Oct. 12, 2012
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Do you feel more pressure as these players now are all ones you've recruited?
"I don't know if I feel more pressure. I think for the first time since our staff has been here that time is on our side; that we truly have had the opportunity to get both feet on the ground in a comprehensive way. Things that are invisible sometimes to the outside world, you know the infrastructure of what we do that we are more, I believe, built for the long term. Built for success and we've had the opportunity obviously to recruit and for the first time really recruit young people, get to the know them and allow them to get to know us. The more time you have in the recruiting world, you have time to make better decisions and hopefully it will be more productive moving forward. I like our group and we've gone through a lot in three years, some amazing things have happened if you consider that we have already been within one shot of a Final Four, have won the conference championship, and we've pulled up short and have fought hard and have learned some lessons on the way as you build and do things comprehensively and the right way, it takes time. As we enter our fourth year here it's exciting to know everyone in our program (is someone) that we've recruited and I think the chances of us being successful because of that and some other things are now in place."
What can you say about the addition of Mark Lyons?
"Mark Lyons - myself and really James Whitford and Emanuel Richardsonfrom our staff - we've known each other for almost seven years now. Mark committed to us from Xavier right in his junior year and from his junior year he stuck with us because of a technicality on his transcript. He wasn't eligible to play his freshman year at Xavier but he was also on scholarship and was able to practice and do every single thing that we did as a team other than participate in a game. If you followed his career after we left, he was on two other teams. That team that I described went to the Sweet 16. And then he followed up with being a big part of two other teams that also went to the Sweet 16. So when you think about a player who has been to three Sweet 16's and still has remaining eligibility, he's had one dynamic career. For him to make the decision after he graduated from Xavier to leave, I'm sure was on his end a very difficult part, but to reunite with us says a lot about our relationship. He believes in a lot of the things that we believe in."
"Adding him to our team is very unique because he is a talented player but the experience I described is really difficult to put into words. He gives us competitiveness, toughness, and he's been in the arena in a big game and to me he is somebody who knows to play both offense and defense. When you think about our recruiting class, everybody focuses on the four freshman, and rightfully so, but because of his eligibility, he really is a fifth member of the class in many ways. Adding him with those four changes a lot of things in a positive way for us."
From the time that you first met him, how was he grown?
"Really across the board, he is bigger and stronger physically. He is much more experienced a player. He has become a very good shooter. If you look at his statistics during his four years at Xavier he shot the ball from the three very well, made free throws in very big situations, and he has grown as a player like you would expect a player to grow in a four-year period of time when he is in a great program being very well coached like he was. Hopefully we can make his last year and his decision to come here a very good one not only for our team but also for him."
Among your four young post players, in your preseason work, can you tell which combinations are working best right now?
"No, but the one thing that I can tell is that I really believe that all four of our front court players, Angelo Chol, is the fourth one, can play with each other. So there is not a group - there is not two of them - who won't be able to be on the court together. Angelo Chol and Kaleb Tarczewski can be on the court together. Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashleycan be on the court together. When you look at that, it's one of the things that is really exciting about them. I think in each way, they compliment each other."
Expectations will be as high as they've ever been since you've been here, how do you manage that?
"I think expectations are always high at Arizona and rightfully so because of our great tradition. Only I truly know where we were when I got here though. I'll answer this very similarly to how I answered the first one and that is that it's a process. Things take time and a year ago when I sat here coming off of an Elite Eight 30 wins, a Pac-10 regular season championship, those are really special things. If that happens one time in a decade at many places or for a particular group it's like "wow." I think because that happened so early here it was almost assumed that that is how it would be from this point on. We really had some things that we needed to work out. We needed to be better across the board in a lot of areas. But I believe with the talent level that we have on this year's team, some of the experience that we combine with it, we are positioned to be good and to do great things. What those are though, I don't know yet. If you would have told me that Kevin Parrom was going to get shot before the season started last season, I would have changed how I felt. Jordin Mayesbreaks his foot, there were a lot of things that happened during that season that you can't control. Hopefully we will be blessed with good health this year and consistency. If we are I have no doubt that we can be a good team."
How do you see Kevin Parrom fitting in after last season?
"Kevin, first of all, is 100 percent. I have a lot of regret that we did not redshirt him last year. I think that the reasons that we didn't redshirt him were all the right reasons and most importantly if we took the ability for him to be a part of the team a year ago to travel with us, to have that carrrot out there that he could play, I don't know if he would still be with us because of all the hardships he had to deal with. So keeping him with us really helped him but I watched us play last year many times this offseason and he wasn't anywhere near the player that he even was as a sophomore. Looking at him right now, he is strong physically. He is healthy. He is a senior that is probably as hungry as any in college basketball when you consider everything that he has gone through. I am looking for him to be a major contributor to our team. He can play both the two and the three. When he is at the two he gives us a bigger line-up. When he plays the three he will probably be in when Solomon is out of the games, which there are not a lot of teams that can sub a senior for senior at that position. Hopefully Kevin will give us that consistency but first I hope more than anything that he can be healthy from start to finish."
Can you talk about Solomon Hill and the conditioning he did to get in better shape?
"Well, Solomon has been here for four years. He has been really been a starter since day one minus a few isolated situations. If you follow Solomon's progress as a player, he has gotten better each and every year that he has been a part of our program. Last year, a first-team all-Pac-12 player, so for him to come back as a senior he knew that we would have a bigger front court that he wouldn't have to play the power forward position like he did last year and with that for him to continue to get better and develop, one of the things that we talked about was the get him in the best shape of his life, which he is right now. He is the lightest that he's been, in watching him he runs better, and I believe he has all the makings to have a great senior season."
Was there a moment when he realized he needed to get better conditioned to better develop?
"No, Solomon is a very self-motivated individual who is very hungry to make something of himself and he is somebody that I really believe in the future we can point to as doing things the right way and really being somebody that deserves all of the success that he gets on the court because of his work ethic."
Is this where you thought he'd be four years ago from a positional standpoint?
"Yes. You can say it has taken a long time. He really got there a year ago, just unfortunately for Solomon he didn't play on a team that was as talented physically as hopefully this year's team will be. A lot of the gains that he made you saw that he was first-team all-Pac-12 player, but I don't think he got the notoriety for his improvement that he otherwise would have gotten if he for example would have played on a team that was better."
Is there anything that has surprised you about this year's freshman class?
"The one thing that I will say about the freshmen is I know them a lot better because we recruited them for a lot longer period of time, and secondly, we went on a foreign trip to the Bahamas this summer and because of that we were together a lot more. The NCAA changed a number of rules this summer which allow us more access to our players, so add that to our equation."
"I don't know if I have been around a freshman group, forget how they're going to do on the court, that have handled themselves better on a daily basis than the four guys that we have right now. I don't know if we've had one problem, whether it is academically or off the court, and certainly in terms of whom they are on the court, although they've had their days that were better than others, they've been really consistent in how they've worked hard everyday. That more than anything gives me a great feeling about this year's team. We are counting on them to contribute. It makes it a lot easier when you watch them work hard everyday over a long period of time. As long as they continue with who they have been to this point, they are going to improve. They are going to be a great group. They'll be better players in January and February than they will be here in November. That is one of the exciting parts about this year's team. The ingredients of having good chemistry are having a team that works hard. We are off to a really good start in that area."
With some of the issues you had to deal with last year, are you refreshed, do you have a renewed energy this season?
"I always have energy to coach, but I think every coach really appreciates a team that takes care of themselves and handles their business both on and off the court. Our players aren't robots. They can make mistakes as soon as tonight and we know that. I can only judge them on what they've done so far and keep in mind we do have a longer period of time to judge them. I think they've been extremely responsible and part of what helps our freshmen as well is that we have some upperclassmen who are really hungry, that want to be in the winner's circle, someone like Solomon Hillwho has worked extremely hard himself this offseason. The blend of experience and know-how with talent and a great attitude is one of the reasons why I'm optimistic."
Do you attribute that to the quality of players you are recruiting?
"I think so. If you look at the four freshmen, the programs they're from, where they've won, who they played for, I think you can point to really solid situations. I also believe they came to Arizona for all the right reasons. No question everyone that we recruit one day hopes to be a part of the NBA, but I think the path to getting there is a completely different thing. Being willing to put in the work, understanding the value of wining championships, and winning big how that helps gets you to where you want to go. Those guys, the freshman I am talking about, are really in a good place. The other thing that this year's team has that I believe will carry us all the way to the end is that we have two players that aren't eligible to play - (transfer) T.J. McConnell and (redshirt) Matt Korcheck - but are able to practice with us everyday and in their own right are very good players. They're older and experienced. They add to that competitive environment and that depth that you want in college basketball because when you think about the players that are able to play and then you add those two guys to the equation, we always have eight to ten players that are good quality in size. T.J. McConnell for example, the fact that Jordin Mayes, Nick Johnson, and Gabe York get to go against him everyday, I mean he is an all-conference player as a sophomore and a great defensive player. That adds to our team's development. The same thing with Matt Korcheck. Matt is as hard working of a kid as I've been around. He's physically tough because he's older. Brandon, Grant, Kaleb and Angelo have benefitted a great deal by being able to practice against him and with him everyday. There are some more positives at what we are doing everyday, a process that is in place for us to be successful."
What are the speed bumps that a freshman, even a highly recruited guy, has to work through?
"Well he has to be able to handle the bumps in the road. You know criticism for the first time, being able to handle a game that they don't particularly play well. Those games are going to happen. When you look at the depth that we have, I don't look at any of those four frontcourt players as playing the entire game. We have competition and part of what we should feel in our frontline is the four players that are going to almost wear the other team down and sub for each other then we can use all four of those guys to play two positions."
Is Kevin Parrom going to be a leader for this team?
"He is one of the oldest players on our team. He is a senior. He's been through a lot, so I think Kevin leads by example with how badly he wants to win and how badly he wants to do well. He has backed that up by not going home one time since our season has ended. He has been in Tucson really from our last game a year ago up until today. What he has done here is work hard academically. He is in a great position to graduate this spring. He has worked really hard across the board to have this last year be one of meaning for him. All of our players can feed off of that and that is where you can see his leadership ability by the example that he has set and continues to set."
What do you hope to see from Nick Johnson?
"Angelo and Nick gained a lot of valuable experience last year. I think in both cases, as the year went on part of the value that they got was recognizing how hard it is to win and how hard it is to be successful. It is not easy. There are a lot of talented teams and talented players in college basketball. Both of them have worked, and I know I'm repeating this, but we have a team that has really invested a lot, but those two guys have worked very hard to go from where they were a year ago to be better. We had a team workout yesterday and I think it may have been Nick's best day since he has come to Arizona. He really put it all together. I look at him a lot like a Solomon where you look at what he did as a freshman and you are clearly able to answer that he was a better sophomore than he was as a freshman. I think the same thing will happen for Angelo."
What is the deepest position on this team?
"Well we have frontcourt depth. I've talked about the four guys. Three of them are freshman and Angelo is the sophomore. You can always slide Solomon in there for special situations or in the case of foul trouble or injury because of Solomon having played that all last year. But the most experienced positions on our team are our backcourt. You have Mark Lyons and Jordin Mayes, Nick Johnson, you know Nick is only a sophomore but he played a lot of minutes a year ago. Those three have incredible experience. Kevin who was out for a lot of last year is back. Think of those four and their experience level that they have. That is something that we are really counting on and you can add Gabe Yorkto the mix. I like to think we have good depth across the board. Hopefully, I will feel that way in a month. Hopefully, we get through this stretch healthy."
Do you envision a line-up where Brandon Ashley gets time at the three?
"What our plan is with Brandon is to just incrementally slide him over to that position everyday, forget the game for a minute where he is more comfortable. Playing the four and the three are much different than playing the four and the five or the two and the three. They have different responsibilities on both offensively and defensively. What we first try to do is get him comfortable as a frontcourt player where all the reps are in one area."
"As he has progressed physically - Brandon came in here and he was 22-percent body fat on June 3 and as of yesterday, he is 10 percent. To lose 12 percent in four or five months really shows you how hard he works. It is because of that I think he can do it. And he can do it maybe in a back-up role, but eventually that is where his future lies. I think the more experience that he gets there; there will come a day that he will play that position with two of the front court players that I named. It is important that we do it incrementally. If you throw too much his way, the last thing we want him to do is be totally confused about where to be and how to do it and take away from his aggressiveness. The first thing he needs to do is get comfortable and be the best he can be and be aggressive and then I think we will slowly move him to that."
What do you see Gabe York's role being this season?
"Gabe is working really hard. He is getting better. There are a lot of experienced guards that I've named that are on our team. If Gabe continues to work like he's working and fights, he is very talented. He is a natural scorer. He can shoot the ball. He, like all of our players, has gotten bigger and stronger which I think is part of what is going to help him be the best that he can be. He is what we call an everyday guy. Just roll your sleeves up and work as hard as you can everyday to learn and become better and eventually he will contribute. It certainly wouldn't surprise me if he doesn't contribute this year as a freshman."
You put a lot of emphasis on the McDonald's Red-Blue Game (Oct. 21). What do you get out of it?
"Recruiting has evolved and changed and if you follow closely how the best programs in our country do it, and we consider ourselves one of them, certainly that is what we are vying to be, they have some version of a (spotlight event) on their campus. Kentucky as an example, they continue to do Midnight Madness and on that weekend you really combine three elements. First is your own team. It's great to be our guys out in McKale in front of 14,500 people, a super-charged environment. It only continues to get their feet wet and remind them of how important winning is and how much people care and support our program. Every time they are out there in front of our crowd that is to their advantage. (Secondly, is) The future with that type of atmosphere on that weekend that we have here in Tucson, we really target some of the best prospects in the country, future players who can help us do great things. To have them here during that weekend and experience that, that says it all. If you talk about Kaleb a year ago, Kaleb was the one who was uncommitted at this time. Having him at the Red-Blue Game helped us secure him, no question about it. No matter what we talked about on the telephone, or how much you think this atmosphere is special, until you're actually here you don't feel it. It helps the future. It's something that I believe continues to be as crucial today as it was the day I came here."
"For us to have the 1988 Final Four team here (that weekend) says it all. If you think about those three layers, that's what a true program has and that is what we want to represent. Not a good team, not a team that goes 30-8 and next year wins 23 games and pulls up short, but more of a program that is year-in, year-out excellent and we do this with a style that everyone can be proud of. I look at that `88 team and talk about character. What they do today, and they are my generation, is remarkable. To think about the NBA Championship rings, I'm going to say that between Jud (Buechler), Steve (Kerr), and Sean Elliot, that those guys have nine NBA Championship rings. That is one college team and nine NBA Championship rings. Same thing with their NBA careers. When you throw in Anthony Cook and Tom Tolbert, you forget Sean Rooks played in the NBA for 13 years. You don't even count Kenny Lofton who was a Major League Baseball all-star who played 17 years in the Major Leagues. And Harvey Mason what he is doing today in the music industry. There may not be in terms of one team that is more accomplished than that group right there and to be able to bring them back in front of our group where our own team can be around them and the future of Arizona recruiting and to see their reaction, to me it is a really important weekend. I know that was a really long answer, but that is why you hear a lot about it. I hope that when people think about Arizona basketball that they think about the Red-Blue weekend as a significant time."
Are you honoring Andre Iguodola at the event?
"Andre has entered the Ring of Honor. There is a long list of criteria to get in there. Because he won a gold medal on Team USA this past summer in addition to all of the other things that he will eventually accomplish that allows him to be in the ring of honor. We tried to bring him back here but unfortunately I think they play the Oklahoma City Thunder on the same Sunday as our Red-Blue Game so we are targeting a date in the future. We will in some way honor and induct him in there during the Red-Blue weekend and do it again when he is able to be here himself."
Now that Kaleb Tarczewski is getting used to his new size, what are you getting out of him?
"It's too early to tell. One thing that I caution everyone is that with Kaleb sometimes when a seven-footer shows up and can play and has a big reputation, expectations are almost unfairly put on him. He is a young player that has come a long to be where he is today. Three or four years ago his name was not on the scene. He worked hard to develop himself and put himself in the company that he deserved. He will have his ups and down, he will have his great moments. It will be apparent to everyone who watches him that he will have a bright future because he has really good hands. There is no doubt that one day he will be able to play in the NBA. That path getting there is not simple. He will have rough moments. The good thing for Kaleb is that he is on a true team that can help him on the days that he is not as productive."
Describe Mark Lyons:
"When we recruited Mark a long time ago, the word that came to me is competitiveness. He hates to lose. He is a great competitor. He can impact the game in a lot of ways. He can do it defensively. He can do it scoring; he averaged 16 points a game last year. And he can do it by getting other players involved. He is not a one-dimensional player by any stretch. That competitive fire that he has can really be contagious. It's one of the exciting things about this team that he brings. He brings that element to what we have. Mark can play with a point guard or he can be a point guard. We have other guys; Jordin Mayeshas worked very hard as well. It's very unfair to judge Jordin on a year ago because of his health. I'm excited to watch him as well."
How is Mark's leadership and where else have you seen leadership coming from?
"Solomon Hill is our natural leader because he is the most experienced; he is returning all-Pac-12 player. He has led by example for many years in a quiet way because of his work ethic. He has a lot at stake in his last year. One person can't do it alone. Mark Lyons can chip in. Nick Johnson is sometimes one of our most vocal players. And now Jordin Mayes has more experience. I've already talked about Kevin Parrom, another senior, who leads by example as well as anyone on our team. We have small group there but definitely Solomon is at the forefront."
Has Mark adapted to the new situation coming is as one of the oldest guys?
"I don't think he has tried to force himself on our team. He is a pretty smart kid. He knows having been on the number of teams that he has been on that it takes time to develop relationships and trust. We went on that (Bahamas) trip and are further along here in October than we would have been otherwise."
Where do you expect to get shots from after having lost some shooters off last year's team?
"I think going into it, Solomon shot almost 39 percent (.389) a year ago from three. He really caught fire in January and February. His shot looks really good and I think he can be consistent. Kevin Parrom as you know, I've said it many times, was our team's best shooter. He showed that in the Bahamas. Those two guys are really capable. Jordin Mayes is certainly capable. And Mark Lyons is amid to high 30s (.361) in the three. He is capable of throwing a high percentage from three. Nick was only a freshman last year so he has gotten better. I'll be surprised if shooting is one of our problems. In the frontcourt, Grant Jerrett could be one of our team's best shooters. He gives us a different look when he's in there whether he's at the four or five because he's a little bit like Derrick Williams."
How essential will shooting be?
"Very much so. I think they will get quality shots and for us I think we can be a team that shoots a lot of free throws. We've always done that. It's always been a characteristic of the teams that I have coached, especially the good ones. Looking at this year's team, we have the make up to be able to live at the foul line because we can do it a lot of different ways. Attacking the basket is going to be important, that we take very good perimeter shots because we have the ability to take shots inside. I would flip it and say that it is more important that we get good at making sure we are attacking at the basket and in the paint first. The good three-point shots will come."
Do you take a new approach with the official start of practice?
"No, we just want to keep being ahead of schedule and have one good practice after another and be as ready as we can when we play our first exhibition game. A year ago that defined where we were as group. Hopefully these next three weeks can put us in a good position to get off to a better start."
What about Jacob Hazzard made you want to add him to the roster?
"He is a great student, comes from a fantastic family, played a key role at Loyola High School last year on a very good team. Those are the type of players you want in that role because it's a difficult role. Everyone is a part of what we do and is important. Jacob and Max (Wiepking) and a few of the other walk-ons are crucial to our everyday success. He has done a great job up to this point."
When you look back to April 2009, what are the improvements that you look on that have made the team as solid as it is today?
"I can point to hundreds of things in my mind. I would say that we had some great fortune when I came to Arizona to get the group that Derrick Williams came to Arizona as a part of. Derrick Williams, I never saw him play, but it's hard to get the number two pick in the draft in July going into the first year. That helped twofold. There was Nic Wisereturning for his senior year to play for his fourth coach in four years. I'll only say that when you are the fourth coach in four years, our record was 16-15 and I'm telling you, we were very close to winning 10 games than winning 20. That led to my second season, which like I addressed before, every time you win 30 games and are a shot from the Final Four everybody can feel like we have arrived but that was probably preliminary. I knew that deep down. Moving to last year, one of the things that I hope to point to many times this year is if you just look at our defense my first year and then in our second year and our third year with the best defensive team that we've had was a year ago. If we can build on that and make that same statement with this year's team, with a lot of factors on our side, you can see where I'm going. What I hope is in place is not just a good team, but a program that is built to last beyond this year where we can regain that consistency and consecutive good seasons that everyone covets and it's not easy to do. But I do think we are very far along towards that happening from our first two or three months with I arrived here."
In April 2009, did you envision this is how the table would be set?
"I didn't envision the second year being as good as it was. I probably thought we would be more where we were in the second year in our third year. Derrick leaving and being the player he was probably had a lot to do with that. I think every coach points to improvement. We have a number of things that have improved. Our record right now is 0-0. These words don't mean anything, but based on how hard our team has been working, the things I know are fact is that we do have a good starting point and with good health and continued hard work, we can have a very good season."
Did the second year help you in recruiting?
"It certainly did. It was one of the reasons that these freshmen are here. They were able to watch the success that we had and the individual success that Derrick had in such a brief time. Hopefully that will work itself out with this year's team and beyond. That is part of what helps a program when you have those players that each and every year do great things."
On the challenges of the 2012-13 schedule:
"One of the things we want to do is play very competitive non-conference schedule. Nobody is more aware of the tradition at Arizona as I am. One of the things that is remarkable about our past is the schedules Arizona teams have played. One huge change that we have in college basketball scheduling is you can no longer count on who will be in your program two or three years out. If you start to go down that path and one of these guys, Derrick Williams for example, leaves unexpectedly, you schedule foolishly because you did not schedule your team to be successful. I guess the word I am after is balance. You want to play competitive non-conference games both away and at McKale and have marquee games here. Our Florida game is an example of that. One of the things you need to know is when you make those series, like the series with Florida, before Derrick every played one game, that was made prior to me coaching here. Although you cannot count on your team being in the program for a long period of time, you still have to schedule three and four years out. We are in exempt tournaments everywhere. The way we schedule, you have to have more balance and hopefully the conference you are in can supply you additional marquee games. We haven't had as many as I hope we have in the future. It's not that I don't want to play a competitive schedule as much as you have to adjust to the times."