Indiana coach Tom Crean and players Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller and Christian Watford at Wednesday’s NCAA news conference at the Verizon Center:
Q. Victor, I talked with Mike Jones this morning and he talked about the work you did with Dave Adkins. Can you give us the sense of the kind of things you did with Dave. I understand you stood in front of a mirror?
VICTOR OLADIPO: Back in high school I used to come in early like at 6 a.m. in the morning every morning, about 6:30. We used to lift weights or do basketball work and Coach Adkins would make me sit in front of a mirror because my elbow used to be out and he basically changed my whole basketball form. My form was horrendous before then and he basically changed it. We kept my elbow in and we would dad same one two follow through motion until he left for Maryland so the whole year so basically the end of my junior year without him I wouldn’t have the work ethic I have, but without him I wouldn’t be the basketball player that I am today. And I credit him for just staying with me and working with me even when it seems like he had no business doing it.
Q. Victor, we talked to Coach Jim Larranaga who has great memories of this building, you had a lot of success in this building. Can you talk about your success in this building and the distractions that you’re having to fight coming back home with the well wishers?
VICTOR OLADIPO: I won a couple of city championships with DeMatha, won a couple of AAU championship games here, and there hasn’t been a lot of hoopla. My family has been fortunate to come out and watch me play because they live so close. I’m looking forward to playing with my teammates and coming out and playing Indiana basketball at a high level.
Q. Cody, you’ve seen a lot of styles this year, a lot of teams, who does Syracuse remind you of?
CODY ZELLER: Syracuse is unique because they’re so long and athletic. They obviously play the zone defense that we haven’t seen as much this year. I don’t know if there is one team or players to make the comparison to, but we definitely got our work cut out for us. It’s what they’re known for and it’s going to be tough us.
Q. Christian, the experience of the Sweet 16 last year, what do you bring from that to this and how is it going to apply tomorrow?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: Just our mind set, that’s the main thing. We’re a mature group so once our mind set is there, I feel like we can go out and compete with the best of ‘em.
Just go from there and kind of teach the young guys, you know, how the game is going to be and the tempo and how different things are now.
Q. Cody, any disappointment playing here as opposed to Indianapolis this weekend?
CODY ZELLER: No. There’s Indiana fans across the country. I’m sure we will have a good showing. We don’t worry about it too much. We just play the hand that’s dealt to us. We don’t worry about it too much and we’re excited to be here.
Opening comments from Tom Crean:
COACH CREAN: We are excited to be here, it’s an incredible honor to play in the Sweet 16. We got a great feel for it last year in Atlanta and to be able to come to this great building and play in the history of this tournament in such a great city for basketball like this is exciting. We got in yesterday afternoon and we practiced yesterday afternoon and since then it’s been a matter of these guys getting acclimated to D.C., watching some tape, doing some walk throughs, staying off their feet and enjoying themselves and coming over here today. It’s a great regional and to be part of it with Syracuse and Marquette and Miami is a big, big deal for us and we are excited and hope to play our best tomorrow night.
Q. Tom, what do you remember about the first time you saw Victor Oladipo and what were the circumstances? Was he in 8th grade?
COACH CREAN: No, I don’t think it was that young. I think it was probably the ninth grade year and DeMatha would always have so many players in their workout, young and old because it was such a great program. The first thing about his intangible is his eye contact. This is somebody that looked his coaches in the eye and looked his teammates in his eye and I know that sounds like a simple thing but in this day and age it’s not. So he stood out that he was aware, he had good self awareness. Then when you would see him play, the thing to me was the bust of athleticism, what he was like around the rim, and then just this innate desire to me to be a great defender, especially on the ball.
How he could spread out with these long arms and quick feet and get his nose down in the players’ chest and not hop and get beat off the dribble but really, really work at against so the athleticism and the desire to defend were the first things that stood out to me, and then watching him from a distance, watching how he was with his teammates and coaches, that eye contact. His personality start to go show, and then when you get to know him you see what everybody else sees.
The other thing that stood out to me, not necessarily the first time, but as good as he was with his teammates he was very, very comfortable with his coaches. No matter what their age was. He was comfortable in those groups. I saw this in the summertime when he would be with his team takeover program, and Keith and Kenny, he was just one of the guys, it wasn’t here is the coaches, here is the players, he was mixed in all that. Again, that sounds simple but it’s not. That to me is a big deal, because that shows that a guy really wants to absorb things.
Q. You have some familiarity coaching against Jim Boeheim’s zone with Marquette. How does that help you in preparation and what kind of a challenge is that zone?
COACH CREAN: The challenge never ceases, it’s always great because he recruits in my mind so that defense he’s got great length, there is great foot speed, they cover ground in a short period of time period of time, they move on the pass and not just the catch, there is shot blockers, that come from the wings, the long arm guards always create an issue. At Marquette we didn’t necessarily have the ability to score in the low post that maybe we have now. So it was a little bit different attack and we had good guards, people like Jerel McNeal, Wes Matthews, you know Dominic James, Lazar Hayward, so people like that that could make plays but we didn’t necessarily have the low post ability. It allows you to be a little bit more creative. I don’t think you can look at that zone and think you’re going to beat it any one way but I don’t think you can look at the zone and think you can stand around and pass the ball around the perimeter, either, that is a recipe for defeat.
We’ve got to be solid with what we do, assertive and aggressive and we’ve got to have a lot of ability to adjust and change against it.
Q. I know you guys have played a lot of styles this year. Does Syracuse remind you of any team that you’ve played?
COACH CREAN: Not really. The one team that plays a very good zone in our league would be Northwestern. The reference points we’ve given there is always certain characteristics of certain players that you try to reference with them this time of year. The thing they do on offense that they get in my mind very little credit for is how well they screen. There is an area where Northwestern’s guards and forwards are as good a screeners as there are in our league, I think, but there is really nobody that we have played, nobody that these kids have played that you can look at and say, yeah, we went through forty minutes of this, there is not.
That’s the beauty it of the tournament.
Q. Difference philosophically between your league and the Big East? Was there a philosophical change?
COACH CREAN: Not for me, not for me. We knew what we liked doing in the Big East, and the kind of players that we liked to recruit, the versatility, the athleticism. If anything, we have tried to put even more of a premium on shooting. In the Big 10, but none of us came in with the mind set that we’re going to recruit to the standard, prototype Big 10 team. That wasn’t relevant for us at the beginning. It was more relevant, let’s get length, athleticism, multi dimensional players, athletes and at the same time because we’re at Indiana let’s increase the skill level every chance we get and I think that’s what we tried to do. With that being said do we have the length and the athleticism that a team like this has? No, we don’t. Not a lot of teams do. You have to make sure your spacing is right your screening is right your post is right and attacking a lot of it different things. The similarities I think in the two leagues is that every night you’re going to play against star players, great coaches, deep teams, 7 or 8, deep enough, and I think that’s what prepares you to get to a point like this.
Q. Victor came in with Will and Will and Victor seem to play with an edge, especially Will. What’s the value of that edge? How do you employ it?
COACH CREAN: It’s like having an extra player on the floor, because when you get entitled and enabled type of guys they’re not going to go the extra mile. They’ll get buy for a while on talent and they’ll get things done for you but they’re not going to win big for you and there has to be intangibles and the edge, the eye contact, the awareness, the absorbing, all those things are huge but you’ve got to have, for lack of a better phrase you’ve got to have a real chip on your shoulder.
There is nothing wrong with that. That’s there is many a great player that have made many a great team that started out with that championship. The ones that lost it didn’t stay great, the ones that built on it end up legendary and it’s no different in college. You’ve got to have that. I think Victor and Will have that because it was never about just what they did when everybody was look or when everybody had to be there. It was about what they did when nobody was look or when nobody had to be there. It’s the extra work.
Jordan Hulls came in the same way, that’s why he’s the all time leader in games played at this point or tied for it at this point. I don’t know if anybody would have seen that coming four years ago, but there is nothing wrong with having that edge as long as it’s channeled the right way. Every once in a while will it get overstepped? Yeah, but so what? You’ve got to have guys that are not afraid of the big moments because they’ve practiced and prepared for those. They know that nothing is handed to them, that they have had to earn it and that’s what we are going to try to recruit at Indiana.
Q. As you talk to your brother in law, you seem to be into motivation and eye contact, what you guys talk, what seems to be the difference between dealing with young men at this level and dealing with guys at the next level? Is there a dramatic difference in the Coach/player relationship?
COACH CREAN: That’s a great question that I don’t think there is a huge difference. Number one, their league continues to get younger, and both of them are building younger players into their program, all the time. They’re coming in as rookies and second year players and having roles and moving up. So there is not a huge degree of separation with that. I think what those two have done and what I’ve continued to take from them is they don’t come in with a business mind set. They don’t treat their players like it’s business. There is a business aspect to it, but they really do try to build one on one relationships, they really do try to get “deep” in the sense of it’s more than just what we do from 2 5 or the eight o’clock quarterbacks’ meeting or the special teams meeting and I think that’s why those two are so successful because I don’t think they’ve ever stopped coaching how they wanted to be coached especially in the case of Jim because I think Jim played longer so he played for enough guys that he knew what it was like to have a relationship and a reverence to your coach and he knew what it was like to not have any relationship with your coach and I think he’s taken the best of those world’s and put it forth. That to me I still think I look at the case of John and the guys that they coach, the Ray Lewis’s, the Ed Reed’s, there is average to those guys, they love football. They’re all different but they love football and their coaches love football and I think that’s what you’re constantly trying to find in basketball. Our command ground is one where we absolutely love this game and working at it and learning at it and doing things with it that will make us better and I get inspiration from them on that. No matter how old their teams are they have a lot of that with them.
Q. Coach, the kid on this team from 10 wins to 12 wins to the Sweet 16 to outright champs this year, how is each one of those things prepared them for this moment?
COACH CREAN: I don’t know. It’s a great question. It’s a greater understanding all the time. You go through different experiences and it’s how you feel. Last year the Sweet 16 loss, while common wisdom on the outside said they’re going to be really good they attacked Kentucky, they scored 90 points, they’ve got all these guys coming back, our guys went to work like it wasn’t close to good enough. I think there is a big difference there. I think two years ago if they didn’t have a real desire to be successful we couldn’t have the spring and summer that we had. We had one of the two best spring and summers as I’ve ever been a part of, going to come to a year at Marquette and there was a real hunger that they could have done