Indiana coach Tom Crean along with Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and Cody Zeller met with the media on Thursday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta to preview Friday’s South regional semifinal with Kentucky. The complete transcript of that availability follows:
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Indiana coach Tom Crean. We’ll start with an opening statement and then open it up for questions.
COACH CREAN: We’re honored to be here. I don’t think you ever take anything like this lightly, and especially with the fact of everything that we’ve gone through the last few years.
More importantly than that, it’s an opportunity for these players to do something they have seen since their childhood and thought about and worked towards and built their games for, and here they are.
There’s no doubt that there’s some great lessons for our team all year long, but the biggest one is that the more that you stick with it, the harder you work, the more extra you do, the more you persevere, great things can happen. And that’s what they’ve been doing this season.
So we know we’ve got a major, major task in front of us in playing this Kentucky team. We know how good this South Region is. We knew that from the time the brackets came out, and Kentucky is considerably better than what they were when we played them when they were No. 1 in the country, and they were really good then.
Their team is clicking on all cylinders. Their team defense is phenomenal. Their individual play has improved, which has made their offense better. They’re extremely, extremely well coached, and I think Coach Calipari has done a phenomenal job of not only making that team better, but making that team with so many young guys very, very cohesive and absolutely committed to sharing the basketball.
I think that’s a big part of why they’re successful.
Our success comes from many of the same things. We’ve improved. Our young men are getting tougher mentally and physically all the time. We’ve been through some great battles this year, some that we were successful in and some that we weren’t and we learned from. But they’ve continued to take every game for what it is, which is the most important game on their schedule.
When you’re coming off what we’ve dealt with the last couple of years, you have no choice but to treat every game as the most important game. If you do that enough, it leads to moments like this for these guys to play in an environment like this.
We’re excited for it. I’ll open it up.
Q. Tom, given what you’ve gone through, what are your
COACH CREAN: How are the book sales, by the way? Excellent book.
Q. Thank you very much. What are your memories of those early days at IU, those early practices? And were you to win this game, putting in context how far you’ve come, what would it mean to this program?
COACH CREAN: I think it would mean a lot. I think everything that we’ve done this year means a lot because, again, there was no ability we figured out early on that there wasn’t going to be able to be a time line or a timetable. Because you’re not starting over. You’re starting over in your program, but your competition is doing far from anything but moving forward.
And the competition in our league has been at an all time high the last few years.
So the first the practices on our team, we had a lot of guys that I’ll give them a lot of credit they had no true idea what we were really trying to do, they had no real idea what they were being asked to do, what they were being asked to do at the intensity level. It was challenging. They continued to understand it even when they didn’t want to, and they continued to make it part of who they are.
I think, if you saw us practice now, you’d see a lot of guys that that working hard and doing extra, that’s just part of who they are now. At the beginning, this wasn’t. They had to learn the value of intensity at the collegiate level and learn how to keep going when things weren’t when there weren’t any positive results on the court.
We didn’t have wins or strings of wins to give them that confidence. Their confidence had to come from belief that what they were doing would help them get there.
So for the program now to be in this position and to be playing against a team like this and to have already played them and had success against them, it means that a lot of people the players, the coaches, every one of the staff members, when you look at our doctors, our trainers, academic advisers everybody has been working towards a common goal, a common theme, and that’s to get Indiana back to some sort of excellence.
Q. Coach, what does kind of the historical significance given these programs and their backgrounds what does that mean to you, as someone who’s followed the game, what Indiana and Kentucky have meant to college basketball? Do you think your players get that sort of what these two programs have been about?
COACH CREAN: I think so. I think we’ve got a lot of young men that really love basketball, and if you love basketball, you’re a fan of it. I think they follow the game.
It’s like when they had that moment to see their name come across on the Selection Show, they’d seen that forever. And to have that be a part of it is really important.
The Indiana Kentucky games, those have always been big, and for me personally, there’s no question it’s a big deal. There’s always been a special aura around and about Indiana to me, and I would say the same thing about Kentucky.
When you grow up and you love the game and you get involved in it professionally, you know that these are two incredibly storied programs that have won at high levels for a long period of time. There’s a lot of household names that were coaches, players, a lot of household name teams, where people can remember a year and remember a team, and they can remember a lot of things about them.
I think when you have two programs that are like that, it’s great for the game, but it’s great for all of sports.
Q. Coach, how important is an early December game in late March, and how do you emphasize or de emphasize that to your players?
COACH CREAN: We don’t de emphasize it, but we don’t overemphasize it. There’s similarities. First and foremost, it gives players confidence.
So play a team like Kentucky, there’s a lot of different stages that you’ve got to go through, and belief is a big part of that because they’re so good. You have to literally believe you can win the game because they have the ability to come in and throw those first couple blows and punches in a game, and they’re hard to recover from. If you don’t believe you can win, it’s a lot harder to recover from that.
So I think those things play into it. But there are definitely certain things from the game that stand out, that are still very, very tangible for us. There are some things where they’ve improved. There’s certain parts of game plan that are still in play, and there’s others that we’ve changed.
So I think it’s like any other game you would play and then playing them again in an environment like this or a Big Ten tournament, you keep learning not only from that game, but from all the other games that you’ve played, and it becomes a product of all those experiences.
Q. Coach, the weight and the strength that Cody put on, on the floor this season, how much did that help him and help everything fall into place for the rest of this team?
COACH CREAN: I think they all worked really hard. A year ago right now, we were right away in our weight training. We were doing individual workouts. We were weight training. We’ve taken the shortest amount of time we’ve ever taken as a coaching staff from one season to the next. We took that spring break period, and that was it. We were right back to work.
So I think that everybody has gained considerably in strength. I think the conditioning again, what you learn when you start to succeed, the mental toughness that you get from that, that’s got a lot to do with your overall conditioning too.
I think Cody came in with tremendous mental toughness. I think the added strength has helped him. It’s helped him gain confidence in games. It’s helped him see that he can do different things. He can not only hold up, but he can flourish with a lot of minutes or over an extended period of time. Every time that he maybe got a little bit tired this season, he was able to recover from it so quickly because of that mental toughness and because he’s in such great shape.
So there’s no doubt that he came in and he attacked the weight room the same way, I think, that he attacks his game and his schoolwork. He put a lot into it when he got to Indiana. hen Cody and he’s locked into a lot of things. When he’s locked in, he’s one of those young men that’s got so much natural talent that it just kind of keeps coming the more that he works at it. I think that’s what his body has done.
Q. Tom, when I talked to Joani about two months ago, she said that in the last year, year and a half, you’ve changed quite a bit. She said she senses a piece about you now that you don’t sweat the small stuff quite as much. Your language has changed just a little bit. Do you think
COACH CREAN: My language has changed a lot.
Q. Do you think that’s true? And if so, why?
COACH CREAN: I know it’s true. I just think it’s I think when you go through tough times first off, you mature. So we have three children, and you have a big task like we have at Indiana, and then all of a sudden it’s a lot bigger than you ever thought it would be and it’s a lot more challenging than you could have ever imagined, and you realize that you’ve got to have really good people around you, you’ve got to have a great staff.
But you also realize that, no matter what you think, God is the one that’s going to be completely in front and center on this. I think what it does is you can shy away from your faith and think you’re going to do it on your own and think that things are going to work themselves out, or you can become a lot stronger as a Christian in your faith, and I don’t think there’s any question that that’s happened for me.
I’ve never been away from church. I always grew up in church. But I don’t think there’s any question that I feel completely different. I shouldn’t say completely different is not a good word. That I feel somewhat different just based on how I’ve learned a lot of new perspective.
It definitely comes from a closeness to God. It comes from studying the bible. It comes from different outlets, but it also comes from really looking at this in the sense that here we’re responsible.
When I brought my family out of Marquette and we came out of the winning and came out of all those things, it wasn’t they didn’t have anything to do with what happened at Indiana either, but it was my responsibility to make sure they knew that we could continue to flourish, we could continue to move forward as a family, and we were going to continue to try to do the right things.
And I think you really do learn to get out of yourself a little bit more and get a lot more into how everybody else views these things.
You don’t do it in the sense of you take a lot of direction from other people, but you really do care, and you want other people to feel successful and to feel confidence, and you spend more time trying to make sure that that’s happening rather than worrying about yourself.
I think that’s something that God gives you.
Q. Tom, two things happened in that first game with Kentucky that haven’t really happened much since. Davis in foul trouble, he hasn’t had more than three fouls in any game since then. Jones, I think Cal gave him a zero in that game, has been on a tear of late. How much do you prepare your guys for how different the game is if those two are both on the floor, if you can’t count on that, if they’re both out there and active the way that they have been most of the rest of the year?
COACH CREAN: I think we prepared for both of them to be on the floor the last time. I don’t think you prepare differently. You prepare for the very best.
You prepare for a lot of the best we’ve seen from Kentucky and show it to your team. We don’t want to spend a lot of time showing clips of people that didn’t play them right or didn’t come in with that mindset that they could beat them. You want to show their team at their best.
You’re probably right, they have not played much without Davis. I don’t think as good as each individual player is on the team, I think it’s a great credit to John and the way that no matter who’s there, no matter who’s not there, they continue to play at a really high level.
I don’t think that defensive field goal percentage is an accident. I think they’re really, really good. Their individual defense is strong because of their talent and athleticism, but he’s got them playing team defense in such a strong way.
Again, you prepare for the best of it. You don’t you have contingency plans for your own team. You don’t really base it on if two or three guys are going to be in foul trouble. That can drive you nuts.
Q. Tom, can you talk about how did you first get to know John and how your friendship developed over the years. Just what your relationship with him, what it means to you.
COACH CREAN: I think John is somebody we have a little difference in age. When I was a young assistant, I read a story one time that was in the old Big East magazine. He was coaching in Pittsburgh, and they used to put out magazines on the different leagues.
And there was a side story in there that it really struck home with me. He said, to make it and I’m paraphrasing, but to make it as a head coach, you’ve got to be known for something. And he said recruiting is what I have really wanted to be known for at that point.
And so maybe he got his job for the recruiting, but as I continued to watch him and get to know him a little bit, I kept looking at a guy that is a great coach.
Where it maybe really took off is when we were both in Conference USA, and we played them one night on a Friday night. I believe it was his first year. We won a game, and I remember talking about how really good of a coach I think he was and the things that we learned from him. And he thanked me later for giving him credit, he says, because he’s not used to that in his career with other people that they have faced.
That always stuck with me, too, because I think you’ve got to give credit where credit is due. If I didn’t know John, I’d give him a ton of credit for what kind of coach he is, but I do know John. I learned a lot from him. Our conversations are very much about basketball a lot of times. He’s been tremendous to me.
There’s no question in the last couple of years, as we’ve gone through this, that the phone has rang and I’ve answered it and it’s been him more than really anybody else outside of my family in this business. And I will always appreciate that because it wasn’t just hey, hang in there. Anybody can tell you that. It was tangible things: Have you thought about this? Are you looking at that? Things that really make you think.
And I think John has got so many things figured out, and when you watch him coach I always started, when he was in the league, watching how they defended and played against other teams, and I learned so much about spacing, so much about ball movement, a lot about the pick and roll game, things like that, just from observing him. And then we’ve been out of the league, so we’ve been able to share more of those things.
I would say with him he never changes. He always treats me the same. I like to think I do the same. I have tremendous respect for him.
Q. Along the same lines, you guys are such good friends, how do you come to terms with the fact that in order for you to have success, he has to go through a lot of pain? His season is over and vice versa?
COACH CREAN: I don’t think you spend a lot of time thinking about that. I think what you learn is there’s very few relationships I shouldn’t say what you learn. What I’ve learned. What I’ve learned is there’s very few relationships that can weather a lot of storms. In this business, it gets so competitive that you really just sometimes you don’t end up as close or you don’t have the conversations with people that you used to have. You accept it. You don’t wish anything negative.
Again, I still think there’s a lot of people out there that I would people would look and say, I don’t know if they’re this good, I don’t know if they’re that good, yet I watch them and learn a ton from. It’s the same thing in other sports.
I think, when it’s competitive like this, you just understand that it’s part of it. You have very few people that you really, really want that you’ve got those extra feelings for when they’re successful or when they’re not. I think, if you’ve got a couple people like that in your life, then you’re fortunate to have them. I would say that he is.
But it’s not going to change anything tomorrow night at 9:50, I promise you that. If he’s trying to get it, I’m going to try to get it back. That’s just the way it is.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you for your time. Good luck tomorrow.
We’ll take questions for the Indiana student athletes. If you have a question, please raise your hand.
Q. Cody, could you tell us about your involvement in the Zeller Sports Academy and running camps and how’s that helping others?
CODY ZELLER: My family Luke kind of started the distinction basketball camp, and my whole family kind of helps with it. They do Christian basketball camps, and that’s kind of the draw is basketball.
They teach them about values and stuff like that. So it’s a neat program. I help with it in the summers when I can.
Q. Jordan, can you talk about the three pointers in the first game with Kentucky, not just Christian’s but the others, and how important you think that’s going to be tomorrow night.
JORDAN HULLS: We’re definitely a good three point shooting team. It’s things that we look for obviously. It comes from when we throw it inside to the big guy and he finds us on the perimeter.
As long as we take the open shots, that’s what we’ve got to take. Like I said, Cody’s going to find us if we’re open, and as long as we have good ball movement, it will be all right.
Q. Christian, the Kentucky guys have talked quite a bit about the fact they got tired of seeing that ESPN commercial, seeing the shot so many times. I wonder from your perspective, what’s it like every time you turn ESPN on, there’s that shot again?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: I see it a lot. At some point, you just get used to it, and you just kind of see it all the time. ESPN does a great job of showing it.
Q. First of all, congratulations on getting this far. This is kind of a new experience for all you guys. Certainly, the last few years under Coach has not been this. People want to talk about lack of experience in the NCAA Tournament. Does that all go away after the first couple of rounds in your opinion?
JORDAN HULLS: Yeah, I believe so. I mean, there’s other guys who have more experience out there, but we feel like we’re just as good as anybody in this tournament. Once that first game was out of the way, the first game jitters, we were able to play our game, and as long as we can do that, we’ll be all right.
Q. I’m sure you guys have watched tape since your December game. Both coaches have said that both teams have improved since the game in December. How do you think you guys in particular have improved? And then what you’ve seen of Kentucky, how do you think they’re different than they were in December?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: I feel like we’re playing with a lot more confidence than we were playing with back then. As far as Kentucky, they’re gelling a lot better. They were kind of young. The season was at the beginning. They’re getting their chemistry together. So they’re a lot better basketball team.
CODY ZELLER: Just like he said, just little things here and there. Players have developed quite a bit, and it’s a long season. I think everyone’s kind of improved quite a bit throughout the year.
Q. Jordan, Remy didn’t play in the first game against them. What kind of advice do you give him on just how to go about defending their quick guards?
JORDAN HULLS: Just play the way that he’s played for us all year. He’s had big minutes for us. We have a lot of confidence in him as long as he goes in there and plays his game and does what we need him to do.
He’s done a great job thus far. He’s just got to keep his man in front of him and get the ball where it needs to go.
Q. Christian, what’s been the key to the resurgence here in this Indiana basketball program?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: We’re just together more than anything. We’re a great team. We play team basketball. We share the basketball with the best of them, and that’s basically how we play.
Q. I’m assuming that you guys didn’t do a lot of losing in high school. When you’re going through what it is the last couple of years, the idea that you’re to this point, I know you wished maybe a couple more trips to the NCAAs, but is this a little sweeter now that you guys have actually gone through the process, as the gentleman just said, getting Indiana basketball back?
JORDAN HULLS: It was definitely tough going through those past couple of years. I know Cody really hasn’t experienced that as much, but it was definitely tough on us. I feel like we built a lot of character going through that adversity.
It does make it a whole lot better this year that all our hard work’s paying off that we put in in the off season and so forth. It’s a good feeling, and we’re honored.
Q. Cody, during your childhood, Indiana basketball, obviously since that one Final Four in 2002 wasn’t what it was in the years before, so when you were growing up in middle school and high school, what was your impression of Indiana basketball?
CODY ZELLER: Throughout my life, Indiana basketball hasn’t been real great, like you said, other than the year they went to the championship.
Once I got into the recruiting process, I kind of got to know Coach Crean and these guys and got to know the program pretty well. So I had confidence in what Coach Crean was doing in the program, and I based my decision on that.
Q. Coach Crean was in here and said last year he gave you a week off as he prepared for this year. Was there ever a time in the last couple of years where you guys wondered if it was ever going to turn around?
JORDAN HULLS: No, not at all. I knew coming into the program, when I made my decision to come here, that was what we wanted to do, bring this program back to where it was. Obviously, it was very difficult, like I said, to go through that, but I never had any doubt that Coach Crean was going to get us and the players were going to work as hard as we were going to do in order to get those wins and start turning this program around.
So I never had any doubt about it.
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: I didn’t either. I had no doubts with this program, the way we were constantly working and making changes as individuals and as a team. We just constantly stayed in it and constantly grinded and got better.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, thank you very much. Best of luck tomorrow night.
Filed to: 2012 NCAA Tournament