March 18, 2009
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by the student athletes from UCLA. We'll open it up for questions.
Q. Darren, how is your back feeling?
Darren Collison: It's feeling a lot better than it was prior to the USC game. Not really a hundred percent, but getting close today. Today in practice, I thought they did a good job defensively. That was my main concern, if I could really put pressure on the ball. I thought I did a good job of that the last two days.
Q. You are seeded 6. You have quite a tradition. Yet when people talk about filling in brackets, they pick VCU as a team that could upset you guys. What do you think of that? Why do you think people are saying that this year?
Josh Shipp: For us, it doesn't really matter what people think of us. We believe in each other. We know what we each are capable of; what this team is capable of. For the outsiders, this they don't believe, that's good for them. But for us, we know what we're capable of, and we believe in each other, so that's all that really matters.
Q. You are somewhat unique in how many times you've been in this. People always talk about that in terms of experience, but they don't elaborate on it. If somebody said to you, What is your library of knowledge? What is it about this thing that you think you've learned over the years?
Darren Collison: Well, we just won a lot of games throughout the past three years. Being a 6 seed doesn't really matter to us, because we know what we're capable of as a team. We have a lot of veteran guys that have been to the Final Four three straight times. Even though this year we're not expected to make it again, it just makes it that much more challenging and fun to us.
We like to play as a team, but we're also competitors. We like to compete and go against the grain. So if everybody is saying it's going to be an upset tomorrow, that's fine. That's something we're going to use as motivation.
Josh Shipp: That experience, I mean, is key. A lot of players, they don't make the tournament. For us to have gone to the Final Four three straight years is just huge. I think it just speaks for our program, how we prepare, how we do in this tournament. It says a lot about Coach Howland, how he prepares us to play in these game situations.
Q. Darren, you and Eric Maynor are probably going to go in the first round of the NBA draft. Can you talk about that matchup a little bit?
Darren Collison: I think it's going to be an exciting matchup. Nonetheless, it's nothing I haven't seen over my years at UCLA. UCLA got a chance to play some big games against some big time players. I know he's looking forward to the challenge. It's something that the fans want to see and everybody else wants to see.
But my main focus is trying to just get the win. Everybody has been trying to say it's going to be an upset with VCU. That alone, like I said, that's right there motivation for me just try to get the W.
Q. Darren, you're used to playing the first and second weekend on the West Coast. How different has it been this week having to fly 3,000 miles? How has it changed the preparation?
Darren Collison: To be honest, when we first knew we was going to the East Coast to play in Philadelphia, everybody was up for the challenge. I don't know if it was probably because of the last loss, everybody was ready to play again. I could be real serious, everybody is really up for the challenge. That's just a good sign.
I heard that we were one of the teams that traveled the most in this tournament. That's fine. They can place us wherever they want to place us. The bottom line is, you're gonna play in the Final Four in Detroit, which is an East Coast place, so why not get ready right now. I don't think it matters to us, Josh, everyone else on the team. We're just focused on trying to get a win collectively.
Q. You're coming off an off game. How important is it for you to rebound from that, especially given this is the tournament?
Darren Collison: It's extremely important. You always want to, you know, make sure you're prepared, make sure you do the things necessary, in order to perform well. Coming off a bad game, you don't ever want to have two bad games in a row. I think it's a lot more easier that it's tournament play. Takes a lot of pressure off of me and I can go out there and just play.
Q. Darren, now that you've had a chance to look at the film, what looks defensively do you expect from VCU and what challenges do they present for you on that side of the court?
Darren Collison: We haven't really seen too much defensive clips. Based on our practice, what coach was telling us, they like to do some 2 3, run and jump, a lot of trapping. So we've been prepared for that.
It's nothing we haven't seen all year long. So we're real prepared to play against them.
Q. Young and old, a big mix here. The challenges of that, if you could talk about that.
Josh Shipp: It has been difficult at times for us this year. A lot of older guys, I think we just expect and are used to players just knowing how to play the game and buying into our system right away. We all came together. The older guys, we all bought into it together and we knew the system.
But at times it's kind of hard, and we forget that we need to teach the younger guys. I think we do take that for granted sometimes. They're a great group of guys. They learn fast. They've been great for us here. We've had a few mishaps. Like I say, those younger guys, they're sophomores now. This is the end of the year. I expect nothing but great things from them in the tournament.
Q. You may well have known about Eric Maynor. Did you know anything about Larry Sanders before their championship game? Have you seen enough tape of him to know what kind of challenge he'll present for you tomorrow?
Josh Shipp: Yeah, we've heard about those guys. They're both great players. They do a lot for their team. I think they do present a lot of challenges for us. But I think we're gonna be up for it. We've been preparing all week, watching film, going over it in practice.
I think it's going to be a good game. I think we just have to come out there with a great effort, execute, and we should be okay.
Q. In traveling the 3,000 miles, is there any thought that might be a good thing because you're away from all the distractions being closer to home?
Josh Shipp: You could look at it either way. If we're close to home, we could have all our fans there. You might say it's a distraction, because we have family around and stuff. But, I mean, we're ready to play. I think at this point it doesn't matter. You just got to block everything out and you just got to go out on the court and play the game.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, guys.
We're now joined by coach Ben Howland from UCLA. Coach, we'll ask you to make an opening statement.
COACH HOWLAND: Well, we're excited to be here. You know, every year you get in the NCAA tournament, it's special.
Philadelphia has got a great history and tradition of college basketball. This city loves basketball, loves college basketball. The Big 5, just the history of what's happened here in the past is special. It's special to be here, playing here, back in Pennsylvania, back in Philadelphia.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for coach.
Q. You're getting to be kind of an old hand in the NCAAs. Does that give you any special advantage from your point of view?
COACH HOWLAND: I think it helps when you have players that have played in the NCAA tournament in years past. We have three starters in Aboya, Collison and Shipp that have been in the tournament now four years in a row. In Josh's case, actually five years in a row; one year he was a redshirt. And have had good success. I think that helps to have players that have that experience, along with Mike Roll and James Keefe and Dragovic. They were all on teams that have done well.
So I think that's probably the most important thing, 'cause it is about the players.
Q. What have you seen with VCU in your film work, what do you expect from them?
COACH HOWLAND: Number one, I've been very impressed. Anthony Grant is an outstanding coach. He has a great background, when you look at the years he spent with Billy Donovan. He was on the staff that beat us in 2006 for the national championship. He did a great job. He really has done an unbelievable job when you look at his record, hitting the ground running there at VCU. His record is just incredible in league play.
They've had big wins, a year ago over Maryland, obviously two years ago over Duke. Then you talk about this year's team. Maynor is just a fantastic point guard. There's no question he'll be an NBA player. All the NBA scouts that I've spoke with, you know, see him in the first round for sure. Then after you watch them on tape, you say, I understand. He has a great feel for the game, a great change of pace, a great ability to go from stopping to starting quickly with the change of speeds. Really good feel for the game.
He's an outstanding passer. So you can see, you know, how much he's meant to their program since he's been here. He is very, very good, and it's a tough matchup. Everybody talks about the Collison/Maynor matchup. The tough thing is they set so many ball screens for him, it doesn't matter who's guarding him, if you're not doing a good job hedging those screens. As soon as he gets one on one with a big, he is able to split the ball screen, go opposite the ball screen; it causes problems for your defense.
Then I really, really like their big kid, Larry Sanders. First of all, I was a fan of the Larry Sanders Show. I did enjoy that, especially Hank Kingsley, the character that played Hank. He's got a great name, number one. But he is really long and athletic. His ability to change shots, not just block shots, but he changes a lot of shots. He is going to be one of the most prolific shot blockers in the history of college basketball if he stays for four years, being I think he had over 90 last year, and he has a ton again this year.
But he's a good scorer. He's tough to keep off the glass. He's active. He really runs hard. He's very skilled for a kid. He will be a future NBA player down the road. You have two NBA players in your 1 and 5, which are typically your most important positions. Then they're surrounded by a bunch of really good players.
I like Burgess a lot. I think he's a very good freshman. He doesn't play like a freshman. He plays like a seasoned veteran. He really shoots it. He plays 3 and 4. Rodriguez is a very good competitor, very good shooter. Really a tough guy. The Russian kid is a big, bruising force. But then they come off the bench, they play differently. They'll come in with Gwynn, 42. He's very active, athletic, does a good job when they're in their pressing mode when he's in the game at the 4 spot.
I like a lot of their guys that come off. No. 5, I think it's Rozzell, he's a very good player. So we know we're going to have to play outstanding tomorrow night to be successful against this team.
They've played a number of my major teams in the past. Obviously, the win over Duke. I talked with Jamie Dixon a couple years ago, I remember, that they had a good lead, then VCU came back and put it in overtime. They were lucky to get out of Buffalo alive. So we know they're very, very capable.
Q. That was a very eloquent answer on VCU. Sounds like you might have picked them in your bracket. A lot of people are picking VCU as the most likely lower seed to pull off an upset. Does that bother you, considering UCLA's history, the past three years?
COACH HOWLAND: It doesn't bother me. You can look at how good they are, the fact that they're two hours from here by car, so they're going to have a lot of fans here. Their history suggests that they can pull an upset. In the same exact situation, it was 11 6 when they beat Duke a couple years ago.
But obviously we want to win the game. So we understand that we have to play very, very good basketball to be successful against VCU.
Q. Josh was here before, and I read throughout the year, he said at times it's been hard talking about senior/freshmen and he said, We've had some mishaps. I wonder if that was a constant struggle to say to your leadership guys, It's more than going out there and playing. Did you have to have this conversation in terms of getting them to help the younger guys understand your system?
COACH HOWLAND: Well, I think our younger players have really developed nicely as this year's progressed. Till like the last three practices leading up to tomorrow, Jerime Anderson, has really played well. They probably haven't got as much playing times a they normally would because we did have some veterans coming back. But a Malcolm Lee, Jerime Anderson, Drew Gordon, obviously Jrue Holiday starts, is an outstanding player. I'm really excited about J'mison Morgan. He had a great practice today for us. All those kids are going to be good. But it's tough no any freshman. It is very difficult being a first year player, whether it's at the college level or NBA level or ninth grade when you're going to varsity for the first time. It's just different. It's new.
When you're playing against guys that are juniors and seniors and they're all out to get you because you were the highly touted high school player, which all the kids we recruited are, you know, but it's a good experience for them.
I think they'll be very prepared to carry on the tradition. Next year when we lose our three seniors that have been the leaders this year, I think they've done a good job. Alfred Aboya is an outstanding leader in the way he leads by example every day. Nobody works harder and nobody has a better attitude than Alfred Aboya. He brings it every day, without exception. And that's why he's had the success he's had this year for us. He's an outstanding defender. But he does all the little things. I think he's really been good for the young kids to see what it takes to be successful just in terms of a work ethic every day.
Q. You being shipped out here to Philadelphia, about 3,000 miles away, did you take that as a slight considering what you've done the last three years? Do you consider it also maybe a good thing because you're away from all the distractions you might face at home?
COACH HOWLAND: No, we'd rather be in the west region just because the travel is easier for family of players and friends. Since the NCAA has gone to the pod system, I think it's been a real positive overall trying to keep the high seeded teams closer to home.
Because Villanova has had such a great year, they were a protected seed as a third seed. Then when you look at the six seeds that are out there, you have West Virginia, Marquette being two of them, and they're not going to put them with a Big East team playing in the second round. So really it's just a chance of the draw.
For us, it is what it is. You control nothing when it comes to where you're put in the NCAA tournament. You have to be able to, you know, excel no matter where they put you. So we're, number one, excited to be here in Philadelphia, excited to be in the tournament, and really looking forward to playing tomorrow night.
But I think any team would be honest and tell you that the closer to home is always better overall. You know, it costs a lot when you just have two days', three days' notice for parents, family and friends to make it back here. We will be the team with the least amount of fans, coming from the home area. We'll have a lot of UCLA Bruin fans from out this part of the country, but not many from L.A., I expect.
Q. How do you feel your team is playing going into the tournament?
COACH HOWLAND: Well, we won five in a row. I thought we were playing really good until our loss to SC in the semifinals of the PAC 10 tournament. And they played very well. You have to give them a lot of credit. They had their backs against the wall because they knew if they didn't win the tournament, they were not going to get in the NCAAs. We were playing back to back days. The Washington State game took a lot out of us because they're a hard team to play, a very difficult team to play. Tony Bennett does a great job.
And, you know, I don't think Darren Collison really played well in that game because he had fell on his tailbone. So actually the two days off that we had Saturday and Sunday I think really helped him because he's had outstanding practices the last two days. And I think he's really revved up and ready to go for March.
And I don't know how much it would have changed our seeding. I think if we had won the tournament, we would have been seeded higher and probably stayed closer to home. So, you know, you have to evaluate what's better. It's like I told Jamie Dixon, I said, You know, I think it was a good thing that you got beat in the first round, because they had some guys that were banged up. Now you get to rest up and really focus on the NCAA tournament. Sometimes that's true for a team like that that is definitely a first seed overall. For us, we probably would have been better served to have won at least one more game in the PAC 10 tournament so we could stay further out West.
But we are where we are, and we're excited to be here. Looking forward to playing in front of the fans here in Philadelphia.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH HOWLAND: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by VCU student athletes. We'll open it up for questions.
Q. UCLA, what do you know about them, their tradition? What is the challenge there?
ERIC MAYNOR: You know, when you think about UCLA and the NCAA tournament, you just know they've had their history. You know, national titles, Final Four runs. You know, we know the last three years they've been in the Final Four. So we know a little bit about them. Everybody know about UCLA when it come to NCAA basketball.
Q. Eric, you're getting so much love from CBS, ESPN. There's no sneaking up this year. Are you enjoying that? Would you prefer to maybe sneak up?
ERIC MAYNOR: No, it's not about sneaking up this time of the year, I don't think.
Coach Grant, he does a great job of keeping us focused right there. You know, the only thing we think about is UCLA. We're not going to think about everybody predictions. He tells us we have a four game tournament really. We're worried about UCLA and then trying to advance from there with the winner between Villanova and whoever they playing.
Q. Larry, Obama did pick you to win. Does that mean anything to you?
LARRY SANDERS: I saw he picked. That was pretty neat to watch. It's fun when you're in the mix. But I think our focus is, you know, on UCLA right now, those 40 minutes between those lines.
You can't get wrapped up in it. But it's nice to enjoy it.
Q. Eric, that belt buckle, where is it physically right now and what's going through your head when it was presented to you?
ERIC MAYNOR: Actually, I don't know where it is right now. It's probably in the hotel. But, you know, it was just something that Coach Grant thought we deserved, you know. We had won our regular season title. We put it on from there. We kept it with us towards the conference tournament. Then when we end up winning that, we brung it out again.
I just think that was something good for me and my teammates, just knowing that we had accomplished the two goals that we wanted to accomplish.
Q. Eric, after you hit the shot against Duke, do you remember that?
ERIC MAYNOR: Yeah, we was just talking about it (smiling).
Q. Who is 'we'?
ERIC MAYNOR: Right here (indicating Sanders).
Q. How many months after were people coming up to you and talking about it? How much did it hurt not being in last year's tournament?
ERIC MAYNOR: That tournament was two years ago? So I still got people talking about that now. You know, just missing the NCAA tournament last year, that hurt a lot. I try to tell these guys, like, when you get to one, don't think all of a sudden you've arrived and you're going to be in the next one because it's hard work.
I think we show that we can work hard, and that's why we back in it this year.
Q. I know you have a lot to do during the year, your own games to focus on. Did you watch any of UCLA during the year? Were you following the PAC 10 at all?
LARRY SANDERS: I didn't get to watch 'em. Not at all, I don't think. Maybe some highlights. But I don't think I got to watch 'em.
Q. Now that you've had a couple of days to review film and get familiar with the team, what are the biggest threats and challenges they present for you tomorrow?
LARRY SANDERS: One thing, they're a tough defensive team, you know. They really hang their hat on that. Also they're pretty good in transition also. So I think, you know, taking care of the ball is going to be a big focus for us coming into the game. Just, you know, doing what we do, trying to impose our will on the defensive end. I think we'll be all right.
ERIC MAYNOR: I've watched UCLA on TV a lot because they be on ESPN a lot, you know. But just coming into this game, like Larry just said, you know, the way they want to play defensively, they want to dictate the game. But we just got to go out and, like he said, impose our will and play our style of basketball.
Q. Growing up, when you heard 'UCLA' what did it mean to you?
ERIC MAYNOR: I don't know about like growing up really. Where I'm from, with the ACC, so only thing I was thinking about was North Carolina. Didn't really think too much of UCLA. As I got older, I understood, you know, what they was all about. Just some words that you hear is 'national championship, ' so...
LARRY SANDERS: I didn't really watch basketball growing up. I wouldn't know (laughter). I didn't really watch basketball, so...
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, guys.
We're joined by VCU head coach Anthony Grant. Coach, we'll ask you to make an opening statement and then we'll open it up.
COACH GRANT: Well, it's an honor for us to be here. Obviously anytime you have a chance to participate in the NCAA tournament, it's what all of our guys dream about, it's what they came to VCU to do, to try to play for championships. We're excited about the opportunity. Obviously we've got a monumental task in front of us when you talk about a team the caliber of UCLA, the success that they've had in the past, and obviously more importantly the success that this current team has enjoyed over the course of the year.
Extremely well coached. Very talented players. So we're looking forward to the challenge with the game tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Grant.
Q. Looking at tape of UCLA, what are going to be your challenges here facing this team?
COACH GRANT: Well, it starts with their senior leadership, with Collison, Shipp and Aboya, you have three guys that have played in three Final Fours, that understand what it takes to win in the post season.
Obviously very well coached, extremely talented. When you look at them, any of Coach Howland's teams have always been known for the way they defend. I think this team is no different. The way they can force turnovers, the way they allow their defense to create offense for them will be a challenge for us. Then obviously extremely explosive, currently leading the nation in field goal percentage, among the top 10 in the country in three point field goal percentage. When you look at those numbers, one thing that we try to hang our hat on is our ability to defend. So we're gonna be challenged in those areas.
Then offensively we've got to do a good job of taking care of the basketball and make sure we get good shots as well. Several things I think when you're dealing with a team with the caliber of UCLA that you've got to worry about.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the matchup of these two point guards in this game.
COACH GRANT: Well, you know, Collison obviously I think when you look at what it all comes down to the impact you have on your team and their ability to win. He's taken this team to three straight Final Fours. I think that speaks volumes for what he's all about. At the end of the day, what everybody is going to remember, is who won. So it comes down to our team versus his team. I think if you ask he or Eric Maynor, they would tell you the most important thing is putting their team in a position to win. So I think ultimately it comes back to the team concept, not an individual matchup.
Q. What Eric did against Duke, that shot a couple years ago, some players that would be kind of the highlight, but there's been so much more with him. What does that say about him, that he's gone so much further than that, raised his game even to another level?
COACH GRANT: I think it speaks in terms of his competitiveness, the type of basketball player he is, the type of character he has. You know, Eric is a young man that has a great mom and dad. They've instilled in him a great work ethic, tremendous character. I think if you just talk about Eric the basketball player, you're missing, you know, a large part of who he really is. I think you look at the way anybody that has any extended conversation with him, has gotten to know him at all, will walk away, I think he's a guy that his personality makes you want to be around him in more ways than one. And I think it's something, if you listen to our guys talk, they talk about how much fun they have playing with him, you know, how much fun it is being led by him. He's a great teammate, just a great person. So I think his personality is not one that rests on his laurels or anything that's in the past.
You know, for our team, we have 11 players that will dress tomorrow. Two guys were a part of that team. So, you know, right now these guys have had a lot of accomplishments and I think they need to be recognized for the success they've had this year on their own. This team has nothing to do with what happened two years ago. We're facing a team in UCLA that presents several challenges that we've got to face. We're not going to live in the past. We're not going to worry about the future. We're going to worry about what we can control, and that's today. Today our task is trying to get prepared for UCLA.
Q. You have become the trendy pick for the first round upset. Is that something that you have addressed with your players, something you can use, or something you'd rather ignore?
COACH GRANT: You know, that has no bearing on us as a team. We've been picked to finish first, last, be in it, not in it. It really has no bearing, you know. We talk about, again, controlling the things that we can control. We understand how difficult a matchup we have. We understand how talented and well coached a team UCLA is. We're going to have to play our best to have a chance to win.
At the end of the day, that's what our focus is going to be.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH GRANT: Thanks, guys.
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