Vol Hoops Media Monday (3/4/19)

Credit: UT Athletics

Opening Statement:
“Before we get started, I’d really like to send our thoughts and prayers out to the people in Lee County (Alabama) that got hit this past weekend with storms and lives that were lost. We ought to remember those people in our prayers.”

On being pleased with his team for the past couple of days: 
“Well, I think after the way we had gotten beat at Kentucky, we saw that we really weren’t in positions that we needed to be in. I think the biggest thing is that we got more of our fight back against LSU down there. We worked hard, and we’ve been able to continue to build on it because our guys realize, more than ever, that they’re going to be in close basketball games. They realize how important every possession is. They’re really holding each other responsible with the communication on the court, the communication in practice, and the accountability part. If you’re going to be great at something, it’s going to be when they own it themselves, and they certainly are doing that. In huddles, they’re talking about missed assignments, what has to happen, and what you have to do, and they really are holding each other more accountable.”

On how tough it is to keep the focus on the next game:
“You can set all the goals you want. Unless you finish it, it’s not going to happen. Our guys have worked hard at being in that position, but you have to finish. They started out, about a year ago at this time, knowing that they wanted to be a better team this year than they were last year, and they’ve done that in a lot of ways. They’ve put themselves in a great position to have another great year, but we have to finish it. That means you’re going to have to continue to have great respect for your preparation going forward, you’re going to have to have great respect for your opponent, which they do. But probably as much as anything is the respect for your preparation. Everyone wants to win when the referee throws it up, it’s just do you want to win two days out? A day out? Are you going to do the right things to get yourself ready? We have to stay focused there, and whatever the outcome is you’ve got to get ready to do it again. It’s a matter of, ‘Are you mentally tough enough to sustain what it takes to finish what you set out to do?'”

On Kyle’s play time: 
“He’s played well the last two games. He gets some tough calls, and the best part about it is that he’s getting back to being aggressive and doing the things, and it’s going to break for him, and I really believe that. And the last two games, he’s really played well. He’s gotten down and known what he needs to do. He’s got to stay aggressive. If he’s not, that’s when he’s not a factor, and we need him out there for more minutes. He also has some tough matchups, and he’s always going to draw the toughest matchup on the other team. That’s why it’s so important that his teammates own the perimeter and help keep the ball in front so he doesn’t have to make so many fix-it plays. With that said, Derrick Walker and John Fulkersonhave really started to give us some solid minutes that we need, and we need to continue to do that.”

On tomorrow being senior night:
“I think having intensity over emotion. I just bumped in to Kyle coming over here, and it’s hard. I said, ‘Well, I’ve been talking about it for a long time. That last game will come quicker than you think.’ He said it’s really hard to believe. And I think it is, for players, how quickly it really goes by. It seems like a long time, but looking back on it now, it went by really quickly, and we all appreciate this senior class. When you talk about Admiral and Kyle, you all would never understand Brad Woodson and Lucan Campbell and what they mean to this team. All you have to do is watch out game and how many guys come out of the game and walk right up to those guys and talk to them, because they’re locked in. They do as much preparation to help these guys get prepared as anybody. The fact of the matter is, if our team would prepare like those guys prepare, we might not ever lose, because those guys are tremendous. They learn the other team’s material quicker than you think, and they really give us a great look at what they’re doing. Those two guys, along with Admiral and Kyle, they’re the reason why we are where we are more than anybody on the team.”

On how tough it is to see Kyle struggle during his senior season:
“It is tough, but what I do know is that he can get out of it. My gut feeling is that he’s going to break through right here when he needs it most, and when we want him to need it most. He’s doing his part in terms of getting himself prepared mentally and physically. Kyle is a guy that has put his heart and soul in it, and I still think he’s just getting started with basketball. You wish you could keep him because his best is ahead of him, but I’m hoping that we’re going to get to see him do the things that we know he can do.”

On if he’s frustrated that Kyle Alexander didn’t have the opportunity to redshirt at Tennessee:
“We didn’t have a choice. I would be really excited sitting here knowing we had him back for another year, because I think the next year in his life in basketball is going to change everything for him. He would have gotten better from the year he should have redshirted. I always thought that about him, if we could have used him for five years, where he would be. We have reaped a lot of the benefits of him. But the next step, they are really going to reap the benefits of all the hard work he has put in.”

On the chance of completing an undefeated home winning streak this season:
“It means that you have had a great year, and your players have done a lot. But you go into this next game respecting your opponent. If I’m not mistaken, Mississippi State and Auburn were both picked in the top six in the league in the preseason poll. Both of those teams are fighting for the fourth spot in the league. With Mississippi State coming in, they are a talented team, and Ben Howland does a great job with his group. But we want to win, and we know it is not going to be easy. I think some of the things our team has accomplished this year, I think we will look back at it later and will appreciate it probably more than we do right now because we are in the thick of trying to finish where we are right now. It’s hard to think about what it means, and I’m not sure I can give you that answer until after that year when I can really focus on it. That’s not what we are really trying to focus on. We are just trying to focus on this next one. Not what can give us an undefeated season. We just have to worry bout this game.”

On if the team is more prepared leading into the SEC Tournament than it was last year:
“You like to think that we are. And if we are, and to answer that question, it will be answered itself over the next couple of weeks. If we are going to learn from our past experience, we are going to start by being prepared. The real focus is on your preparation. The noise and the excitement that comes with it, I think they can handle that. But can they do it where they come in and really prepare mentally for what we have to get done? It starts now. Whether championship week is this week or next week, the week after, whatever you want to call it, it’s about being prepared. I will be disappointed if we are not. We keep talking about our experience in our older guys, and they have been through it. By going through it, they understand how fleeting it can be if they are not prepared and ready to take advantage of the opportunity.”

On what it means to him to have a good relationship with the seniors:
“It’s pretty simple, I love these guys. When I think of my individual relationship with each one of them, they are all unique in a different way. I’ve watched Kyle Alexander really grow. Coach Lanier used to put out a video of him where he was like a newborn giraffe, hardly could stand up, hobbling all over the place. He’s gotten so much better. Admiral started overweight but is a worker. He wanted to go at it with everything he had. Then you throw in Brad, who was one of the first people that we met and offered him a chance to come and walk on when we got here. Brad will be great at whatever he decides to do. A couple weeks later, we found out that Lucas was on the track team, but he would rather be on the basketball team and he came over. Lucas and Brad’s personalities are totally different, but they both have a unique way. Arguably, you could pick them as captains of this basketball team in the way that they go about doing it day in and day out. The fact that they are probably respected as anybody on the team because they are who they are. They’re real. They’re authentic. They have poured everything they have into this program.”

On how special it was to hug Admiral in front of the whole team after beating Gonzaga earlier in the season:
“We all know that Admiral is emotional. He wears his emotion on his sleeve. There’s not a guy on the team that I haven’t coached hard and gotten after. But I do appreciate hard work. I do think it is a talent. Everybody doesn’t work equally as hard as everybody else. There’s a depth chart with who works the hardest on the team, and our players know who the hardest working is down to the 15th and 16th guy. They can put them all in a slot. The one thing about Admiral is he has always been at the top of that list. Maybe to a fault to be quite honest with you. His idea when things aren’t going quite well is to do more and more. Often times, I think he’s drained himself mentally and physically. I appreciate that, because hard work is not a given. You like to think that it is, but it’s not. Coaches don’t like to have to coach hard work. If you have to do that a lot, you’re not going to win very often. Your program isn’t going to be very successful. I think the guys in our program work hard, but Admiral brought some of that with him. He certainly has never been afraid of putting time in. He always wants to find ways to improve. I think Grant Williams would tell you that it helped him, knowing that he had to do a lot. What he had to do on the treadmill to get himself in shape before he could even think about becoming a better basketball player, he had to get right. I know how hard these guys work, and I know what Admiral has done over four years. When a guy can make a tough shot like that and win a big game like that, you do have some emotion and feeling for him.”

On why he thinks the two games against Kentucky played out how they did: 
“I think when we went up there we had been rolling along pretty well, and we thought that we would play the way we had been playing in previous games. They came out much more intense, much more focused. I can’t speak for John Calipari and Kentucky, but when you beat somebody by 20 or whatever they beat us by, they come in here and maybe they thought the same thing. We were definitely much more intense than we were in Lexington. It’s not even close, in terms of our effort. I don’t know if John is questioning his teams with that, but I questioned our team on how we can come out and play like that against an outstanding program, an outstanding team, a team that is coached unbelievably well. And I’m sure after the game here, John is asking those same questions, but it doesn’t mean that when we got beat at Kentucky we weren’t a good team. We were a good team regardless of that. Kentucky is an outstanding basketball team, can beat anybody in the country, and I like to think we can do the same thing. You’re dealing with young people, and I know that we let some of the noise affect us, where we thought we could just keep going at the pace we were. And at that time, even though we were winning, we were slipping. Those guys knew that because I was bringing it out to them weeks in advanced. We were not taking care of the details the way we needed to, and I said it’s going to get us at some point in time and it did. Then I said, ‘what are we going to do about it? You’re not going to go undefeated. Those days are over with. You’re going to lose, but when you lose, you don’t want to lose because you weren’t intense or that you didn’t play hard.’ When we went to LSU, I thought we played hard. I thought we were intense and lost a tough game in a very difficult way, but it wasn’t because of lack of effort or lack of focus. Those are the kind of games where you can play well and still lose. It’s the ones where you didn’t give it your best effort are the ones that really bother you. Can that work both ways? I don’t know. I would have never thought what happened in Lexington would happen that way, and I certainly didn’t think what happened here would happen that way. I expected both to be close, hard-fought games. That’s what I thought, but we are dealing with young kids that aren’t robots. Even when you think you might have them ready, sometimes they’re not.”

On what he sees of Mississippi State: 
Talented, they have guards that can get to the rim and make some very difficult layups. Quinndary Weatherspoon might be the best layup maker in the country. He makes some terrific shots around the rim. I like their balance. I think Lamar Peters is a guy that is looking to be point guard more so than shooting it and is just trying to create for himself. He can still do that, but he also can get in the lane and make some terrific passes. They’ve got guys that understand their roles and guys that need to rebound it. They’re just solid. They aren’t going to beat themselves. Defensively, you are going to have to work hard. They are long, they can turn you over, and they are great at capitalizing on turnovers. Not good, they are great at it.”


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