again, all the way until finals until the end of the spring quarter, which gives us about nine weeks when we'll really be with them and pushing them."
What kind of training/workout plan can you make out for the incoming freshmen?
"We can't do anything with them. We can recommend, like this is what you need to do, lifting-wise. All four of them plan to be here for the summer program, which I believe starts in early July. It's an intense academic program, but they'll be here on campus, and they'll be able to use the facilities when they don't have to study or go to class."
After a year of coaching Cedric Bozeman at point guard, what's your evaluation of him both in terms of playing and guarding the position?
"I think he did a pretty good job in his assist-to-turnover ratio. I think where he has to improve, for him, to be more effective, he has to be more of an offensive threat. You don't do that just in the games, you do that by taking 500 jumpshots every day in the summer, charting everything, and trying to improve his ability to be a better perimeter shooter. People are all sagging and playing off of him. Last summer was a tough summer for him because he was coming off a shoulder injury, and he couldn't do anything. He was never cleared to play until October. He was out for quite a while. So that will be a big thing for him, that's one thing I'll discuss with him. I thought he did a pretty good job guarding the ball, staying in front of the ball for the most part."
Didn't Ced say last year in the off-season he took a lot of shots because he couldn't play and could just hang around the gym and shoot?
"Yeah, but he's got to be taking game shots, and going really hard. I don't think he really had complete confidence in his shoulder until they cleared him to play. Actually, after they cleared him to play it took him a couple of weeks."
What are your expectations for next year?
"I expect us to be much improved from where we were this year. To go into next season with new hope and optimism. How well the returning guys do will be predicated on how hard they work between now and next November. That's when you really make strides as a player, in terms of strength for example. Trevor is 200 pounds right now. My goal for Trevor is, in seven months from now, to be 220 pounds. That's a big goal. That's a lot to ask. I would say the same thing would be true with Hollins. He's 216, 217 pounds at 7 feet. My expectations are he has to get to 235. These are the things I'll discuss with him in our individual meetings here in the next week or so before they take off for spring break."
Do you think they now understand the importance of the off-season work? Did they understand it last year?
"You can't say for Trevor, since he was an incoming freshman. For Hollins, he has much more of an understanding that he did after his first year. When I first got here he was out running track."
Will he run track this year? "You know what? We'll find that out soon."
Do you really think there are high enough expectations, that there is enough pressure on this program? If you're around it, you don't get that sense, compared to other high-profile programs.
"I think people were very understanding this year going into the season of where we were starting from, in terms of coming off the season when we won 10 games a year ago, and lost two good seniors, Jason Kapono to the NBA, and Ray Young, who finished the year strong, and then maybe the toughest, hardest-nosed guy on the team in Andre Patterson. So we lost three guys off the team that won ten games."
Is it a good thing or a bad thing to have fans that are this understanding?
"The fans here are pretty knowledgeable, and I think they understand that building a program from where we started is not something you can do with a snap of your fingers overnight. But I know the fans expectations will continue to get higher and higher with each year."
They might be really knowledgeable at Kentucky, but they're not really understanding. Does that element not happen here?
"You know, I was listening last night, and it was a local reporter here talking about that if Tubby Smith doesn't go and win a national championship, he'll get some heat. He has an unbelievable job. They're the #1 seed in back-to-back seed, and they're talking that if he doesn't win it this year he should be really worried about his job. That's ridiculous. That's what Kentucky is like, and I understand that."
Does it help to have that kind of pressure? Does it drive the program to be better?
"It doesn't help necessarily in our recruiting, which is the lifeblood of our program. Maybe it does for them in some way. I don't know."
How was it watching all the seedings, knowing you weren't going?
"I knew that before I watched. I follow every year, because I love college basketball."
There was not extra pain involved?
"I was a little bit upset, disappointed that Pitt is going to have to end up playing Wisconsin in the second round. I didn't like that at all. I'm glad that Washington got in. I think they deserved to get in, how they finished the year. So I'm glad we got three in. I think they actually have a good draw, and they could do something, the way they're playing right now. I think Arizona actually has a tough draw, with Seton Hall. They're good. Andre Barrett is very good. Seton Hall is a tough draw for Arizona. Then Stanford, they didn't do them any favors with the type of teams they'll have to see in the second and third round, and the regional finals. If it goes to form, they have Alabama, Maryland, and UConn is in there."
Was it strange to see teams that you beat this year – Washington, Michigan State and Vermont --- in the tourney?
"I knew Vermont was getting in. Taylor Coppenwrath doesn't play for two months and gets 43 in his first game back. I won a bet from someone because they got in. It was a beer. That's it."
Mike Brey after the Notre Dame game I think said, talking about UCLA, that they put in the Pitt system, without Pitt players. Is that accurate?
"We emphasized defense and rebounding, and trying to get stops, so we can get easy opportunities."
In getting the type of players that can run and fastbreak, won't you then fastbreak more? "Well, yeah. Every opportunity when we have numbers or a situation when we get the ball off a rebound, we're going to try to take advantage of it. I think it's hard against good teams to transition on made baskets. Most good teams won't give up easy shots. That's where rebounding comes in as such a huge factor, just look at these teams playing in the tournament."
Did you do anything this year that you think was a short-term hit for the long-term development?
"Playing man defense. It was important for the guys returning to have a good feel for it. Maybe for the short term I could have played more zone. But we didn't win games because we played zone. We stayed in a couple of games. Like we got back in the SC game because we zoned. We had a good chance to win at SC, with the ball three times, up five, with two minutes to go, playing some zone, but didn't get it done. Overall, we didn't win because we played zone, though."
Do you wish you would have played a little more man?
"We had physical issues, staying in front of the ball."
How will it alter your offense next year, having three very good shooters coming in as freshmen?
"It really is important to be a better shooting team, especially when you're last in the league in three-point shooting percentage. When we got out to that great start, 5-0, then people started playing that zone in the next four games in a row, before we saw man again, we didn't adjust very well, and didn't shoot very well, as a team, as a whole. Some of that was not being patient enough against the zone, not grinding it enough, having that kind of understanding. But a lot of was we missed some open shots."
What were you thinking when you were 5-0? Were you thinking you're on your way or that you still had a long way to go?
"I knew we still had a long way to go, when you went back and watched the tapes. We were down 10 against Oregon State at halftime. We played really well against Oregon. Washington State and Washington games, ends up, could have gone either way. ASU we played pretty well. Some of it was timing of what you're opponent has done, too."
Did the Arizona game knock out everyone's confidence?
"That was the beginning of a losing streak, against a team that really played well on that given day. We didn't handle the zone well, and they really played well. Then we played the #1 team in the country, and then Cal, who was really good at home this year. Then the SC game here was really a disappointment because, coming off all that, I thought we would have played much better. But their zone and their pressure, and their athleticism, picking us up, it bothered us. In retrospect, the one thing I hate about playing non-conference games in the middle of the conference, you never get a chance to re-group. After that SC loss, we missed class, number one, and then we go to New York and back before we play Washington State at home. At the end of that game, we were tired. I remember after that, I really made an attempt to use the bench, play Ryan Walcott, and play Jon Crispin. We got tired on that grind. That trip going there and back."
Do you want to get away from that non-conference game during the SC week in the future?
"I would prefer to be like Stanford and Arizona, and play our TV games earlier in the year. With an 18-game schedule, and being on the quarter system, it makes it even more difficult, when you're missing class like that. So we missed two days of class, and that was tough."
Going through the Pac-10 for the first time, what did you learn? How can you be a better coach?
"In the Big East they give you more than one day to prepare for most of your opponents. We'll do maybe a little more stuff on Monday for a Saturday game. But I don't think I'll change a lot. Next year, though, we'll stay in Corvalis. We won't do the drive from Eugene like they've done every year forever. We'll be able to walk to the gym. Maybe next year we won't stay out in the ‘resort' in Tucson. In this league, there are some tough places when you go on the road, like there is in any good league. You have to be very tough-minded, you have to have a very good team. That ASU loss and the USC loss on the road, we had very good chances to win on the road when we had great opportunities, especially ASU."
When you look at next year, do you see Trevor playing mostly the four, while Dijon will play the three?
"Dijon will play more three, and Trevor will have to help us at the four. He'll have to get bigger and stronger. Offensively, it's a great advantage for him. He's a hard matchup for others. Like Nick Robinson for Stanford played there a little bit this year. It's early to say, but yeah. But it's early to say."
With all the college teams in Southern California not making the tournament, does it open it up as an opportunity for UCLA in recruiting in the future?
"It all goes in cycles. It's just a matter of time for us. We're going to work really hard, recruit really hard, coach really hard, and good things are going to happen."
Do you see the same type of physical recruit here as you did in the East?
"Yeah, one of them is playing at Boston College, and he's from right out here."
Craig Smith commented about how much more physical the basketball is in the east...
"I'll tell you what, though, if you go back and watch our Stanford tape, they are physical and beat people up on their home floor. They're also swallowing the whistle, which is fine, if they do it all the time and are consistent. Going back to our game on Thursday, speaking of officiating, that ball was in the cylinder and on the rim, with two minutes to go, when Ced took a shot and it was hit, in the cylinder, and there was no call. We were up two, and we would have been up for, with two minutes to go. That was a bad no call." How many days until practice in October?
"I don't know. I'm hitting the road today, though."