In looking back at the season, there were certainly some ups and downs. The main thing is that we kept the streak of 20-win seasons alive (20, longest in the nation) and kept the streak of 23 consecutive NCAA (Tournament) appearances (also longest in the nation). We played well enough to win 20 games and we played poorly enough to lose (11) games. It was disappointing in a lot of ways, but I think there are a lot schools that would probably be excited to finish in a tie for third place in what’s proving to be one of the toughest conferences in the country.
A lot of people are happy to get in the NCAA Tournament, so it was nice to have had that opportunity. In terms of looking back at that game, there were a lot of opportunities when we got the score down to two and four points, but did not have the capability, as we had in our final five road games in the Pac-10, to finish the game off. But I think it was pretty obvious in watching Purdue against
I had an opportunity to watch the Pac-10 teams and I thought the teams played really well. As I said before the tournament, I thought the way our officials worked the games during the season was beneficial to our teams playing the in the NCAA (Tournament) because the games were called very similarly, very physical, with the way they are called in the NCAA Tournament.
Beyond that, Ivan (Radenovic) has had an invitation to play in the (National Association of Basketball Coaches) East-West (All-Star) Game, which will be held Friday evening (March 30) at 7:30 (EDT) in
Also, Chase (Budinger) has been invited to try out for the U.S. Under-19 Team that will have tryouts in July and then the team that will be selected will play in the Global Games in
Mohamed (Tangara) has had an invitation to play with the
Otherwise, the rest of the guys will be attending summer school here. There will be some that we’ll want to remain here for the entire summer. One of those is Kirk Walters. Another is Jordan Hill because we need to continue to work on their strength, and hopefully, by that time Kirk will be cleared to work out the way we want him to work out.
When will you find out about his redshirt situation?
It will be submitted now that the season is over. I think (a decision can be expected) sometime in June. It’s just a severe case of mono. Hopefully, by the time we get to the middle of May he would be ready to workout without problems.
You’ve had long seasons before, but this season started in mid-August. Was it a long season for you?
Oh yes. We had 10 practices before we went to
What about psychologically?
The whole thing is that this has been a great group of young people to work with. It hasn’t been a case of problems in practice or anything else. They have been a great group of guys...great chemistry. I’d like for it to be that way every year. As I look at it with the experience that we got with the freshmen. It doesn’t make any difference whether you are talking about our freshmen or anyone else’s, that was pretty obvious with
This group was a great group to work with. They’ve done a really good job in the classroom. They’ve been great in the community. There hasn’t been anything we’ve asked them to do that they haven’t done. I think they’ve done a great job of representing this program.
Are they disappointed? Yes, they are disappointed. There are 16 teams left and everyone else is disappointed.
Would you do anything differently?
We met as a staff this morning. As far as planning and everything else, there isn’t anything we’d change. I just finished talking with Ivan and he feels that from a player’s perspective he wants to know what they could have done to not have this happen. I said, ?'well, that’s the way the coaches are feeling.’ He said there wasn’t anything the staff could have done that they didn’t do.
We’re just evaluating how we went about it and what we need to do differently. The biggest thing is that we need to be stronger and physically more aggressive. That’s not anything that we’re going to approach any differently. The way this league is getting now, you have to play physically.
We’re going to continue to work on the physical part of it, but also the mental part, too. They have to be pushed to the nth degree in everything they do with weights in the workouts now and in the fall. There will be a lot more emphasis on developing the one-on-one offensive and defensive skills and less time on shooting. With the big guys, you still have to work on footwork, but we’ll make better use of the blocking dummies to get them more accustomed to the physical nature of the game.
You can see from watching the games in the playoffs, it continues. It doesn’t matter who you watch, the games are all physical. That’s the way they are being called. It’s not a game of finesse really any more, it’s a game of strength. Much more physical than it’s ever been...a lot more. If you watched the games through the first two rounds, it’s been the most physical I’ve seen in my 34 years of coaching or 28 of the last 29 years that I’ve had teams in the playoffs.
Talk about Jawann McClellan’s comments about taking on a leadership role:
The thing that I like about Jawann is that he is a tough-minded kid and he is tough physically. I think he can add a lot to this team next year just by his attitude toward the game. He’ll do a good job with his leadership. It’s going to be a case, like this year when he was able, he was always tough and hard-nosed. I had the players go through an evaluation, and the most aggressive was Jawann by a long ways in terms of the voting of his teammates. And that’s what we need. He’s physical, very aggressive and he’s accustomed to winning.
The biggest thing now with him is the challenge of making sure he continues working on keeping that weight down in the 205 area and doing the rehab things away from school that he needs to do. That’s just something we have to count on from him. He’s already planned for being in a situation this summer where he can work out against good people, physical players. We need Jawann’s toughness and we need for to inspire others to be tough just like he is.
Can you talk about Mustafa Shakur and his impact on the program?
Mustafa played so well early in the year and then tailed off. In the first half of the season, he played as well as any point guard in the country. You know, the (NBA) scouts see him all year long, so I’m sure it’s going to be a case of where the determining factor in terms of where he goes will be in the individual workouts much more so than playing in
He’s been the point guard on four NCAA Tournament teams. One year to the Elite Eight, one year to the second round where he played really well in both games. As I’ve said many times, I’ve never had anybody work harder. That doesn’t just include the practices, because I know what he has done in terms of working on his shooting. When he first came in his shot was a tremendous problem, and he’s worked hard at straightening that out.
I think this year was a year where they couldn’t back off him like they had in the past. He?'s a four-year starter at the point for us. That’s not an easy thing to do.
I told Nic a few weeks ago, ?'I bet he feels like Jason Terry felt as a freshman.’ Being a freshman is not easy. It’s a huge adjustment in every way that it can be. I though he made great progress during the year. He’s a totally different player than when he first started.
I just talked with Fendi. He was talking about the first week of practice his freshman year where he thought that we were talking a different language, and just in terms of learning the game, how much he’s progress that he’s made. I told Fendi it’s all there physically. He just needs to be much more intense on every ball possession. He has a great body, tremendous hands and great lift. He’s worked hard on his shooting. A year ago, he couldn’t even drop it right-handed. Now you can’t play him just left or he’ll go right on you. So many of those things you haven’t had the opportunity to see in game situations, but we see everyday in practice and so does he.
If he couldn’t play physically, I’d tell him. He just needs to be more intense. He has to sprint the court both ways. He has to be on the boards every time the ball is up in the air. We had a good talk. The biggest thing is getting them into a position where he can operate in either spot (small forward vs. power forward). When I look at a guy to become a three-man, like Richard Jefferson, who played inside all the time in high school, I was never worried about it. Richard had the physical ability and quickness to play on the outside. He just needed to learn the ball-handling skills and all that. Fendi is the same way. He has the quickness to defend people on the perimeter. He needs to intensify what he is doing out there in terms of taking on a challenge. He has as quick a set of feet as Richard has, and Richard has done pretty well with that. Sean Elliott was an inside player playing in the middle of a 2-3 zone when he came here. So we’ve seen that with a lot of guys. Fendi could play either position.
I talked with him about the (Carl) Landry kid from Purdue. What makes Landry so good? It’s the intensity with which he plays the game.
What are your thoughts on the NBA’s 19-year age limit?
I said at the time that went it that it was going to be the worst thing that ever happened. The high school guys that want to go, you should open the door and send them, if that’s what they want to do. But I think if you look at what happens now, they come out for one year. It’s wonderful if you have them for one year. Maybe they are a little bit better prepared for what’s going to face them, but I would much rather have had it stay the way it was. Frankly, it has to be tow years or none at all. Right now, with those freshmen that were involved this year, you can bet that everyone of them was being chased by agents and runners. It takes a really stable kid and a stable family to deal with that. Unfortunately, that’s not what you are going to find in a lot of cases where a kid is looking at one and done. I said at the time it was a terrible rule and it’s proven to be. If you asked coaches around the country now would they rather have it the way it is with one year, or none if it’s not going to be two. The great, great majority, and I’m saying 80 or 90 percent, would tell you either let them go right out of high school or require two years.
What can we expect to see from Chase Budinger next year?
Chase has been quoted as saying that he wants to be the best college player in the country next year. I think that’s a realistic possibility. When I talked to him the other day when we got back about the letter we were holding regarding the USA Basketball Under 19 team tryouts, one of the first questions he asked me was whether he would be able to work on his strength while he was doing this. It’s important for all 19-year-old to understand how important physical development is. From the beginning of the year until now with Chase, there has been a lot of progress. As much as he would have liked? No, but I don’t think he realized coming in what the difference was going to be. He became much more aggressive as the year went on. But there were times when he had one really good game and not a very good game or a great first half and not a great second half. Against Purdue, he had no rebounds in the first half and six in the second. I don’t think he suddenly developed rebounding skills at halftime. If you want to be the best player in the country, there is no time to coast.
The injuries this year really depleted you...
Yes. Jordan (Hill) really should have been a back-up to Kirk. Is he better right now than he would have been? Yes. Jawann’s situation the last two years has hurt us, but there is nothing you can do about it. You can look at it that it gave Chase a whole lot more minutes this year than he might otherwise have had. It would have affected Chase or Jordan.