"… Yes, I'm having a lot of fun with it because it's all about young men having success on the court. I mean, you mentioned coaches like myself, but I look at it as the experience that the players are having. I'll tell you what. There's a lot of young men in the state of Wisconsin that are having a lot fun playing this game, and some players from outside the state. But, yeah, this is pretty good. And it's something that will go a long way.
"I leave my house this morning, and because it's bright, there's some kids out there shooting in a driveway. And I go pulling up, looking for a game. I didn't have the bag of groceries with the soda pop in it to challenge them as they yelled, Yo, Pops. But, you know, I just started talking to some kids, and they're like, ‘Hey, go Badgers.' They see all this. Young people see all this. Alumni see it. People who are associated with the state of Wisconsin. It's great. It's a game that brings a lot of people together, brings a lot of people joy, and sometimes it brings some heartache when you don't get the next one.
"But, as we tell our players all the time over the years, and the time I coached in junior high school, it's, you know, when you look back, you can't just think about the last game, you think about all the experiences that you've had. And I'll tell you basketball in the state of Wisconsin; I've had a great experience here in the 30, almost 31 years, of watching it grow, watching the high school coaches, watching AAU basketball get better, more young people playing the game of basketball.
"And, yeah, people call me ambassador or somebody that's always trying to promote the game. That's okay. I could be called worse. But that's why I've served on the WBCA, the basketball coaches' association executive board, because I want to promote the game. So the fact that you asked that question, which I don't get asked very often, you're darn right I'm happy for the state, and I'm happy for basketball in the State of Wisconsin. This is, this is pretty good. But for the right reasons. Not for the coaches, for the people that get the enjoyment off of the game. The people that play it. The people that are associated with the different schools can take a lot of pride in the accomplishments in people in t-shirts and shorts. Doesn't get any better than that."
Coach, not that you listen to any of the national so-called experts, or the local people for that matter—
"—who said they're experts?"
So-called, so-called, they call themselves the experts. You were a favorite many times at Platteville. Now people aren't giving you the respect, kind of writing Wisconsin off. Can you use that, I know, not as motivation, because you guys worry about yourselves, but is it a different way to come into the tournament as not being the one with the target on their back and the ones trying to, you know, maybe beat the favorites, so to speak?
"You know, you guys have asked me those types of things before. And I truly do get confused where some people get ideas from about why people play the game: underdog, overachiever, underachievers. I don't know where that comes from. I think it's like people need to fill maybe in an article or something, so what they'll do is they'll quote somebody that doesn't know diddly from somewhere else because it takes some lines in that article.
"And then it's like one person who has never played the game, doesn't know what it's like to coach it or play it, quotes somebody else who's never played it or never experienced it, and they know what's going on with what we think. I've never figured that one out.
"And it's like the guy sitting there — and this is answering your question —because the guy is sitting there after we do our press conference and he's going to say that Wisconsin guys are dull and all this other stuff. And I'm looking at this guy and I'm thinking, ‘well, do I need to explain the big picture, what just happened here this afternoon?' Did I have to explain that our guys, Mike had taken a couple of knees to the thighs. Mike was sore. He couldn't wait to get his ice, to get treated. Tucker after every game has been nicked up.
"And you would think that people that are college educated maybe, street educated maybe, I don't know what degrees these people have. It doesn't make you smart. We just beat the Cinderella team in the nation, a friend of mine. And my players were giddy in the locker room when there's nobody around, and like, hey, man, we're going to the Sweet Sixteen, this is pretty good. Our guys were very excited. Then we talk a little bit, and we say, OK, now we got to get ready, and then we're going to head down to do the press conference.
"Are my guys going to come in there high-fiving each other, laughing and joking, and am I going to come in there, hey, yeah, baby, we just beat Bucknell, and, man, aren't we good? I had no idea what this guy was referring to. Obviously, then I thought, why would it bother me? He's never played, probably. He's never sat where we were sitting. And he has no clue as to the emotions of what just transpired. Ninety percent of the nation is rooting for Bucknell. I root for Pat Flannery, except for 40 minutes. And I just end up being the coach of the team that beats a friend, and I'm going to be up there. He's talking about, well, you guys didn't smile, you didn't. We're going to come here to the press conference and smile and laugh and joke. We have respect for our opponents. So we don't get any credit for that. And I'm sure they think our style is this or that. When I say, I'm sure they think, I don't know, and that really doesn't matter.
"But how idiotic could a statement like that be when you're talking about a young man that's probably done more chores and more work in 20 some years on a farm, and has a really good grasp on life and what it's all about. And if somebody thinks that farmers are dull, I feel sorry for that guy. And the things Alando Tucker has been through over the years with his injury, to say something about him being dull and our guys. The guy doesn't have a clue.
And our Wisconsin guys, they got personality, they're pretty funny. Our guys are pretty neat. We know they're neat. And if people don't think we play this way or we're underdogs and we're not, yeah, we've been the favorites. We've been treated the other way. But that's, but we don't talk about that in the locker room or we don't talk about that in our preparation. But everybody else, have fun with it, enjoy it, say you think we stink, say you think we're good, say you think we don't do this or do this. That's what makes the game what it is. That's OK.
"But one thing people ought to be thinking twice about is we've got young men that have had an unbelievable experience. To me, that is the most important thing of what I'm able to do to help these guys enjoy their college experience. That's my job as a coach."
"So all the other things that keep getting referred to me like, well, didn't people say this. I don't. What am I going to do with that other information? I don't know what to do with it. But this was direct information because I couldn't believe the guy was criticizing our guys for not gloating at a press conference. Are you kidding me? We just beat one of the best stories in college basketball. Out of respect, we acted the way we did at the press conference. And I hope my guys continue to act that respect. And I'll try to also."
Bo, what you touched on, said a little something about your team's style, and it came up a little bit against Bucknell, about supposedly two half-court teams playing. North Carolina State's another team that's supposedly a half-court team. But I guess I'm wondering—
"—Who are playing in the Sweet Sixteen."
Correct. "It must be pretty good half-court style then." But I guess I'm wondering, I mean, do you view yourself as a half-court coach given, you know, what, you've had a lot of different teams over the years—
"—We do what we have to do. We adapt. I got guys that listen, for the most part, guys that understand the big picture in a game, not just thinking about themselves and what they can get. And I must be the luckiest coach in America to be able to, all these years, to have unselfish kids that play for a team and play for what's here, right here. You know, all those guys at the end of the games now that pull their, the name of the school up in the air. You probably all wanted to do that at one time or another, didn't you? You know, like, pull the. Well, that's what these guys are playing for. And they're playing with the idea that we'll do what we have to do, or at least we'll try. And there's eight times where we didn't get that done."
And then also, along those same lines, I guess I'm just wondering what your perception of maybe some of the questions you get sometimes when people are talking about half-court, half-court teams, is there, does it seem like there is a somewhat negative, a little negative perception with, you know, if a team is called a slow-down team that maybe there's something wrong with them?
"No. I mean, they can, that's OK. If it takes five passes to get a good shot, if it takes eight passes, that's OK too. I still think the game is, there's a shot clock. It's not like we're going four corners. Dean Smith had some of the best athletes, a lot of times had the best, and he went four corners with it. Imagine that. How would you like to have that talent and go four corners when there was no shot clock? Because he beat teams with it as a coach and his players listened and ran it pretty well. And then once in a while when it backfired, it was, how in the heck did you do that? Why would you play that style? Why would you do? But he made it work.
"So it's whatever can work for you, for your players. It isn't about me being a power guy. Some people in coaching have been referred to as they want to let everybody know that they're in control. That the coach is in control. They're going to dictate every possession. They're going to, and if that works for them, that's fine.
"I like to teach a game, my idea of teaching and coaching basketball is to teach guys how to flow in a game, how to adapt to reads, how to make decisions on the fly, because in life they're going to have to do that too. So, there's structure, but there's also teaching them how to read the defense, teach them how to read other teams' offenses and where to help and where to pinch and where to rotate to. And give them some rules and keep working those rules every day. Don't keep changing them.
"So style, I mean, we played a full-court pressing team in UWM. What was the score? If I remember correctly, it was fairly low. I don't know the exact number. What was the score? [66-37] Was that a heck of a game? We played a full-court team. I don't know.
"So with the shot clock and everything, I don't know how people with style, you still have to get a shot off. In the old days, when there wasn't a shot clock, I'd think it was a little different story here about styles and everything else. But you still got to execute on the half-court. And if you can't execute on the half-court, you're not going to be playing in the Sweet Sixteen."
Coach, in Sunday's game, you played basically six players the bulk of the time. Is that what you're talking about? Your players adapting, you adapting to what Bucknell is doing in terms of getting good match-ups. And, on the same lines, North Carolina State played all their starters in both of their games, all over 30 minutes. How do you see that kind of either affecting them negatively or positively or how it relates to you guys?
"Well, it's not like we had to play with only one day's rest. So they've had time. And they (CBS) must be doing well with how many ads they're selling, because I've actually run out of things to say during the timeouts. Our guys are so well rested during those timeouts that, you know, you get to play certain guys down the stretch more than maybe you would at other times because of the length of the timeouts. I was worried about our guys drinking too much water, which can happen. I was making up things to say."
Does understanding the defense, and what they're supposed to do and that whole process this year in building confidence, lead to the next step, which you just addressed, in terms of learning tendencies of the opposition and putting that to the game plan and understanding the game plan? Is that all kind of, is that why the defense has been improved of late and has been pretty consistent?
"Well, yeah, I mean, that's all part of it. With experience, and each time we get to play, and each time we get to practice while the other teams are sitting at home, hopefully, they're getting a lot of this to get ready for down the road too. You know, it's a process.
"But, you know, North Carolina State has played against some very good teams and plays some pretty good defense. So I don't think anything we're going to do will be much different. It will still be about the execution for that 40, 40 plus minutes. And, you know, there isn't too much that they haven't seen either. So I don't— "
But in terms of your execution on defense. You know, they're not thinking as much as they're just reacting, because they understand their defense and the principles seem much better. Are they doing that a little bit better later in the season? Is that why?
"Statistically, you would say that, by points per possession. So that you can, that's a given. But we're only as good as the next performance, so we're still working on things. There's still things that we saw in those two games to prepare for this week that we need to work on."
Could you explain then why you think your defense is playing better, kind of just explain that a little bit in your own words?
"I thought we just did. Well, because it's later in the year and the guys have played against one another or played with one another, against certain types of things that other teams do. There aren't any screens that are going to be any different that we'll see now that we didn't see before. So when we break our films down, we edit out clips of what we did or didn't do against certain types of screens, staggers, fades, ball screens. So the more they see it, the more we do it on the court, the more, then you would think that you would get better at it.
"Doggone it, that guy. I was joking with my kids this morning out in LA. I was close. That mathematician, that graduate student, just solved that deal after 75 years. I was close, because I kept practicing and working on it. Do you guys know what I'm referring to?
"…He beat me. I was reading that. I was, that's pretty good. There's a guy, you know, that he solves a problem that people have been working on, trying to figure out for 75 years. If I get to coach 75 years, there are certain things on ball screens, fade screens, and staggers that I'll still be working on trying to figure out. I hope it doesn't take 75 years to figure them out. But I want to give that guy some credit. Graduate student, did a heck of a job. Something about partitions?"
What do you think Alando learned last year by watching the games from the side that has benefited him this year?
"Probably best to ask him. Well, I just think he's always been attentive. He was attentive his freshman year. He was attentive when he wasn't playing or when he played a couple games. He's always attentive, great eye contact in all our meetings, his notebook, his attention to detail. When we're doing scouting reports, you can see him going back over a name when we're either on the board or on the video. And you can see him doing. Devin was very good at that too. Mike, I mean, all these guys are students of the game pretty much, and not because they have to. It's not like I check them and grade the notebooks. It's because they want to be better players and they want to play on a good team, which usually helps when you have guys like that."
And how does playing other teams that have played this Princeton offense, how does that help you going into this game?
"Well, I mean, we've seen the cuts and things like that. But it's different people making them. And every team that runs, a lot of teams have run the swing out there, but they run it with different timing, different pace. A lot people that run the flex, different, some different reads on some cuts, different ways of running motion. So still all about how the guys read it, execute it, and how hard their cuts are. Ball and body movement is still what offense will be about for a long, long time to come."
In the first game, as you pointed out, with the exception of those two spurts, you guys defensively shut down Jacobson. Obviously on Sunday, Bettencourt was a non-factor. I'm wondering how much your defensive philosophy is predicated on taking the best player out of the game. And with that, what unique challenges Julius Hodge presents.
"Well, I can't say that we always have. I've coached I don't know how many games now, but it's more than just a couple hundred. But there's been like four players that have gotten off on us and hit some, got into some streaks. Then you take away one thing. And then they can beat you with something else. And then the next thing you know, they've got a lot of points. Usually, those types of players are on teams that have a lot of other weapons also. So it's very difficult maybe to double, but you help and you can hedge real hard on those guys.
"But 90-some percent of the time, I think that we've effectively, our players have, not let an individual go crazy. But North Carolina State, they got a guy or two that could go crazy. Crazy meaning in a good way where they, for them, not for us, where they're on and they're beating you in different ways. If they're shooting the 3, and then you go up and crowd them and they can put it on the floor and get to the rim, and they're scoring in various ways, then that's pretty tough. So then if you take another guy and you help real hard on him and shadow him a little bit, does that open up somebody else? Pick your poison in the course of a game.
"It's always easy after a game to kind of say, well, why wasn't this guy guarded better, or why didn't they do this or why didn't they do that? As a coach, I don't get into that other than looking at a film and saying, OK, if we play this team again, maybe this is something we should do. But you do that when you look at film before you play somebody. Okay. How is this guy trying to score? And then, there's just guys that are just good enough that they're going to get theirs anyhow. There are some players out there that are like that."
Is Hodge that type of player?
"Evtimov, Hodge. They've got several guys, I think, that if you don't play them well could have career days. And I'm hoping we have some guys that if they don't, if they're not played well or hard or attentively, that they can get off too."
Bo, you have plenty of things to do with your own team. But I'm just wondering how much interest you're taking to this UWM story. I don't know how many of those kids you recruited or if you had anything to do—
"That doesn't matter at this point. How many that we recruited or whatever?"
Yeah, how many of those kids did you, well they might matter with the way you take an interest in that thing. I don't know. And I'm wondering if you had anything to do with Bruce being hired, if you had any input in that. How interested are you in that whole story?
"Understand one thing right now. The most important thing is the experience those kids at UWM are having. All the other stuff that surrounds their game with Illinois, to me, is a joke. Because I'm about the players and I'm about the basketball between the lines. Illinois. They've worked hard to get where they are. Bruce [Weber] and his team, both Bruce's, have worked extremely hard with their teams to stay focused to do what they're doing. What those two coaches are trying to do is make sure that their players have the best experience they can. I know they are, because I know both those coaches. And I think they are.
"Unfortunately, those two guys are being asked questions and dealing with things that are not about—the current students that are there and loving this. The UWM students are following that team. The Illinois students are following their team. Our students are. The alumni, that are backing the team and rooting like crazy in front of the television for those that can't get a ticket.
"Why can't we just concentrate on that? And that is the greatest thing going right now. Like Zach [Morley], a man of few words. He set the record for the fewest words on Senior Day. But I saw a quote by Zach, hey, is there a better time in your life than right now when everything's about basketball? He's playing on a team that's in it. And then when he gets to go back to the hotel room, he's watching games on television. And he's talking basketball all the time.
"For those of us that are junkies about the game of basketball, not about gossip and not about attitudes or who's better, who isn't, who's a, but about the game, this is the greatest thing going. So am I paying attention to what's happening at Milwaukee. I'm so happy for that school and the program and for Bruce [Pearl] and those young men. Are you kidding me? It doesn't get any better than that. That is, it is phenomenal. And I know what it's like to be in the Klotsche when the baseball got whacked, whacked, whacked as you're trying to tell the guy to rotate on a defensive. You got to do it in between batting practice. That's what's the whacks were, by the way.
"And that is the starter's gun or the track team sprinting down the sideline. We didn't make any excuses the two years we were there. They're not making them now. You just play. You just get it done in the environment that you're in. In Platteville, we're practicing with the volleyball team right before they built the PAC Center down there. Those are fun days. Those are about the experience. The players laugh about it.
"And that's what, when I said something in the one thing I did, well, five years from now, talking about, oh, you remember 2005. I just hope that the players at UWM and at Illinois for that game that's going to take place Thursday night, that those young men get the experience that they deserve just thinking about the game and preparing for the game that they're going to play. And I think the two coaches are going to make sure that that happens."
Well, but you did have a little something to do with getting that program kick-started. I would think that that, you know— "On the timeline of things, I've never, why would I get caught up in something like that? I don't, because right now, in the scheme of things, they're the ones that are experiencing this. We're experiencing this right now. I think people that worry about who gets credit for what are people I don't want to spend a lot of time with. So if you're asking me do I feel. I mean, I am so glad that I had two years there and 15 at Platteville and eight here as an assistant, whatever I. Whatever I've been a part of, I am so happy for every one of those experiences, and for my family, that, yeah, I'm cheering for them, I'm rooting for them. But I don't know what else you want me to say about it. I mean, it's, they're doing it, you know what I mean? They're the ones that. And you said it, the people in Milwaukee are excited, aren't they?"
They seem to be, yeah. You seem to be too.
"It is. It's a great story, come on."
Is Bruce a friend of yours, was Bruce a friend of yours? Did you have some kind of input in recommending him or anything?
"See, it would be so easy for a coach, if they want to make themselves look good, to say, oh, yeah. Now that Bruce is winning, oh, yeah, I helped. I said something to Bud Haidet. But there's no reason for me to say one way or the other right now. I'm just rooting for him. You know, I'm also rooting for the Big Ten. So there's a dilemma. There will be no losers. There will be no losers in that game. But I am absolutely tickled to get the best for Bruce, and obviously, I respect Bruce because I hired his partner, Gary Close. Gary, you know that, right? Gary Close and Bruce Pearl were at Iowa the whole time together. That's why I said, Gary did the scouting report for UWM. Give the assistants credit for.
"The two of them were assistants to Tom Davis at Stanford, which is where I first met both those guys. And they treated me like I was one, like I had known them for 100 years. When I went out to Stanford, Tom Davis' donation to the Platteville program is he took care of me for three or four days out in Stanford."
So Close was there when all that fracas was going on with Illinois too, was he?
"Yeah. Gary was an assistant there. Yes. And they both had great experiences with Dr. Tom, learned a lot. He's a good man."
Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, you haven't heard a lot about North Carolina State this year. Playing in that league do you think they were kind of an unknown quantity or under-appreciated or just get lost in the shuffle of where they are?
"Kind of what was referred to about us?"
"Maybe, to some people. And, again, I can't answer for them. But I know as a coach, I've seen North Carolina State play even before I realized we were playing them or that we would end up being matched up with them. I've always enjoyed watching coach Sendek's teams. Coach Hunter has done a great job. I've known him for a long time. And they do a lot of good things with the game. So I can appreciate what they do.
"They're not under-appreciated by people like ourselves, our coaching staff or our team, because we know that what they do. Execution is extremely important, which means you are disciplined, you make reads offensively and defensively, which shows that their players are listening too. I hope our guys are. They seem like it. We still make mistakes, but our guys listen. And I think they're guys listen pretty well."
Do you feel you're under-appreciated as well, your team? And does that bother you at all or is it something you can make . . .
"No, I truly believe that those 15 years at Platteville would have taken out of anybody. If somebody was an egotist, to coach in Division III for 15 years, you realize it's OK. What's outside of your control and what's away from your team is not anything that's really a big deal, because attention-wise, it was. There was a lot of times where the people in Platteville thought that we were under-appreciated, but I didn't, because I wasn't worried about anything other than the appreciation coming from your players telling you they had a great experience. So, therefore, our time at Platteville, for example, we definitely weren't under-appreciated, because our players have told us so many times over the years now what that experience meant to them. And that makes me happy.
"So I'm hoping here at Wisconsin will feel the same way. And I hope the guys at UWM that were there when we were there feel the same way. How about [Adrian] Tigert, being 11 for 11."
Who would have thought, and making the free throws.
"Well, maybe the people that were recruiting him when he was a senior in high school. [He] played for a great coach who unfortunately passed away here this past year. He's a good player. Tigert's a good player. And he appreciates the game too. How about a James Wright?"
"James Wright, going to Oklahoma. He says he wants to come to Milwaukee. He comes to us. He gets his release. He's going to get his degree. He had his ups and downs. But he's, he's living life pretty large right now. How much emotion was in that growl that he made against Boston College? That young man's got something to be proud of. They all do.
"And they're all different stories. Each one of these players for each one of these teams are all different stories. That's why with our group, and I said this even before the tournament, you guys know I've said this before. Take a look at our six seniors. And you tell me if there's a more diverse group than that. Nobody's come back to me and found a more diverse group. So I figure you must agree with me.
"How about their experiences? How about what they've been through? And each school has their own stories like that, which are pretty good, pretty good. It's great to be a part of something like this."
Well, it's obvious that your team is having a lot of fun right now. And you talk about how the focus right now should be on the players. When you see your team having that much fun and being that loose, how much is that helping them play well?
"Well, I've always thought that athletes should perform relaxed. It doesn't mean you can't get on them at times to maybe bring something to their attention in a pretty direct way. In other words, you yell at them every once in a while just to make sure that they're listening. But, for the most part, there's, it's, you figure all the work that goes into this, why would you do this if there wasn't enjoyment involved? Why do we do anything? But we also know that there are things that get in the way. What's that people say, that it's the experiences that we have, the obstacles that we have, that kind of make life what it is, you know.
"And it's how you overcome those that really makes life meaningful. It gives life its meaning, how you overcome the obstacles that are put in front of you. And there were some obstacles for this team. There were some things to deal with. There's a lot of that. But it wasn't, it wasn't things that you couldn't overcome. But it's certainly given their experience a lot more meaning, what they're experiencing now. Our players have learned a lot this year. And, hopefully, they'll continue to do that, not just through basketball, but through everything else in their life."
So have you really seen that pouring out of them in recent weeks?
"I think every time you have experiences like we've had, they understand a little bit more what you're saying to them, because of how many times you've been through it. You know, and who to listen to and who not to. Our guys are a lot smarter now. They know that a lot of things that are written and talked about are nonsense, just absolute nonsense. Our guys are smarter, because I can hear when they say things. It's like, OK, they're figuring it out.
"And not everything that's said and written is bad or nonsense, but a lot of it is, because it's people wanting to hear themselves talk and whatever, express their opinion, which is OK. But you got to consider the source. And our guys are living it. Our guys live it every day. They're not outsiders analyzing their own experience. They are living this experience. So they know the truth. They live the truth.
"And, as coaches, we are builders. We are constantly trying to build something positive around the experience. We're not tearing it down. We're not overly criticizing individuals. We're trying to build them up. But they also know that in sports the other takes place too. There's the criticism, the second-guessing, the element out there that will always try to diminish their accomplishments or their work. You can't worry about that. You just keep going.
"And I'll tell you, I've seen our guys figure a few things out here over the years. They're pretty sharp. Our guys are pretty sharp. And I'm happy about that, because I think that they're using the experience that they have, and it's making them better people. They see what goes on. They see if a player doesn't make it or if a player is successful and does leave and signs a contract. Hey, it can happen. What's wrong with the American dream, of somebody fulfilling what they set out to do?
"And then there are people that maybe don't get to do that. And you learn from that too. There are injuries that keep you from doing what you want to do, setbacks, hardships. But, again, it's overcoming those, as I said, that makes life meaningful. And I think these guys are getting a lot of meaning about what's happened this year."
Will you ever see the day when valuing the basketball and playing good transition D will be respected as much scoring 90 points a game and getting lots of flash?
"I'm hoping that other people don't figure it out. Are you kidding me? As a coach, I don't want to see everybody else and every other team figure it out, that valuing the basketball and stopping people in transitions is important at winning a doggone basketball game. Are you kidding me?
"I think coaches know that though. It's getting our players to believe it. There's the key. There isn't a coach out there that couldn't give the best clinic in the world on X's and O's. Just listen to coaches talk.
"The most important thing is what are your players doing. I've seen coaches give a clinic. I watch their team play, and I go, well, wait a second. That's not what I heard at the clinic. I mean, it's. There's one thing that's said, and the other that's executed. I'm hoping that we're always on the same page of executing what's being said. That's what we try to do every day. Now, obviously, that doesn't happen every day. We're trying though."