Oct. 12, 2010
Head Coach Sean Miller
"You know, really since our season ended a year ago, with so many players returning from last year's team and having the ability to add the three newcomers that we did, our entire focus has been to do things better than we did a year ago, and I don't just mean in terms of the wins and losses. As much as it is just to be better at everything it takes to win and have a great spring, we had a longer spring. That's not a good thing but it's an advantage moving forward."
"I thought our team did a great job this summer. At one point we had all thirteen of our players here for about a seven or eight week period in July and early August. A lot of good things happened during that time, and we followed that up with the beginning of the school year where the experience from a year ago and the continuity that I think develops when you have the same things happening, the same terminology, the same staff, some newcomers returning, you could really feel that in our approach this fall. As we've gone through our conditioning program, our skill workouts, and now our team workouts preparing for first practice, that leads me into saying that we're in a much better place than we were a year ago, especially at this time, and to me we have to be able to take advantage of that moving forward as we approach the beginning of practice and the long season ahead."
Last year's word was patience to describe the team, attach a word to this season.
"Improvement. We want to be better, and we expect to be better. And being better by leaps and bounds, I don't know if that's going to be the case, but I do know that we have the ability to be a better team, and head in that direction that we all want to eventually head. A year ago we ran a mile on the first Friday of school, it's a tradition that I really believe in. We did it at Xavier, where I came from, and what it does is it's a benchmark for the condition and the commitment of the team that you're about ready to coach, because in the summertime you're not able to work with your players. So, you give them a time, frontcourt players, forwards, and guards, and they know the time, they prepare kind of on their own, and then if they make the mile run then conditioning starts in the middle of September, and if they don't, it starts right away."
"Last year we have twelve players run that mile and we had four make it. This year we had 13 players run the mile and 12 made it. When I talk about being better at the things that are important to winning, that may seem small, but I think it says a lot about what I mentioned here at the beginning, and that is having a highly competitive environment so that our players get better individually, we become better as a team, and have that consistency in what we do and how we do things."
"That's what the great programs in this country have, that's what we've had at Arizona for a long period of time. We're at the beginning stages, clearly more up the ladder now than we once were of reestablishing that here. The people that benefit the most are the players and I think you'll see some of that when you interview our team here today and as you watch us here early in the fall. Some guys that you look at have physically changed quite a bit since a year ago."
Is there a noticeable difference of upperclassmen trust this summer compared to last summer?
"That's something you don't have a great gage of when you first come to a place as a new coach. It's something I know now that maybe I didn't a year ago. You almost automatically assume you're going to have buy-in right away because you're a coach that came from a place that was successful, you really believe as does your staff in how you do things, but really, why should they trust you? Especially if you're a new coach in a place that's had several coaches and really no continuity in the recent past. I think we really started to see that in the spring, once the year ended, and it was about another year. You can really tell that the returning players were anxious, eager to have a spring program. Anxious and eager to get the goals of the future and the way we're going to do things, and that's all part of being in a better place right now than where we were a year ago at any time. And that I say with great confidence."
What about Derrick Williams and his development?
"Derrick, first off, combined his off-season by being here in Tucson and doing a great job in school. Physically working hard and working on his game. He also went to some other places where he competed against players of his caliber, players in other programs who've had great seasons and I really think the combination of both of those things has him in a really good place to start off his sophomore year. Because one thing you realize about Derrick, he hasn't been a top-20 player since he's been in sixth grade. You can make the argument that out of the five freshmen we had a year ago, he was the least heralded of the five. I think what he's really figured out is that he is a good player and that he can dominate games, and that he has a chance to be a great one. Defensively is his biggest challenge. Like you would expect, freshman being his height, what we asked him to do a year ago, there were times on defense where he'd probably be the first to tell you he didn't feel right. Playing against those big centers at times and playing against those different teams, so him being a more consistent, better defender, better rebounder, in addition to what he already does well is going to make the team a lot better. I really believe that he'll do that."
What's Williams' mentality entering the season?
"What you have to be able to do as a head coach is reach players, you have to take the weaknesses with the strengths, the good and the bad. Derrick is completely humble, has great humility, very unassuming, great teammate, and then there are times where you almost want him to be a little bit more prominent on the court, and that's what we're working with him to establish. He's going to do a better job in that area. Obviously there are times where he did that as a freshman which is hard to do and that will come easier to him now that he's played 31 games of college and has gone through now an off season post his freshman year."
Will he continue to play small like last year?
"Let's just call it like it is. Very few college basketball teams play with what you call a true center. With somebody who has incredible height and scores close to the basket, period. If you really think about that, how many teams in today's game have that? It's forward driven, it's forward heavy. Derrick's not a five, he's a four and that's how we used him on offense last year. The challenge was on defense, where he was forced to guard players that were much heavier, much bigger than him. So how we use him on offense, I don't think I'd be a very good coach if I changed that a whole lot because of how much success he had, but getting in the game with Kyryl (Natyazhko) or Alex (Jacobson), and having a chance to get a lot more out of a bigger player, we can do that, and that will have more to do with their improvement than his.
How much confidence did Kyryl Natyazhko get by playing overseas?
"He was in Tucson quite a bit. Like Derrick he combined more than one experience. Kyryl, if you look at the numbers he posted in the European championships that he played in, there's a reason why he was on the all-tournament team. He led his country to heights they hadn't had before, and he left with great confidence. He's been slowed a little bit recently by a back -- I wouldn't call it an injury -- just a condition which we're watching. I think he'll be fine to start practice later this week. Up until that point, you could really notice he was more sure of himself, and like a lot of big guys in college, that improvement from a year to the next can really be dramatic. I have great confidence that Kyryl will be a better player as a sophomore."
Do you feel you've made the needed strength gains in the offseason?
"Part of our gap in strength, was just our youth. That many freshmen that were playing, in addition to several sophomores ... they haven't had the time to grow and get older through those off-seasons that make a guy big and strong. We've gained a lot in that area and that's one of the things you talk about being better as a team, there are a lot of basketball qualities that are showing in having a bigger stronger team. If you look statistically, two areas we are trying to be much, much better in, that I though we were very bad in a year ago -- and it hurt our ability to win -- is offensive rebounding. Being able to get more than one shot. Today's game is about that in college. You look at the Final Four and inside of our conference, who is the best rebounding team in our conference: Washington. Three of the Final Four teams a year ago were among the nation's best in offensive rebounding. Where were we? One of the worst in our own conference. We finished ninth in offensive rebounding percentage. Being bigger, stronger, deeper, adding someone like Jesse Perry to what we already have, getting second shots has a funny way to go to replace someone like Nic Wise, who meant a lot to our team last year."
"Second thing, defensively, and there are a lot of things we should improve on defense are two point field goal percentage defense, which inside the arc has to do with how big you are, how strong you are, being in the right place, I would say we were equally bad at that a year ago. It's a reflection of our youth, our newness, and maybe our lack of size and strength. It's not like we've recruited five 6-foot-9 players that make us a lot bigger this year, but we returned so many players I think are physically bigger and stronger, can be in the right position. If we shore up those two areas, our two point percentage defense, offensive rebounding, and you're going to look and ask what does that mean. And it means that we are a much better team, and that's part of our quest to be better."
Talk about Jamelle Horne's preparation to be the sole senior leader?
"Leaders come from within. We can't say `Jamelle, you're our leader' the team has to say that. And so looking at Jamelle as an individual and I can only look at what's gone on since the end of last year. We had several important talks in the spring, making sure we were on the same page as a coach, staff, and Jamelle moving forward. We asked Jamelle to do a number of different things, and he's done everything. He's really in a good place to graduate this spring, at one point, he really wasn't and he's a smart kid, so that's great that he's gotten that. And that took a lot of work. He was here in Tucson all summer. He never went home, unless it was a long weekend or a break. Went to the Pre Session, Summer I, Summer II. The long days of summer in Tucson, he was here the entire time."
"A year ago he was 208 pounds, and now he's above 220. He's one of the guys we are talking about being bigger and stronger. Just in terms of his mindset, I think what he wants out of this is to have the best year at Arizona that he's had in his senior year. He won't be the first player that the light goes off in a positive way in the last year, and I really believe that. For him to be better than he ever has before is one of many factors that will play into our team's success. He is the only senior, he's the player that's been here the longest, he's played the most minutes, and to have him be consistent, be better, that would be a great shot in the arm for our team. Jamelle in a sense has earned it, and he has to keep doing it, and that's what is going to allow him to be a leader. His teammates really seeing him do things the right way, day in and day out, and he's really done that the past four or five months."
What are your thoughts on some of the preseason thoughts of finishing second behind Washington, and expectations on the season?
"I hope we finish in second. That means we're competing for the Pac-10 championship and that is one of the expectations here. I'm certainly not attempting to trick anybody. Competing for a Pac-10 championship, being part of an NCAA tournament, having teams that advance in the NCAA tournament and move toward that final weekend of the college basketball year, and the next year being able to do it again and again and again. From my perspective, the starting point of doing that isn't around the corner. The starting point was two Aprils ago, and we're building to get to that point once again. It's a long, hard road, you need good fortune, there's nothing guaranteed. For us to compete this year for a Pac-10 championship, we're going to need to have a lot of these things I'm talking about come true, but certainly I think we're in the mix, as with a number of teams to be able to do it."
With the loss of Nic Wise, how much heat is on point guard position?
"Our point guard this year is going to be more of the quarterback you have in college football. You want him to be smart, manage the game, run your system, and improve as the year grows. That's what we need to have happen for (Lamont) MoMo Jones, Jordin Mayes, and maybe Kyle Fogg in a certain period of time. MoMo's improvement a year ago gave me great confidence, I knew he was going to have a really good off-season, and he did. I think he's eager to play that position full-time, and to improve, and I think we'll have some moments where it doesn't look right, but I'm confident that he has the ability to be a very good player at that position."
"I like Jordin Mayes as a compliment to MoMo because Jordin can do some things differently than MoMo's. For example, I would say Jordin is one of the team's best shooters. He has a great looking shot, and will only get better as he starts to be a part of what we do every day. Being able to bring him in and change the look of what we do is a good thing. Kyle in particular, he's a junior now, and if we ever got caught in a pinch he can certainly do that (play the point) as well. We don't have that guy who's been here, that you'd expect to give the ball and he'd take over, but I do have a lot of confidence in MoMo and I think his teammates do. I think you'll find that he'll be fine in that position for us."
Do you have to temper MoMo in the point guard spot?
"Yes. The name of the game for him is assist/turnovers. How many assists do you have in a game and how many turnovers do you have. That's an easy one. I think sometimes when you're not playing the point you don't worry about that statistic as much. Some games where he'll score more than others, but what we're really counting on him to do is to be able to run the show, play terrific defense, and be an improved player from a year ago.
What are you doing to get the team back to the NCAA tournament?
"Everything. (laughs) We are working hard at it every day and the more you talk about it the more it makes no sense if you're a coach. For us, the way we get there is to have a great October. We need some health. Injuries can knock any good team out, we want to be healthy and hopefully we'll have some good fortune there. We want to continue to work hard and do the things that I mentioned before, and do them better. Offensive rebounding and two point percentage defense makes you a better defensive team. We're a team where there's not a lot of difference between our players, and you can make that a positive. We should have a highly competitive environment for practice every day, minutes are really going to be earned, not given. There's really not a lot that's been predetermined right now, and it's the way we go about our business that's going to get us there. It's a matter of just earning it.
Talk about Jordin Mayes as backup point guard:
"Jordin Mayes has played against great competition his whole life. He's worked very hard. His high school career speaks for itself. He's an all-city performer, someone who's won the last two California state championships where he's had a huge role on both teams. He's got really long arms. He has almost a 6-foot-9 wingspan for 6-foot-2 height. He's got a great basketball body. I think as you watch him evolve, you're going to see that he has that look as a guard that you want to see. He's smart and he knows what to do, and I mentioned that he comes to us already a very good shooter. You see a lot of high school guys enter college and that's one thing as a perimeter player if you have going for you can make your transition easier. I think both Jordin and Daniel Bejarano have that going for them entering college.
What is Jesse Perry's skill set?
"Jesse Perry is more of a versatile, face-up forward. He's more 6-foot-7 than he is 6-foot-8. He can really put the ball on the floor and get to the basket, driving it. He's better driving the ball than he would be posting up. He's not a very heavy guy, but I think he has a relentlessness to him, a quickness to him that really allows him to come in and push Jamelle every day. We may be able to play those two guys together, maybe some, but we have a guy we didn't necessarily have a year ago, where we don't have someone coming from another position on the court to play that position. We have someone who is hungry and eager to play more."
"Jesse is older. He's not from high school. With five freshmen becoming sophomores, adding someone who's already a junior makes a lot of sense. His last two years in junior college he played in a lot of games in a very good environment. He played in a league that's a terrific junior college league. You can see that he competes and he battles, and I think he's going to contribute for us. He's similar to Jamelle in certain ways. Jesse can offensive rebound, I think he can put the ball on the floor easier than Jamelle driving it. He's a capable shooter, maybe not as advanced right now as Jamelle is. Someone who can catch, pass, shoot. He's a basketball player and is not afraid to stick his nose in there and mix it up, which is a quality that we need."
Sean it's your second year, looking back would you do anything differently?
"You grow as a program, you grow as a coach, and you learn a lot. I know a lot more now than I, or our staff, did at any time last year because we were in a new conference. Now we have a better feel for what that feels like on a road trip to Washington, for example. You know the styles of the other programs now than you did before your coached against them, but everyone has a starting point, and ours was last year. A year ago I was worried about how many games we could possibly win, 16-15 could have easily been 12-18, or 12-19. I don't know if it could have been 21-13. Looking back, I have a lot of pride in some of the things we were able to accomplish a year ago under some very tough circumstances. I know there is the objective to be better and to grow from that and that's where we are right now."
What is Kyle Fogg's role?
"Kyle, in an unassuming way, was a double-figure scorer in the Pac-10 as a sophomore and there aren't a lot of those types of players. His improvement really needs to be made on defense, and he knows that. Offensively he's much better off the dribble than he used to be and he continues to develop. When you look at him you see physically that he's much heavier than he used to be. As all of our players are, in a good way, and if they're not heavier, they're lighter on purpose. Kyle defensively has to meet his position and guard the players on our schedule who can really use screens and go off the dribble. Again, like so many factors we talk about, him being an improved defender is vital for our team's success. He's going to be one of the better players, better guards in the Pac-10 this year. He's played a lot of basketball in his two years. There are times last year, at UCLA for example, where he might have been the best player on the court. That experience is something he'll really use to his advantage as a junior. Basketball is a very physical sport when you talk about screening and defending for 40 minutes, and Kyle becoming bigger and stronger is something, whether he knew he was doing it or not is something that is a necessary ingredient for him to be better. Eight to 10 pounds heavier in the right way is going to serve him well. I've already noticed, watching him in our team workouts, that he's much further advanced than he was last year.
What are your thoughts on the team's depth?
"I don't know. I would say, do I wish we had a bigger team this year, yeah, but one thing I am really excited about there's certain things you don't have that you wish you had, and there are certain ingredients you are really thankful for. We have eleven or twelve players who think they're going to play, and three of them are wrong. (laughs) That's a good thing, having that highly competitive environment, coming to practice every day being ready to practice is what you want. I really believe that's something we've established in a short period of time. Players like Jesse Perry, Jordin Maeys and Daniel Bejarano should do nothing but help that. "
Where does Daniel Bejarano fit into the team?
"He can really shoot the basketball. Watching him evolve from late August here to yesterday, the conditioning test we do at the end of the fall, and of the thirteen players who ran it he was the first in terms of speed. It really says a lot about him. Earlier in September you would really question if he'd make it through the workouts. That's what you want to see in a player, and he's improving rapidly. To be a better offensive rebounding team, we want to play a better offensive rebounder in the small forward position. Solomon (Hill) and Kevin (Parrom), we are fortunate to have two guys who can really do it. A year ago part of what hurt our offensive rebounding was that we had Brendon (Lavender) at the three when he's really a guard. When I talk about improving, don't think about it in terms of flexibility, but more of where we want to be good, and that three, four, and five position for us, really having them head toward the offensive glass, getting more second chance shots is what we need to be better at.
What are your thoughts on the Pac-10 expansion?
"The one think I will tell you of my brief time being in the Pac-10 is I don't think there has ever been a better time to be in our conference than now. Watching Larry Scott and his team do the things they did this spring. They're about the right things and about progressing our conference, making it the very best, whether it be college football or women's basketball or men's basketball, and it's really nice to be a part of something where the leadership's in place like it is. Adding Utah and Colorado, I know from a college basketball standpoint being in the Pac-10 is only going to help their programs. When you add Denver and Salt Lake City to the already great western cities we have, thinking about the future television that's on the horizon, I can't help but think that we're in a great position moving forward from a recruiting perspective and being a student-athlete in the Pac-10 conference. That's where we're at and it's exciting to be part of that.
How well prepared is the program for Friday?
"The one thing you learn in October and November that you didn't know in August and September is that no matter how hard you think your team worked over the summer, they're really on their own more in those periods of time than they are with the coaching staff because of the NCAA rules and the time of year. October and November is the grind that you really experience. Day in and day out, who does it every day and who doesn't? Who can do it when they feel good and who can't? What we're looking to be as a team is to be consistent with our approach and work every day on those things that we need to work on and become good at those things that we want to be really good at and that takes a lot of daily work. Day in and day out, early morning, late at night. Saturday, Sunday, Monday, the next day off isn't coming soon. That's when you learn a lot about the team you have and I'm anxious to get to that period of time."
"Each guy has dealt with their bruises, and for the most part we're a healthy team overall and hopefully it'll stay that way. That's the one thing you can never account for. I think basketball may be tougher than any sport because there's only five guys out there playing, and that one injury can really knock you off course. We're hopeful we can have success in that area, in good health."