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Wake Forest basketball coach and players meet the media

Posted Friday, March 20, 2009

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Deacons set to open NCAA Tournament on Friday vs. Cleveland State

Miami, FL - Wake Forest met with the media prior to its shootaround at AmericanAirlines Arena on Thursday in Miami. Head coach Dino Gaudio and captains Ishmael Smith, Jeff Teague and L.D. Williams spoke at the team's press conference. Below is a transcript of their time with the media.

Q. I'd just like Ish and L.D. to comment on what you think the team's state of mind is right now after you had the break, but then you had the bad loss in the ACC Tournament and kind of where you are right now going into this tournament.

Ishmael Smith: I think the team's state of mind is in good hands. We're good. I think we had a couple really good days of practice. We did a great scouting report, Coach Battle did a great scouting report on Cleveland State. Just like a lot of teams coming into this tournament, they've lost, so we know what we have to do and now it's just time to go out there and execute on the floor.

L.D. Williams: I guess kind of like Ish said, there's a lot of teams that are coming here with a loss. You know it's not any different for us, we just know we have to prepare a little bit harder for the next game. Win and survive, that's how it is, so we know we've got to be the best team tomorrow night between us and Cleveland State, and we'll come out with a win.

Q. What part of the Cleveland State game concerns you? And did you watch tapes of when they played Syracuse, which obviously was their biggest win of the year?



L.D. Williams: They do a lot of things well. Their point guard Jackson pushes the ball up the floor a little bit. He's a jet. We've got to corral him on the defensive end. They've got a regular guy Bullock on the inside, he's pretty tough on the inside. There's a couple parts of their game that we really have to key in. But basketball is an all-around sport, you've got to rebound the ball. Any one key area you slip up in could cost you the game.

Ishmael Smith: I think they pretty much do everything well, like L.D. said. Their defense is the one thing that kind of concerns me the most. It's kind of Duke-ish, where they're really into you, really pressuring the basketball and denying the basketball, and you really have to be strong around those guys and make strong, hard rips, strong passes and make strong drives.

But they're a good team. They didn't get here for no reason, and we know the problems they pose to us, and now it's time to solve those problems out on the floor tomorrow.

Q. First time for all of guys in the tournament. I know it's the first time for Cleveland, too, but you guys, any concern there under the bright lights of the NCAA Tournament?

Ishmael Smith: I think Coach has done a great job of making light of the whole situation. This is a game, and we've played it since we were little. Obviously this is the NCAA Tournament, this is the biggest stage besides the NBA Finals ever. So it could be a little bit of pressure, but I think Coach Gaudio has done a good job of taking the pressure off of us. We've played it since we were young, played it since we were little, and go out there and play the game as if it was December 30th instead of March. Coach has done a great job, and you've got to go out there with no pressure and play the game with no conscience and hope for the best.

Harvey Hale: I'm just having a great time. I'm just trying to seize the moment. I've been telling the team, "You don't have a tomorrow, just got to play hard." Our coaches are telling us to play hard on each possession and just knowing the hardest team is going to win. We know that, and we're just going to try to bring some energy and motion.

L.D. Williams: Kind of like Ish said, it's just another game. Obviously it's a huge game, but you can't really get wrapped up into everything the media is doing with it and everything like that because you get wrapped up in that, you kind of lose focus of what the main goal is, and obviously that's Cleveland State right now. We're just going to keep ourselves humble, play hard, play smart, and like Ish said, hope for the best.

Q. The last time Cleveland State was in this tournament was in 1986. They beat Indiana and Bobby Knight that year, one of the games -- the sort of game that makes the NCAA Tournament what it is. I wonder if you guys are into NCAA Tournament history that way, if you have any awareness of that game, I know it was before your time, and an appreciation for that kind of thing.

Ishmael Smith: You know what, when we were leaving, I think it was on Thursday or Wednesday. Wednesday I think we were leaving and I parked my car, and one of the police officers came up to me and said, "Well, good luck this weekend," and I was like, "Thank you, sir." He said, "You want to know some brief history about Cleveland State?" I was like, "Sure, why not?" He said, "The last time they was in the Tournament was 1986." I was like, "Yes, sir." He said, "And they upset Bobby Knight's Indiana team. Don't let it happen to you guys."

Q. This was on campus?

Ishmael Smith: Yeah, this was on campus. There was a police officer. So I learned that brief history before we left, so hopefully we won't make that same mistake. Like I said, those guys are really good, and we know we have to play our best to win.

Q. Did either of you guys know about that?

L.D. Williams: No.

Harvey Hale: No.

L.D. Williams: I didn't know anything. I know it's been a while since they made the tournament, but other than that, that's all I know.

Q. For all three of you guys: Maryland had great success in the ACC Tournament, packing the lanes, giving you the outside shot. I know Cleveland State likes to extend and get in the passing lanes, but you're going to see that defense again. How do you do better this time than you did against Maryland?

Harvey Hale: I think for us it's being smarter. Our coach always said we play from the shoulder up. We can't just settle for threes. We've got to pound the inside, we've got to know what Wake Forest basketball is about. We've still got to attack, go inside take good shots, take rhythm threes, take open threes, and when you take open and rhythm threes it's just like when you're working in the gym and it's a lot more easier and your percentages go up. I think it's just about being smarter.

Ishmael Smith: To piggyback on what Harvey said, we know we're not a great three-point shooting team. I went back and looked at the tape on ESPN 360 when we played Maryland, and I think I didn't do a good job of really getting us into our zone offense. I ripped it down there, kicked it out for wide-open threes, but as a team we have to know that's not our strength. As Coach said earlier, 10 to 12 threes, that's a good sizable amount for us, and it doesn't have to be more than that.

I don't think I did a good job of getting us into a good zone offense where we could hit the high posts and get some easy lay-ups driving to the lane, and getting to the foul line. So we've worked all week on that and hopefully we won't make that same mistake when we see it again.

L.D. Williams: I think a lot played into it was we weren't getting a lot of stops in that game, and that really catapults our offense. We're a team that gets in the lane and runs and scores at the basket. If we don't really get stops, it really hinders what we do in the half court. We've just going to lock in on defense and get stops so we really can get our offense going.

Q. After the game, Jeff really seemed to take the loss pretty hard, and it seemed like in his comments this week he's really bounced back, all you guys have. What have you done in practice to make sure that you forgot about Maryland and you're going to attack tomorrow?

Harvey Hale: I think it's just the fact of us wanting to win so bad. We have really competitive guys on our team. I don't think nobody, unless you come to our practices, you don't understand how hard we guard against each other. We're scrapping against each other, just everybody wants to win. And Jeff, he just had a sense of focus because he knows he's our scorer. He's starting to take advantage of the team, more ownership, and he knows he has to score and he's been more aggressive in practice. Usually he's like more passive, but now he's shooting the shots and he knows that we want him to shoot it. So that helps a lot, especially when you're shooting, guarding and you know you're a scorer, when your coaching staff and your players want you to shoot the ball.

Ishmael Smith: From the team's standpoint, I think the biggest thing that we might have done wrong in the ACC Tournament game was actually more mental than anything. We went into that game a little tighter than we were supposed to be, not as aggressive as we usually are, pushing the basketball, aggressive defense. We were kind of playing a little timid, and that's one thing that we have to learn from coming into the NCAA Tournament, that you've got to play aggressive. You've got to play loose. I know it's not another game, but you have to play it that way in your mind, and if we do that, I think we'll be in good hands.

Q. For all three of you, a stat jumped out at me the other day, and I didn't realize it, 17-1 when you score 80 or more, 7-5 when you score less than 80. You know how the NCAA Tournament is when you get into these situations and you expect lower-scoring games because of the situation. How do you combat the frustration level of perhaps a lower-scoring game?

L.D. Williams: We kind of know how it's going to be. Coach explained that to us after the first TV time-out it might be 10-6, 10-8. We know how it's going to be. It's just about being able to get through that part of the game, get through that part of a stretch where we might not score like we normally do. I mean, this is the NCAA Tournament. We know teams really play defense, especially Cleveland State. We know they're one of the better defensive teams in the country. It's just about how well we execute in the half court because we know a lot of the times we might not be able to get out and run, so we've just got to be able to execute in half court, run to our spots, get in sets quick and be able to dominate that half of the court, as well, and that will get us over the hump.

Ishmael Smith: Obviously as you know we try to get up and down. But for me this week I really tried to concentrate on execution as a point guard because we're not going to be able to -- like you said, there might be some games where we can't rip and run like we usually do, and it's up to me to get us in some good offense and execute the offense. So that's one thing.

But we're going to continue to push it and continue to push it and push it. And hopefully the next team -- the team that we're playing against cracks, but Cleveland State, like L.D. said, is a heck of a defensive team, and it's going to be hard to do that, so we're going to have to really execute on our half-court offense.

Q. Where's your half-court offense right now?

Harvey Hale: I think it's better than what it was before the year and in the beginning of the year and the beginning of the season. Guys are really working hard and we're really moving the ball, and I think that's what's going to separate us from being good and from being great. From me as a senior I think that's really going to separate us because I remember a time when that's the only thing we could do was execute offense because we really didn't have talented guys, but now we have talented guys, and if we run the offense we'll be really good, and if we can run and execute, we'll be really dangerous. We've just really got to focus on executing offense.

Coach Dino Gaudio, a couple comments on your season and being in the tournament and being here in Miami.

COACH Dino Gaudio: You know what, I thought we had an outstanding season with one senior on the team, finished second in the ACC. I think we're a second team in the field of 65 with most points scored, I think we're behind Carolina. I think we're third in the field of 65 with field goal percentage offense, and we finished the year at 39 percent field goal percentage defense and was first in the ACC in three-point field goal percentage defense.

I thought our kids had a good year statistically, I thought they had an outstanding year finishing where we did in the ACC, and we are just really excited to be in the tournament.

Q. There's such a size disparity between your teams. I don't know if you'd say overconfident to that end, but how do you feel they're going to try to deal with your size?

COACH Dino Gaudio: You know, I'm not sure what Gary is going to do. He's really smart. I've just got to try to coach my guys. But we have to try to take advantage of our size by throwing the basketball inside a little bit.

You know, Gary in the past has doubled the post. We've seen that. We've worked against that. And we've also got to try to get second and third opportunities when we miss shots. And that's been good to us this year.

But that's how we're going to try to implement and be aggressive with respect to our size as opposed to Cleveland State. But you know this, I don't care how big Bullock is, his heart is as big as this table here. They've got some big heart guys that are going to play really, really hard.

Q. Are you a basketball history buff?

COACH Dino Gaudio: A little bit.

Q. What do you remember about Cleveland State and Indiana in '86? That's the last time they were in the tournament.

COACH Dino Gaudio: Yeah, obviously they had a great run with The Mouse. I had a kid that played for me in high school I think ended up beating them. He was the point guard on the Naval Academy team when they went to the final eight.

Q. Who was that?

COACH Dino Gaudio: Doug Wojcik who is now the head coach over at Tulsa. So I sort of watched that tournament, followed that tournament.

As we all know, what happens in the past doesn't matter, that's all over. The thing I talked to our kids about, too, is all the guys on television, Gottlieb and Brennan and my buddy Digger and Coach Knight, those guys don't matter. I think Coach Brennan had Cleveland State upsetting us, I think Seth Davis has us in the Final Four. That means nothing. Those guys, we've just got to worry about each and every possession. The thing I'm worried about right now is if we get the tip tomorrow, I just want us to have a great offensive execution. If Cleveland gets the tip, I want to start the game with a good defensive possession. That's all we have to worry about, not what happened in the past or looking towards the future.

And I think if we channel our focus like that, we'll be better off for it.

Q. It seems like a game like that would be something that a coach of a higher-seeded team could point to going into a first-round game. Is that something you would even mention?

COACH Dino Gaudio: No, obviously like I said, I'm very familiar with the history of it. It doesn't matter.

Q. You don't think your kids need to be told this is a danger game?

COACH Dino Gaudio: No. They know it's a danger game. Trust me, every game in this tournament is a danger game. We are not for one second -- we've seen a lot, a lot of film on Cleveland State. They know how good they are. Jackson is terrific in transition, Bullock is as good an inside-outside guy, can shoot the three, can put it on the floor, they pick and pop with him. Cole is playing really well the last five or six games. It's a tough game. They know it's a tough game.

Q. How do you go about preparing a team for something as new and exciting as possibly disconcerting as an NCAA Tournament?

COACH Dino Gaudio: Yeah, like I said, I think we've just got to try to narrow our focus. I told them, don't make the moment bigger than it is. There's a tendency to do that as they watch the games and we come into the arena, and all of a sudden the game gets to be a little bigger than -- like I said, we're just talking about let's try to win the next possession.

Dan knows this; we talk about with our team, let's win the four-minute segments to the TV time-outs. And when we come to the huddle after all of our games, we come to the huddle, whether it's 15:50 or right at the 16:00 minute mark, we could see it on the scoreboard then, but what did we do in that four minutes? Coach, we won 10-4. I'll go in the huddle and go, fellas, we just won that clip 10-4. Next one, now we've at the 12:00 TV time-out. What was the score in that clip? Coach, they outscored us 6-4. We lost by two in that four-minute clip.

I just want them focusing on what's right at hand, and I think if we do, we'll be better off for it.

Q. Can you sort of take us through just a little bit of what went wrong in the ACC Tournament from your perspective now that you've had a while to look at that, and what particularly you want to go right that went wrong there?

COACH Dino Gaudio: We missed shots. I hope we make shots. You know, we missed 52 shots. We only had nine turnovers but we missed 52 shots. We've got to shoot the ball a little bit better. We've got to throw the ball inside a little bit more.

We lost by 11 to a very good basketball team, a team that's in the NCAA Tournament, and when I walked in the room, they were up eight with nine minutes to go. We didn't lose to -- I don't even want to mention a name, ABC University, we lost to the Maryland Terrapins. They're pretty good.

Q. There's been all that talk about the three-point shooting is the reason for the loss in Maryland, but another stat that jumped out at me was just the lack of transition buckets for you guys and the inability to get defensive stops and then go up the floor. What, if anything, have you addressed in practice to make sure you get back to running and running and running?

COACH Dino Gaudio: Yeah, we want to run, and like L.D. said, he's a pretty astute young man, it all starts off your defense. I think Maryland shot 43 against us, which is a little bit higher than our season average of 39 -- I think it's 39.6. When we get stops, we can get runouts. We just got to keep working on pushing the ball, running the lanes. You know, and the NCAA Tournament is played a little closer to the vest. We want to just run and push it. But if it's a low-scoring game, we've got to pull those runs out, too. We've won in some great places in some tough venues - at BYU, at Clemson, at Virginia, at Maryland. So I think we won Maryland what was it, 63-61, 65-63? We've won high-scoring games and we've won low-scoring ones.

Q. Can I ask you a question about how with the youth you've got on this team how the tournament can help you? I mean, young players have a tendency during the season to overlook an opponent you really doesn't want them to overlook. I don't see how they can overlook anybody in a tournament, and I don't think you have to tell them very much about that.

COACH Dino Gaudio: No, they know. We've seen a lot of tape on them, as have our kids. And I like to show our players the other team at their best. When we played Carolina, we put highlights together of Carolina at their best, of Duke at their best, and I tell them that. We got ready for BYU, and it looked like they were the Lakers, you know what I mean? And same thing with Cleveland State. I show them Cleveland State playing their very best. They're not going to overlook those guys for a second.

Q. I didn't necessarily mean that game; I mean in any game that comes up in this tournament, it's kind of hard to overlook anybody.

COACH Dino Gaudio: Right, I agree with you. You know, they've been playing basketball since they were yea high, and they've watched the games on television. They know about all the upsets. They know about the George Mason runs to the Final Four. They know all about that stuff.

Q. What about your inability in that 8-6 stretch at the end of the year to pound the ball inside where your strength really is, and by not doing that, not shooting it very well from outside?

COACH Dino Gaudio: Well, as you know, we won prior to the ACC Tournament six of our last seven games. Our one loss was in a pretty tough gym to play in, Cameron Indoor, where we were down 82-80 with a chance to get a stop and get the ball back. We've thrown the ball inside those games. I don't think there's anybody that scores more in the paint in the ACC than Wake Forest.

Q. My question is overlapping a little bit, but you heard what I asked the players about the status right now of the half-court offense where you feel like you are a half-court offense? And how important is that going to be?

COACH Dino Gaudio: I think it's going to be important, and we've worked really hard at it. You know, you go through little peaks and valleys in the season. I think after the Maryland game, we were able to get their attention back a little bit more. You know, they concentrated a little bit more, and we've done -- you know, Cleveland State is going to -- Gary is going to, I think, do what he does. He's out, he's extended, he's in the passing lanes. He plays a diamond in one, he plays an inverted triangle in two. We've worked on those a lot. He has a little bit of two-three in his pocket. We've gone against each of those.

I think the advantage as opposed to doing it during our season is we had four days of preparation for this game. Heck, our last -- three of our last four games we played Thursday, Saturday, Tuesday, where the games are coming right after the other. You have very little time to practice. We've had four very good days. Our shoot-around to follow. I think those kids are confident and feeling good about where we are in the half court.

Q. Playing so late on Friday night and practically the whole first round is done, do you have some strategy to keep your players from getting antsy, and tomorrow in particular are you going to take them anywhere? Are you going to just keep them in the hotel busy? What are you going to do?

COACH Dino Gaudio: We're going to let them sleep in a little longer so the day will be a little shorter. We have a practice at one of the local universities, which we always do on game day. Just after that we'll come back, our pregame meal is four hours prior to tip-off, and if they want to come over to the games, we encourage it. The thing that's nice about the NCAA Tournament, they have tickets for the kids to see the other games. If they want to come over, hey, they're more than welcome to come over.

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Wake Forest basketball coach and players meet the media
Wake Forest head basketball coach Dino Gaudio and captains Ishmael Smith, Jeff Teague and L.D. Williams spoke at the team's press conference.
photo by Gene Galin

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