Video, Quotes: Rob Senderoff, Kent State players preview NCAA tournament first round matchup against Indiana
Sincere Carry, Malique Jacobs, Miryne Thomas and Rob Senderoff addressed the media on Thursday afternoon in advance of Friday’s NCAA tournament first round matchup against Indiana.
Watch their pregame comments below:
Transcript via ASAP Sports:
THE MODERATOR: We thank the Kent State student-athletes for joining us. We have redshirt senior guard Sincere Carry, redshirt senior guard Malique Jacobs, and redshirt senior forward Miryne Thomas. We’ll open it up to any questions.
Q. We were talking to Indiana. They kept talking about your defense and how impressed they were with it. What is it about your defense that makes it so good? And just how much do you guys pride yourself on really doing well without the ball? Any of you can answer it.
SINCERE CARRY: I think we just play hard and play through a lot of mistakes. If somebody gets beat on a dribble or we mess up a ball screen, we can pick up for somebody else’s mistake. But just communicate and play hard. Playing hard is the recipe to our great defense.
MIRYNE THOMAS: I would add to that that the tenacity of our defense and covering for each other, that really keeps us together. It keeps us as one.
Q. How much confidence do you guys get from your close losses earlier in the year to Gonzaga and Houston? Do you feel you’re better prepared now having gone through the conference schedule to face a bigger team like Indiana?
MALIQUE JACOBS: I think the close wins that we got and the close losses, the close games, it helped us out to stay composed during the last three minutes of the game. It’s a big part of us being here right now.
Q. Sincere, you’ve been through quite a lot with your moving and your injuries and everything else. Were there moments that you thought you might not see this sort of a stage?
SINCERE CARRY: Yes, ma’am. There was a lot of times where I just questioned myself just playing basketball. I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue to follow my dreams. My support system, my family, my close friends, and my teammates, my brothers, they’re always there for me checking on me and making sure I’m good mentally before basketball.
And just going out there every night, it’s just fun. So I’m enjoying every moment while we’re here.
Q. To that, can you just talk a little bit about how these guys have embraced you? You’ve only been there for a couple of years, and it seems like you all have a really tight bond.
SINCERE CARRY: My two years at Kent has probably been the best team I’ve ever been on. Not with basketball, but just with the friendship and the brotherhood we have. I feel like Coach Sendy does a good job and his staff and the school itself does a good job of making a family culture there. We have a lot of alumni who come home.
It’s just a lot of love there. It’s hard to be down when you’re around love. It’s easier to spread it when it’s given out each and every day.
Q. Going back to Sincere’s days at Solon, he was never one to really talk about himself. What do you two see in him? What makes him such a good basketball player?
MALIQUE JACOBS: His work ethic. He’s a hard worker. Just the way how he works. Coach, I don’t know if he told you all this story, we came back from a long, long game. I think it was at Ball State. We got back at 2:00 in the morning, and he’s back in the gym at 7:00, 8:00 in the morning.
Just his work ethic, and then it just rubs off. When you see one of our best players just working like that, you have no choice but to follow his footsteps.
MIRYNE THOMAS: I would say from a guard, he has a quick memory. If something bad goes on, he’s quick to, hey, next play. He’s quick to pull guys in, keep guys into the group.
Q. Can you just talk a little bit about just — regardless of what happens, whether it’s this weekend or not, at some point the season is going to be over. Can you just talk about your career and how you feel about it?
SINCERE CARRY: It’s kind of hard to speak on it right now because I feel like we still got a long way to go and we’re going to be here for a while.
Really I’m just blessed each and every day to play basketball. I always thank God first and I feel like He has continued to bless me and put me in different situations and opens up so many doors for me. It’s just fun to share these moments with my brothers, my teammates, and my family. So I just continue to take it day by day. Whatever happens happens. I’m just happy to play the game of basketball.
Q. You guys feel like you can play a little bit looser being the underdog, like there’s a little less pressure on you?
MALIQUE JACOBS: The way we play is play loose, play Kent State basketball. So we play Kent State basketball, we’ll make a good run.
MIRYNE THOMAS: I think the statistics speak for themselves, but our track record, this history also speaks for itself. So we might be an underdog lower seed coming into these games, but we know face to face we’re just as good as those higher seeds. So we’re excited to get to play.
THE MODERATOR: In a few moments we’ll have Kent State Head Coach Rob Senderoff.
We’re joined by Kent State Head Coach Rob Senderoff. Any questions, we’ll open it up.
Q. Coach, obviously the storyline, facing Indiana again, for you for the first time. Talk about going back into that challenge alone. You’ve been a coach there, so you know the challenges of being on that side and on this side now. Talk about that in itself.
ROB SENDEROFF: I mean, it’s an unbelievable program and an unbelievable team that we’re playing against tomorrow night. I have an incredible amount of respect for all the players on that roster, Trayce Jackson-Davis being one of the best in the country. Jalen Hood-Schifino being one of the unique talents in the country.
And Coach Woodson’s done a tremendous job, him and his staff, of playing in one of the best conferences in the league and having as much success as they’ve had.
So it’s certainly a big challenge for us tomorrow night, but one that we’re really excited about.
Q. One of the questions Indiana fans still have from your time at Indiana is like why did you guys do what you did that got IU put on probation? Can you kind of just take the fans through what happened, what the thinking was at that point in time?
ROB SENDEROFF: Quite honestly, I’m happy to answer that maybe at another time. I really think that the NCAA Tournament, it’s about the three guys that were up here from Kent, those players and their stories. The kids from IU that have tremendous stories as well and have been through whatever they’ve been through throughout their careers.
I feel like that’s what the tournament is about. It’s not about Rob Senderoff or what happened 20 years ago. As much as it’s about Sincere Carry and how did he make it to this point and how has Jalen Hood-Schifino developed as a player this year.
Respectfully, I’d be happy to talk to you about it at another time, but I really feel like the tournament, wasting that time on me is really not where I want to go today.
Q. Having some of your coaches here, being a student coach under Doc Sauers, can you talk about the impact he has on your coaching career and how kind of Albany might have been the start of a passionate coaching career for you.
ROB SENDEROFF: I think like a lot of people, whatever profession you get into, at some point there’s a spark that gives you an opportunity. For me, my first opportunity was as a student at SUNY Albany 1990-something, ’91, ’92, ’93. That’s when I was there.
Doc Sauers allowed me the opportunity — I wasn’t a good enough player to play on the team, but he allowed me the opportunity to be around the team and to help, similar to what a student manager does at a lot of different schools. That gave me the opportunity to start coaching.
To go back to Jeff’s question, for me personally, it’s great to be back to Albany, but I’ve said it a couple times, like who we play or where we play, it didn’t matter who we were playing against or where we were playing, I was just going to be ecstatic and excited to see our name pop up on the board for our players, first and foremost, and for everybody associated with Kent State University, our basketball program, our supporters.
I’m just thrilled for them. I guess it’s a little bit of cherry on top, the fact that we’re here in Albany.
Q. You guys have been — really sort of made your name on defense. Your ball pressure, your ability to force turnovers. How do you balance not wanting to change what you do and wanting to just stay true to your identity when you face a player like Trayce Jackson-Davis that just kind of has the gravitational pull and the passing range he has out of the paint?
ROB SENDEROFF: It’s a great question and a heck of a challenge. He’s such a good player that, if you just do one thing against him, you’re going to be in trouble because he’s going to figure it out. He’s that good.
So we do have to create some turnovers, as you mentioned. They have tremendous size and physicality, IU does. And we’re going to have to stay true to who we are as a team. We got here because of how well we’ve defended and how many turnovers we’ve created over the course of the season, and we’re going to have to do a great job of that tomorrow night to have any chance against one of the best teams in the country.
Q. Two-part question. It’s kind of both how they relate on the floor. Your defense, why is it so good? What is it that really causes teams fits? Second question is on Sincere and how his game translates, especially on a level like this.
ROB SENDEROFF: How we defend is really there’s two parts to it. Some of it is personnel based. We have some tremendous individual defenders. Sincere was on the All-Defensive Team. As you know, Malique Jacobs was the Defensive Player of the Year. Both of those guys were on the All-Defensive Team last year as well.
So they are unique talents on that side of the ball. Then what we’ve tried to do as a coaching staff is put them in position as best we can to make as many plays as they can on that side of the ball.
You will see some trapping. You’ll see some digging it out of the post. You’ll see some full court man to man. You know, nothing that I’m telling you is something that hasn’t happened all year long. So you’ll see some of that, and hopefully that will allow us to create some turnovers over the course of the game or speed them up and make them take quicker shots than they would like to.
And as for Sin’s development, to me, he’s on the Mt. Rushmore of players that’s played at Kent State over the last 20 years. Obviously there have been some great ones that have come through, but he’s in the conversation among the best. I think winning this conference championship last week, tournament championship, and being here really solidified that for him individually. Then obviously how we play out here could move him even further up the ladder.
Q. Again on Sincere, can you just talk a little bit about what he — you spoke to it, but what he means to the program and just how impactful it is to get a guy like that to transfer in?
ROB SENDEROFF: He’s one of the greats. When he came to Kent, as I think his story is somewhat well documented, this to me is what makes — this is the joy of being up here is being able to talk a little bit more about him. He was close to not playing anymore. That’s how much he had lost the love of playing basketball and was considering just going to school because it was during the COVID year and he just wasn’t happy any longer.
So he came to Kent. He had to sit out the rest of that semester because he came midway through the year. I still remember getting a text message about five minutes prior to a game against Western Michigan where his adopted father told me, would you like him to come? Because he’s sitting in Kent right now, and he’s not going back to Duquesne.
To see him then blossom the way he has — like I said, Player of the Year his junior year, First Team All-Conference, All-Defensive Team, MAC Tournament MVP — to see that and to be able to talk to you all about that, that’s to me what makes this tournament so special.
Q. Did you schedule Charleston and Houston and Gonzaga in part in anticipation of having your team ready for March?
ROB SENDEROFF: We did. When you return, we returned Sin and Malique, we brought in a transfer from Ball State, Miryne Thomas, who we knew was a really good player. We signed some new guys who we thought could help Chris Payton, in particular, as a transfer from Pittsburgh.
So we knew we were going to have a good team. We didn’t know how good, but we also knew we needed to challenge ourselves in the nonconference. As you know, following basketball and covering it as long as you have, schools from the MAC sometimes struggle to get games.
But we worked really hard. We played, like you said, in the nonconference, College of Charleston in a home and home, Northern Kentucky, who’s also in the tournament, we opened up the season at their place, Houston, Gonzaga. We also played Cleveland State, who was in the championship game of their league, South Dakota State, who didn’t have quite the season that they normally have, but still a very quality mid-major team coming off 30 wins. When we played New Mexico State and UTEP, we expected those to be really difficult games, and they were.
So we did that with a purpose, and I think our players would have confidence regardless because I think that’s just how they’re built, but having played that schedule and played some of these games as closely as we have, I certainly think it gives us confidence.
And at the same time, I think it gives the Indiana coaching staff the ability to tell their players like you guys have got to be on point because look at what they did in this game and that game.
So it does work both ways when you get here, but in terms of preparing for this moment, I think it certainly helped us.
Q. I don’t know if it’s every guy on your staff, but most of the guys on your staff have Kent State ties, plus Jim Christian is in the program. Why? Why is that important?
ROB SENDEROFF: I’m going to go back to what makes this tournament so great and what I’m so happy about being on the podium for, is again to be able to tell that story too. Each of my assistants played at Kent. Julian Sullinger is our Associate Head Coach. His nephew is on our team, as well. Jalen was the Sixth Man of the Year in our league. Randal Holt, I recruited as an assistant coach, coached him his entire career, and now he’s back on our staff. Jon Fleming was a walk-on on our 2017 team that went to the NCAA Tournament. Kevin Zabo is my Director of Basketball Operations, also was on that 2017 team.
As you mentioned, Jim Christian, is who brought me to Kent State back in 2002, is sort of a special assistant to the coaching staff. That’s what makes Kent State unique. That’s what makes Kent State special. And to me it’s what makes Kent State different from a lot of other programs across the country is that that family atmosphere that a lot of people talk about, we can show you that we have it here at Kent because those guys were all — I was all part of their development as college athletes and now I’m part of their lives as they’re adults and husbands and fathers and things like that.
So it’s a huge part of what’s allowed us. We’ve had success for a while now, and it’s a huge part of what’s allowed us to maintain a level of success is that family atmosphere that you brought up. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk again about that on this stage.
Q. Just kind of piggy-backing off of that, having the experience that you had early on with Doc Sauers and just speaking so highly that you just did about your program, do you hope or is there a specific lesson that you might have learned from Doc in your early days that you hope that you’re transferring to your coaching staff and your team now?
ROB SENDEROFF: Maybe today I’ll do some fingertip push-ups on the court with these guys because that’s what he did at the beginning of every practice. I don’t think I could do them, so that might be a problem. But he was doing fingertip push-ups before every practice.
His intensity, and you just remember how focused he was as a coach. Times have changed, but good coaches are good coaches. He had won over 700 games at the Division III level. He’s one of the best to have ever done it. So it’s cool for me to be able to talk about Coach Sauers.
People may not know who he is because Albany was a Division III school at the time. Obviously in this region people know who he is, but that’s really cool. For those reasons, this has been fantastic. The whole experience for our guys and our school and program is awesome.