March 14, 2010
Were you surprised at today's result?
No, I'm not surprised. You know it was interesting over the last few weeks as I've talked to a number of people here in Tucson or those affiliated with our program that it's been so long since anything but the NCAA Tournament has been the topic that you could tell that people weren't up on how the NIT has changed. The NIT is a true selection process. Performance is how you get into it. I'm sure that we were close to making it. But if we would have made it, the days of, for example, hosting it because you have the most people in McKale or that you make the most money have ended. You could tell by following it this year that performance is what makes both tournaments and we probably fell a little bit short.
Looking at how the first year has come and gone, this is really the first time I've had a chance to look back on it as a whole. A lot of it is what I thought it would be. We were able to win 10 games in our conference and that is something that we are proud of. We did go to the Pac-10 Tournament as a four seed. Some of the home games, some of the wins, some of the drama we had this year...at times we were a very resilient group that allowed us to have a chance to win 16 games. We were probably closer to less than 16 than we were to more than 16 and we got a lot of experience for our younger players, which is going to be a bridge from now to our future.
I can't thank Nic Wise enough for what he did for this year's team in setting a tone for a bright future and for making all Wildcat fans proud of him. He's on track to get his degree in May and was a first team all-Pac-10 performer. He had a very meaningful senior season.
Have you seen any of the players today or did you watch this selection shows as a group?
Our game plan, because we knew that it was going to be close, was to meet at 7 p.m. and if we were fortunate to be in the NIT field, we would then practice tonight and get our game plan set. If we weren't, we would have our final team meeting in terms of this year's team and start to set our sights for what is really important and that's improvement and having a great offseason.
Do you have a message for the team?
We've talked a lot up to this point and I feel like our team has a realistic understanding of what we are good at and what we're not. I think every player can walk out of the locker room holding their head high. I knew that this would be a year that a lot of question marks would linger, and that's what's it's been. By the same token, being able to implement a style of play, being able to have the crowds we had at McKale, to have so many players a part of this year that will be a part of our future and now for our coaching staff and myself to recruit and do some things this spring and summer that Arizona hasn't been able to do here in the last few years. We want to take advantage of that and do the things I was brought here to do.
Did any of this - like The Streak -play into your decision making process a year ago?
Selection Sunday is a special day for the teams, for the fans and for the coaches. You always juggle what it would be like a year from now on this very day and when I looked ahead - and I think I've said this time and time again - no coach would come to Arizona with a six-month window of evaluation and say we did this or that. It's so much bigger than that. It's so much a two-year or three-year where will you be in the future and how will you build. I have to be truthful and say that I watched a team in Xavier with great pride get a six seed today. I feel excited and hopeful that they will be able to advance.
You said you declined a CBI bid, why?
That's really not what our program is about right now. The goal here is to make the NCAA Tournament and be in a position for a seed that can advance and can threaten for the Final Four. I'm going to sound the exact way I did when I got here. The building process and doing things the right way is at the forefront. Recruiting Arizona players ...making sure that everybody who returns, returns better and making sure that everyone who is on our roster is about winning. It's about team. It's about togetherness and having a bigger picture than six months. In another six months, a culture will be developed, a way of doing things will be developed. Not only by miles, but sometimes in inches we'll continue to improve and emerge on the national level and within our conference. It's going to take a lot of hard work and patience. Part of the story is written and there is a lot of hard work to go.
It's a weird way to see the season end - by committee rather than on the court:
Yes it is. It's what you don't want to be a part of, but at the same time what we have to do is to make this a positive. To have that many players who in the six or seven weeks can get visibly stronger, can get closer together to work hard on specific things that can make them better will set the course for a great summer. For our staff to recruit and to add a piece to a puzzle, and it's an important piece. Consider where we were as a program this time last year, and we have a great opportunity to impact our program in a very positive light as we move forward and continue to improve.
Some of the last few teams into the NIT were teams you defeated. Do you think about the justification?
No. I don't ever what to represent that. Some of the coaches of the NIT selection committee are Hall of Fame coaches and there are teams who made that NIT field that are heartbroken because they were just inches from getting into the NCAA Tournament. That could have maybe been Arizona last year at this time. For us, It's about going from where we are right now to where we're going and getting better, considerably better.
Now that you have the time, how will recruiting fit into the plan?
We have to be selective. We don't have a lot of days left by NCAA rules, so we we'll make sure that every day we use counts. But there is nothing more important than developing our players, and making sure we are on the same page with them and their future this spring becomes the no. 1 priority in our program with our returners and who we can add to next year's team.
We didn't have a spring program last year because school was just about over and we didn't know each other. Those are all the things that mean a lot to building a program, not a team. A program that can withstand the test of time and be consistent, that faces change, but the results are the same. Obviously, everybody here has watched that for so many years under Coach Olson. You don't do that in six months or even a year, but moving in that direction is what the best programs have...a great summer on top of a spring, a great fall with recruiting being a part of those three seasons and you come back around and say, wow, you've really moved in a positive direction. Moving in that direction is essential.
How do you think the players will react to tonight's meeting?
I'm sure in one way they will be disappointed. I will tell you that the goal here is to get back to the NCAA Tournament as quickly as we can. The only thing you have to do to learn how much college basketball has changed is to just take a look at who is not in the tournament this year. Sometimes take a perspective of how far teams can tumble. Me being from Ohio and coming here can say that a couple of years ago we were in the Elite Eight against UCLA in Phoenix and Ohio State was moving its way through the NIT. Evan Turner was a freshman. Today, two years later, they are one win away from being a No. 1 seed. Last year, we all know North Carolina cut down the nets and looked unstoppable and this year they find themselves in the NIT. That dramatic change five or 10 years ago, college basketball didn't experience. You can really see that swing. A few short years ago, Steve Alford was just taking over the program at New Mexico and you look at the great season he had with a No. 3 seed. It can change quickly and we all appreciate the teams that seem to be the same year in and year out. That's what we aspire to re-establish here at Arizona and today is the first step of it.