Memphis NCAA Second Round Practice Day Interviews
March 20, 2014
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We're now ready to start the Memphis student-athlete portion of the press conferences. With us, we have Chris Crawford, Austin Nichols and Michael Dixon. Are there any questions for the student-athletes from Memphis?
Q. What's it been like having David Pellom on the team this year?
Austin Nichols: Well, he's a veteran guy, great to have him on the team. Great player. Me, being a freshman coming in, I wanted to learn as much as I could. So I kind of looked, turned to the veterans on the team, all the seniors, including David. And I learned quite a bit from him.
He used to play for GW, so I'm excited for him because we're about to play them.
Q. Has he told you how to play Georgetown, how to beat them? Not Georgetown, sorry. George Washington.
Chris Crawford: Not really. You know, he's just been with George Washington before and we're really not focusing on that. They're the next team on the schedule, and we want to prepare for them like any other team. So we're just getting prepared for them.
Q. Any one of you guys, start with Michael, what was this week like, like refocusing after what happened in the American?
MICHAEL DIXON, JR.: I think it was great for us, being able to see our name called in the tournament that we had plans for and goals for going into the season, and then figure out where we're going to go and who we're going to play so we could get prepared like we always do. I think it was great for us. It was a rebirth. And we just ready to go out there and play.
MODERATOR: Austin, could you talk a little bit in general about what you do know of GW and the main challenges in playing against them?
Austin Nichols: Yeah, what Michael said, or what Mike said. David hasn't really told us much about them. Of course, we know he used to play for them.
They're a long team. I think they're one of the tallest teams in the country. They like to run the floor. They're a good shooting team. We just got to close out on them and be ready to play, because they're one of the tallest teams in the country. And we've just got to be ready to play.
MODERATOR: Any other questions for the student-athletes? Gentlemen, thank you very much. Good luck this weekend.
We are now ready to continue with the Memphis press conference. We have head coach Josh Pastner. Once again, if you have a question, please raise your hand. At this time, Coach, could you please make an opening statement?
COACH PASTNER: First of all, just back there talking to Mr. Jim Haney of the NABC. I just want to give a shout-out. He's right behind me. One of the classiest human beings out there, and we're very fortunate that he's leading all college coaches in the industry. So we're very fortunate that he's there.
Secondly, want to say we're very privileged and honored to be back part of the NCAA tournament. It is not a right to be here, and it's becoming increasingly harder to get in, so you never take it for granted for being in. And we're very appreciative and privileged to be part of such a prestigious event.
We're playing a great George Washington team tomorrow night. Very, very well-coached GW team. Very well coached. They're fundamentally sound. They've got excellent players. They run good stuff. You're not going to -- they're not going to give you the game. If you're going to beat GW, you're going to have to earn the victory. We're well aware of that, that we're going to have to play a great, great game. And we'll be ready.
We're excited for the opportunity to get back on the floor. And we've had some good practices, so we know we've got to play our A-game tomorrow night.
I'd also say my deputy athletic director Wren Baker is right there in the black. I think he's one of the best in the business. He'll be a future AD soon. Just want to give him a shout-out.
Q. Josh, GW presents interesting challenges in that they're one of the biggest teams in the country. How do you match up or not match up with them and what does that mean for you guys?
COACH PASTNER: You're right on that. They're big. They're not just big like in the front court; they're big on the perimeter, on the wings, guard spots. So I don't know how you -- they've obviously got a size advantage over us. And they're a very, very good offensive rebounding team as well too.
So we obviously want to play fast. I'm going to tell you, no matter what, we're going to have to make some shots. We're going to have to make some 3s. I think that's a key thing. They're going to play some different defenses against us. We're going to have to make some open shots. That's going to be critical. And that's going to be important.
Q. You guys lost, I think, three of your last five and I guess people always talk about playing your best at the right time of year. Kind of where do you see your team being at in that regard?
COACH PASTNER: Yeah, we've been a little up and down in the stretch. But I remember when, in 1997, when I was with the University of Arizona as a player, we won the national title. We had lost -- we got swept at Stanford and at Cal. And then we were down 10 with five minutes to go to South Alabama. And we ended up coming back to win, but we ended up winning six straight after losing two, you know, going into the tournament.
An example of VCU, you know, same thing. I just think when you get here in a one-game situation, anything can happen. I really believe that if you make shots, if you make 3s and you defend the 3, you're probably going to advance. If you don't make 3s and you don't defend the 3 well, the plane ride's going to be going back Saturday morning. That's just not with us, that's with any team, especially as you want to continue to move forward.
Q. Josh, have you gotten a scouting report on GW from David Pellom? And what has he added as a fifth-year guy, what has he added to your program?
COACH PASTNER: Two things with David. One is obviously, there are -- they're a different team than they were last year. We didn't really ask David for anything on that. Because, again, I think in basketball, there's not any big secrets. Each team is who they are and you got to go get the job done and execute on the floor. David's helped us early in the season, helped us win some games. He's been banged up with knee issues. He had surgery. The doctor told us he's playing on an old man's knee. And he told me the age, but I can't say the age. No one here is old enough to be that age, I can promise you that. But it is on an old man's knee. And that's what he's playing on. He said he's just got to fight through it. So he's toughed it out. I know his rhythm hasn't always been there at the last maybe month because of the injury and it's caught back up on him a little bit.
But early in the season, there's -- without question, he's helped us win a bunch of games just through his energy and effort.
Q. Josh, one of the themes of this season has been your four senior guards. I was wondering how you think this tournament and what they do in this tournament will influence their legacy as they're remembered by Memphis fans?
COACH PASTNER: Good question, Michael. Look, I grade -- I really put a lot of emphasis, Michael, on the regular season. I know you and I have talked about that many times.
But on the regular season, I would grade our regular season as a "B", as in boy. We had a very good regular season. We stayed in the top 25 all year from the first poll to the last regular season poll. We beat five top 25 teams. Swept Louisville, which obviously is important for Memphis fans. Won the Old Spice in the preseason. So we had a lot of good success during the regular season.
I also recognize that it doesn't say the road to the regular season. It says the road to the Final Four. So fans, media, you know, they're going to say, hey, they want us to get to the second weekend. I mean, that's what they want us to do, especially with the preseason, with having senior guards.
So I accept knowing that if we don't get to the second weekend, people are going to be disappointed, Michael. I mean, there's going to be disappointment. As a coach, no matter how I put the value in the regular season, fans in Memphis, media are going to say you need to get to the second weekend. I recognize that. So we can't talk about it. We've got to earn it. The only way to do that is to try to win games.
We have a tough matchup on Friday versus, like I said, a very, very well coached GW team. Very, very well coached. Mike has won over 400 games in his college career. When you've won over 400 games, you can flat-out coach. He's really, really good.
We've just got to play great. And again, I'm proud of our -- I want to say this. Last year, on the Final Four based on academics on the Journal of Higher Education, it was Memphis, Belmont, Kansas and Michigan were the four teams that would advance to the Final Four based on academic accomplishments, APR, graduation, GPA, all that stuff. The problem last year was Michigan State out-rebounded us by 20, so that didn't help. But on academics, we were in the Final Four. This year, again, Final Four Journal of Higher Education, the four teams that would advance to the Final Four based on academics would be Memphis, Dayton, American and Michigan.
And you look, there are some other people who have done some other things with academics, and we're in the Final Four with it. I'm very, very proud of our program because we have such a great university, such a great academic support staff, great young men. We're graduating guys at record pace. I'm very proud of them for that. For Memphis, where maybe it hasn't looked like that nationally, the perception has changed, understanding these are great student-athletes who are doing it right and I'm very proud of them.
To be back-to-back Final Fours academically is a great thing. So that's part of that senior class that's helped generate that as well too on that change of the perception with Memphis nationally.
Q. Josh, how will the absence of Dom influence your front court rotation?
COACH PASTNER: Yeah, Dominic Woodson, I did not bring him. I'm just keeping it at personal reasons, and there will be zero distractions on that. So it won't influence anything. Just in general, because I just, again, nothing -- there is nothing that happened that was -- that's -- you know, nothing against the law or anything like that. It's just a very minor things, but personal reasons.
Just in general, just the general tone of it, as you guys know from Memphis, my number one philosophy of the program, besides an attitude of gratitude, what I want, and no entitlement is no one's bigger than the program, ever. And that includes myself.
This program has been so successful for so long, doesn't matter who's the head coach or who wears the uniform, and so -- and that standard or principle will never change.
Q. Josh, how you doing?
COACH PASTNER: Good to see you. Had to throw my Louisville thing there. He's covered it before. Now Carolina and all that, so yeah.
Q. I was just curious if you had seen Maurice Creek a lot before, when he was still at IU, and if you could make a comparison between how he played, especially his freshman year, when he was totally healthy, and what he's doing now?
COACH PASTNER: Yeah, he was a guy coming out of high school that was highly, highly recruited. I watched him in prep basketball. An excellent player. I know he got hurt with some injuries, but he's still an excellent player. He's their leading scorer. He can really shoot the ball and he's a dangerous player. We have to do a great job guarding him. There's no doubt about it, we've got to do a great job on him.
I'm sure he's been slowed a little bit with the injuries, just like David Pellom has. That's just normal with your body. But he's still a very, very good player.
I remember coming out of high school, the guy was, I mean, he was one of the better players coming out. He was highly, highly ranked. Not that that means anything. He was highly ranked. He was very good in his class. He's obviously had a tremendous year with GW.
MODERATOR: Coach, thank you very much. Good luck this weekend.
COACH PASTNER: Okay. Appreciate it.
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