Interview With Steve Lavin, Part 2

The second half of the interview with UCLA Head Coach, Steve Lavin, discussing the press, recruiting, and the pressures of the job...

BRO: Let's talk about the press. You said you are going to press for 40 minutes. Does that mean 40 minutes, or just a lot?

Lavin: At this point, I anticipate 40 minutes. We have the depth to press again this year. We will have the ability to use 10, 11 guys every game, run people in and out, keep fresh legs on the floor at all times, press, trap and just wear people out. We pressed last year with basically 7 guys and sometimes we wore ourselves out, but all of our returning players are ahead of where they were last year in terms of conditioning. And now we have added Bozeman, Thompson, Patterson, Rico Hines, so we have a deep team. Obviously, we will miss Earl's toughness, intensity and experience at the defensive end of the floor. We won't know how much we'll miss him until we play the games, get back to me a month from now and ask me if we're going to press this season as much as we did last season. This is a new team, new season. Even with all of the returning veterans, it's still a new team and it will have to find its own way to win. We will have to find that way for them, that's our job as the coaching staff, to put your players in a position to win.

BRO: Let's talk about the press and substitutions some more. Wooden used a press, not all of the time, meaning every year, but sometimes he pressed pretty much 40 minutes per game. But he usually only used 6 or 7 guys total. He didn't like to substitute much and I've seen him, heard him, complaining to people in the stands that you substitute too much…

Lavin: He's told me that. His former players tell me that. I get lots of e-mails and fans telling me that. Everyone is so helpful to me, I could spend about 24 hours a day just taking advice.

BRO: You discuss this with Coach Wooden?

Lavin: I talk basketball and exchange ideas with Coach Wooden, Coach Newell, as well as other coaches I respect. Here are the binders where I keep my notes of my conversations, here is the Wooden binder, the Krzyzewski binder, the Newell binder, the Keady binder, I re-read this stuff all the time. Coach Wooden doesn't like the concept of frequent substitutions because he feels it can effect your chemistry on offense.

BRO: And how do you respond to that?

Lavin: Well, it's striking a balance. The athletes have changed a lot from 30 years ago. The athletes are a lot stronger, faster, they jump higher. My philosophy of more frequent substitutions is to combine the cumulative effect of wearing opponents out physically with the psychological advantages of an aggressive mindset. Now, with the quickness of Bozeman, Thompson, Patterson, Cummings, these are more of the type of athletes Wooden preferred and we have been fortunate to sign some of these players who fit into the classic UCLA mold. So you are striking a balance between the old school principles and the contemporary athlete. The key is finding a style of play that fits your personnel, and as result will allow you to maximize your individual and collective ability. On the substitutions, you really have an opposing model, the Pitino/Smith model, Nolan Richardson too, 40 minutes of hell, they use 10 guys, run guys in and out, go with frequent substitutions. With the different level of athlete you have today, I think you need that depth and more substitutions to make the defense work, and defense is what will win it for you. We want to force a tempo that is favorable to our team's abilities. That can be slow or fast in any given year, only time will tell for us. But right now, we're hoping for fast. I know that we will lose some efficiency on offense, but that was true with Pitino and Smith too, they made a trade-off, more pressure, create offense off of defense, maybe their teams made more turnovers on the other end, but I think if you look at recent history in college basketball, the model for using great depth and a lot of fresh bodies for defensive pressure is winning basketball. You check the stats and causing turnovers is more important to winning, it's almost always the teams that cause the most turnovers that win, not the team that, for instance, rebounds best. Obviously, you make trade-offs, you try and keep balanced. If Jason Kapono has just hit four 3s in a row, I'm not taking him out of the game just to do it by the clock. But you have to commit yourself to the system or it doesn't work. Pitino would have guys like Pope and Padgett out there, and he was still pressing fullcourt. He was giving up some easy shots and layups, but he knew the payoff was coming down the road, later in the game, when you take the legs away from the other team. We are very deep this year, and that's our most obvious advantage when you compare us to other teams, along with our height. The irony about taking all the heat for substitutions is our staff came under really intense criticism our first two years for not playing our bench and subsequently not developing our "depth."

BRO: And defensively, in the halfcourt?

Lavin: We will mix it up, like we always have. Some man, some matchup zone. The mix depends on what works best for our personnel. My first two years, we used mostly matchup zone, we lacked depth, especially inside, and we weren't quick apart from Cameron. Then we went more with a man, with Earl and Baron, and we had the two big guys, and we were deeper. We will work on both defenses in practice and use both defenses this year.

BRO: At Media Day, you were asked about recruiting. The press wanted you to say that you were recruiting athletic players who fit into a pressing, running style, but you told them that you emphasize skills and "mental make up" instead. But you just told me that Bozeman, Thompson, Patterson and Cummings fit a certain pattern of athleticism and it sounds like that is intentional on your part. Bozeman and Thompson have great skills, but Andre Patterson doesn't.

Lavin: You're wrong about that. Andre has great skills in certain areas, around the basket, great low post moves. Plus, he's really demonstrated in practice a capacity to learn and an eagerness to work. Cedric Bozeman has gotten all of the attention from the media, because he's a freshman point guard, but Dijon and Andre are just as critical to our success, they all bring their own unique set of special skills that we really need. But you're right in one sense, he lacks a great jump shot. I will definitely recruit the great athletes, you need great athletes if you want to run and press, and Andre Patterson fits into that perfectly, he really gives us a shot in the arm for having a great athlete who can not only play around the basket, but also get out and run as well. For the press to work at its best, you have to have the long-armed, wiry athletes that Coach Wooden talks about, like Bozeman, Thompson and Patterson, the key to a press is forcing the offense to throw a bounce pass first, a lob pass second. (Illustrating on whiteboard again). I mean, here's our zone press. We drive the primary ballhandler in this spot and then the goal is to force him to throw a bounce pass or lob pass. The bounce pass, when the ball hits the floor, it loses velocity, and it becomes a pass that you can steal. And the lob, that is a soft pass unless it's right to the basket, so that is the secondary pass you're trying to force out of a press. To beat a press, you need to throw those straight line bullet passes right past the defender's ear, with his hands spread out so he won't deflect that pass, but if you've got your arms up, the ballhandler, his instinct will be to throw the bounce pass. So the press is a lot more than intercepting passes, it's changing momentum in a variety of ways that can set up a later steal or turnover, or a hurried shot, or even taking off enough clock so that the offense just doesn't have the time they usually have to run their sets properly, but you have to remember it's forcing that initial pass to be a bounce pass or a soft lob that was what starts it all off…

BRO: And recruiting…

Lavin: Right. Sorry, I got kind of carried away there. So, yes, I want to recruit the kinds of guys who can play this kind of pressure defense. That is the kind of basketball I want to see us play at UCLA. If I were coaching at another school, where you know you are going to have all 4-year players, I would obviously recruit a different type of player. But at UCLA, the expectations are so high, you have go out and recruit some players who simply won't stay in school all 4 years. That's a whole other element that I have to take into account when I'm trying to plan my recruiting strategy, finding a balance between the guys you think might leave early, and then those guys you know or hope you will have for 4 years, because you can't even count on that. You see a lot of guys transfer out these days and you have to wonder if you get a guy who's too good to sit for two years, is that better than taking another guy who maybe takes even longer to develop. I had that problem here, where a guy like Travis Reed decides he wants more playing time, Billy [Knight] nearly transferred for the same reason. Sometimes, you can recruit too many guys who are good players and somebody will become unhappy and leave. So, recruiting doesn't seem as easy to us as a lot of people outside the program seem to think it is. We need to worry about the 2 and out guys, and also worry about the guys in the middle. For some guys, like Baron Davis, coming off a great season following a major knee surgery, it probably made sense for him to turn pro early. In other cases, it doesn't make as much sense. Where a player is thinking about leaving early, my job as a coach is to provide them with as much information as I can, put them in touch with scouts and general managers, so they can make the right decision for themselves.

BRO: What kind of career might you choose if you were not to continue coaching?

Lavin (smiling) : Maybe politics.

BRO: That's a pretty nasty job.

Lavin: Compared to what? No, I do live for coaching and teaching. Of course, with some of our fans, who knows how long that will last? Death threats, extortion, you kind of wonder what will come next. But the truth is, seriously, that stuff really doesn't bother me, at least now that I've got the cops surrounding me as bodyguards. You just keep your sense of humor and remember what's important in the big scheme of life.

BRO: What is important in the big scheme of life?

Lavin: Well, that's changed a lot recently, obviously. After what's happened in this country, what's happening in Afghanistan, that reinforces what you should always remember anyway, which is that this is just a game in the end. I mean, on the court. Off the court, when you are dealing with your players, it's not just a game. It will always be my number one priority to help prepare them for the next 50 years of their life. Hopefully, their experience as a student-athlete has helped to shape a complete person. If you aren't in this job to deal with the whole person, you do not belong here. That's the most important lesson I've learned from my father, Coach Newell, Coach Wooden, that's the part of the job that never changes, no matter what happens on the floor. For me, that is the kind of achievement that is more important at the end of the day than how many championships you've won. That is how I will measure my success when my career is over. What kind of person is Bob Myers, Earl Watson, Billy Knight, Matt Barnes, Dan Gadzuric?

BRO: Of course, if you don't win 20 games a year and a few championships, you'll get fired anyway, no matter how much good you do for your players.

Lavin: Well, that comes with the territory. This is UCLA.

BRO: And you love it.

Lavin: Yes, I really do love this job. Put that in writing.

Bruin Report Online Top Stories