Interview with Western Kentucky

Western Kentucky's Head Coach Darrin Horn, and three Hilltoppers, Tyrone Brazelton, Courtney Lee, and Ty Rogers answered questions from the media at the US Airways Center in Phoenix Wednesday about their match-up against the Bruins...


COACH HORN'S Opening Statement: We are thrilled to be here and still playing this week as a part of the Sweet 16. It is a great opportunity for our program and our players. That being said, we know we have a very tough opponent in UCLA who is extremely well-coached. Very tough and disciplined. Obviously I think a concern for us is how physical that they are.

This time of year, I think everybody will try to do what they do well and I wouldn't expect that to change tomorrow for either one of us. But we're looking forward to the matchup and the game.

Q. At a time when seniors are kind of increasingly rare in college basketball, your starting three of them at guard, two of them that have been in the program all the way through. What does that mean for you as a coach and for the team?

COACH HORN: I think it's huge. You know, if you take our game tomorrow night, for example, there are a few McDonald's All-Americans on their roster, none on ours. I think the talent level has to be close, without question.

But I think all things being close to equal, you know, that experience and that togetherness and that understanding of a system and that trust and all those things you build over a period of time, I think they can be a big difference maker for you.

I don't think there is any question it would be hard for us to be here without the senior leadership that we have and the fact that those guys have been in the program for a long time, believe in what we're doing and believing each other probably more importantly.

Q. As you guys advance, more people are learning about Courtney Lee and who he is. Can you just talk about his value to your team and then this tournament's power to make local heroes into household names?

COACH HORN: His value to our team is really immeasurable, has been to our program in general. He's a guy that every night we step on the floor, we feel like we have a guy that is going to be as good as anybody that anybody else has. I think what separates them, people ask about them a lot, Courtney can score the basketball obviously. But I think what separates him is he can score by getting his own shot and he impacts the game in every other area. He had a huge block against Drake, for example, literally came from the other corner and blocked it on the opposite side of the rim, basically to save a game-winning bucket for them. That was huge. And he does things like that and gets stops, rebounds the ball and passes it and he is a guy that impacts the game in every area.

That combined with his obvious athleticism and his ability to score is what separates him from a lot of other players.

Q. You guys like to play a high-possession, high-paced kind of game. How difficult is that against a team like UCLA that is so disciplined, especially on defense?

COACH HORN: Well, I think it is a challenge. They're a team that is very disciplined defensively and makes it very difficult for you to get quick, easy ones. But they're also very disciplined offensively as well. They will take a quick one or a quick post up if they can get it. They are not scared to use a little clock and make you play a little defense and sometimes that impacts tempo as much as anything. I think that there's no question that we don't want to turn it into a completely half-court game tomorrow over a 40-minute period or it is going to favor them.

Q. You've been to the Sweet 16 before as a player. As a coach now, do you try to approach this as kind of an ho-hum, just another game? Or are you telling your team this is an experience of a lifetime and you got to play it that way?

COACH HORN: A little bit of both, to be honest with you. We try to help them understand that this is a great experience, that it is hard to describe unless you've actually done it and it will stick with you for the rest of your life. So from that standpoint, we really want to enjoy it and have fun with it. We've really tried to do that, whether it's been the open practices that we've had or any of those kind of things, just being on the trip, being together, trying to make sure we are enjoying the experience. That being said, we've had a lot of success in preparing and getting ready for games the way that we do. So we've tried to keep that as normal as possible.

Q. I'm wondering about Kevin Love and what your plan is for him and have you faced a player of that caliber yet this season?

COACH HORN: We're hoping he gets sick is the main thing we're looking for.
No, he's an outstanding player. I think the fact that he is a freshman is probably what's most impressive, is that he has put up the numbers he has and played the way that he has so consistently for him all year as a freshman. That's really tough to do. That being said, we have not seen a guy like him this year individually that is that capable of putting up those kind of numbers and being that kind of threat.

Q. I was just curious about Ty Rogers and after he hit the buzzer beater to win your first game. Has he been difficult to live with? Or how have things been for him lately?

COACH HORN: Ty is never difficult to live with. You know, he's a young man that has great humility. I'm convinced in the big picture of things, one of the reasons he was the guy that made that shot is that nobody deserved to be trumpeted and showcased more than Ty Rogers. This is a young man that his entire career has only done what's best for our team and program, whether it has been play out of position like he did his sophomore year when Danny Rumph passed away and we needed him to play that spot, come off the bench like he did earlier this year or take an academic scholarship instead of an athletic scholarship so we could sign another player. A lot of guys wouldn't have done that just on ego alone.

And Ty Rogers has always done what's best for everybody else around him. He comes from a great family and he is a young man that has a great Christian faith and is really just one of the rocks of our program. And one of the most enjoyable things for me as a coach is we set forth with a vision five years ago that we wanted to build this program on a certain style of play but also with a certain kind of kid. Ty Rogers is a big part of that because we know he had such strong character and that's really great to see him enjoying this right now.

Q. Coach, when teams have tried to slow you down, what are some of the things you've preached to the players and tried to do to combat that?

COACH HORN: I think the danger in those games is that you fall into that and you quit running yourself. Sometimes teams will do things that try to take you out, where they're slowing you down with the way they play, with certain defensive things they do. Sometimes if you were not careful, you just are playing that way and you are not running when you could and you are not attacking when you could be attacking.

I think our mentality has to be that we're going to try to do that throughout the game, regardless of what they're doing. I knew we were getting good when we were winning games when we didn't have to do that. We didn't have to score 75 or 80 to win. We were winning -- scoring in the 60s and sometimes games were maybe more half court than we want. Again that being said, we can't have it like that for 40 minutes tomorrow, I don't think. I also think that we've shown that we could do that for stretches.

Q. What do you do to establish the pace and the tempo early in your favor? Are there things you can do?

COACH HORN: Well, one of the things in basketball that people don't talk enough about is making shots makes up for a whole lot of things. You know, if you make shots early, it just kind of changes the mentality of the game. That can be a part of it. But, you know, you can do some things defensively as well to try to create it a little bit, you know, without question. But I think a lot of it sometimes comes down to just flow of the game and how some things are going.

Q. Tyrone is the one guy in that senior group who came in as a transfer. Did it take him some time to kind of fit in among -- in a back court that had been there, as kind of more established?

COACH HORN: Yeah, I think there was an adjustment period. It is tough for a junior college player to come into any program that's got an established system, style of play, and, as you mentioned, kind of an established class hierarchy with how things are run. You know, I think he spent a lot of last year adjusting to what we expected of him as coaches and our style of play because it is the most important position with the way we play and the most demanding. Making the adjustment, as you say, from fitting in and all of those things.

I think his growth has been unbelievable over the summer and throughout the fall and then even as the season has gone on and what's really neat to see as a coach is he fits in now both on the court and off like he has been with those guys for four years.

Really, the thing that separates this group, this is a group that really cares about one another. I think that's something that's, you know -- doesn't happen as much as we would like for it to in athletics. It is tough to accomplish, and this group has done that.

So from that standpoint, it has been a lot of fun as a coach to watch that and be a part of it.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about the matchup with your point guard against Collison and how Tyrone is going to kind of -- I mean, this is a real opportunity for him at that time. He is going against a guy who is maybe as quick or quicker and maybe a little bit more athletic.

COACH HORN: We think it will be a great matchup. Collison is a terrific player, without question, and has performed at a high level all year since he got back into playing full-time. And I think that it's going to be a key to the game. I don't think an individual matchup determines things as much as both of those guys are really important to their respective teams and it is important that they both play well relative to how each team wants to play to give us an opportunity to win.
I think that is maybe even more important than the actual matchup itself.

Q. Is this run for you, was it more fun as a player or coach? And can you kind of talk about the differences?

COACH HORN: That's probably the best way to say it. I think they are just different. As a player, you stay on this complete high, especially when it is the first time you've done it, about how great everything is and what a neat experience it is, the magnitude of it all. And I think as a coach, you know, you enjoy it but you enjoy it in a different way, and a lot of our coaching staff and then all of us have played in the tournament and three of us advanced as players to the Sweet 16 or beyond.
I think a lot of our enjoyment comes from knowing that they're experiencing the same kind of emotions that we did as players. And so I think that's more of what we feel now as coaches more than anything.

That and just the satisfaction of knowing that if you stick with something and then believe in it, that you have an opportunity for something like this to happen.

Q. Tyrone, UCLA likes to play more of a slower-paced, defensive-style game. You guys like to get up and down the court. How do you go about kind of imposing your will and your style of play against an opponent like UCLA?

TYRONE BRAZELTON: We just got to impose our will. We got to do what we do best, is push the ball and keep the game at our pace.

Q. Is there anything in particular you can do to kind of do that, though?

TYRONE BRAZELTON: Probably try to speed them up.

Q. I'm just kind of wondering if you could talk about the value it has been for your team that you and Courtney have played together for four years now. I mean, that's kind of a rare thing anymore in college basketball.

TY ROGERS: Right. It's been great. And I think it helps us out a lot as a team, just not only for me and Courtney to have played together, but we also have other seniors. We have a big class, and now Tyrone for the last two. But it helps us a lot, just as far as our chemistry. Not only on the floor but off the floor. We're together a lot of the time and I think that's helping out a lot now.

Q. Courtney, can you talk a little bit about how it may have helped to see other teams really almost beat UCLA like in the last round, to show that maybe they're not this invincible team up there?

COURTNEY LEE: Definitely watching film and scouting report on them. You see the last couple games have been close. They came down to the last-second calls. We feel that could favor us because we like to get out and play aggressive in a fast pace, and towards the end of the game we will run more bodies at them the whole game. Definitely feel we can wear them down towards the end of the game.

Q. Courtney and Ty, having lost a close friend like you did a couple years ago, what's the process been like of handling that and how has it maybe affected or changed you guys in basketball and outside basketball?

COURTNEY LEE: It definitely changed both of us. We have grown to become more of a family and that's something that we emphasize with our team, is to just build a family relationship and go out and have fun and play for each other. It also matured us as persons and players. It was like an eye opener. It helps us see that any day basketball could be taken away from us. We just go out as a team and as a whole go out and play every game like it is our last game, and go out and practice and work hard and never take a second of it for granted.

TY ROGERS: Just to reiterate some of the things he said, you can't get through something like that alone. And I think just coming closer together as a team and as a family is the only way you can even deal with something like that. It also -- it changed me as far as individually. You can't take any day for granted. He was a great person and he had to go at a very young age. You just learn not to take any days for granted.

Q. Tyrone, talk about the experiences against Gonzaga and Tennessee and how those games have prepared you for a game like this.

TYRONE BRAZELTON: Well, against Tennessee and Gonzaga, they're totally different teams than UCLA. They're really good teams. They all had really good point guards and really good players, just like UCLA. So it kind of helped us focus on, like, their key players and the things we're going to have to do to slow them down.

Q. Ty, I'm guessing that you probably never hit a bigger shot than you hit in the first game. Just wonder what sort of responses, some of the more interesting comments you may have gotten or just -- and how gratifying it is to you to be going out as a senior and to hit a shot like that that the whole nation saw?

TY ROGERS: First of all, it is a great feeling just to know that that shot allowed us to advance in the tournament more than anything. It is a wonderful feeling for these seniors as well as the rest of my team just to know that I could kind of, I guess, do my part to get us to the next round of the tournament. To go out like that as a senior, this run we're on, it's -- I think one day I will look back and hit me a lot more than it has now.

I guess as far as the remarks, just interesting things about the shot, one thing that was kind of neat, I talked to my old high school principle at Lyon County High School, they said they were able to watch the whole overtime of the game during all the classes. They had T.V.s on in each of the classes. They said when the shot went down, my old high school pretty much erupted. That's a good feeling.

Q. Almost all of UCLA's offense recently has come out of Love and Collison. What can you do to slow down either one of those guys? And how do you keep Love out of the positions he likes to be in?

TY ROGERS: I think a lot of that starts with our pressure and pressure on the perimeter. Collison is a great player. It is going to be tough. But we have to do everything we can to slow him down, not give him anything easy in transition, and just always make everything tough on him, I think.

And as far as with Love, I think our bigs are going to have to be physical with them. And it still puts a lot of pressure on us at the perimeter spots to just make it harder to get him the ball, I think. I think that's going to be very crucial.

Q. Tyrone, I was wondering how much you relish your matchup against someone like Collison who is also a very talented point guard.

TYRONE BRAZELTON: Any time we get to play against a player of his caliber, you look at it as an opportunity. At the same time, I can't get caught up in individual battles.

Q. Courtney, you talked about how loose and how much fun were having last week in Tampa. Are there things you have done in the last couple days to stay loose coming into here and different activities or has it been pretty much rest?

COURTNEY LEE: I mean, we pretty much have been doing the same thing we were doing last week: coming to the gym, taking care of business, but also having fun at the same time and just being around each other and just -- everybody just enjoying this high right now is definitely helping us. So we are definitely going to do the same things as we prepared for games that we did in the season, but we just want to have a mind-set that we are going out here to have fun, and any game could be our last game. Enjoy the moment and the ride.

Q. You guys have sat at home and watched a lot of these tournaments the last few years. You've seen the Cinderella story. Courtney, I am wondering what it is like to live out the Cinderella story. Has it hit you yet that you're that team?

COURTNEY LEE: Like you said in the past years, watching the tournament, you just sit at home and just wish that you had a chance to be in that game and just saying to yourself "we're better than this, we can participate in this tournament and win games," but to have it come true our senior year, it is a phenomenal feeling. And being labeled the Cinderella team, it definitely helps. We are just going in and having fun and winning games and getting that title. We definitely want to keep it rolling.

Q. Ty, can you talk about that, too?

TY ROGERS: I have to agree with a lot of things he just said. To be a Cinderella, I guess it takes a lot of pressure off of it, in a sense. That makes it a lot of fun. We just go out and try to do the things we've done all year and enjoy doing them.

Q. Courtney, are you surprised at all by the attention you received this year in the season you had?

COURTNEY LEE: By someway and by someway not. It just goes to show you hard work pays off. This has been my mentality. It has never been about me. It has always been about the team. I just go in every day and preparing and do anything it takes to win just for the team. That's just been my mind-set.

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