PHILADELPHIA – Tom Crean, Nick Zeisloft, Thomas Bryant and Yogi Ferrell took the podium on Thursday afternoon at Wells Fargo Arena to preview Friday’s Sweet Sixteen NCAA tournament matchup with North Carolina.
Watch the full press conference below:
Quotes are available after the jump.
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Coach Crean. Questions?
Q. Talk about this challenge coming up tomorrow night, in this round, especially against North Carolina, and what’s the keys for your team tomorrow night?
TOM CREAN: Well, it’s a great challenge, because I mean they don’t put anybody out on the court that can’t defend at a high level or score at a high level. And I think one of the things that separates this Carolina team so much is the way they pass the ball. So it all starts with your transition, because they get out and run.
The only thing in our league that’s close to this is Iowa, when it comes to how quick they get out after a made basket. And Carolina just keeps putting more forwards out that continue to get out — they do such a great job with their first three steps of getting out on the break in every area and throwing the ball ahead. So you have to get back. There’s no — you can’t be in the middle of the court. You can’t be wondering who you have. You can’t be thinking about who is going to get to the rim. If you’re first, you’ve got to get to the rim. The other thing that they do such a great job at, it’s not just the offensive rebounding in the court, it’s offensive rebounding in transition. Everybody has to not only get back and stop the ball, be protective of the rim and the shot, but you have to get back and find a man that blocks out. And their offensive rebounding is astounding, with what they do in the half court. And the key for us offensively is to get great movement, have great decision-making on the break, whether it’s the break is there, whether it’s not. But you can’t give them live ball turnovers. They do as good a job as anybody in the country at turning your turnover into a dunk or a layup. They have a lot of length, and they try to really shrink the court, because of the way they come off the wings and because of the length of the forwards.
There’s no question that decision-making and all-out hustle, you know, with a purpose, getting back, defensively, and then just being really ready to rebound constantly are going to be keys to the game.
Q. A lot of times, if people don’t start right away, they get impatient, but Yogi, his freshman year averaged under eight a game. Could you talk about his evolution from then and what he’s grown the most in and where you see him maybe even for the next level?
TOM CREAN: You know what Yogi did a great job of? He was one of the best players in the country his senior year in high school and he won two state championships, finished runner-up for a third as a sophomore. And he came in and completely immersed himself with his teammates, because we guys like had Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller. Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls and Derek Elston were seniors.
And he was a tremendous leader in his own right for us with the way that he delivered the ball, the way he defended, made open shots, and he did a fantastic job with that. And what he continued to do over time was get more and more confident scoring the ball, more and more confidence defensively. One of the great workers I’ve ever been associated with when it comes to not only how hard he practices but what he does extra.
And what he’s done this year is he’s totally taken his leadership to another place. And I think that’s what’s made him even that much more of an incredible player, because he not only leads his teammates but he shares — he talks to them constantly. And Yogi is a very, very smart player — a smart person, but he’s a very, very smart player. And sometimes when guys are really smart they don’t always understand how much you have to share your knowledge with your teammates. And he does an excellent job of that, and I think in turn he’s been impacted so much by them not only because the other guys are talented, but because he feels that confidence back from them because he sees it come out on the floor.
So I think here’s a guy that has always had — he’s been a known player back in the Midwest since probably the fifth grade. And what he’s done is to do whatever it takes for his team to be successful. And this year he’s at a high. And I think his next coach in the NBA is going to be very, very happy with the player that he’s going to get, because Yogi is not only a guy that can make the NBA but he’s a guy that’s going to be able to impact teams going into April, May and June, and that’s what you really want the deciding factor of a player to be — not are they draft-eligible, not can they make the NBA, but can they go in and really impact the team. And I think he’s heading there.
Q. There’s a lot of history in Philadelphia with this tournament. And certainly with Indiana. What is your sense of that, and the ’81 game for sure? What’s your sense of the history in Philadelphia?
TOM CREAN: I think it’s tremendous. And when you look at the national championships that have been won here, they’ve heard about that this week. We certainly — I wish we could take them and tour the Spectrum. We should go take a picture outside in the lot there. We had a great day today. We went and practiced at the Palestra. And they understand how big that is to me. That’s a bucket-list deal for me for us to be able to get in there. And that was fantastic.
But they know the history. And they see the pictures, because the Sports Illustrated cover of Isaiah Thomas hangs in our locker room in a full-sized poster. And they know the history. And they’re basketball fans, so they understand that Philadelphia has got great basketball — it’s one of the great basketball cities in the world let alone the United States, and not just because of the history but because of the way people keep honoring the tradition by the great teams that are here and by the fact that so many really good players and coaches keep coming out of this area.
I’ve only played in this building as a coach one time when I was at Marquette. It was a Big Monday against Villanova. It was incredible. I told them from the very beginning they have no idea how exciting it’s going to be to be in that arena. But it’s like everything else we do, whether it’s history, whether it’s being at this level. We’ve got to stay absolutely locked in to what we’re here for, which is defending and competing against an outstanding Carolina team tomorrow night.
Q. Tom, for those of us from North Carolina who haven’t seen a lot of your team since December 3rd, in what ways have you guys improved the most since that night at Cameron?
TOM CREAN: Well, I don’t know if there’s been any team that’s been held more accountable to what they did from December 2nd before than this team. And we’ve had to live with a lot of that back home. But the good thing for these guys is they don’t let it affect them. All they did was get better. And we weren’t very good that night. And we’re almost at three and a half months now. So it’s just crazy that we continued to have to look back at that game. Because I’m not sure we learned a lot from that game.
What we learned from that game was we need to be more aggressive. What we learned about ourselves is that we control that aggressiveness. We control our ball movement. We control our ability to not only be connected defensively, which we’ve really become, but to really get out and run. And as poor as our defense was early on in the year, our running game was equally as bad, because we weren’t getting enough stops. We weren’t getting out and playing fast enough. And really pre-Morehead State, which was December 5th, the one game that we really did it right was in the Creighton game. We played really well that night against a team at home and then we didn’t move the ball as well and we weren’t as connected defensively.
But I think everything is continuing to improve because it’s — the fact of the matter is the guys continue to get better at Indiana. And they don’t just get better through practice and they don’t just get better through schemes and Xs and Os. They get better fundamentally. And it doesn’t matter if you’re Yogi Ferrell, who is a McDonald’s All-American, or some of our freshmen like OG and Juwan that were mildly recruited. They were recruited but they were mildly recruited. You get better.
And eventually you really learn that you’re going to have, you are responsible to impact your teammates, and not only in the offensive end but the defensive end. And I think that’s been the biggest thing for us, and we’ve never lost two games in a row. So they’re absolutely resilient. They learn from their mistakes, they build on their successes and there’s never been a time where I walked into practice or walked out of practice thinking that we had some guys that were full of themselves. We’ve not had that at all. And I think that’s got a lot to do with why we’re here today.
Q. You mentioned Yogi with the NBA, just your thoughts on the new draft rules and how it might help some guys on your team like maybe Thomas? And also your thoughts on Coach Calipari saying yesterday he’s going to put his whole team including the walk-ons in?
TOM CREAN: I don’t of many thoughts on what he did. I haven’t read the story. But we’re all part of the same group that was involved behind the scenes in these decisions, pushing it to get it to this point. And I think it’s really good. But I haven’t spent a lot of time — I understand the new rules — but we haven’t spent a lot of time on that. And so we’ll get to that. We’ll get to that. And hopefully we don’t have to get to that for a while.
But I think anything that allows them to make the best decision possible, to get the best level of exposure — but it still comes down to this: There’s still very little real, honest, truthful, unfiltered, non-agenda-driven feedback. And the whole key is to get that feedback, because so many mistakes are made because people get into the other part of it. And there’s so many opinions and voices and everybody’s got an idea on it but there’s very, very few decision makers. And the trick is to really understand what the decision makers see, get your people to understand that — which we’ve been pretty fortunate with that at Indiana — and then build from there. But that’s the most important thing. And I do love the new rules. And hopefully they’re here to stay. And we’ll see how it goes.
Q. You mentioned OG and being mildly recruited. Just wonder if you could explain how he’s gotten to this point, how he’s grown this season? And it seems like at least the last couple of games it seems he’s had high energy play, what’s he bringing to the team right now?
TOM CREAN: He’s brought that since right before Christmas and then going into the Big East season with the culmination of James Blackmon getting hurt — OG was already going to play. It wasn’t like James Blackmon’s injury affected him from getting minutes. What it did is it increased his role because it made us bigger when James went out because we had one less true backcourt player. But at the end of the day OG is being developed that way.
And OG is a guy that it’s not about positions and it’s very little about positions with any of our guys, because if they want to play in the future, it’s very little about positions in the NBA. It’s very much about being multi-dimensional, versatile, skilled, being able to shoot, being able to defend different people. And OG is fitting that bill. But what happened for him in December is he really learned how to sustain intensity. His work ethic has been strong since the week he arrived at Indiana. And it just continued to get stronger.
The other night, Sunday night, we’re not practicing Sunday. I’m in there working. It’s 11:00 at night. The music is going. There’s Juwan and OG, they left sometime after 1:00. That’s just the level of work ethic that they have, that they want to be in the gym getting better. So he’s got a tremendous passion. But he’s learned how to sustain the intensity. He’s learned that he can do more things defensively than he ever realized.
He’s a good shooter, and he’s learning more and more about the spacing of the game, the passing of the game, making decisions and reading. And he’s very, very humble and wants to get better. And so when you’ve got those combinations, you can’t help but have success.
Q. You talk about your team being resilient, and you have a fourth-year point guard. Just talk to that. How much does it, in this day and age, how much does that mean having a fourth-year point guard, how luxurious is that for you to have that, and how much it lends to being as resilient as they are?
TOM CREAN: It means a lot, because to go to the three Sweet 16s in five years, the two teams that went back to back had experience. They had Jordan Hulls, Cody Zeller was young, but he was a very savvy player, at his position. Victor Oladipo, we got to grow older together with that team. Then those guys left. They got drafted in the lottery or graduated. So then you’re starting with young guys again. And Yogi has been that guy that needed to grow up into being that leader. So now you take him and his ability to play and lead. And you take Max Bielfeldt who has gotten tremendously better here and Nick Zeisloft. The highlight of my day was just watching Nick Zeisloft get a dunk out there. He could barely touch the rim when he got to Indiana as a grad transfer from Illinois State. Now he’s dunking the ball like it’s nothing. You want that. When guys are getting better and they know they’re getting better in practice and can carry it out to the games and they see each other working the same way, it’s not like 75 percent of the guys work hard, 25 percent leave as soon as practice is over. That stuff all carries in to them. As coaches, we might get mad, but the players lose respect. And these guys have got a tremendous amount of respect for one another. And I think that carries into the resiliency, because they don’t feel like they’re going to get beat because they have a connectedness to one another. And that helps. We may get beat, but the bottom line is don’t lose the game because you gave up on something. And these guys have really worked hard to overcome that and have had some huge victories this year because of that connectedness. And I think that’s where the resilience manifests itself.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach. We’re joined by Thomas Bryant, Yogi Ferrell and Nick Zeisloft. Questions?
Q. Thomas, as a freshman, how daunting is it to face teams like Kentucky and North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament?
THOMAS BRYANT: It feels great to face these teams. When you play for a great team like Indiana and you’re in the NCAA, you expect to face nothing but the best teams. And it feels great to do that.
Q. Thomas, you’re coming back to Philly now. Do you have any family or friends coming to the game tomorrow?
THOMAS BRYANT: Yeah, I have some family and friends coming.
Q. Who all is coming, and what’s it going to be like to play in front of them and stuff again?
THOMAS BRYANT: Couple of family members coming to see a basketball game.
Q. Yogi, how have you seen the freshmen progress throughout the season, and how do you see them impacting this game considering how influential OG and Thomas were against UK?
YOGI FERRELL: I feel like we’ve been preparing for moments like this from the summer, beginning of the season, and I feel like they’ve grown so much with their impact that they have on the court. But not only that, I feel like the preparation has grown. And that’s why they’ve had such a big impact on this team. And then we saw the potential in them from the beginning of the season. OG, Juwan, Thomas and Harrison, just the way they go in and play like they’re a veteran, like a senior, like me and Nick. They don’t go out there play ten minutes scared. They make a turnover, get on to the next play. But I’m just happy for them and the way they’ve stepped up.
Q. Yogi, a heralded player out of high school staying in college for four years is kind of an oddity now. How much have you grown, senior now, if you look back at yourself as a freshman and sophomore, how much have you grown, how much of a different player are you now than you were then?
YOGI FERRELL: I feel very much like a different player. Just the way I’ve changed my mindset when I go out and play, just different reads. Being a four-year player, I’ve been in the game a long time. I feel like each game gives you something different a little bit, but most games are pretty much the same throughout. And when you’ve played under such a great coach as Tom Crean who taught you a lot of things you can be a great player.
Q. Yogi, you did a great job with Tyler Ulis last week, who obviously is a guy who likes to have the ball in his hands a lot. How is the challenge different this week against Paige; he’s a pretty good distributor?
YOGI FERRELL: Well, can’t let him catch the ball. When he catches the ball, anything can happen for his team. He can dish it off to anybody. Score at will. Can shoot it from NBA range. So the main thing with him is you limit a guy’s touches, you limit a guy’s attempts.
Q. Yogi, could you go back to your freshman year and just talk about what that was like with all the veterans; you coming in as kind of a high school All-American and kind of having to take a little bit of a lesser role, what was it like for you then, and what did you learn from those guys that year?
YOGI FERRELL: Yeah, I was just thinking about that the other day. Our Sweet 16, when we played Syracuse, I felt like we played out of character, not doing what we do. Without us — we weren’t hitting shots, anything like that, not playing like we did. So just gotta tell these guys to stick to our principles, everything that we do, our coverages, what we like to do on offense, because we definitely don’t want to lose this one.
Q. Thomas, Coach Crean just talked about your confidence and how it’s evolved over the course of this season. How do you feel about your game right now and how long did it take you to kind of get to where you feel like, okay, this is who I am and who I can be?
THOMAS BRYANT: I knew who I was and what I had to do and what I could be when I got here. It was just a matter of me just learning the process, sticking with my teammates. Even when I’m wrong, my teammates are always helping me out through it. And I just push myself to get better each and every day.
Q. From an outsider’s perspective, seems like Coach Crean is often on the hot seat; people talk about his job security a lot. What does that do you to guys and how do you feel now that you’ve reached a Sweet 16?
NICK ZEISLOFT: We don’t pay attention too much about that stuff. But Coach Crean has helped us ever since we all got to campus. We always believe in Coach Crean. He believes in us. And he’s trying to get us better in every aspect of our lives, whether it’s on the court, off the court, in school. It’s the full deal for him. He loves each and every one of us almost like sons. And we love him, too.
Q. Does facing a No. 1 seed add any fire for you guys?
NICK ZEISLOFT: They’re a great team. They’re a No. 1 seed for a reason. They play well and play fast. And they’re very athletic and talented. I mean, it adds some motivation to go out and get them and prove what we’re about. But we just have to stick to playing their guys and doing what we do out there on the court.
Q. Nick, Coach Crean said the highlight of the day was you dunking during the drills. He said you couldn’t even get to the rim when you got here. Is he telling the truth or exaggerating?
NICK ZEISLOFT: He’s not telling the truth with that. I’ve been able to dunk for quite some time, as much as people might not think I can. It wasn’t a Thomas dunk. So it was just a little dunk. I mean, I don’t know what he was laughing about with all that, but…
Q. Thomas, you went against the Kentucky bigs. Now you get the North Carolina bigs. Could you talk about the challenges of going up against Brice and Kennedy and those guys and also your thoughts on Kentucky bigs, Skal, you obviously had a big game against Kentucky?
THOMAS BRYANT: They Kentucky bigs are great. They’re coached by a well-coached coach. Their coaches are out there always trying to push them. They have a great team around them. Fortunately we got the job done against them. And going against UNC, you know, it feels great to finally go against them. Brice Johnson is a great athlete, gets out there in transition and carves out space in the low block. So does Meeks. This is a great team with great post players. We’ve just got to stay disciplined and go out there with a mindset of trying to win the game out there.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.