"Well, the first thing that came to my mind is the thing that I'm still responding with every time that's asked, is that, you know, his longevity, his mission in the profession was to build a strong program and in a state that, you know, feels very strongly about its sport, and to do it with class. And I've had a chance to be at some different meetings with the NABC where Gene has been present, and he's one of those guys that you say, ‘hey, you know, if he can do the things that he's been assigned to do, and to keep a job and to keep a competitive program for that long, and he can still be on these committees and still work on things that are good for the game of basketball, well, then why shouldn't the rest of us jump in too?' So he's been a role model in that regard.
"And I just think he's been good for college basketball because tough exterior but yet, you know, he's had some players that he's had to really show some tough love to. He's just like all of us. You know, you coach long enough, you're going to have situations where you go through that. And he's, that's what he's meant. He's done it in a class way, lasted at the same school for a long time, which is rare nowadays. And I think that speaks for itself.
"And he's a guy that has also enjoyed life. He gets his rounds of golf in. He's not one of those obsessive guys about, you know, worrying about this or worrying about that. He just does his job. And he's a pretty good golfer. I just got the book "The Last of the Small Town Heroes," Bobby Plump, and in there there's some picture, and here's Bobby Plump with Gene Keady in a couple of the pictures, and it's on a golf course. For those that don't remember, Bobby Plump, he's the guy that made the winning shot for the Milan High School team that supposedly Hoosiers was done after. But anyhow, there's Gene, just a nice smile, on the golf course, looking good, ready for the next tee shot. But he's a guy that's lived life I think the way you should."
And when you think of his teams, what is his signature, would you say? Is it the tough defense or . . .
"Yeah. Teams are going to play hard because that's what he's willing to accept in practice every day. You know, it's all about what we're, it's not so much what you say, it's what you emphasize and what you're willing to accept. And that's what he's been willing to accept from his players. You know, the other teams are trying to get it done too, so you're not going to be successful every year, but his teams have always had that trait of playing hard and playing smart, for the most part. And that's all we can ask."
What have you liked most about what your defense has done in the non-conference campaign, and what do you want to see them improve on the most? I mean, they're, your numbers in terms of field-goal percentage and the like have never been lower through a non-conference campaign. Just address what you've liked and what you want to see them get better at.
"Well, I think, you know, chasing screens, hedging screens, helping sometimes at a point where it's strong help, where it looks like a switch, until you can get back, and if you can't get back you just guard. For the most part, keeping people off the glass. It doesn't happen every night, but for most nights we have. They're working at it. Good transition defense, getting to the rim, protecting the basket, all the charges that a guy like Clayton Hanson has taken, especially in transition, protecting the rim. Trying to get everybody else to value it the same way. We need to improve in that area.
"But it's, as long as they're listening. They went through the drills in October and November, and all our help and recover, and rotations, and our sinking, and our pinching. Pinching, for those that don't know, is just that after you've rotated to the ball, the backside, pinching down, because you're going to leave somebody open. If somebody's beaten and somebody rotates, and somebody else is open, so you have to get your rotations in and pinch the backside. And those guys have done a better job of that, but we're not there yet, because that's hard to do. I mean, you're covering up for the other guy, and what you have to do is all five guys have to be in sync. And that's tough. But they're working at it."
You've always stressed one of your number-one principles is limiting the high-percentage shot, limiting the shot that the players are most comfortable taking. Does that come mostly from listening, or is there a team aspect to this, to your defense this year that may be a step up . . .
"Well, it's early yet, so I don't know. We'll, you know, we can take a look at numbers at the end of the year. Now you're going to play teams that know you. Now you're going to play teams that know the guys that you have. You're going to play teams that have 10 films on you, and we have ten on them. So when you get into the conference, a lot of times, you know, statistics will say one thing for the non-conference, and they could change in the conference. So it'll be a little different. The best gauge will be at the end of the season."
Two things. One, you were talking about, you mentioned Clayton taking charges and such. Do you guys keep track of that statistic, and is he by far maybe the guy who takes the most charges, or is there someone else that, at least according to your tally, is close . . .
"Well, he and Mike (Wilkinson) right now probably have the most. You know, there's a statistic, but as far as the absolute number, I mean, we know. When we break the films down and show them to guys, they understand. He's, Clayton's pretty clever about getting to spots. And hopefully that's going to rub off, continue to rub off to the other guys."
And for Purdue, Carl Landry is obviously off to a good start for them. When people watch this game on Wednesday, is this, is he the same kind of player that Marcus may be?
"You know, people don't ever like to get into those types of comparisons because Marcus wants to be Marcus. Carl's Carl. Carl's a very good Carl. And he does some things pretty well, and, yeah, he's putting up numbers against everybody. We've got to figure out a way to somehow contain him. And Marcus has to finish taking care of (Milwaukee) Vincent in high school. So I'm sure people next year will be starting to look at Marcus on the collegiate level and say, ‘well, this is what he brings, this is what he can do,' but right now it's too early to compare."
Bo, is taking charges, is that an art or is that determination, or you were saying before you've got to be a little shifty to get in the right spots?
"A combination of everything you just mentioned. First of all, you have to be willing to do it. And I haven't coached too many guys that weren't willing to do it, because somehow they figure out if you want to be on the floor, you've got to do it. And some guys take more than others. So all you can do is just keep reinforcing the positives when somebody does, and you just hope that it's contagious about being, and sometimes it's not even the charge that you take. Sometimes it's just a chest up by getting to the spot that makes the person alter either their pass or their shot that they're going to take. It might not end up being a charge. The idea is beating people to a spot. If the offensive player continues on their movement then if you're knocked down then it's a charge, but get there first. Move your feet. Play defense with your feet."
There was some discussion on the Big Ten call this morning about whether a team, it's possible for a team to go undefeated in the Big Ten . . .
"They didn't ask me that."
I'm going to give you your opportunity.
"They never ask me what they ask everybody else."
What do you think, I mean, in playing a 16-game schedule and, you know, in a league this difficult, is that preposterous, or what do you think?
"Anything's possible, but play the game. You know, did anybody ask if Northwestern was going to go undefeated in the league? Probably just Illinois. You're talking about just the league or the overall season? … Sure it's possible. Why are they ranked where they're ranked? Well, because you get a chance to play. Anything in life is possible if you get the opportunity to do it. So if we all get the opportunity to play 16 games, we have a chance to win all 16 of them, I'm sure Illinois is thinking, and Michigan State, and Iowa. There's a chance. Every time I say there's a chance I smile because I just go to that ‘Dumb and Dumber' line, and I can't ever get that out of my mind, you're saying I got a chance. I just like the line. I'll tell you, it's tough though, because the league's, you know, it's still a pretty good league. There's some pretty tough, competitive people that play between the lines."
That said, is it safe to assume, I mean, do you feel as good about your team's chances this year as you did last year or as you typically do when you go into a conference schedule?
"You know, I've never been able to look that answer straight in the eye because all I'm thinking of right now is how we can get better to get to play Purdue and things we have to do against Purdue. You know, all I ever want to do for each game is make sure our guys have a chance. So what we're preparing for now is how to have a chance against Purdue. So I don't look past that or, that's not what we're doing right now. We're getting ready for our next opponent and trying to have our guys believe when they get on the floor that if we do these things we can get this done. And we'll worry about the next team after that."
Some of your players have said that what you've done at home this year has been nice, but you still really have to prove yourself on the road. That said, what do they have to do better that you'd like to see and that maybe you missed at Pepperdine and Marquette?
"Well, you've got to put the ball in the basket. And you've got to make sure you, you make sure that the other team doesn't get more opportunities to score than you do, and there's a couple ways you do that. You don't turn it over, and you don't give teams offensive rebounds. So it's, when you look at it, it's pretty simple. At Rutgers, we did those things, and, you know, Rutgers goes out and beats a team that was undefeated at their, at Kansas State. Rutgers has been like this a little bit. But for us on the road, that was a good win. You've got travel involved. You're playing in a different place. You've got to get ready just to be able to play anywhere. So, wasn't anything different."
I know a lot of it was said last year going to Purdue about the last time Wisconsin had won at Purdue, and you guys had a shot at the last second. What's the approach this year going to Purdue with that streak still there of having haven't won there in, I can't remember the number, but in quite awhile?
"I don't know. Maybe I should have had the (technical foul) earlier, because we played pretty well after that. I don't know. See, we don't look at a place, just like we didn't, as I mentioned today on the press conference, when we broke another string here or a string there or whatever else we did, I didn't go into the game saying we've got to break this string, you know, and this is what we have to do to compete against this team. I don't get into all the stuff that doesn't matter. And those types of things aren't important to me. What's important to me is how we play when we get in there and do the 40 minutes or whatever it takes. That's all I'm getting ready for. What other people talk about, you know, get another cup of coffee, talk amongst yourselves, do that. I don't ever listen to any of that or get into any of that. We've just got to get ready to play the game."
Forgive me for asking, you might, but Gene's never lost to Wisconsin at Mackey (Arena) in his entire coaching career. How remarkable is that? Is it, how remarkable is that?
"How would I know? You're asking, I'm supposed to tell you how somebody else feels? But, you know, who has time to even think about, I've got people telling me when we were at Platteville, you never lost to this guy or that, I'm like who the heck cares. I'm coaching right now, right here, and I'm getting ready for the next game. Who cares. I don't care about that stuff. I can't believe people do. Let's take care of this team right now playing this next game. It's pretty simple. Life's a lot better that way too. You don't get all, just play. Let's go play the next one."