March 11, 2003
In regards to the all-Pac-10 teams, we're pleased that seven guys from our team were honored - two on the all-freshman team (Hassan Adams and Andre Iguodala), three honorable mention (Rick Anderson, Channing Frye and Salim Stoudamire) and two on the all-Pac-10 team (Jason Gardner and Luke Walton). We're obviously disappointed that Jason was not selected as the player of the year, but Luke Ridnour played awfully well for Oregon. That's not to take anything away from his honor because he's certainly had an outstanding season. As I've said before, my feeling has been the most valuable player is one that leads his team to the championships. As I indicated before, I thought our balance would hurt us in getting Jason named (MVP) because there would be some that would pick Luke, some would pick Salim, and some maybe even Channing.
I think Luke Ridnour had a great, great season and is certainly deserving of the honor. The fact that we had seven guys picked is an indication of the kind of balance we have in our program, and the kind of talent we have in our program.
Thoughts on the first round matchup with UCLA:
Through the years, anytime it's Arizona-UCLA, it's a big game. From our players standpoint, they always get fired up to play UCLA. I don't think it makes any difference what the results of the two games this year have been. They know how talented UCLA is, and UCLA has been playing well lately. With the emergence of the new point guard, Ray (Young) has done a great job in that position. It changes how you defend them because he's a very different guard from (Cedric) Bozeman. He's a guy that's looking to score, and that will make a difference in how we approach things defensively. He scored 54 points in the last two games, which indicates you'd better pay some attention to him. I know they're excited about playing us again, so here we are.
Have your opinions of the Pac-10 Tournament changed at all?
No. I still dislike it. We'll be there because it's the vote of the conference and we'll try to win it as we did last year. I personally think 18 games is enough. We've played everybody home and away. Coaches in our league voted 10-0 to cut the schedule to 16 games so that would cut the potential schedule to 19 games in the league, but that was turned down by a vote of the athletic directors - the same vote that put the tournament in minus Jim Livengood and Ted Leland.
This is the fifth time in the tournament where we could play a potential of 21 (league) games. That's too many. It's taking guys out of class. I personally think that from an academic standpoint we're talking out of both sides of our mouth. We're being told as coaches that we have to limit the number of days that they're going to miss, and out of the other side of the mouth comes, "ok, we're going to have this tournament and you're going to miss two or three days of school." Stop saying that we want to limit the number of days because, frankly, the contract money-wise looked like a good deal. I think we're being hypocritical to make them miss school for no reason.
Have you heard the philosophy that says go in and lose the first game to rest the guys?
I remember Al McGuire saying that when the conference started, he said, "If I was in a conference tournament, I'd make sure we lost the first game and got home and rested." Obviously, that's not something you're going to do, and I don't think Al really would have done that.
I think the tournament can be valuable to us from a playing standpoint. We have three freshmen that the more games their involved in the better. Isaiah's (Fox) playing time has been cut way back because of the play of Channing Frye and because we've been playing Luke, Ricky and Channing as a three-man rotation in the two inside spots. I think it can be a valuable preparation, and hopefully, enough games in there to give us the preparation.
We will not come out of this tournament, however many days we play, as a tired team.
Comment on your senior leadership:
The senior leadership not only how they play and the poise in which they play, but the way in which they have educated the younger guys as to what to expect and how you go about preparing for tournament play. The seniors are amazing in a lot of different ways, not only in how they play, but the most valuable thing about the three is the kind of job they've done in getting the young guys to buy into the philosophy of Arizona basketball.
I thought as juniors last year to take what was by far the toughest schedule in the country, the job they did was beyond anything I've ever seen in terms of leadership. In your top programs, it's hard anymore to be in a situation where you have three seniors because too many guys come out early. We're fortunate that we've been able to keep these guys around.
Is there something special about the trio of Rick Anderson, Jason Gardner and Luke Walton?
The special things were shown on Saturday. How they play and how the fans appreciate how they play. It's fun to see their personalities and have rubbed off already on some of the younger guys. That's part of coaching on the college level. You're going to lose guys and you hate to see them go, but that's the nature of the beast. We'll have three guys coming in next year that we will enjoy and we will miss these three. Someone will have to step up to provide the kind of leadership we need as a team to be successful.
Steve Kerr is being inducted into the Pac-10 Hall of Honor. What does he mean to your program?
When you look at the program and how it's developed, Steve's name is going to be right there in terms of the top people who have come through and the influences they've had on the program. Steve was a part of our first recruiting class here and his work ethic from what he was when he got here to what he was when he left...from an unrecruited athlete to a second team All-American to playing on a Final Four team. He's had a major impact. His personality, his team attitude...the kind of respect he had in the community and what he felt his responsibilities were. I take a look through 20 years, with very few exceptions, you see that same kind of commitment to Arizona basketball on and off the court. Not only winning, but doing the other things that should be done as a college athlete.
This is a good indication of what kind of person Steve is. He called me because I am going to accept his award and he wanted to make sure I was aware that Tex Winter was there and tell the audience how important Tex was to him and his pro career. Also, to talk about Coach Wooden and the influence he had on his life as a bellboy at UCLA. That's typical of Steve. Instead of talking to me about what he had accomplished, he wanted to make sure other people were given due credit.
Can you talk a bit about Jason Gardner?
He is a great young man, a hard worker, an unbelievable competitor, one of the all-time winners in basketball. He's played more minutes than any player in the history of Arizona basketball. He hates to miss practice. One time this season, he was so sick with the flu, but he told our trainer," I think I can make it through practice," I told Justin (Kokoskie, trainer) to tell him to get home and start drinking liquids and stay away from the rest of the guys. That's an indication of how seriously he takes his responsibility as one of the team leaders.
Thoughts on Luke Walton:
Luke may be the best communicator I've seen on the court. in terms of feel for other people and who needs to be bucked up confidence-wise. He has a feel for people second to no one. That leadership shows up on and off the court. If I or one of the assistants has been tough on a guy, you can count on Luke to be there to put his arm around him. He has an unbelievable ability to understand people and what they need.
Thoughts on Rick Anderson
He is a heck of a competitor. No matter what we're involved with in practice and we're keeping score, it's for the world championship with Ricky. And that competitiveness rubs off. All three are great competitors. We've been blessed in this program to have a lot of those, but it just carries on with these three guys. Every guy on the squad right now has seen what these three guys have put into it. I think the tradition will carry on because of that.
How is Salim Stoudamire's state of mind?
Great. I thought he was great on Saturday. Sometimes we forget that these are just young men. Sometimes they need to be redirected. Whenever I've had to take a strong stand with him, it's never been a case of "well, coach is all messed up." At the time, he may, but by the next day, he's had a chance to evaluate why it happened. He is great. Saturday he played as well as he could have.
People don't realize jut how good of a defensive player he is. He was picked by his teammates again as the defensive player of the year. With this guy, it makes no difference who we put him on, a two-man, a three-man, the point guard, he makes life miserable for whoever he guards.
Senior guard Jason Gardner:
How does your experience help you in the postseason?
It gives us an advantage in the NCAA Tournament because we can let the guys know that you have to enjoy the moment, but the biggest thing is that you have two games to play (at any give site). Everything else will take care of itself. Everything else is a lot of fun.
Having three seniors on the court, we shouldn't get rattled or caught up in the crowd. We're more concentrated on the game itself.
How much does the Pac-10 Tournament mean to this team?
We just got our rings from last year, so the freshmen definitely want to get one. For myself, Luke and Rick, it's our last go-around, so we really want to play well. Even if it may not matter if we win or lose (for NCAA seeding), but I don't think any of our guys want to lose any games.
It is something that can get us ready for the NCAA Tournament. A lot of guys could use some more playing time before the tournament to get their confidence up.
What was it toward the end of the season that sparked the better play?
I think towards the end of the season, the guys started understanding their roles, and understanding what they can and can't do. If you want to play, you have to practice harder and when gametime comes, you have to do whatever you have to do to keep yourself on the floor.
Do you find it harder to recover after playing in a conference tournament?
Not really. I think it's something that you're very excited about playing in the Pac-10 Tournament. You definitely want to win that. Selection Sunday is that next day, and you're very excited to get there and get to the tournament. A lot of guys don't think about being tired, they just think about who we have next and just advancing in the tournament.
It seems like you've been a little more of a vocal leader this year. Is that true?
I've never really been much of a vocal guy. It's just something that comes from playing hard, as far as the offseason, or conditioning, or practice. That's where my leadership comes from. When times get tough, that's the time when I step in and give my input. Every now and then, Coach Olson will step in and let me know that I need to be a little more vocal, but mostly my nature is to be kind of quiet.
What is your focus heading into Los Angeles?
The biggest thing is that we just want to win ballgames. We want to win as many as possible. We have a great shot to win 30-plus games this year. That's pretty big. Not many teams have been able to win 30 games. Plus, it's my senior season, so I definitely think that's something pretty amazing.
What can you tell the younger guys about the tournament experience?
Tournament games are a little different than regular season games. Tournament games are more physical. Every guy knows that if he loses, he's going home to watch the rest of the games on television. I think that realization is the hardest thing for a freshman going into the tournament.
How do you feel about the Pac-10 Player of the Year voting?
It's tough, but I'm sure it was a close vote. Luke (Ridnour) did a great job of leading his team and he had a pretty good year. I don't know how the voting went, but I think that Luke Ridnour is the one of the best players in the league.
Obviously, UCLA has a lot more to gain on Thursday than you do. Does that make them more dangerous?
They are playing well right now. They are kind of dangerous. A lot of people may be overlooking them. We want to go into L.A. and win these three games. I don't think Coach Olson is going to allow any slipping this week. Ricky, Luke and I have to let the guys know that going into this tournament, everyone is going to come after us.
Sophomore center Channing Frye:
Does it surprise you that Jason Gardner was not the Pac-10 Player of the Year?
Yes and no. He's on my team and everyone wants their leader to win those awards. Luke Ridnour did a great job and he is a great player in the Pac-10, but Jason is my guy. I want him to have the best because Jason deserves the best.
What do you look for from the seniors?
We look to them for a lot of things, but at the same time everybody looks to each other. At this point of the season, we've been through quite a bit. Me, Salim and Isaiah are kind of the older guys, and the freshmen are looking up to us. The seniors have done such a good job of preparing us that we are just playing like a team. Everybody is just looking for each other.
What do you know now that you didn't know last year?
It doesn't have anything to do with the game, it has to do with everything off the court. Just the intensity that the people have during March Madness is something that I can't explain, and I have been trying to tell the freshmen. You just don't understand it until you've been through it.
We have a job to do at the Pac-10 Tournament. A lot of people are saying why not play the freshmen and sophomores and let the seniors rest this weekend. Everybody wants to win on this team. We want to go out and win anther championship.
Is there anything about Jason's career that really stands out?
I could go through a list, but I think he does all of the little things like hustling and taking a charge. Those are some of the things you don't always see from quote-unqoute superstars. Jason has just racked up a bunch of numbers. If you look, he gets rebounds, assists, steals. In every situation, he is there, whether it's mentally or physically.
The three seniors, I really take my hat off to them. I always strive to be an all-around good player and those guys have really set a good example of what that is. All three of them do the things that Coach Olson wants, and now everybody is trying to do that. Andre and Hassan came in thinking about offense, but now they understand the whole game isn't about offense, there is defense, too. Now they are making a name for themselves on the defensive end.
Did the Pac-10 Tournament help in your development last season?
Definitely. Last year, I came into the tournament in a bit of a slump and I was able to go out and get myself in a pretty good rhythm over the weekend.