Oct. 12, 2011
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s head basketball coach sat with the local Atlanta media for 30 minutes Tuesday at the Yellow Jackets’ annual pre-season media day. Here are his comments.
So is the excitement building with the season right around the corner now?
Yeah, you know this week is kind of the prep week to Friday’s opening practice. We will have two team workouts this week, short but hit two different key concepts in terms of what we want to have in place for the first practice. A couple days off for the guys as well to get their bodies back and to kind of get them revved up for Friday at 5:00. I think our guys’ excitement is starting to build. This is a tough time of the year for the players; these last two weeks are difficult. Especially more so when there is a change in coaching due to the fact of you spend the spring and then the summer and then the fall, new schedules, new workouts, different things without any evidence of any tangible rewards. And so now you have another 5 weeks before you start playing games. So one of the things that we always want to do at this time of year is keep things fresh, keep the guys fresh. At least have some positive momentum going into the first practice.
Coach, you had mentioned that Jason Morris is back now. How is his conditioning, is that an issue?
I think it is probably a week, two weeks away from being 100 percent. He is 100 percent healthy, but maybe in terms of conditioning at the pace and things we are going to ask him to do offensively and defensively, I think he can improve on that. Sometimes the only way to do that is to get on the court. With the NCAA rules, there are some limits to that. I think he is in good shape cardio wise, but maybe basketball wise. And what you need to do is have three straight days of 2.5 hour practices to get to that shape.
How difficult will not having a true home arena will that make this season?
It’d be easier if we had one. I think it will be difficult but I think it is a challenge our guys have been prepared to meet. Especially early in the year with the games at Gwinnett, because of the situation our game plan is to go out there in the afternoon. We will have to stay in a hotel in the afternoon, team meal, team meeting before the game. My hope is that even for a home game, we start building some of that chemistry that can only be developed in hotel rooms and on bus trips and in locker rooms where you are sitting on bad chairs, you know what I mean, those types of things. That’s something that you need to embrace that challenge as a team and I think our guys will do that. We have talked about it and hopefully we will be able to use it as a positive.
Do you have to do the whole hotel thing to beat traffic out there?
That’s it. Yeah, you want us to show up at games. And it would be embarrassing to get caught in traffic and everybody’s there and there is no white and gold.
Any incentives for students to come to the Gwinnett games, or anything you guys have done to get them out there?
You know, I know they are working on some stuff with Gwinnett. Obviously, again, the problem is some of the timing. But there is going to be transportation. I know for sure as we progress into the season with Philips more accessible but still needing a great system to transport the students. What we want to try to do is to keep those students involved in our program so there is a smooth transition into the McCamish Pavilion. We are going to have to do some special things, I think the administration, our marketing department, so forth, are willing to do it. The feedback I’m getting from students is that they are willing to do it as well.
Coach, conversely, you are playing your games at Gwinnett and ACC games at Philips, is there an advantage to playing in a big facility like that?
We’ll see. This has been an unbelievable home court for us, the Thrillerdome. We get great crowds. A lot of our tradition has been based on games that we have played here. So anytime you can’t utilize that, causes some problems. At the same time, I think our guys will get a thrill out of playing in an NBA arena. We are going to do a lot of stuff to try to bring in some quality crowds obviously playing the best quality opponents at that time as well. But, the whole thing, the rims are 10 feet high, free throw line is 15 feet, and they keep changing the 3 so I have no idea how far that is. But, I mean, you got to go out there and play. And one thing I know, if you don’t defend, rebound and share the ball, it doesn’t matter where you play, you are not going to be very successful.
Is there a period of adjustment to get used to a new arena?
Well, it’s a new arena for who we play too. You know, it’s funny too because nowadays, so many programs like ourselves have these beautiful practice facilities that many times even if you have an arena, you practice only half the time in the arena. So do you want to get shots up in that arena, do you want to have a comfort level? Yes, you do. We are going to be able to get into both Gwinnett and Philips Arena prior to some games. But you know, sometimes you can get too caught up in some of that stuff as opposed to what’s really important.
Do you know what you already want to tell your team on Friday before you guys start practicing?
Do I know what I want to tell them? You know, I think the most important thing for us is to make sure we are streamlining the messages and the keys for us as a team. I’ve talked about one. One is valuing our work ethic more than talent or whatever the case might be and taking great pride in how hard we’re working. Because those are things, that if you do everyday, then you are going to play well regardless of who you are playing, what the venue is and so forth. I think the message that we have sent since day one is that on offense, we are going to play at a nice, very good pace and with freedom to make plays. With that comes a responsibility of we have to get better defensively and we have to get better on the glass. Those two are key points for us.
We are going to go see the new facility that is being built, how does that help you as you continue to build the program, going in to next years recruits’ homes, telling them they are going to be playing in a brand new on-campus facility? How does that help you?
Well, one of the things you have to do in recruiting in general is sell a vision. A vision of what the program is going to be like when the recruit is here, what his career is going to look like, how the program is going to advance in that time. This is just another piece to it. The one thing is that this is just a tangible piece in that vision. We are able to show him the proposals in terms of what the arena is going to look like. The one thing too in terms of our recruiting in particular of our next two classes, the class of 2012 will be the first class that gets to play in the McCamish Pavilion. They will be that first group that runs out of the tunnel. I want guys that are excited about being part of that first group. And then that second recruiting class, those two classes that make up the seven scholarships that we’ll sign during that time, will be the ones that act as kind of the cornerstone for the new direction of the program. They are going to have to add to what we have right now, which I’m excited about and those classes together are the ones in the new arena that will create the new vision and the future of our program. That’s exciting and I want guys who are excited about that.
Does having the smaller numbers this year, does that maybe energize them a little bit because they know everyone has to be counted on in terms of being able to come in and play?
Well, I do think this. I do think our guys are getting starting to get a much better understanding of the fact that we need everybody. One guy here or one guy there is very important. You would like to be able to have that same type of feel even if you had the full 13 players plus two walk-ons or whatever the case might be. Here’s the deal with great programs, great programs everybody feels an ownership in the success. When you win a game, the equipment guy to the trainer to the maintenance guy all feel that their part was significant in creating a championship program. We need to build to that, your point in terms of playing, I think our guys understand how important everybody performing their role and being dependable in that role for the success of the team.
You’ve talked about trying to reestablish Georgia Tech’s basketball, what does that mean to you?
I think that there is a national brand out there when you see GT, everybody across the country knows what that is. When it comes to Georgia Tech basketball, there was an excitement that always accompanied Georgia Tech basketball be it the dynamic art play of Mark Price or Kenny Anderson to the long range shooting of Dennis Scott to the athletic ability of a John Salley to Thaddeus Young to Chris Bosh. When you thought Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket basketball, there was an excitement. You thought of a passion because that the way Coach Cremins coached the game. You know, he was into it. You could tell he loved this place and loved his players. You can’t hide that stuff, and that’s something I think I would like. When people walked out of the building, I could only imagine. When people walked out of the building, they were worn out because they saw a team that gave it everything they had. They didn’t win every game, didn’t win every ACC Championship, but they were proud to call them their own. And that’s our hope.
When you took over your team at Dayton, they were experienced team, here a young team. How has that kind of changed the process?
It is a big change. That first team I had, man, we were loaded with seniors and they were great and they knew how to play and they were very good teammates. Then you had to build it back up, it took a couple years and then all of a sudden we have the culture, our culture in there. I was smart enough that first year at Dayton to implement some of our stuff but not too dramatic of a change because those guys deserved to end it the way they had started it and they did that. At the same time, it is a process here. These eight guys, nine guys now have done a good job of buying in but it still takes time. You just have to rely on the fact that they trust us and they are high character kids to keep pushing us along.
Do you have a certain number you like to use in your rotation or is that based on the personnel?
That’s based on the personnel. There have been years where I’ve had guys play, like first year guys, average 34, 35, 36 minutes a game. And then there have been times where we’ve had 10 guys average 19 minutes or more a game. You know what I mean. It’s altered a little bit, but we have a good system, offensively and defensively. One of the reasons I like it, it gives you the flexibility to adjust that system to your personnel. And to the versatility we’ve played with big guys Wazowski and Finn at Dayton, two great post players in the Atlantic 10. And we’ve played very small as well and we are very successful that way. And I like that the flexibility within that system, guys who have to execute it, guys who have to believe in it. But it does put guys in a position to be successful if they believe in it and if they execute it.
Is it four out, one in?
A lot of times, it is. A lot of times, it is four out, one in. Sometimes, five out with one kind of sneaking around in there. But yeah, primarily we play with four perimeter players and one post. I think this year teams, our post might have enough versatility where the guy who might be out can also score inside as well. But there will be times where we will play small as well. With four pure guards on the court, or four guys who have played guard their whole lives on the court. Again, the defensive concepts allow you to do that and the offensive pace and spacing allows you to do that as well. I will say one thing though, we have to score inside. We have to get the ball into the post and score. We have to get easy baskets, you get easy baskets in transition, off the offensive glass and in the post. And I think we’ve become a very good transition team, I’m hoping. I think we already were and can continue to be a very good offensive rebounding team. Now, hopefully there won’t be as many opportunities to rebound offensively as there were in the past. But we have to be able to score on the block. I think Daniel Miller is poised to have kind of a break out year. I think Nate Hicks is greatly improved. Kam is healthy as we talked about last week and Julian Royal brings a skill package in the post that is, as a freshman, intriguing and exciting to watch and develop.
What do you see from your players as far as your half court defensive pressure?
Still determining how much we can pressure. Our basic concept is five guys cover the ball. Everything we do is based on the team concept where no one is on an island; every ripple affects someone else. And that takes some conceptual getting used to and buying into as well. More so on defense. Guys are more apt to make the extra pass and share the ball on offense than they are to leave their man on defense to help out their teammate. There’s a cover yourself mentality a lot of times on defense and that’s not just with our team that’s with any team and you have to break that. Guys then all summer long play pick up and all these things and get away from that stuff. And so, where we can extend our pressure to is going to be determined probably not just the first month. I would hope that our guys have enough versatility where it may be game to game, where some games you feel you can pressure more and extend it and some games you may need to use your length more and pack it in.
Do you do anything differently given the numbers to get guys ready to play more minutes than maybe they would be comfortable with or are used to? Do you have to do a little bit more in strength and conditioning?
You know, I think our conditioning program is so good and it’s advanced so much with Coach Mike Bewley. Our guys run if they lose in practice, they run when they miss free throws but we don’t do a lot of just running. The pace we play creates the basketball shape that we want our guys in. I think the one thing that we’ll have to do, you know when you are playing 11 guys or 12 guys, you can practice for four hours, great competition. You’re not going to be able to do that. You know, you’re not going to be able to do that.
So it’s the managing the burnout?
It’s managing overworking them and that’s a fine line. That’s a real fine line because we are going to pride ourselves on working hard. And our guys are good. I think that they have shown that they are tough enough to be able to do what needs to be done in this preseason to get ready the first game.