(Photo of Chris Mack: Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - After having a couple extra days off following the postponement of their weekend game against Georgia Tech, the Louisville men's basketball program is back in action.
Next up for the Cardinals (8-1, 3-0 ACC), they will travel to Winston-Salem and take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Tipoff is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 13 at 4:30 p.m. EST on the ACC Network.
Before the Cardinals face the Demon Deacons, head coach Chris Mack and freshman forward JJ Traynor took time to meet with the media. They discussed their upcoming matchup against Wake Forest, what the emphasis has been in practice this week, on their length and how it helps defensively, on their performance in road games, and more.
Below is the transcript from their press conference as well as the video:
Head Coach Chris Mack
(On if the emphasis in practice this week was getting off to a good start)
I think that's a little bit of a complex question, because I think when people think of good starts, bad starts they just they just assume the score. Obviously, that's the part that matters, I get that. But, what caused the score? Is it your lack of communication? Is it something that we've gone over multiple days in a row that our guys should be able to execute on rep one? Is it just lazy passes? What is leading to it? If it's tough shots that the other teams hitting, if you're doing everything that we feel like it's necessary to win the game, if guys are playing hard, but things just aren't bouncing your way, that's what I'm more concerned about when I say starting strong. Everybody wants to get out 10-0, but that's not always going to be the case. I just want to make sure that our team on the game floor looks the exact same as our team on the practice floor, with our communication, our readiness, our understanding what's happening on either end of the floor. Usually that helps when you have a veteran team, so we've had to learn some things the hard way. I don't know how you work on that, other than just to continue to address it. Address those habits that maybe leak when the game starts, if that's your issue.
(On if Samuell Williamson has responded in practice)
Sam I had a really good talk coming off the heels of Virginia Tech game. Obviously, he was disappointed that he wasn't any type of factor in the game. But I just, as I told you guys. I told Sam the same thing. I'm not trying to pull any punches. We need greater effort from Sam. I think when he gets lost in the game, whether that's physically rebounding, whether that's slashing to the rim, communicating his switches, just being immersed in the game and not worrying about is the ball finding him. And again, that isn't necessarily the issue, I don't want to come across as though he's in his mind waiting for the ball to come to him, but I just know that happens to players a lot that know they have the ability to score. I think if he gets lost in the other things that really matter for our team: Hard plays on the ball, taking charges, rebounding on both ends of the floor, ball pressuring in his position when he's on defense, then good things tend to happen for guys. I really liked Sam's response over the last few days. As his coach, I'm hoping that it bodes well for him tomorrow. But if he gets off to a poor start, he's got to be able to mentally put that behind him and continue to do those things that I just talked about. I think he's a lot further along doing that than he was a week ago with his mindset.
(On the length they have at guard, and how it helps them philosophically on defense)
Well I just think if you if you have length, it's a lot easier to cover ground and get deflections. So much of the game is ball screens defensively. You're put in a ton of different ones, all different angles, and generally if that ball handler can throw a straight line pass, whether it's to the roll man or to the skip pass when a defender is helping on the roll, if they can throw straight line passes, it leads to bad close outs and the ball getting in the lane, and bad things happening. So I think with guys that we have on our team, our ability to close out with length, our ability to disrupt vision in ball screen situations, and also contest shots. I think that's a big deal. That leads to lower field goal percentage for an offense. We're not a finished product by any means, but we've got some guys that certainly have good length.
(On how JJ Traynor has progressed since the season started, and where he can improve)
I mean JJ is a freshman. He's gonna have ups and downs. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tickled pink, in terms of like, what he's done this year. He's physically really behind. But as I told him, in the very beginning of the year, if he can do whatever he can do to make sure that he doesn't get bullied off his spot, whether that's blocking out, whether that's cutting off a driver. He lacks physical strength. But the one thing that he doesn't lack is toughness, and a lot of times that's really hard to identify when you're recruiting a young man out of high school. Because they don't necessarily need to be physical, they can just hang around, and in JJ's case. hang around the basket and block shots. But you'd never really see a talented body pushing against a guy in high school, and JJ gets here and he's going against guys that are three and four years older than him. I think he's done a marvelous job. He's got a ways to go, playing him a little bit out of position at times. He's playing mostly the five, which we've never envisioned him doing. But he can catch. I think at his best, he can finish lobs, he's intelligent. He's a great teammate, and he's taking in everything just like a freshmen does. Makes some mistakes here and there, but he's getting better and better.
(On of he was surprised to see Louisville jump up to No. 16 in the AP Poll after being unranked, and if it's an accurate representation of his team)
I don't really care about the rankings. I don't even think about how much we jumped. I don't even know what we were ranked last week, if we were even ranked. I don't know, I could care less. So, the second part of your question probably isn't easy to answer for me, because I could really care less about where we're ranked. Next Monday, we'll have three more games under our belt in our league. We'll know a lot more about our team. And that's not to say that we'll have arrived, or not arrived, it's a long process. I think the ranking is great for recruiting, your name's on the bottom line, but it incentivizes the team that you play, and it cannot entitle the team we are. So that's how I feel about the rankings.
(On if he's pleased with the approach the team has taken with playing on the road)
It's not the same. But the one thing our team doesn't lack on the sidelines is spirit, is energy, I think it's needed when you go into empty buildings where it feels more like a scrimmage at times. I think our our team's got to get better on some details. We worked a lot over the weekend in situational work. Up 1 with 30 seconds to go, down two & a minute to go, because we tend to not understand details, not execute details. That goes with young players. Great teachers experience, a lot of times it's failed experience, that teaches you. We want to try to eliminate the failed experiences on game night, and have them occur in practice and learn from them. I like the approach, but I don't think we're nearly good enough right now to think that we can finish out and close out games just yet consistently.
Forward JJ Traynor
(On how the team has changed since he first started playing earlier this season)
It's changed a lot. Everybody has grown. In the beginning, we struggled with the a lot of injuries, multiple guys out. We were just trying to find a way to not be down and just keep our spirits up. But as people started getting back, we kept competing, kept getting better, and just kept improving.
(On how being short handed has helped them in the long run)
It's helped. It's put me in a position that I wouldn't be in. (Inaudible) It just teaches me different things, and gave me a bigger opportunity and given me more experience for next year to continue to get better.
(On if the game has slowed down for him, and where he has progressed the most)
Yes, the games have slowed down. Even in early practices I struggled, because the game was a lot faster and things were going differently in defensive rotations and stuff. But each game, I learned something. Each game, I get more used to it. Since the first game, I'd say, I've improve a lot on defense by talking and knowing what to do, and where I'm at on the floor.
(On what he's learned from being around Carlik Jones)
I've learned a lot from Carlik. He's like a big brother to us. There's been moments in practice where I may have missed a shot for the red team, and he'd be like, 'forget that, next shot' or stuff like that, or keep your head up, or things like that to keep me going and build confidence in myself. I appreciate him for a lot of that, he's a good leader.
(On what the coaching staff is telling him to focus on)
Don't let my weight be a reason why I've missed that blockout, or I let somebody score on me. They emphasize that a lot on me, they get on me a lot about that. Then just continue to build muscle and work with (Strength & Conditioning) Coach Kettler. But overall, they like everything I'm doing, and they just want me to keep improving.
(On how his physique has changed)
When I first got here, I was about 181 (pounds). Since like May, when I was started working with the nutritionist and Kettler and I'm up to 200 now. We just want to keep going up. I feel a lot different out there. Obviously, I still have a long way to go, but just continuing to get stronger and it's helped me a lot, and really improved my game.
(On how they've been so successful in road games this year)
I think it goes to coaches. Lots of, you know, we're prepared. Like when we go there, we know what this guy does, we know that guy likes to do, Yeah we're away, but I feel like we're comfortable, and we need to come out better. We've been struggling coming out, but we never really panic because we're comfortable. Trusting each other, trusting the coaches, and everybody just pushes us through.
(On how the team's length helps with their pack line defense)
It helps us a lot. I really like our defense, because to other teams, it's like they have no openings, so they can't drive on us. They feel like they can't drive on us, and that's why most teams shoot threes majority of the game. And our length helps us be in passing lanes, and alter shots, and deflect passes. Really helps us get on the fast break. But I think the defense is perfect for a team like us, to be very long and athletic.
You can follow us for future coverage byliking us on Facebook & following us on Twitter:
Facebook - @LouisvilleOnSI