Stallings: Chemistry, leadership key concerns

With Matt Freije now graduated, who'll take up the scoring mantle for the 2004-05 men's basketball team? And which players will assume the leadership void? In Part One of a series of reports from SEC Media Days, Coach Kevin Stallings addresses those questions and more.


Ed. note: At SEC Media Day Oct. 28, Coach Kevin Stallings was seated around a round table while members of the print media fired questions. Here's part one of a transcription of some of the questions, and Stallings' answers.

Q: As far as recruiting goes, have you seen any tangible benefits to making the Sweet 16 last year?

A: Well, I just think what happens is, you have an opportunity to get involved with a different level of players. Now, whether you come up with those players in any given year is another story. It just opens the door for us recruiting-wise that had not previously been open.

Q: I'm sure in past years you've been telling kids, you can go to the Tournament at Vanderbilt, but now there's proof.

A: Well, I think the best recruiting class that we've had is the group that is our freshman class this year. To their credit three of them, and three really good ones, all signed with us in November-- Alex Gordon, DeMarre Carroll and Shan Foster. They all came with us before they had any proof. I guess from a coaching standpoint I'll always be appreciative of that, because those guys jumped out on a limb when the limb was at its weakest point and said, "We really want to be there with you." And the good news is, all three of them can really play.

Q: Will Dawid Przybyszewski's role change at all this year? I know you guys are trying to stress rebounding better this year. I know he's a good 3-point shooter, but are you guys going to try to get him to rebound more?

A: We're just going to let him play and use him the way we've used him. If his rebounding numbers are going to change, it's going to be because his approach and his focus changes that way. We're still going to utilize him in the same places in our offense, and hope that he does a little better job inside, and maybe does it a little more frequently. I'd like to see him get to the foul line more. But he is what he is, and that is, a great shooter with really good range. He causes some unusual matchup problems for people because of his shooting ability, and he is effective on the post. If you stick a small guy on him, then hopefully you have to pay-- and sometimes those bigger guys don't get out and cover on the perimeter quite as well. We need Dawid to have a good year and be effective.

Q: Has his quickness changed at all now that he's put on some more weight?

A: I would say no. He had a foot problem... we discovered at the beginning of September he had the beginning of a stress fracture. He was out for about four straight weeks. But he's not missed any practice time to speak of. They caught it early. I don't know if he's been quite as effective in practice thus far, but we know as long as we can keep him healthy, we can get good play from him.

Q: In Matt Freije you lost not only a great scorer, but a great leader. Who do you expect this year to step up and take that leadership role.

A: That's obviously one of the questions that has to be answered. We have a number of guys that can. I think the most obvious guys right now... Jason Holwerda has done a great job with leadership. Our senior class is a lead-by-example group more than a lead-vocally [group]. Matt was a vocal guy and an emotional guy. Mario Moore is probably our most vocal guy, and he's given us good leadership as well. We don't care where it comes from. It just has to come. I don't think that it necessarily has to come from seniors, but as long as we get it, our team will be better off for it. Our players understand the need for it, and the value of the great chemistry created for our team last year. We will not be able to duplicate the chemistry we had a year ago, but we need to come close to getting it to where it's right.

Q: The other side of that question: without Matt, who's going to get a basket when you need one?

A: Well, I think the other thing our team realizes is, we don't have one guy that we're going to say, OK, we're going to put the ball in his hands. We're going to be dependent on our balance, dependent on our system. Fortunately with increased balance, it's going to give us an increased number of guys who are capable. But I'd like to think we can trot five guys out there that started 15 games a year ago that can get a basket, whether it be Mario, Dawid or Corey Smith or Julian Terrell. Julian has really improved since a year ago, we think. We don't care where the scoring comes from. We realize it's not going to come from one place like it did last year. It's going to have to come from multiple spots. But again, that's the exciting and challenging thing for our team. Our team wants to play and prove that they can be successful without Matt.

Q: What are your expectations for this season? What's the top potentially, and where do you see it going?

A: I think it's unfair to place expectations on a team. What I expect for this team is, No. 1 for them to become a team, and No. 2 for them to get as close to their playing potential as they can. I think that's the only fair expectation you can have each season. We don't know what this team is capable of, much like we didn't know what last year's team is capable of. Nobody would have thought that last year's team was going to be a Sweet 16 team going into the season. I probably privately and quietly have an idea of what the potential is for this team, but I would never throw that out there and ask them to live up to that. They just need to do the best they can, and we've identified the areas that they need to do that. If they do, I think we'll be in good shape.

Q: How have you seen Julian progress? You mentioned Julian earlier.

A: I just think he's gotten better. He's gotten stronger. He's gotten better on the low blocks. He's stepping out and making shots from about 17 feet. I think his rebounding has gotten back to where it was his freshman year, when he was really a force on the courts. I think his low-post scoring and his rebounding... he's consistently made 15- to 17-foot jump shots in our practices, since he was a freshman. He just hasn't had the opportunity to shoot them in a game. I think that will happen this season.

Q: You got Dawid as a European player. Can you talk about how you saw international recruiting changing with the whole Christian Drejer situation last year?

A: I don't think it changes at all. I think anytime you go and recruit overseas, you understand that anything could happen with those kids. You hope you get a kid with high character, and fortunately in Dawid's case we've gotten a guy with great character. He's been nothing but a joy since the day we got him. I don't think it will change anybody's approach, other than they'll try to make sure they're recruiting guys with the kind of character they need.

Q: Did you ever have to talk to Dawid about whether he would go over there? Was he ever courted at all?

A: No. He just wouldn't do that. He wouldn't do that to his teammates. No good teammate would.


Coming later this week: More from Coach Stallings and players Jason Holwerda and Dawid Przybyszewski.

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