Q: How much do you know about Buzz Peterson [new head coach at Tennessee]?
A: He's a quality coach who does a good job and has proven himself at multiple spots. He'll do well.
Q: Have you ever gone up against him?
A: I've never coached against him, no. I've been up against him in recruiting some.
Q: The way Kentucky is right now, and the way Billy [Donovan] has recruited, do you see the bottom four teams in a big shuffle?
A: I don't know. I know that me and those other three guys are striving to knock those other guys from that high perch they're in, but right now it's a tall order because not only are they great coaches, but they've done an outstanding job recruiting great players. I think there's some urgency on the other 4 schools. With those two sitting where they are, it's very competitive.
Q: Do we see that in the turnover in the East in coaching?
A: Maybe. I hadn't thought about it like that, but that could very well be. Maybe job security in the other four schools is getting a little more difficult, because of the difficulty in unsettling those two schools.
Q: What do you see for this year?
A: I just think it will be very competitive. South Carolina and Tennessee both have a lot of experience, but they also have first-year coaches. That could be a positive or a negative. The experience is a good thing, I can assure you. Georgia lost a lot of key guys. We lost a lot of experience up front. I think we're probably more unknown right now.
Q: How would you like to see Freije develop his game this year?
A: The three areas that I would identify would be: more game off the dribble-- which if practice is any indication, he's done quite nicely; I don't know if he's gotten better off the dribble, or our other guys can't guard him. I haven't figured that out yet. I would like for his post-up game to get better-- because of his lack of physicality last year, he reverted to a bunch of fallaways, because that's all he could get off. He wasn't physical enough to make a turn and make something good happen. But if practice is any indication on that, he'll be better that way too. The third thing is how he deals with guys bulkier than him on the post. He slides his feet pretty well. He's a pretty good perimeter defender, and he's a pretty good post defender, but if a guy outweighs him by 20 or 30 pounds-- which can happen at his position-- it creates a different set of circumstances and problems for him.
Q: Is he your "guy"? The guy that your team revolves around?
A: I don't know that we have to have a guy that it revolves around this year. He's as good as any player we have. I don't know if he'll command a double-team yet. I hope he doesn't, because if they don't, I think he'll score a bunch of baskets! But he may be the most coachable player I've ever coached on any team. There are very few guys that you can just absolutely blister, and never ever do they take it either the wrong way, or personally. They don't pout. I'm telling you what. Freije can take it, and he can take it, and he can take it, because I've given it to him. He never changes his expression, he never changes his demeanor. He just tries harder to do what you want. I've had guys who would get mad, who would try harder to do it to spite you-- which is fine too. But he just tries harder and harder and harder. I told him one day, Matt, if every guy was as coachable as you are, I wouldn't have this job, because somebody smart would have it. He is just so coachable, and yet such a great player.
Q: Does that help with the other players?
A: It helps tremendously, because he's kicking those other post players' behinds in practice regularly. I'm not sure they don't take as many butt-chewings from him as they do from me. He just won't let guys not work hard. He's just a terrific guy to coach. There's not a guy in this league who wouldn't like to have him on their team. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying he'd be the best guy on every team, but sheeesh! I'm glad I have him.
Q: Last year all those players jumped to the NBA. Is that going to benefit a school like yours?
A: It might. Because most of the guys we get, we're going to keep for four years. I'd like to get to the point where I have some of the problems these other guys have. And we may do that, but we're not there yet.
Q: How long before that happens?
A: I don't know. I think some other schools may make some adjustments and reevaluate who they're recruiting. Now in some cases you won't. In Billy's [Donovan's] case, of course you're going to sign Kwame Brown. I would've too. Everybody would've. But people might do a better job of backing themselves up, of having a Plan B. As far as teams losing guys to the NBA, I don't know when it will affect us in terms say Kentucky or Florida losing guys early, and it possibly impacts us. But I'd think there are some people in the Big Ten and Pac-Ten thinking they might benefit from Arizona and Michigan State losses. Now, I'm sorry, but as good as Kwame Brown was, he wasn't going to beat out Udonis Haslem. I don't care what anybody says. Now would it have made your team better? Sure it would. But, shoot. Udonis Haslem is so good. In my opinion he's the best player in this league. I love the way he plays. I love the way he competes. I told Billy after one of our games last year, I've never seen him say a word. I'm not saying he doesn't, but I've never seen him talking trash to anybody. He just kicks everybody's butt and goes on about his business and wins and goes home! I like guys like that.
Q: In light of the recent terrorist attacks, how comfortable are you with the travel you're getting ready to do?
A: I don't know how this will sound, but like I answer every other question, I'll answer it from the hip. I'm never going to be foolish or not careful, but... I think it's been decided already by somebody a lot more powerful than me, when I'm going. The decision's already been made, it just hasn't happened yet. When that day and time comes, it comes. I think there's a master plan for all of us, and when my time's up, it's up! I don't worry about it too much. Now, I would worry about my children-- even though it's the same plan for them, I would worry about my kids. I try to be careful, but I don't walk around and worry. That's just my philosophy.
Q: Vanderbilt hasn't had much success football-wise lately. Does that put any more pressure on you?
A: No, it doesn't. Now maybe some people's recruiting efforts are enhanced by the fact that their football program is on TV every week. I think there's more name recognition with certain schools because of the success of their football program. I feel like what impacts our success... is our success. If we win, that will impact us in a positive way. If we lose and we're not successful, it will impact us in a negative way. We have a very good fan base, and Woody and I, and Jim Foster too, we want to give our fans something to be happy about, and that they can stick their chest out about. Sure, I'm sure if basketball doesn't do it, Woody feels a little more incentive for him to do it.
Q: Do you think it happens in recruiting that people say, you don't want to go to school X, because that's a football school?
A: Yeah, I think that's going to be said. From the other side, they may say, we've got 100,000 people for our football game, look at what great support we get. But whichever situation you're in, you do it whatever way you have to.
Q: Is Vanderbilt a basketball school?
A: Vanderbilt is an academic school (grin), and you know I'd have a problem if I said anything different. So I will make one diplomatic answer today, how about that!
Q: Does players leaving early make you think about sigining junior college players more?
A: It doesn't make ME want to sign junior college players, because unless they had pretty good grades coming out of high school, we can't recruit 'em.
Q: Is that difficult to live with?
A: You know, the only difference is, it doesn't allow you to fix the problem as quickly. For instance, last year I wouldn't have had 4 or 5 freshmen on my team, I'd have gotten a couple of junior college kids that could have alleviated the loss of experience more. So there are no quick fixes at a place like Vanderbilt. That's OK, because hopefully over time we'll stabilize things, and we'll continue to keep it stable.
Q: The 5/8 rule, are you for it or against it?
A: Against it. I just think it hamstrings new coaches. A coach that just came to a school, and they just signed their quota, and you've got a guy who's on drugs-- and you want to get rid of him, but you can't replace him. I don't think that's right. I think they put the rule in because they perceived that we're running kids off at a much higher rate than other programs are. What they failed to realize is that football is redshirting a large percentage of their freshmen. So after they've redshirted, the kid has no place to go. He has to stay there. We don't redshirt 90% of our kids, so if our kids are dissatisfied, they have options. If they're upset with their playing time, if they don't fit in, whatever. Basketball is going to have a higher transfer rate than football because we don't redshirt most of them at the begiinning. But this was a football-minded, helmet-headed concept.