March 31, 2003
Has the finality of Saturday's loss sunk in yet?
Oh yes. That's the toughest thing about the playoffs for coaches and players. Everyone is looking forward to the opportunity to continue playing and it happens so quickly. It wasn't very long ago that there were 65 teams and it's like a blur how it gets down to the Final Four so quickly. It sinks in that night or the next day. You don't like it, but there are a lot of people that would like to be there that aren't.
What are our thoughts on the three departing seniors (Rick Anderson, Jason Gardner and Luke Walton)?
I think the program owes them a big debt of gratitude for the kind of job they have done. Not just on the court, but off the court in representing the program, providing leadership to the young guys, not just basketball, but really positive leadership...how to handle yourself, how to do things with class. They've really been an outstanding group.
Then you look at what they've accomplished...the Elite Eights, Sweet 16s, and the national championship game. It's been an unbelievable run by those guys. They certainly did everything that they could to try to get us all the way.
It was always about team with those guys. What will be the toughest thing to replace?
The biggest thing that we'll have to replace will be the leadership. No one has provided more leadership and better leadership than they have, especially when you look at the youth of the two teams that they had to provide the leadership. A year ago it was those three guys and the rest were freshmen. This year the rest of the kids were freshmen and sophomores. That's a tremendous challenge, I think, to the leadership.
With the team next year, the biggest single question mark that I would have is who are the guys who will step up like those guys did to provide the leadership? That will be seen through the spring, summer and fall as to who can think team like those guys. There was never a thing I heard about individual stats. Everything was about the team. That will be the No. 1 challenge to us as a staff.
Do you see leadership potential in some of the younger players?
Yes, but it's not there. The leadership has been so strong, you haven't really had to see it yet. The one who has been the most active, and was also selected by his teammates as the Most Inspirational Player, is Isaiah Fox. He's a communicator and is a guy who other guys like and respect. I would expect that he'll be one of the guys that will step up. That's a huge responsibility and it's such a key thing in terms of how your team develops.
Often you will see a player grow into it, but I think that leaders are born. They have those skills early. I think Isaiah has those skills. I felt that a year ago as a freshman that of all the guys in that class, I thought he was a guy who was the most vocal and communicated the best. I think that Channing Frye has shown signs as well. I think that Channing would like very much to be one of the leaders. He is by nature fairly quiet, but I wouldn't be totally surprised by that. But like I said, the leadership has been so strong from the other three guys, that it hasn't allowed the (leadership) opportunities from other people to surface.
Do you liken next year's team to that of last season (2001-02) with the loss of three key players?
This will probably be more like what it was during the 1996-97 season with no seniors. We do, with Jason Ranne and Fil Torres, have two guys who have been in the program who are seniors, but have been non-playing to this point. That year (1996-97) we did have Jason Lee, who was a walk-on senior, but he was the only one. The rest were Miles (Simon), Michael (Dickerson) and Bennett (Davison) transferred in, and Jason Terry was key. The leadership there was from Miles. Miles was the accepted team leader.
Both Andre (Iguodala) and Hassan (Adams) have leadership qualities. It will be a matter of how that develops from now until we get started next year. I could see those two guys stepping up too. They play with a lot of emotion and that is an important part of what guys are looking for. When they came off the bench, there was immediate excitement that they brought to the floor by the way they defended and played. I could see that. We've always said that the biggest improvement comes from the end of their freshman season until the first game as a sophomore because they know now what needs to be done. That will be the biggest thing to watch in terms of how much things change with those two guys.
It's just a case of certainly the talent will be there. Now it's just a matter of where we come up with the leadership.
Other than that, not too much changes, right?
We're going to be quicker next year than we were this year because Mustafa (Shakur) and Ndudi (Ebi) bring great quickness at their positions and their size and Kirk Walters is very, very quick up and down the court and quick to the ball. I think it will be potentially the best defensive team we've had because of the quickness. The only problem is the youth of the team. From the standpoint of athleticism and quickness, it will be our most athletic team.
Is there one thing that stands out from this year's team?
I think the thing that stands out is the togetherness of the team that was created by the leaders. This team has been about team off the court and on the court. They were really focused on what they could accomplish as a team. Luke's emergence in the last couple of years and Jason Gardner developed from a quiet freshman point guard that you hardly get to say a word to all of the sudden as a junior and senior really stepped up big time. He played really, really solid basketball.
Hassan and Andre gave us great support off the bench. I don't think we could have asked more than what they gave us. In the last two games they were really exceptional.
Is there a key moment in the Kansas game that stands out?
The (Jeff) Graves tip was a big one (with 3:12 remaining). The rebound that Hassan and (Kirk) Hinrich went for and Hassan got the foul (at 2:22) was certainly a key. There were some rebounds we were after, but they were quicker to the ball.
Do you see the press as a viable option next year?
Yes. We'll be so much quicker. This year we had some limitations there. It was difficult to press if we had Channing, Luke and Ricky in the game at the same time. When we pressed later on, it came when we had Hassan and Andre come into the game and moved Luke or Ricky to the four spot. Then we had better quickness. Potentially, we could be a pretty good full-court pressure team.