NCAA Press Conference Coverage
Complete press conference transcript from Tom Izzo and MSU student-athletes.
March 22, 2014
SPOKANE, Wash. - THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for the student athletes.
Q. For all you guys, I know after the game yesterday you said you hadn't had much of a chance to look at Harvard or what they do at all. This afternoon do you have a better idea of kind of what they do on offense and defense and how you guys will play them?
Keith Appling: Definitely. We have a much better feel for what those guys do there. They're a lot like some of the teams that we played in the Big 10, but they're kind of different in their own way. So the main thing with us is that we remain focused for 40 minutes and we should be fine.
Branden Dawson: We noticed that Harvard is a great team and they're a solid team. They really don't make a lot of mistakes and they play together and they don't rush anything on offense, so we know we just have to just play hard and just keep playing solid as a team.
Gary Harris: They're a disciplined team and we will have to come ready to play because if we don't jump out on them early it's going to be a long game for us.
Adreian Payne: We know that they like to run, get the ball into the post, and we know that they're a solid team and they don't make a lot of mistakes, so we know we got to capitalize on and make sure we do what we do and capitalize on not making mistakes.
Q. For any or all of you guys, how often did any of you guys come across any of the Harvard players in the Summers before college, be it at camps or AAU, did you see these guys a lot or no?
Adreian Payne: No, I don't really recognize none of the players.
Gary Harris: I know the point guard, Chambers, I've heard about him, he's in my class. He was in the AAU circuit so I'm familiar with him.
Branden Dawson: The point guard Chambers, Travis and I, we played on the same AAU team and we know he's from Minnesota and I think he played with one of the AAU teams that we played in the summer in AAU, so kind of got a feel of him a little bit.
Keith Appling: I'm not familiar with any of those guys, but obviously they're at this level for a reason, so can't take them lightly.
Q. For Keith, Harvard is a bit of a shorter team compared to some your Big Ten opponents. Are you going to be looking to put the ball inside to Branden and Adreian a bit more?
Keith Appling: That's always the point of emphasis heading into every game. That's our bread and butter. Every time we get the ball into the low post we always get something good out of it. So not just for this game, but that's just one of our game plans heading into all of our games, so, yeah, I guess.
Q. Wondering how the preparation has been going, what last night was like, you guys got back to the hotel. I'm sure it's been going, is it like the normal NCAA tournament preparation you guys been going a little bit later, a little harder?
Adreian Payne: Yeah, with every game you win it gets more intense and we start picking up more film and just start getting more intense in everything. We have just been focusing more, the walk through has been sharp, and we are just ready for a good practice.
Q. Given what's happened this year and what's happened in previous years, frankly. I mean this morning with Mercer and Duke, how much does seeding mean any more, other than the 1, 2, 15, 16, what difference does it really matter what seed you guys are?
Adreian Payne: I really don't think seeds really have too much of an impact. It has a big impact, but every team that makes the tournament is a good team. As you can see, the tournament has been putting even better teams in and it's been making it even tougher for the first games that have been tough. I think that's great for the NCAA tournament and for the teams that are in it.
Q. Adreian, your performance yesterday was pretty historic, 41 points, 17 17 at the line. Do you feel pressure like you have to put up those kind of numbers now or the national audience will look at it like a step down?
Adreian Payne: Not at all. Not at all. Especially playing on this team. We have a lot of scorers, a lot of players that can create for others and that's what they did yesterday. My teammates created plays and made plays for me to be able to finish them. And, no, I don't feel like it's any pressure that I have to come out and score 40 every game. It's just a matter of just doing what I got to do for this team.
Q. AP, coach loves when you guys are on your phone and checking Twitter and all that, but did you get any sort of interesting response last night after the game blowing up? Did you feel like you got any interesting calls or messages?
Adreian Payne: Twitter was going crazy. A lot of people were just congratulating me on the accomplishment and the records I set. I was just proud of it and you got to look past it now, we got another game.
Q. Delaware was sent to the line a lot yesterday, do you think that will be a problem tomorrow against Harvard?
Keith Appling: It's a matter of us adjusting to how the game is being called. Obviously, we fouled way too many times last night and moving forward in this tournament we're not going to be able to advance playing the way we did defensively. So, that's just another minor adjustment that we're going to have to make heading into tomorrow's game.
Branden Dawson: I think we got carried away on defense with our toughness. Gary Harris and I and Denzel, we have been playing aggressive on defense. So, when the refs started making those calls, we have to kind of back up a little bit. So, I think tomorrow we have to capitalize on our mistakes from the Delaware game and just play solid.
Gary Harris: I feel like B.J. and Keith hit the nail on the head. We just have to be smarter and adjust to the fouls and the way they're calling the game.
THE MODERATOR: All right. We'll excuse the student athletes and take questions for coach.
Q. Couple questions, real quick, one, can you define what an upset is in this event now and two, if you had just dropped in from another planet, had never seen a college basketball game before, knew nothing of reputations, pedigree, power conferences, could you tell the difference today between Duke and Mercer?
COACH Tom Izzo: Well, some people two weeks ago thought I was from a different planet around my area. But, I still think you could tell a little bit of difference. But, I think your point is well taken. We're getting like the NFL where 8 8, you know and then 9 7, parity is at an all-time maximum.
I said this when we were a one seed for a lot of years. I watched the one seeds that three or four different times that we were. The first time got you out of the first weekend, then it got to the point where maybe it gets you out of the first game, although that will change. But after that, when you're playing some of the teams you think of a one seed now could end up playing Kentucky in the second game, is there anything good about that? The way this thing is done, Harvard's not a five seed, I mean a 12 seed. It's done that way because of the way they select, it's nobody's fault. It's just strength of schedule and they're not going to have as strong a strength of schedule.
So Mercer beating Duke, I mean, you know, it's tough, although when Lehigh beat them a couple years ago, Lehigh gave us a heck of a game at our place. I just think that parity is here to stay, it's not changing, when you add in guys leaving early, some places guys staying for five years, it's just going to work out that way. And harder on coaches because I think it's hard for the general public to understand that. It doesn't really go over well.
I said a few years ago, Butler beating an Indiana or something, that's going to get to be the norm. And I think that you go to this tournament and I don't call them upsets anymore, I just advance, survive and advance, that's what it is.
Q. Curious if you could sort of describe your relationship with Coach Amaker. Just, I remember, you being or I read you being, vocal about his firing from Michigan and he was saying that had you one of those voices that carry weight. I was curious if you saw the potential for something like what he's done at Harvard the past few years.
COACH Tom Izzo: There's no question. He was getting that done at Michigan. He just went there during a tough time and he gets the job, I mean him and I have been friends since his Duke days. A couple years after he graduated we were recruiting Chris Webber, we spent an enormous of time on the road together in Florida at AAU things. We were right across the hall mates and just spent a lot of time. When he got the job, it was like days later and some of those sanctions came and he really did a good job there. He was just in a tough situation. And that team was getting better every year and he had some great recruits coming in the year that he left. But knowing Tommy like I do, and his wife, Harvard's been just kind of a great situation for him. Where he's taken that place is unbelievable to me.
They're a good, solid basketball team. Tommy is a good, solid human being and a great coach. So consequently, nothing surprises me about this. I think Harvard's lucky to have him because I know there's been other people beating down his door. As you see what he does and what he accomplishes and the way he does it, there's no question one of the classier guys in college basketball.
Q. When you're dealing with a guy like Payne, who had a career day yesterday, is he the kind of guy that you need to press the control-alt-delete and tell him like you don't need to do that every day or is he manages his own expectations?
COACH Tom Izzo: Hell no. I tell him to do it every day he can do it. If he can do that, I'm not going to hold back that horse. Especially with the efficiency of what he did it with. The 10 15, the number of free throws. The only part that I think you got to worry about with players, is he was playing so well we said we were going to start out the second half, we were going to go inside, do the things and he's launching a few right off the bat and missed and they start coming back. But, boy, he got his tail right back in there and then he was, he's really learning how to balance his inside outside stuff.
I think he did a great job of sometimes being inside, sometimes being outside. Figuring out that he doesn't have to shoot fade a ways, he can pump fake and get to the free throw line. That's the best job he's done of that since Texas.
Adreian's a hell of a player. He's been dealt a serious blow with the injuries and it set him back, but he's grown as a person, as a player and as a student and it's been fun to watch.
Q. Obviously, Travis played pretty well yesterday, but it seems like in the last, for awhile now, he's been a lot more comfortable and confident. For him, has it just been a matter of being healthy, finally, or is there something more for it with him?
COACH Tom Izzo: I think it's the health. As you know it's been three years of different issues where he never could get going. He's missed two of the three summers, which is when players usually get better, because of injuries and illness, actually one time.
But, I think he is feeling more comfortable, I think he fits the niche. I think he we could have kept him the way he was, he probably would be the ultimate sixth man, the way he was coming in. And yesterday we started playing those two guys together, Keith played awfully well yesterday, just had a completely different game, but he ran our team and Travis, he made some shots and both of them. Travis is a lot better defensive player than he gets credit for.
But, I think that some of it is he's gotten to play basketball on a more steady basis. He had that couple week period he was out. I also think he's getting more confidence in himself and getting a feel and the guys are getting a feel for him. I was really happy for Travis, because he is one of the guys that spends a lot of time on the game.
Q. Can you comment on the schools, the Cinderella schools going getting all excited, gaining exposure, yet at the same time knowing they could be losing their coach.
COACH Tom Izzo: Yeah, that's a tough thing, but coaches go through that too with players. It's part of life right now. Every time I address my team at the beginning of the year I always tell them I have team goals, I have University goals, that we're trying to accomplish for the tradition of the program. And I have individual goals and my individual goals are for them. And coaches have chances to leave, they also usually it's their option if they're winning, to stay.
You can't begrudge that, just like you can't for players. All you want to make sure is that people make decisions that are not the grass is greener on the other side, that it's a very educated, right decision. And those are hard to make.
I've gone through some tough decisions in my life and for the most part it's worked out and I'm sure it will if it's North Dakota State, if it's any of these, Mercer, any of these schools where guys are having success, you look on the other side, there's guys that have had failure. At least if you are having success, everybody gets a chance to hopefully raise their game a level and that's what the world's all about. That's what having success is all about. That you get to move up too or you get the opportunity to move up.
Q. Now that you've had a chance to take a closer look at Harvard, what have you seen that they do well and what have you seen that you can exploit?
COACH Tom Izzo: I think they run a little better than I thought they would. I love their shooters, their point guard, he's a tough cookie, man. He pushes it, he gets in traffic, he seems like a very confident kid and he finds ways to deliver the ball.
Inside, those two guys are two of the more athletic guys that we'll face all year. I think they have some toughness, I think they have skills, I think they are trying to dunk everything there is. I love guys like that, I really do.
So, I like his team. He has balance with five guys in the conference scoring 10 or more. The sixth guy is like nine. So they really have some balance to their offense. Defensively they're holding opponents to 40 percent. They're very solid defensively and this is a team, I'm sure when Cincinnati went through it. Right away when I saw everything I know how good Cincinnati is, I watched their game against Louisville. Yet it didn't surprise me, because I think Harvard is a top tier team. I really do.
Q. There's been a lot made in our area about how much Coach Amaker's been embraced by the community and what he's been able to do, but it seems like he was never really able to get that at Michigan. Why do you think that was?
COACH Tom Izzo: Boy, I could give you a smart alec answer that I wouldn't give you, but because he came in at a tough time. Any time you come in he gets the job and it was, I want to say days later, might have been weeks, all those sanctions come out. And he was behind the eight ball before he even got started.
Michigan's a good school and I think under normal circumstances he could have had a lot of success. John Beilein's done a great job there. But, Tommy Amaker had to weather some things that when you look at schools that have been under serious probation, the next coach in there, that's a tough, tough job. But I think he was respected by people. You say he was embraced at Harvard. I'm his No. 1 enemy nemesis at the time, your rival, and I always had great respect and admiration for the guy. And maybe because I knew him before.
But I think people in our state did too. It just comes down to if you don't win enough I mean two weeks ago I wasn't the most popular guy in our city either. It's just the way it is. It's the way it works.
Q. Speaking of former Michigan men, Coach Fisher talked about the process of the NCAA tournament and you go one and done or you go out and you're flying out that night. Can you talk about what it's like on student athletes when you play a game late at night. Like last night New Mexico State and having to fly out and kids are getting in at 5:30 in the morning?
COACH Tom Izzo: It's tough. I think we spend a lot of time and the NCAA does a pretty good job on a lot of things, but there's some things that we talk about student athletes, student athletes, student athletes, and I'm not sure we walk the talk kind of. And that would be one case where it's bizarre. It's like coming out West and practice days in a tournament, there's some bizarre things to me that sometimes happen. That would be one, I heard a little bit about that. I think Steve did a good job of sticking up for his former assistant, not only that, but for college basketball in general and kids in general.
But, not knowing the whole circumstances behind it, I can't give you much more than I think we're trying to do more and more for the student athletes. But it's really difficult because TV is so important to us all and you're playing nine o'clock games and you're getting home at 2, 3 in the morning and guys at our place go to school, so we're getting them up at 7:30 being at their 8 o'clock classes and that's not easy when you do it sometimes three days a week. We're not always on the road that much, but even playing a nine o'clock game at home is hard. So it's hard, it's one of the harder things about basketball compared to football where they leave Friday night and come back Saturday night. Although you're seeing Thursday night games, Wednesday night games, Tuesday night games and they're getting a little dose of what we go through like 15 times a year.
Q. When you first saw the bracket, were you secretly hoping either to get Harvard or to get Cincinnati in this round?
COACH Tom Izzo: No, I was hoping for a forfeit, if I was to tell you the honest to God truth. I'm not a proud man at all, I just want to advance. So, I looked at Cincinnati, I watched them against Louisville, I watched them more because they're in the Midwest and on TV a lot. When I saw them, they're so athletic and that press is so daunting.
And then I look at it, it was two opposite ends of the spectrum in some ways. But, I looked at Harvard and knowing Tommy and I know what kind of job I've talked to him during the season, I watched when they played UCONN. I've seen them a few times, not as often, because they're not on as often, but I follow them a little bit, I keep an eye on them.
So I'm serious, that plane that took Fisher, if that thing would have just, nothing happened to it but just didn't make it here on time, I would have been fine moving on. It's not a it wasn't an easiest bracket and we have been in a lot of brackets. And you look at the Midwest and they're talking about how tough the bracket is and it gets blown up. I think all brackets are tough right now and I really, really wasn't saying oh, I hope I get to play this team or I hope I get to play that team, it was double negatives, to be honest with you.
Q. Coaches at your level and your assistants spend an enormous amount of time wooing blue chip, four star, five star, what have you, players. When you see what the likes of Mercer, North Dakota State, Harvard have done this year and what other schools have done in other years, does it ever give you pause about why do we go chasing all of these elite players when maybe teams that play together longer have more Seniors stay longer are every bit as good as the guys that we get that go to the NBA after a year or two?
COACH Tom Izzo: Well, I've wooed them, I haven't gotten enough of them, but I wooed them. And spent a lot of time doing it. But you're talking about a one game, too, you know. You're talking about one game. You're not talking about the 30 games. I don't think there's any question that some teams could survive 30 games or 18 games in the ACC or the Big East or the Big 10, but I don't think that all these teams could survive a steady diet of that. Some could, but I don't think all could.
So, where you get lucky or unlucky is I got lucky. Two guys that could have left, stayed. And that gives you the best of both worlds. Now, you got your star players that have stuck around. Wake Forest was Wake Forest because Tim Duncan stuck around and was a special guy. And if guys are constantly leaving John has got his own niche at Kentucky, and he's done a hell of a job, but it hasn't gone as smooth. You look at the year he won it, he had a couple Seniors, a Junior, it's hard to win with Freshmen.
It's hard to win in the NBA or I mean it took Michael Jordan awhile, it took LeBron James awhile. It took Kobe awhile. I don't think we appreciate how hard it is to win championships with little experience. And it happens, I remember playing against Carmelo's team at our place the year they won it and he was the freshman that led them. But they had some pretty good juniors and seniors on that team. Real good juniors and seniors on that team. So what do you do? If you don't win enough games nobody's happy at your place either. And if fans and alumni and media aren't happy, it gets harder to recruit. So you got to find that happy medium.
I couldn't do what John does. That doesn't make it right or wrong, but I think you got to have some high quality players if you're going to be successful too. So what is the happy medium? Not a one game deal, I don't know. That's what we're all looking for. We're all looking for that consistency. And in all honesty, we found a pretty good measure of consistency having some super stars and some role players and it's been pretty good, but yet it's been 13 years since we won a National Championship, so it hasn't been as good as I'm making myself feel right now. So you just made me feel bad. So if I had better a couple of those super stars, maybe it would have been a little better.
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