Transcript: Memphis, Michigan State Pre-game Press Conference Quotes
March 22, 2013
MODERATOR: We'll begin with the student-athletes for Memphis.
Q. D.J., can you talk a little bit about how far you've come in your career? Coach talked about it yesterday, sort of an unheralded recruit to a guy who's had a dramatic impact on the program.
D.J. Stephens: Yes, sir.
I've definitely come a long way. If you'd have looked at me my freshman year and you look at me now, you'd think I'm a completely different person. I've grown as a basketball player and as a person myself. I've worked on a lot of things. I've overcome a lot of barriers, and I just say I'm blessed to be where I am today.
Q. Tarik and Joe, D.J. only averaged like eight minutes last season. Did you see anything at the beginning of the year that allowed him to get to where he is now?
Tarik Black: For D.J., it's always been a confidence thing. We've always told him he has the talent and ability to do anything he wants to on the court. It was just a matter of him locking in and mentally being prepared and focusing on the season and knowing what it is that he's capable of and understanding what he's capable of. And now he understands it and he's produced so well for us this year.
Joe Jackson: Over the past couple years, D.J. didn't get a lot of playing time, but you always could see from the spurts in the game that he can do some amazing things.
He's been doing amazing things since I've been playing for Memphis. D.J. Stephens, he worked hard this summer individually with Coach Collins and some of the guard coaches, and it's just shown, you know, people that when you work hard, you know, things can happen for you good.
Q. Can you talk about last year, the mistakes that you guys -- what you did in the NCAA Tournament that you learned from and also playing a team that is seasoned in this environment?
Tarik Black: Yes, sir.
Last season we were very anxious to play, more so nervous, and when you come to a tournament like this, you have to understand, the anxiety's going to be a part of it. If you care about the game, you're going to be anxious to play. But you shouldn't be nervous. You should be confident of your team, confident of your scheme.
That's what we came in this season, this tournament right here, we understand we're a great team. We understand what we're capable of and we appreciate our value. In the past, we hadn't done that. Going into tournaments we thinking that, okay, we could win this game but we weren't set in stone that yes Memphis is a legit team and a legit threat.
Going against a team like Michigan State and Tom Izzo, they're a great team. Needless to say, they were top ten in the country, but at the same time we're a powerful threat and everybody knows that. So we're going to go out there and play a hard game and we're going to see who comes out with the win.
Joe Jackson: Playing against Michigan State, I mean, they're going to play hard, play physical.
It's other teams in the country we've played against like Louisville, they play the same type of game, but, you know, they're more of a slow down team and try to get it into the post. We just got to play great defense for 40 minutes. That's what it's going to come down to, I mean, because the coaches are not out there playing basketball. It's still the players.
The guys that's on the floor, we just got to come to play and leave everything out there. Play harder than the next team. That's the only way you can win a game in the NCAA tournament anyway.
D.J. Stephens: I just feel coming into this tournament, we're a more seasoned team. We have a lot more experience under our belt.
We've in a lot of tough situations this season that we've been able to overcome. I think this team understands what it takes to win games, even in tight situations. And I just feel like we're a lot more prepared for this tournament. I mean, we understand that we're going to get everybody's best shot. We understand it's going to be a tough game night in, night out. We understand that we're a great basketball club. And when you have that and you understand all that stuff, you just have the confidence night in, night out to just play your best basketball.
Q. Talk about you guys getting the first win in NCAA, in the last three seasons, how does it feel?
D.J. Stephens: I mean, it was a good win for us, but we're a great basketball team. We didn't expect just to win that one game and then pack it up and go home. We definitely want to try to win a national championship and we want to win as many games as we possibly can.
I mean, we're happy we won it, but we're not done with yet. I mean, we still have basketball to play. So you can't really focus on that one win too much.
Joe Jackson: Well, you know, it was a great win for our program to come out and get that victory, that first victory because with the group of guys that we have in our locker room, we haven't won a tournament game. So to get that winning feeling back that we can win in a tournament, that's going to help us a lot, more than we even can imagine.
I mean, we didn't come here to win one game.
Hopefully we can leave here with two wins and we've been practicing and working so hard all year. We've been against the walls the whole year up and down, but we got so much talent in the locker room, if we just -- we put it all together, we can beat anybody.
Tarik Black: I know we talking a lot about getting more wins and this first one, but needless to say, we appreciate the win. We don't take it for granted at all.
A lot of teams don't get to win in an NCAA tournament, period. So we appreciate the win, but at the same time, like we're always saying, my eyes are set way further down the road than the first win. You have to get the first win in order to advance, so, yeah, we like, but at the same time, there's much more in store for us.
Q. D.J., what have the last 24 hours been like for you. Are friends blowing you up? Anything overwhelming?
D.J. Stephens: I mean, all that stuff is amazing, but I can't really focus too much on all that. I mean, I still have basketball to play on my teammates.
I can't really worry about what people are saying good or bad. I just have to focus on the goal ahead and that's helping my team win games.
Q. Talk about this experience, getting this first NCAA tournament win behind you.
Tarik Black: This is a great experience for us, especially for the university and for our city.
Being raised in the city, you understand how big and detrimental Memphis basketball is to the city. Like you understand how big of an issue it is.
Me personally, I wasn't even a basketball fan. Never watched the NCAA game before. The first game I ever watched was Memphis in a national title game. So that goes how to show you how big and how heavy it is for Memphis and for us to get a win on the first one and then try to continue our season and try to do something special for the city, it just means that much more for us.
Joe Jackson: Well, this is great to, you know, uplift the city. The city has been down for a couple years, but we're known for, you know, great basketball players winning in the NCAA tournament, going to the Final Four and stuff. So we just doing what we supposed to do. Winning in the tournament, I mean, we just so blessed to continue the tradition, continue to get another chance to, you know, go further in the tournament. We just trying to make Memphis proud and make our fans proud. That's really all we trying to do.
Q. Coach Izzo, when he was speaking with us, said that he thought maybe you've played your best game that he's seen this year. Talk about the game you had and also talk about the bigs for Michigan State.
Tarik Black: Like we talked with yesterday, Joe put the ball in my hands early. He put the ball in my hands and that shows the trust that he had in me to do something positive with the ball, because he can easily pull it out and run another play, do anything with it, but he passed me the ball and he told me, he was like Tarik, you need to do what you have to do. Be productive for us. That's what I plan on being. I plan on being aggressive and productive.
As far as Michigan State goes with their bigs, they have good bigs in Nix and Adreian Payne. But at the same time I'm -- I consider myself a prominent threat. So as much as we could talk to them about how their bigs play, they have to worry about us on the other end as well with me and Shaq and D.J. and Ferrakohn.
Q. Joe, can you give us your perspective of what happened with you in the Bahamas and what you learned from that? Also assess your matchup with Keith Appling?
Joe Jackson: It was so long ago, but, I mean, I just learned a valuable lesson, just to continue to work.
It was still only one game where I just -- I was kind of disappointed, but I just bounced back. Man, you know, like anybody else. Work hard, just bounce back and get your confidence back up and just play basketball.
You know, I really wasn't stressed out like that like I was my freshman and sophomore year after that game because I knew it could be rocky. Nobody said it was going to be perfect because I'm junior. I just have to continue to work. And with Keith Appling, I played against him before and I mean none of the guys on the court are not NBA allstars. I mean, he laces his shoes up just like me. So just go out there and play ball.
Q. Everyone sort of raves about your ability, your leaping ability, but how have you honed your skills to be so effective as a shot blocker?
D.J. Stephens: Well, my advantage on the court is my athleticism, but it's also a curse as well. I'm only six-five, and I don't weigh that much but I'm athletic. It has its positives and negatives.
I mean, if a guy outweighs me, if he gets his body into me, I can't use my special abilities, but I just try to keep space in between me and a defender and try to block the shot once it goes in the air, or better for me if I come from weakside and I'm able to block shots. I mean, that's where I'm better at.
Or on the offensive end where my teammates put the ball where the majority of the population can't get it, but luckily I can. I mean, I just feel blessed to be able to do things like that.
Q. Tarik and Joe, can you give us a little insight into how Coach Pastner works?
Joe Jackson: Okay.
Coach Pastner, he's a very energetic guy. He's a great person. He's a good coach. He understands strategies.
He's all about two things, and that's defensive rebound and 50/50 balls.
He's not one of these big-time offensive trying to set up plays type of coach, but as long as you play defense and you rebound, I mean, anybody can play for him, and that's really what you get from Coach Pastner.
He's always upbeat no matter if we lost five games in a row, he's always positive. That's all you can ask for him from a coach, you know, somebody from a leadership position, is to be positive all the time and trying to get us to play better and better.
Tarik Black: Buying into the system is very easy for us because, like Joe said, he's a simple guy. He's not a guy of many -- he's not very complicated. He's not saying do this, do that, do this, do that. Like he said, he just wants you to basically play with energy. You know, 50/50 balls, defensive rebound is a definite. Get on the offense glass and just play hard. If you do that you're in good graces in Coach Pastner's eyes. So it's not really hard to play for him, because if you play hard, you're okay.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Gentlemen.
Questions for Coach Pastner.
COACH PASTNER: This is a good man right here by the way if you haven't noticed. Really good man. Does a great job.
Opening remarks, we're playing a great Michigan State team. There's no question that Coach Izzo is one of the great coaches in all of sport, doesn't matter if even just basketball.
I said it yesterday, he should be in the hall of fame. I mean, he's going to be so we might as well just put him in. There's no reason to wait on it, because it's going to be. So let's just, you know, let's not even wait and get him in, and he's tremendous.
Michigan State's a great basketball team. This will be a road game for us. We're excited and ready for the challenge. You know, we're a good team too. You know, we've won 31 games. We got a lot of speed, quickness, and athleticism. And I think Saturday's going to be a high-level game, just a very high level game against two good teams. So we're excited to play.
We have great respect for Michigan State. You know, they're an elite rebounding team. Elite. Not great, but elite. And everybody nose in the profession Coach Izzo's, you know, his reputation as a rebounding coach. Heck, I've watched five of his championship video products this offseason, and actually, our rebounding has been the best this year based on Coach Izzo's drills. So if we outrebound him somehow tomorrow, it's a credit to Coach Izzo because I stole all those drills from championship video products in April.
Q. What concerns you most about this Michigan State team? How do you prepare for them?
COACH PASTNER: Well, Valpo gave up 20 offensive rebound. You're not going to be a great team giving up 20 offensive rebounds.
I mean, look, it's very simple. This is a players' game. If we make shots, that's great, and we don't give up offensive rebound, we probably have a good chance to win. If they make shots and they tell a bunch of offensive rebound, they got a better chance to win. I mean, it's really simple.
You know, Doc, I've always believed simple is powerful. You know, just, hey, here's what it is. We can overthink, overanalyze, paralysis through analysis, but it comes down to who's making shots, who's going to rebound the ball. Players make plays and whichever players are going to make the most plays, that team's going to win the game.
That coach will look like he knows what he's doing. If that's me -- Coach Izzo's already in the hall of fame, so it doesn't matter whether they win or lose.
Q. Everything you just said about obviously players, it's a players' game. There's a lot of comparisons about the athleticism on both sides. How would you analyze the coaching match up?
COACH PASTNER: I said yesterday in the press conference that he knows that I'm a filibuster. So I can go on and on, but I did say that I need to win some more games. If I'm going to run for senator or congress, I need to win a lot more games. Coach Izzo could run for governor in the state of Michigan and win today. That's the big difference. And on top of that, he's going to the hall of fame. I mean, he's a legend. He's one of the great coaches in all of sport. I mean, he's great for our game. He's been tremendous for coaches. He's a down to earth guy and, you know, so for me it's an honor to coach against him. Like I said, there's no need to even wait. Why we're waiting to put him in the hall of fame, the guy should already be in.
And if the school hasn't given him a lifetime contract, I think they should give him a lifetime contract too.
Q. You talked yesterday about D.J.'s development. How gratifying is it to you as a coach to see that?
COACH PASNTER: Yeah, I mean, look, D.J. was a zero star recruit. And like I said, I took him sight unseen seven days before school started because I just needed players and I got the job, we just needed to sign some guys. We had like five or six scholarship players. We had to take somebody. I got a mass e-mail that he wanted to play Division I. Nobody thought he was good enough. He had some Division II offers. I said what can he do. He said he can jump. I took him. Like I said, he was crying when I called him. I told this story yesterday, when I saw him that first day, I started crying because he couldn't play. He stunk, and he couldn't dribble and everything. I was like I made a major mistake.
Well, that first year he got a little better and during that first year, he helped us win a lot of games making energy winning plays. I mean, that was big for him. And then he did the same his sophomore year, did the same his junior year. And this year he's just been fantastic. I mean, he's turned himself into a pro prospect. He's going to be a second round draft pick because he makes winning energy plays. I believe in energy, if you haven't already said that, if you haven't known me, but I do. Not only does he make energy plays, he makes winning energy plays, positive winning energy plays.
He's been phenomenal.
Let me just say this: He wanted to be in our Memphis Madness, he wanted to do in the dunk contest, you know, he wanted to do some props. He wanted to jump over a convertible, dunk the ball, land in the convertible, and drive off, and I wouldn't let him. If he's on the NBA roster next year, which he'll be in the NBA roster and Commissioner Stern allows him to be in the dunk contest, I'm telling you right now, he will win the dunk contest if they allow him in it. He's that good of a leaper.
Now, let me say this: I can't put up a million dollars like Magic Johnson did like with LeBron, but if somebody's willing to put up a million dollars for D.J. Stephens for the dunk contest, I guarantee he's going to win the dunk contest.
His dunks that he does even behind the scenes is surreal, and he's not just an athlete, he makes basketball plays. That's what's special about him.
Q. Coach, can you tell us what led to Joe Jackson's benching, if you will, in the Bahamas and how much it has helped you that he's bounced back. And also assess the point guard matchup?
COACH PASNTER: Yeah, I mean, Joe has been terrific. I mean, the guy's -- I mean, think about, first of all, he's been back-to-back MVP of the conference tournament. His first two years, he's MVP player of the year for the conference this year.
You know, I'm an intense guy, but I don't curse. And so, you know, I believe that the best motivating factor is the bench. If somebody's not producing, I believe in production, and if someone's not getting the job done, the best way to do it to make a point is instead of screaming and yelling at them is to sit them.
And Joe didn't play well in the Bahamas his first two games, so I sat him. That third game when we played Northern Iowa, he was terrific. He was terrific. And from that point to where we are now, he's been absolutely awesome with a capital A. I'm very, very proud of Joe. He's been a great energy guy for us by not just scoring but I'm talking by coming up with 50/50 balls, by sticking his nose in and being a really good guard rebounder. I think yesterday he had seven boards. That was big. And I'm big about guard rebounding.
And you look at his numbers, the way he shoots the ball, I mean, he's been just at a high level with his shooting.
Q. And the point guard matchup?
COACH PASNTER: Keith Appling is really, really good.
They both know each other from their days in USA basketball. They're both juniors. It's hard -- I'm not as much big on individual matchups because this isn't tennis or golf. It's a team game, and it's got to be -- for us to win the game, it's not going to be one matchup, it's got to be the team. We're going to have to rebound the basket, and that's including our guard rebounding, but I think Keith Appling's really good. I think he's a really good player.
I mean, look, they got pro -- multiple pros in their starting lineup. They got McDonald's All Americans in their starting lineup. I mean, this is a great team that we're playing, great team.
Q. Talk about what this means for the City of Memphis, for you guys to advance, and not only that, talk about the streak that Memphis owns against Michigan State?
COACH PASNTER: Well, I would like to say that I could get credit for that streak, but I think that goes back to John Calipari. So we have not -- I personally have not coached against Coach Izzo as a head coach.
You know, I coached against him as an assistant when I was at the University of Arizona a couple times but never as a head coach. So this streak and that stuff, that goes back with Coach Calipari.
You know, what this means to the City, you know how important this is to the City, the Memphis Tiger basketball. It's everything. This city is so passionate. They're so emotionally invested. It's their team. It's not my team; it's their team, and I'm just happy -- for this win yesterday was for our young men, our student-athletes, but also for the city, for Tiger Nation. I know how much they wanted to win. So that was important.
Really, the burning desire inside is for them to be happy, and I know for them to be happy is when you got great student-athletes and also you can win too. So we wanted to try to do both for them.
Q. Coach, on D.J., was he just in the gym all summer or was there a moment where you saw that everything sort of clicked that allowed him to become the player that he is?
COACH PASNTER: Well, I mean, I don't know if it's any -- he's been doing that his four years with us. It's just this year he had surgery in the off season that allowed him to clear up -- he had an asthma issue his first three years, and he had surgery in the off season that allowed him to be able to clear up his asthma issue. That's why he's able to play such long minutes. So this isn't new. He's been doing this his entire time. He has won us so many games through his career here, his freshman, sophomore, and junior now. It's just people are taking notice now and he's obviously done it this year. He's made so many plays throughout his career. I can think of games where he saved us.
It's not even just the stats. Affecting shots at the last second or making a heroic save out of bounds to keep ball alive. I mean, he makes so many winning energy plays.
Q. What did you learn from last year's NCAA tournament experience? Also, Coach Izzo's known for his one-day preps. As an opposing coach, is it daunting to go against somebody who's a master at that? Lastly, he talked about you sending him letters. Can you talk about what was in those letters and that communication?
COACH PASNTER: Well, the first thing is -- your first question was learned from last year; that's right.
The biggest thing I learned from last year was we spent five, six days preparing for St. Louis and we had paralysis through analysis. We overanalyzed, overcoached, thought we should do this. It was just too much St. Louis. And St. Louis is a good team, obviously. They deserved to beat us. You know, they played great. But we overanalyzed, and paralysis through analysis.
I said this year, man, we're not doing that. We're focusing on Memphis. I thought it was a blessing in disguise that we didn't have to know our opponent until late Tuesday night. So it was just a simple, quick turnaround and just go play, less time to prepare, which means less time to overthink, overanalyze, overcoach, over game plan, and I thought that was good for us. So we'll do the same thing. We'll have a quick turnaround here and just go play. So that's what I have learned from last year.
Regarding Coach Izzo, I mean, it's not daunting because, like I said, this is a players' game. I mean, I can assure you, we've won, you know, whatever, 100-and-some-odd games in my four years here and I've never thrown an assist, I've never shot a shot or grabbed a rebound. So, I mean, this is a players' game. Players make shots, we grab some rebounds, you know, coach looks like he knows what he's doing. So I understand it's a players' game.
Like I said, I think it's an honor to coach against Coach Izzo. I mean, the guy is -- he should be in the hall of fame. And I'm not just saying that to say that he should be in the hall of fame; he's going to be in. So what's the holdup?
Second thing is, is he's one of the great coaches regardless of sport. This just isn't in basketball. I mean, this is regardless of sport. He's one of the great coaches of all time. I mean, just of all time. And he's a good guy.
You know, those letters I wrote, you know, I was reaching out to coaches and this and that, and I'm sure he had some open assistant spots, and so I was applying for them probably. But, fortunately, you know, things kind of worked out as it was. I got great opportunities with Coach Olson in Arizona, then got a great opportunity with Coach Calipari as Memphis and been very fortunate where I've been to be able to have been under some great coaches.
But like I said, I got all of his championship rebounding videos, and we were plus seven I think during the year. Our best rebounding year is this year, which is through my four years, which is a credit to his championship videos, about four of them.
Q. On the topic of rebounding, could you talk about Shaq and Tarik and how they've developed this season and what their challenges are with Payne and Nix?
COACH PASNTER: Yeah, we need Shaq and Tarik to play really at a high level for us. There's no doubt about that. Those guys have got to be really good for us. They got to stay on the floor. They can't get in foul trouble, and we need them to be solid. We just need them to be sound and solid, and we're a very, very good team when we keep it simple.
I mean, look, we're the first Memphis Tiger team in the history of Tiger basketball to have three guys with a hundred assists or more. We're a very unselfish team. We move the ball. We make the extra pass. We make the hockey assist. We're good at that. So we just need to be simple. We don't need to go for home runs or triples. We just need to hit singles, and that includes the bigs. They just need to be simple, sound, and solid, and if we do that, that helps our chances to have an opportunity to win the game.
In fact, I was talking to Dwayne Stephens, the assistant at Michigan State in April in Minnesota, at a tournament in Minnesota, picking his brain about what Michigan State does on rebounding this past April. I did that too. So if we're at any chance to have any rebounding margin, I got everything from Michigan State, and they did help us. Honestly, it was -- we've been our best rebounding team this year since I've been there.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach.
Michigan State Quotes
MODERATOR: We'll begin with questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Keith, wondered about your knee. How is that feeling? When did it first start bothering you?
KEITH APPLING: Late in the first half when we were in a live play.
But it's nothing serious. I'll be all right. I'll be able to play as much as coach needs me to play tomorrow. It's not serious. I'll be fine. I feel like I'm a pretty tough person. I can fight through a little bit of pain.
Q. Keith, can you talk about your point guard matchup that you have here in Memphis?
KEITH APPLING: No. I've known Joe Jackson a long time. He's obviously a pretty good player.
But at the end of the day, basketball, it's a team sport, and I really try not to get into one-on-one matchups. At the end of the day, I'm going to need my teammates to help us with the game. So I'm not really into one-on-one matchups.
Q. Can you talk about Keith and how he makes you guys go?
ADREIAN PAYNE: Yeah, you know, Keith is, I know that type of player where he can make plays and get his team going, especially when he's playing defense and up in his man. So we just looking forward to him, you know, leading us to win.
GARY HARRIS: Keith, he's the quarterback of this team. We just follow his lead and he does a pretty good job of it. That's why we win so many games.
Q. Can you talk about going from playing a team where you had athletic advantages to one where all of a sudden the guys you were playing are more athletic equals?
KEITH APPLING: I mean, you know, I feel like whenever we go up against a different opponent, everybody has advantages.
We feel like one of ours is our low post presses. So going into tomorrow's game, we're probably going to try to pound the ball inside and let our bigs make something happen for us.
GARY HARRIS: Yeah. Their strength is definitely athleticism. They like to get out and use to their advantage and we just got to play smart and not put it into their hands.
ADREIAN PAYNE: Both of what they said is right.
We did play some athletic teams in the Big Ten and some athletic people.
I think we'll be ready.
Q. Adreian, you guys do have a size advantage tomorrow. How do you guys account for that in the game tomorrow?
Just box out. That's the main thing. We got to box out our rebounds. That will take care of everything.
Q. Does this team remind of you anybody that you've seen in the conference?
No, not really, but, I mean, you could somewhat compare them a little bit to Miami, with all the athleticism and the different weapons they have on the perimeter.
I feel like this team is different from all those we played. They are a very fast paced team. They want to get up and down, try to turn the game into a track meet. We just got to try not to play in their hands, and like Gary said, be smart.
Q. Keith, can you talk about how Izzo and the coaching staff prepare you guys for the second game?
KEITH APPLING: Of course.
I mean, Coach Izzo has been doing this for a long time. He has a lot of experience with this tournament. Going into each week, he prepares for two teams for the simple fact because he has faith that his team is going to make it to the next round. You know, at the end of the day, he has a lot of experience in the tournament. We just follow his lead.
Q. Gary, you got your favorite question. How's the shoulder and how do you feel your body's held up?
GARY HARRIS: Oh, I mean it feels pretty good right now. My body's probably feeling the best it's felt since I've been up here these last few weeks. I mean, just making progress. That's all I can ask for.
Q. Turnovers were an issue early in the season. Yesterday, against a team not known for turning teams over, you guys had a bunch. Now you're going to play against a team where turnovers could be a major issue. How do you address that?
ADREIAN PAYNE: I can take that blame for the turnovers yesterday. I had six of them.
I got to, you know, be smarter and make sure that don't happen.
I watched a lot of film yesterday, seen what made me turn the ball over, and, you know, I learned from it. So that shouldn't be a problem.
GARY HARRIS: Yeah, I mean, like AP said, we just got to make the easy play and just be smart, not try to go for the home run every time.
You know, Memphis is definitely going to be trying to get turnovers again on the fast break. So we need to use that to our advantage and not let them get out there by turning the ball over.
Q. Looking at what they can do, what is it that jumps out at you most? Is it their relentlessness or tell me what it is about Memphis that catches your eye?
KEITH APPLING: Just the number of athletes they have and the amount of guys on the perimeter they have that can get it going in any given position.
We just going to have to stay focused and prepare to play defense as solid as we can for 40 minutes.
MODERATOR: Student-athletes, good luck.
Coach Izzo is up next.
COACH IZZO: Well, after studying Memphis, I feel just like I thought before. I think they're a well coached team, I think a team that plays hard and is maybe the most athletic team we faced all year. We faced a lot of good teams. Everybody's going to make a big deal. Our conference was the best conference. I don't think there's any question about that, but every team and every conference has it pluses and minuses, and even though our conference was so good and I thought we had, you know, great diversity as far as different offenses that were run, different defenses that were run, in our conference we've never faced a team as athletic as they are in just about every position. So that will be the challenge for us, transition defense, the turnovers that lead to dunks, keeping Stephens from -- you know, I think anywhere they throw the ball, he's capable of dunking it. Those are all things that are different and we're looking forward to the challenge.
Q. Coach, so you're not at all concerned or don't feel Memphis is underrated by the conference they played in at all?
COACH IZZO: I don't.
I think what I've learned about these different conferences, it comes up to the matchups that you play in this tournament. I mean, if you can win, you know, 18 straight games or 21, whatever they won in their conference with their conference tournament and everything, that's incredible. You still got to go on the road. You got to do the same things. You got to play different people. That takes some focus for a long time and, you know, I listen to the Gonzaga thing and this and that. I mean, sure, do I think we beat ourselves up in our conference? Yeah, do I think we've been tested? Yeah, I do, but you don't survive that many games in a row unless you've been tested there too.
So I'm not buying into that. I think Josh would probably be the first to tell you that we -- yeah, we've played probably more ranked people, but that's going to come down to, in this game, how we match up with them, how they match up with us, and that's the way it will work.
Q. Because you've been so used to playing Big Ten-type teams over the last couple of months, is it more on you guys like really earning your check, the coaches, because in such a short turnaround time you've got to be prepared for a team that is so unlike a team you've faced in awhile.
COACH IZZO: Yeah, I think that's the challenge.
I also think that, you know, some teams you're looking at different sets. Some teams have different defenses. This is a team that you got to look at that to a certain extent, but you got to really look at personnel a little bit more. What can this guy do? Where does he go better, right or left? Is he a slasher? Is he a cutter? How are they handling -- how well does he use ball screens.
I think this has been more of a personal and a personnel scout than even the X's and O's part of it. And that's the way it gets at this time of year. I mean, a lot of us, we all steal from each other. We run similar things, but for the most part now you get into personnel and trying to get your team to understand this guy's better off his right shoulder, his left shoulder, whatever things that you can do.
Q. Tom, can you talk a little bit about matching up with D.J. Stephens and what he brings to the game?
COACH IZZO: Yeah, I mean, you know, I had a kid Jason Richardson who I thought was the best athlete, you know, since the Jordan era, in my -- that I had seen.
You know, this kid, he just -- he's got incredible hops. I mean, I've never seen a guy -- he's dunking the ball coming down way more often than on his way up, you know, and that -- and he's smooth about it. He's a great offensive rebounder.
You got to keep a body on him. He's good in the pick and rolls because when he rolls, it's never a bounce pass; it's always for a dunk.
I think, you know, it is different than most guys we've had in our league and he's different than most guys around the country. I mean, he is -- I don't know of anybody that's quite like him, and that's the neat part of these tournaments, is you get to see people like him.
Q. The last time you all played the Tigers, does that come up in discussions in pregame talk at all with this team?
COACH IZZO: No. We burned that tape. We burned the copy of any press book that had that score in it, Doc. We got rid of that thing.
I mean, I told John after that game, you know, we were so far down at halftime that if I carried a hankie in my jacket, I would have definitely waved the thing. You know, it was almost worthy of the clock keep running. You know, we were down 50 to 20, and I think it was worse than that. Thank God, though, as good as they are now and as good of players they had, that Rose kid they had, you know, that little point guard, they don't got him, and neither do the rest of us. He was special, and I think because of that, you know, not that they didn't have good players, but he stirred that drink.
In fact, if you remember in that game, we laughed about it after, he got the gash above his eye and missed six minutes, and I think we went on about a 14 to 0 run. I think we cut it down to 40 at that point.
(Laughter) But it was a little bit of a difference with him in there and him not. If he shows up, I'm definitely going to be upset, I'll tell you that.
(Laughter) I don't want even want him watching this game.
(Laughter) That's how much respect I have for Rose.
Q. Tom, the Big Ten season, you talked about whether it would prepare you for this run here. You're playing a team that played in a league where they were able to go 16 and 0. When you look for separation, it was not there as maybe it was against Valpo. Is the pedigree of what you guys went through, is that important in payoff for meetings like this?
COACH IZZO: I always believe that competition helps you, you know, when you're in tough games all the time, it helps you.
When you're in a conference, everything kind of -- it means the same. I mean, you got to go on the road in the conference. It's hard to win in a conference.
Gonzaga has had tough games over the years and they might have been head and shoulders above teams.
So I put a little value that we have played. I mean, we can look at it and say we've played the toughest teams in the country, and we have, and a couple of them on more than one occasion. But at the same time, there is pressure on going undefeated in your conference, then bouncing back and winning your conference tournament. You don't do that unless you're well coached, and you can keep guys focused and you got very, very good players.
Now, I know the recruiting wars, so I know what kind of players they have, and I think Josh has grown as a coach and has definitely done a good job. He was under a bigtime guy in Lute. So, I mean, I know that he knows what he's doing, but when you get in this tournament, players play the game. And they've got good enough players to play the game with just about anybody in the country, if you ask me, as they did with Louisville and what that score was and things like that.
Q. Can you assess the point guard matchups and how pivotal it may be?
COACH IZZO: Well, I think whenever you got two good quarterbacks, it's pivotal, and ours is playing better and theirs has been playing well and they're both kind of alike. You know, they're both jitterbug guards, both the same size. They can really push the ball, use ball screens.
Keith has been shooting the ball better and better. So I think him and Joe ought to be -- that's worth the price of admission right there. And it's going to be an interesting matchup and we just got to make sure that we use that in the right way.
Q. You talk about the athleticism of Memphis and you've got a pretty set rotation. In this game do you substitute a little more frequently to keep the fresh people?
COACH IZZO: You know, the one thing about the tournament, the TV timeouts and the length of them kind of changes a little bit the fatigue factor. You know, they don't play as many guys sometimes. They played nine and they've played seven a lot lately, you know, and because of that, I don't think it's any big advantage.
Where the advantage comes in is if somebody gets in foul trouble. So I don't think we're going to be subbing much different than we -- I don't think they'll be subbing much different when you get to this point and you've won 25 or six games, whatever we've won, and 30, 31 games, whatever they've won, you kind of do -- whoever you brought to the dance, that's who you're dancing with. So that's probably the way we're going to do it and I think the way they're going to do. The athletes, yes, we want to stay fresh, but we have good athletes too. It's not like we got racehorses against plow horses, but that is their -- they have exceptional athletes at certain positions, and it's going to be interesting to see how both teams match up.
Q. With their athleticism, do you think that could neutralize your size advantage at all?
COACH IZZO: Well, you know, they're six-nine, 262, and six-nine, 250 inside too.
I mean, at times they've got a big team and they do play a little smaller at times, but I don't know what will neutralize what. It just depends on how each team attacks the other and how each team defends the other. You know, it will be interesting to see if they come out and trap us all over. I know they do some of that, but I thought they did even more of it against Saint Mary's. You know, what do you do in different situations, you know. They got to worry about some things we do running the ball too.
That's where the chess match comes in, and it will be fun to see how it works out.
Q. What do you think about their bigs?
COACH IZZO: Well, I think they're both -- I thought Black played the best I seen him play yesterday. Would you agree? You've seen him more than I did. I don't know if that's lucky or bad news for us, you know, but I thought he played very well.
I think they're both, you know effective because they're big, they're athletic, they got post moves. They can do some things down there, but they have size and athleticism. You know, our guys have size and he has quick feet, but not the same athleticism. Payne's got that but not the same strength. So I think that's going to balance out.
You know, in our league, we've played against a lot of teams that are one big and some small and they go with four sort of guards at times. So I think we are going to be able to handle that, and I'm sure they'll be able to handle us, just like teams in our league do. It's going to come down to who plays the best, who makes the least mistakes, things like that.
Q. Tom, you talked about Josh Pastner's growth. Can you expound on where you've noticed that. Also, how much do coach matchups play a role in these games?
COACH IZZO: I don't think as much as people make it.
I only say that because players play the game. You know, it really does come down to that, especially in a one-day prep and things like that.
But I think Josh has used what he learned from John, you know, what he's learned now on his own. It's a hard time to take over when you go from how Memphis was to what they are now. That's not an easy job, and I think everybody always wants it to be a little better than it is. Same at our place.
I think he's handled that. I think he's matured. I think he's been able to deal with it. I see a confidence in himself, you know, that maybe wasn't there his first year and why would it have been? You know, I was still a GA when I was his age when he started. So I have great respect for Josh. I remember him writing me letters when he was a GA slash player at Arizona, and the guy was born to be a coach. You know, he puts his whole heart and soul into it. He's kind of came up the same way I did, GA on up, Tom Crean, GA on up. You know, it's kind of a good way to come up, and I think he's going to end up being a great coach before it's over.
Q. You're going to have a lot of your fans here and Michigan's going to have a lot of their fans. How many of your fans are going to turn into VCU fans in that first game?
COACH IZZO: You know, it's kind of -- that's an interesting question.
I've said all year that you can't like your arrival, but when -- first of all, I have great respect for John Beilein, I mean a good guy and he's done it the right way there.
I am 100 percent pulling for the conference, totally. I'm pulling for every team in this conference. I think sometimes in recruiting, it helps when the conference does well, believe it or not. You know, you look at SEC football and they just talk about it being the best conference.
And even if you don't go to Alabama, you go to somewhere else. The conference recruits sometimes.
I think right now we have so many good coaches in our league and we have so little recruiting issues like some conferences do that it will be interesting. I'm not sure it will be like Illinois and us in the Final Four in St. Louis when both teams 200 percent pulled for each other.
But then again, if we both advance, we're in different brackets. I think this is one time it would be great. It's been great for the state of Michigan. You know, I think the governor should put Beilein and I on the economic package and maybe we get paid for this. That would be a good deal. (Laughter).
Q. Can you tell us what was in those letters from Josh? Was he asking for a job or was he asking for advice?
COACH IZZO: Oh, a job. You know, a job. He was looking to move up there.
You know, I get a lot of letters like that from kids, but, you know, I followed him. I knew when Kevin O'Neill was there and when I started out at Tulsa, you know, Kevin went there and worked for Lute. Of course, Lute, we played them some. I always had great respect for their program. So he's been under great tutelage, you know, which I think helps all of us when we get mentored by the right people. I think he was and I think I have been, too.
I'm sure in some ways I saw a little bit of myself in him. The difference is he got about an eight-year head start on me as far as getting a head job at a prestigious place, and he's run with it.
You know, after this is over, I'm going to be proud of him for what he's accomplished. I'm hoping to be playing next weekend and so is he, but either way, I will be.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach.