May 19, 2010
What are your thoughts on the three players you signed?
"We're obviously very fortunate to have and add three terrific players. I don't know if I've ever gone to the mic and said that we're disappointed in the players we have coming in (laughs). I really am excited about each of them.
I'll start with Jordin Mayes. One thing that any coach looks for as you create an identity for your program, or in our case continue to build on our first year success, and hopefully take it to the level we all want it to, is you want people who come from a really good family and also people that win. Jordin Mayes is a back-to-back state champion from the state of California, Westchester High School, playing for a great high school coach where teamwork and defense has been taught and embodied throughout his career. Jordin will be able to play both the point guard and the two. I look at him as very unheralded. To me, he has a huge upside. One thing you look for in guards, as they transition from high school to college is can they shoot the three? Because that's something that can really help them early in their careers, and he can really do that.
The second guy is Daniel Bejarano, from here in Phoenix, and like Jordin, comes from a great family and has won back-to-back Arizona state championships. Like Jordin, winning, commitment, overcoming adversity and going out every day playing for the win and cutting down the nets as a champion; that's something he's been apart of there. I can't help but think that both of those guys will add to those guys here in our program. Daniel Bejarano can really shoot the basketball, he's taller than Jordin and can play both wing positions, but really, to me, not many players in this class can shoot the ball as well as he can. I would say that Jordin Mayes is very similar to him. We have two guys who can really shoot the ball, one taller than the other, both coming from championship backgrounds and great families. I'm really excited about both guys.
The third player is a junior college player we added this spring, Jesse Perry. Jesse is very similar to those guys in that he played for an excellent coach (Mark Imhoff). He's one of the top-10 junior college players in the country depending on what site you read, but obviously a junior college All-American, and very deserving of that. He was the player of the year in a very competitive conference. He's 6-foot-7, he can put the ball on the floor and is very versatile in his approach. He's tough and he's older. He can help us in the forward position right away. He's a very capable shooter. Even though he's 6-7, if you look at his shooting percentage, he did that very well this past year. He can play the three or the four. He rebounds the ball and gets to the line. Add in the toughness, he rebounds well and plays above his height.
Like I've told you guys since January, when you have a first year head coach, and five freshman who are becoming sophomores, much of our improvement will not be the three incoming guys, it will be the development of the players who have spent a year in our system, and who have gone through a Pac-10 season. They're older and have much more experience, and now they know what their coach wants, to me, they should improve immensely from their first to their second year, as will some of the older guys. I'm looking forward to the stability portion of things that we now will be able to enjoy it; whereas last year everything we did it was the first time.
Do you feel like the depth is there?
Do you feel like the depth is there?
We have depth. We have 10 or 11 players that expect to play. Not everyone's going to win that race. They'll be able to help to handle the long season, injuries, foul problems and poor performance. Hopefully, one of the keys to next year's team is that we'll be older, bigger, stronger and deeper than we were this year.
After the season you challenged Jamelle Horne. How has he responded?
After the season you challenged Jamelle Horne. How has he responded?
Jamelle has done everything we asked him to do, he's had a really good second semester academically. He played this year below 210 pounds. I don't think that that's physically strong enough to do what we need him to do. He's really improved in that area already; he's already at about 220 pounds, and if you look at him, you notice the difference. We can see that he's worked really hard in the weight room. Like a lot of players, when does that light bulb go on? Sometimes early, sometimes late, but I know that seniors care more about things than anyone else on the team because it's their last year and I think Jamelle is eager to have a last year that we can point at for being his best here at Arizona, and we support him in that. Also, the depth that we have is really going to push everybody, including Jamelle to perform every day and to play extremely hard and play for the win and that's something that's healthy for our environment.
The programs that everyone admires in college basketball have depth. The program that we're in right here, that I'm the head coach of, enjoyed that for decades. Sometimes I marvel when I look at the team pictures and you see guys like Will Bynum or Jason Terry and you think about the role that they had on that particular team; they didn't start or maybe didn't play that much. That says a lot about the talent of some of those teams had and that's what we're trying to build. It doesn't happen in six months, and probably not in 12, but eventually that's what we have to hit. I hope that as we look at this year's team (2010-11), both everyone that we have returning, and the improvements they make, and the addition of this second recruiting class that we're a step forward from where we were. I know we're a lot further than we were at this time last year.
Did you feel a need to go after a junior college player like Jesse Perry?
Sometimes when you use the words "junior college" it's almost as if there's something wrong with the kid, and that's not the case. We always look at the individual, and Jesse's a great example. He was very thin when he came out of high school, and his background, where he grew up, maybe didn't afford him a good start academically, but where he is now, you have a great person, you have a capable student. Not only do we have a great player, but because he's older, he's perhaps more ready. What we want to do, if we take somebody who only has two years, we want to make sure we're bringing him into an environment where he can contribute. That tells you that we're really planning on Jesse being able to impact our team this year.
On the recruitment of Jesse Perry:
We looked for a good fit. We looked for a forward who could play our style, and I really believe Jesse will thrive in our system. He has great quickness, he's not an undersized bruiser, he's a skilled player who plays the game in a tough manner, he gets fouled a lot and can rebound.
On new athletic director Greg Byrne:
"I probably share the sentiment of all coaches here. I'm really excited about Greg Byrne being our athletic director. He has a youthful energy to him, and coming from the SEC, he has a fresh perspective. No question he wants championship caliber programs, and will support and make that happen for us. I'm really excited about him. Moving forward, there's a feeling of excitement around our athletic department.
On "Book" Richardson being offered numerous jobs this summer:
"We have a good staff, and opportunities are going to come their way. We have a loyal staff, and they don't have one eye on the next coaching opportunity. We all realize what a special place this is and we've all come to love Tucson. Those opportunities are flattering and to be expected. I appreciate Book's loyalty as well as everyone else on our staff. We've had some change, and I think that change was both positive for our program, and Jamal Walker going back to Ohio University is a good thing for him as well.
Is 2010 recruiting complete?
We have a scholarship available, but I don't want to bring someone in just to add a body, I want to bring someone in who's really Arizona good. If that's not the case, we don't have a lot of scholarships for the class of 2011, so being able to take one of our remaining scholarships and putting it toward that is the smart thing because the longer you're here as a coaching staff, the more familiar you become with young talent, and we're hoping to add some good ones next year.
On the small number of scholarships available the next few years:
"We have to respect the players we have in our program. The ones were looking to add in the class for 2011 have to be right ones. We're recruiting as hard as we possibly can for 2011 and 2012.
What other factors can help heading into 2010-11?
We had a small and physically weak team this year. As they get stronger in the right way, a lot of the times they become better basketball players. Losing weight, lowering body fat and gaining strength are things our team needs. I think we'll see some huge strides over the summer. By the time our season starts in November, I think everyone will see a very noticeable difference in our team physically. I think that's going to be a big part of what's going to make next year's team a better team than this year is we have so many younger players in our program getting older and better, but the key is how much better can they become?
I don't look at where we are right now as a great place, but we have made a lot of progress. Last year at this time I was in Houston, Texas, trying to convince Nic Wise to come back. I think we had two or three players signed for the season, and we were at a place where we could win 10 games if we're lucky. It was a very low starting point for many reasons. If you look at this year, the depth that we have, the fact that we have been together for a season, the fact that we were able to win ten games and we welcome back the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. To me, having the opportunity to have our weight room built this summer and having our new athletic director here, we're moving in the right direction.
On starting late in a recruit's recruitment:
It's hard to do things in a three to six month window. I look at a coach getting a job in April of a young person's junior year, it's almost too late on 70 percent of them, and the other 30 percent, there's a reason they're not as organized. We swung for the fences; we're always going to try to recruit the very best players out there. Sometimes we were successful, sometimes we came close but just couldn't finish. It's a more organized approach, a more systematic approach, and your odds rise the longer you've been here.
On what recruits look for in a school:
They really want to know you as a head coach. They want to know your staff. I'm a new coach, they want to get a feel for how you do things, and get that comfort level. As much as the history of Arizona stands for itself, with all the NBA talent, the finish will always be how the recruit feels about you, your staff, the players and the family atmosphere of your program. Recruiting is almost a sport itself. We want to have a team with balance; some older guys who can be leaders and exciting young players.
On players wanting to go to the NBA after one year:
There's nothing wrong with that, a lot of what drives guys is they want to be an NBA player, but what gets you there is being on a really good team. It's not about getting 25 points a game, it's about being able to defend and play in a system. It's up to you as a coach to make players realize that.
On Derrick Williams staying in school:
Derrick comes from a great family. His mom is like a rock, she has Derrick humble and grounded. He has coaches in his life that know that he has to continue to develop; he's very new to the game. A couple years ago he wasn't on any recruiting website. In fact, last summer, a lot of people thought we should redshirt Derrick as a freshman last year, but he improved by leaps and bounds this year. His goal is to improve even more as a sophomore and be one of the best players in the Pac-10 and he's working toward that. He wants to be a part of a team that wins more than 16 games. I think he knows it's important to him and it's why he came to Arizona.
On the Arizona brand name still being a selling point despite the program's recent turmoil:
It is, but it doesn't take care of itself. What McKale looks like in May is important, what our locker room looks like, do you have a practice facility, what does your campus feel like? These are all important things and I'm glad we've had the opportunity to address some of those things. I've only had 13 months of recruiting at Arizona, and it feels like two years. I would say that the one unique aspect of Arizona that I underestimated is that recruiting wasn't going on at the same level as it was before during the years of changes, so recruits weren't contacted by Arizona, so now it takes more for us to reach the younger kids.
On Kyryl Natyazhko playing for the Ukrainian national team:
Kyryl is working hard. I'm really happy for him first and foremost because he gets a chance to go home. It's hard when you can't get there and the years go by. Being able to leave Arizona and go home will be a good thing for him. He's going to gain good experience playing for his country in two tournaments. Playing games is healthy for all of our players, but especially for a frontcourt player like Kyryl who didn't play 30 minutes (per game) as a freshman. It will be that experience, coupled with the progress he makes here, that will determine how good he can be next year. I look for him to be one of the players who makes the biggest improvement to next year.