(Photo of Chris Mack: Melina Myers/USA TODAY Sports)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The 2020-21 college basketball season is finally here. The Louisville Cardinals (0-0, 0-0 ACC) will start out the season with a homestretch at the KFC Yum! Center, with the Evansville Purple Aces (0-0, 0-0 MVC) as their opening opponent. Tipoff is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 25 at 4:00 p.m. EST.
Prior to their upcoming matchup, head coach Chris Mack took time to meet with the media. He previewed the game against the Purple Aces, discussed the environment within the 'Bubble' formed between the KFC Yum! Center & the adjacent Galt House for the Wade Houston Tipoff Classic, and more.
Below is the transcript from Mack's press conference as well as the video:
Well it's been a long road since we left the ACC Tournament Greensboro. A lot of things have happened around the country. Obviously our guys have been at home and then practicing and it's been a long fall. I know there's cancellations all around the country, and I think that's going to be a little bit of what we see throughout the season. But I know we're really anxious and our guys are excited to get rolling for real tomorrow against Evansville.
(On if everyone on the team is good to go, and if he has to preach flexibility will all the college basketball cancellations currently going on)
I think they know that. I mean, our guys are young adults. They have to make adjustments, just like we all have to. They've been doing it, whether it's class going virtual, whether it's finishing up with exams at home rather than in the classroom. All the things that we have had to do as a society, our guys have to deal with it too. I think they understand flexibility, and like I said before, just really anxious to get going. As far as availability, you know we have pretty much everybody on our roster. Obviously Malik (Williams) and Charles (Minlend) are out. Josh Nickelberry's getting close, but I don't expect him to be able to play here in the first few games. But other than that, I guess that's full strength.
(On how Samuell Williamson has progressed since getting back to practice after his injury)
It's been great. He raises the level of competitiveness when he's back on the floor. Sam's extremely competitive, I think he learned a lot from year one to year two. I know he was disappointed that he couldn't be on the practice floor each and every day. But the one thing I don't have to worry about with Sam is you know where his mind's at. He's in the gym doing what he could every single day. He probably worked harder than anybody on our team at his individual game. We didn't have to five-one-oh a ton more because Sam's head is in practice even when he's out. He can visually see what's happening on the floor points of emphasis that we make, whether it's an angle on a screen, where he needs to be. Because he so loves the game of basketball, it puts him in a good place when he gets back on the floor. Although he hasn't had a full preseason, Sam's done a really good job of acclimating himself here in the last week and a half.
(On what some his early concerns are given the relative inexperience of the team)
Well, I mean, we haven't played a game. You haven't had to deal with foul trouble. You haven't had to be trusted and relied upon. Anytime you have players that are inexperienced, sometimes they have to learn the hard way. We'll take those things as they come. We'll try to get better at it. I think players will learn through game experience, both positive and negative experience, and we'll be better because of it. When you're a fresh young guy out of college and you want a job, so often people won't hire you because you lack experience. And you say, 'well I can't get experienced if you don't hire me'. Same thing when it comes to playing. I think our guys are going to get that game experience that they've so desired here for the last year or so, and it's coming fast and furious starting at 4:00 tomorrow.
(On the foresight of having a bubble, and what the teams will do when they're not playing games or game planning)
Well, the bubble's not foolproof. I think around the country, you see teams that are popping a positive test and now they're forced to leave. I know Mohegan Sun, for instance, has a ton of different teams. But it's not like those kids or the staff members contracted COVID while being on the premises, they brought it with them. Let's hope, knock on wood, that doesn't happen in our situation. Now, the teams that have come to the bubble have been asked to test three times a week, two weeks prior to coming, and all those tests have been negative so far. So we continue to knock on wood and hope that we can go ahead with playing the entire bubble. I do think that the protocols that UofL Health, that the Galt House, the Yum! Center had put in play are going to help, but there's also a luck factor. We cross our fingers and hope that we're able to get through all these games without any cases breaking out.
For the coaching staffs, as you know, the games come too fast. So when we get finished with our game against Evansville, we'll turn our attention to Seton Hall immediately. From me getting prepared and watching film, so much of what we're watching is last year's film because nobody has played a game. But that's okay, we're all in the same boat. The players will have the opportunity to prepare. Certainly there'll be meals. We have a few things for them in terms of like a lounge area where they can meet with with their family, socially distanced of course. The spread that the Galt House has put up for each team on their floor is excellent. There's a little gaming area, again not congregating in groups, being smart. We have a fuel station that set up in a room for snacks. Obviously there's a lot of recovery that goes within playing games in such a short period of time. I don't think there'll be as much idle time as maybe one might think. When you're a fan, you just go four o'clock on Wednesday and then you turn to Friday. There's so much that goes into it when you're a coach or a player. There'll be plenty to do.
(On if everyone is game shape and ready to go)
You as a coach would want to have 12 months of lead time for your first game. As a player you need about 12 hours, and you're like 'I'm good coach. I know that I know the plays, I'm ready to go'. So, in terms of being in shape, I think our guys are where they need to be. I think we've been back since the beginning of June, and we've ramped it up as time has gone on. There's nothing like playing the game and then having to recover and get prepared for the next day, so this bubble is going to teach us a lot. But I think physically, our team's in good shape.
(On what has noticeably improved in David Johnson)
I think David's made a leap and a lot of different areas. It would probably be difficult for me to just say he got better and just this one area. I think he's a markedly better defender than he was a year ago, he needs to be. I think he's a lot more vocal than he's ever been since I've known him. I think, to be fair to David, he was a freshman last year that that started late, missing so much time with the shoulder injury. Then when he transitions onto the team, in full capacity health-wise, he's got fifth year seniors all around him. So that's a little difficult situation to start telling people where to go and what to do and where to be. I think David's grown vocally for sure. I think he's a much better shooter, and I think the one thing offensively that we're really excited about is I think he's really slowing down. You know, really slowing down - not always trying to beat you with just sheer speed and sheer quickness. It keeps him a lot more under control, and able to see the floor much better. We all know David has tremendous vision, but it gets markedly better when he slows down. I think that's what he's done so far as a sophomore. We got to make sure that when the games come around, we keep him playing at that same slow pace.
(On if all of the teams in the bubble are good to go)
Yes, sir. I haven't checked Twitter in the last three minutes, but yeah.
(On if practice has been business as usual or has changed because of COVID)
I would say other than our players wearing masks, it was business as usual. We obviously took the necessary precautions, especially outside of the practice court. Contact tracing is going to be what it's going to be until maybe we get on a path where we're on everyday testing like the NBA, and then you just simply remove the player that gets a positive test. But, we've been in business as usual.
(On what he's looking for in Evansville)
I think Coach Lickliter is very respected in our business, in our profession. He's a guy that has been known to run sets, sets and more sets and counters to those sets. In the half court, we're going to face a team that I think is going to really pride itself on execution. The kid Kuhlman at the five position can really, really shoot and really, really pass. That's a challenge, because you know for us, that's an inexperienced position with Malik (Williams) going out. We're going to have to make sure that we do a really good job of playing his ball screens and recovering. They have a veteran backcourt with Newton and Givence back that are capable getting in the lane. Much like I'm sure when they watch film, they're saying 'Well Sutton's gone, Nwora's gone', we can do the same thing with some of their players. But college basketball, to me, the faces change but the programs remain. They'll be a lot better in his first full season, as opposed to sort of picking up the pieces and what happened last year.
(On how the KFC Yum! Center is set up this season, and how it might not be the home court advantage it normally is)
You know, it is what it is. Not to dismiss your question, but I'm not gonna worry about all the things that go along and around the pandemic. It is what it is. Our guys want to want to play basketball, and we're worried about coaching underneath out of bounds plays, defensively playing screening actions the way we need to, and getting substitutions in when they should be, and foul trouble. I'm not going to worry about any of the other stuff and give my opinion on it. It's a waste of time right now to be honest with you. I got to worry about our team, and getting them ready to go.
(On what he wants to see tomorrow to consider the opener a success)
I always tell our team that they should be the same on the practice floor as they are in the game floor. If we demand high communication during practice, we shouldn't feel like a library when the game comes around. If we demand physicality on the glass when the shot goes up, we shouldn't miss block outs. This is gonna be a test for our guys, because again, a lot of them are inexperienced. Not that we're playing in front of 19,000 fans, but we're playing for real. Different players in different uniforms, and everything that we said about the funky environment, you still have to be who you are on the practice floor every single day. If we're close, and we're competing our tails off, then that's all I can ask and we'll figure out a way to improve as we march forward.
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