Prior to Pepsi Red-Blue Game
Oct. 29, 2004
“In essence what we want to try to do in the first half is create as competitive situation as we can. Then, what we’ll be doing is keep score for the first half, start over at halftime, and make some adjustments with the teams in the second half. In the second half we want to get the guys together on one team that are going to be logging most of the time, so we get a little bit of a rotation.”
“Right now, Isaiah Fox turned his ankle a little bit the other day, so he’ll work out Saturday with us, and hopefully he’ll be ready to go Sunday. Mohammed (Tangara) is going to be limited. He’s had some lower back pain, so they’ve been trying to build up his core muscles. We’re not sure how much he’ll play.”
Considering the Fox and Tangara injury situations, what is Kirk Walters’ status?
“Kirk is making very good progress. He’s much stronger and much more aggressive, that’s the good news. The bad news is he still needs to get stronger and more aggressive. He’s much improved; the biggest thing is going to be he still does not have great endurance, which is not unusual for someone that size. He’s been working. He is going to end up being a very good player. He’s just going to take it in baby steps. He knows the single biggest thing right now is maintaining offensive and defensive intensity, but to do that you need better endurance than what he has. We’ve been working the team hard and the practices have been long. We’ll start tapering (the practices), but there’s so much to get in.”
“This will be a good opportunity for us to see him now with fans there after they’ve been in a practice situation because, obviously with Midnight Madness, we had not been able to do any work with him. We’ll see what kind of progress has been made. We’ll balance teams up for the first half, and I’d guess that will be very competitive, but the second half we’ll just have to see.”
“We’ve put some of our top guys together before in shorter scrimmages in a practice situation and it’s been very competitive, but we’ll see when there’s 20 minutes on the clock and there are regular officials in there. What I’d mentioned earlier is the score is going to be kept separately [for the two halves] because we’ll be rotating the teams around.”
What will you expect to see from your veterans that would be different from practice?
“The big thing is that we’re going to be counting fouls. We’re still concerned about that, because in a number of instances when you go through pickup games and guys get careless about hand-checking and holding, and things that are going to be called. The main difference is that we’re going to be seeing it in a game-type situation.”
“I thought our guys responded well on Midnight Madness to a big crowd, it didn’t seem to bother them at all. This is just the second step in that process, because a week from Sunday we’ll have our first exhibition game. I know they’re looking forward to that, but I think if we were to come up with our top eight or nine guys, there’s still some good competition. That can change maybe as a result of Sunday.”
What positions have been interesting for you?
“Right now, the top two guards are Mustafa (Shakur) and Salim (Stoudamire), but the competition for the third guard spot has been very intense, with Chris (Rodgers) and Jesus (Verdejo). The frontline, Channing (Frye) and Hassan (Adams) have a big edge over the guys they’re competing against. The main competition, the position still to be determined, is who we’ll have in that four spot.”
How has Isaiah been doing along those lines?
“With Isaiah, he’s had to sit out some because the leg is bothering him a little bit, or he’s turned his ankle has he has the other day that’s the biggest problem. When Isaiah is at full strength, he plays very well. At this point, Ivan (Radenovic), because he’s there everyday and he’s in excellent condition, has the edge in that battle right now.”
Has Isaiah’s knee been a factor?
“His knee will still get sore at times, but that’s due more to conditioning than anything else. His weight is fine, but just prior to our starting practice he let himself go for a few days and you pay the price when that happens. If you’ve had knee surgery you can’t afford days off from your conditioning, and that’s the problem at this point.”
Typically your practices have been pretty hard. Are you still getting 100% out of the guys in practice?
“It’s like anything else, you have good days and bad days. I’d say the number of bad days has been few and far between. Some of that may have to do with the number of new things that have been introduced. Generally speaking at this time of year, your defense is going to be way ahead of your offense. That’s true now, until we do a better job of coordinating what we’re doing on the offensive sets.”
What has Jesus been doing if he’s close to Chris?
“Jesus is a very tough competitor and shoots the ball well. The biggest problem right now is learning the offensive sets and he’s not been a factor on the defensive boards. That’s his biggest weakness right now. Daniel Dillon, next to Mustafa, is the best rebounder we have in the guard spots, but he’s turned the ball over too much.”
Has Mohammed’s back been flaring up on him?
“Yeah, so we’ll determine Sunday whether we’ll play him at all or not. We leave it totally up to our trainer on that as to what he can or cannot do.”
Are you definite at the four and five spots...?
“Bret Brielmaier had done a real nice job for us. He’s got size and strength, and he’s a very quick learner. He’s been a very pleasant surprise for us.”
If there had not been injuries last year, Kirk Walters) probably would have redshirted. Will he do so this year?
“A lot will depend on Isaiah. Right now, that’s a concern for us because he’s been in and out of the practice situation.”
Do you see Mohammed’s injury as something that will bug him throughout the season?
“I’m basing it on what (athletic trainer) Justin (Kokoskie) has said, and that’s he’s going to be fine. We just have to take it slowly, at this point, because if we push it one day we’re going to lose him a couple days by doing that. What happens in terms of the frontline depth, when you’re asking about Kirk; that would be the question. He is going to be a very good player, we don’t want to keep him from being as good as he can be. If there are not going to be minutes to make it worth while, we’d consider that. That’s always a decision that is made once we get three weeks into practice.”
Do you have an opinion on where you are in the preseason polls?
“I have the same opinion I’ve always had: It’s nothing but guessing at this point. Twice we were left out of the preseason [poll], then by the next week we were in the top half dozen. It’s strictly a guess at this point. It piques the interest of the fans, but to me, it may not be meaningless as far as the top five teams or so, but anything beyond that as guess work.”
With all the players you have coming back, don’t you think your ranking is a little on the low side?
“I think it’s a matter of if there are still question marks, of which Arizona team you’re going to see; the one that can play with anybody or the one that struggled. In terms of replacing Andre (Igoudala), we’re replacing a guy that led us in three categories. As I said, I feel that it piques interest for the fans, but beyond that I don’t think they’re very meaningful.”
It looks like Iguodala might start for the 76ers.
“I just saw an article out of an interview in Philadelphia, where his coach said he’d be starting at the three spot, and that he’s done a nice job. With Andre, the fact that he can do a lot of things is making him more valuable to the team. He can rebound, handle [the ball]. I think he’s led [the 76ers] in assists, and defensively he’s going to be an outstanding defender in the league.”
You mentioned pleasant surprises, are there any guys that are really making a run for positions?
“There’s a big difference right now between the veterans and the freshman. That’s because the veterans have a much better of an idea of what the system is, but there’s no question from the physical standpoint that we have some guys that are very talented. Learning how you have to play at this level is a huge difference with the freshman. The guy who handles that competition better than anybody else is Jesus, because he’s a year older with a year of prep school.”
“We’ve been playing Jawann (McClellan) against Hassan, and it really challenges his being able to get a shot off. He’s a great shooter, but he found out that at this level you have to do a better job of making cuts, getting open, being open to be able to get the ball. That competition in practice is going to get Jawann ready to play sooner because if he had to wait for that to happen to him in a game situation, he’d have to wait a couple three weeks down the line.”
“He knows that he has to create more space for his shot than what he did in high school. In high school, he could just get over people and take the shot. Now, he does that and Hassan either gets a piece of the shot or puts so much pressure on him that it’s tough to get it off. He’s a great shooter, but now the challenge is getting open for the shot to show that he’s a great shooter.”
How good could this team be defensively?
“We have a lot of quickness and good size. When we’re starting with Mustafa at the point, he’s long and creates problems that Jason Gardener didn’t because of the size difference. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be a good defensive team.”
“Defense is the coordinated effort of five people and that’s still something that needs to be proven. The inside defense still has quite a ways to go. If Isaiah were healthy, he could be a very good defensive player, but it’s been the little things off and on the last few weeks that have kept him from being as effective as he will be. Ivan Radenovic has made a lot of progress from a year ago, but the defense is still in progress.”