Transcript of Tennessee Coach Pearl and Players Today

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MODERATOR: Tennessee Volunteers are with us. We'll ask Coach Bruce Pearl to open up with an opening statement, then we'll go to questions.

COACH PEARL: We're very pleased to be here. Because of the quick turnaround and getting ready to play, I don't know, some day and a half, you need a week and a half to prepare for Michigan State.

They do so many things. They've got so many great sets and so many great looks. But having gone through the SEC tournament or having gone through last weekend, we kind of find ourselves in a routine. We've done this before.

And we're staying with obviously our routine. We're pleased to be here. We know we had to beat some good teams to get here. But we know that the road to the Final Four gets even tougher now against a team that has had unprecedented success over the last several years. Obviously, since 1999 no team in the country has won more NCAA tournament games than Michigan State.

MODERATOR: Questions.

Q. J.P. and Wayne, what is the feeling like taking this Tennessee team to a level that no other Tennessee team has ever done before?

WAYNE CHISM: I can say it's great. But I can say our journey is not done, because this team wants to keep making history, we want to keep playing basketball. So this team is getting itself ready and prepared for Michigan State.

J.P. PRINCE: I have to agree with Wayne. Last night was last night. It's over. We enjoyed it for an hour or two, but after that, it was right back to watching film and getting ready for Michigan State and paying attention to the scouting report and listening to what coach had to tell us.

Q. Bruce, we all know what's at stake tomorrow. Do you talk to your team about that, or do you just go out and play 40 minutes of basketball and let's see what happens?

COACH PEARL: We're just taking each weekend as they've come in the sense that last weekend there was a four-team tournament with Ohio, Georgetown, and San Diego State. This week there's been a four-team tournament with Ohio State, Michigan State, Northern Iowa and Tennessee. And so we're halfway through the weekend, and we just really are approaching it like that.

I was actually thinking about it on the way over here for a second about what we're playing for. But I just think because there's such a short turnaround and because the guys are focused on our play calls and our under OBs and the matchups and stuff like that, I don't think they're thinking too much about what's at stake; I think they're thinking about this opponent and what we have to do to keep them off the boards, and what we have to do to not be physically manhandled and intimidated by a very aggressive, athletic, experienced Michigan State team.

I think it's really just about the task at hand at this point.

Q. J.P., Wayne and Bobby, what Coach just said about Michigan State, unprecedented success, won more NCAA tournament games in the last ten or 11 years, how do you relate to that? Does it matter tomorrow?

BOBBY MAZE: The statistics don't lie. But when you are out there on the floor, it's been

 

proven throughout this whole tournament, the team that plays the hardest, the most physical, defends the best and rebounds, wins the basketball game.

When you go out there on the floor, you don't worry about any of that; you just worry about playing 40 minutes of basketball and knowing that if you lose, you're done.

WAYNE CHISM: I would say that, too. They're an experienced team and their team has been to the national championship game before. And they are playing a Tennessee team that hasn't been there, but an experienced Tennessee team.

And it's going to be a tough game. And we're going to have to battle against those guys.

J.P. PRINCE: Obviously we're trying to get our program to where their program is at and reach the level of success, and we know that to be the best you have to go through the best. So that's all we're focused on tomorrow, is Michigan State.

And like Coach and Wayne and Bobby said, defensive rebounding will be the key and who plays the hardest tomorrow.

Q. Wayne, could you talk about the differences in defense from Ohio State to Michigan State and what that's going to do in terms of you being able to get the kind of inside looks that you had yesterday?

WAYNE CHISM: I've been playing against a lot of teams like they're playing the four guards, the 6-5, they've been playing four 4s at 6-10. It doesn't matter to me. It's however the game plays, whenever play calls come my way.

Other than that, I'm really not looking forward to that. It's going to be a whole team effort out there on the court. Instead of me just getting inside shots, I've got other players on the team who can make shots, too.

Q. J.P. and Wayne, Michigan State's one of the top rebounding teams in the country. You guys are also really good rebounding team. How much motivation are you guys looking forward to just battling inside like that tomorrow?

WAYNE CHISM: Well, it's going to be a fight in there. So I know I got Brian on my other side to help rebound and J.P., it's another person to help us rebound, too, so we've got three big bodies in there that's going to rebound. So it's just going to be a fight on the inside for the ball.

COACH PEARL: What about Scotty and Bobby?

WAYNE CHISM: Scotty and Bobby, and I'm going to say Kenny Hall, a lot more size to come in and rebound. I'm sorry, Scotty.

J.P. PRINCE: It's going to take the whole team to rebound at every position. I mean, it's not necessarily just Wayne and Brian's job to get the rebound, even though we do try to force it on them. But we know the guards, also, we have to come down and help them when they're boxing their man out to get those boards and give them a little rest and a chance to run and seal and get them the ball in the break. But at the end of the game the rebounding probably will be the key.

Q. Bruce, I was wondering if you could comment on Wayne, when you first started recruiting him, his personality and maybe the maturation over the course of his college career?

COACH PEARL: The biggest thing I wanted Wayne to do over four years was not really change. I wanted him to stay Wayne. And that is a sweet, wonderful young man. I'll come back with some more.

I would like him to stay more poised on the floor sometimes. But Wayne is light and lively and is as competitive as you can imagine. So I've got a real affection for these guys. And I've got a real affection for the way Wayne has grown, tolerated me as a coach that's always expecting a great deal from him.

So he's going to graduate on time, with a double major. He's taking Tennessee basketball, as the rest of these guys have, to places that we have never been before. And I'm just very appreciative of having had the chance to coach him.

Q. J.P., can you talk about shifting gears from every game, defensively from guarding a guy like Leonard in the first round to a guy like Turner last night, and I don't know what Bruce will have you do tomorrow, but Raymar is a completely different challenge again. But how does that change you from game to game?

J.P. PRINCE: Whatever the coach tells me to do, he knows I love to accept those challenges, and just guarding great players, that's something I love to do, because you want to challenge -- want to play against the best and do your best to shut them down.

But it's just something. You have to watch a lot of film on, no matter who I'm guarding. Just got to learn their tendencies and be ready for the challenge, and use your toughness because sometimes the guys are bigger and stronger than me but sometimes you have to outsmart them and beat them to the spot.

Q. When Tom was in here, he was saying that the first time they played for a trip to the Final Four he was still dealing with tickets and hotel rooms. Have you had to deal with any of that or have you gotten calls from anybody saying, hey, congratulations, since you guys have taken this step that Tennessee hasn't done before?

COACH PEARL: Yeah, I mean, there's a lot more ticket requests, and certainly the phone's blowing up with e-mails and texts, and that's fine.

But, again, with the window that we have, everybody's doing a great job around me, letting me focus on the team and focus on the preparation.

And between my dad and Brandy, my wife, they'll take care of the ticket requests. And there is a lot to it. We're in St. Louis right now, and we're not to the Final Four yet. And so it's a big weekend. But, again, it's like a lot of other games that we play that have got terrific interests.

So I'm focusing on the coaching and the preparation.

Q. Downtown St. Louis is quickly becoming a sea of orange. A lot of people from Nashville making the drive up. Talk about the support, especially the last time you walked out on the court and the support of the UT fans that are coming to St. Louis?

COACH PEARL: To give you one example, I remember four years ago -- Wayne, you were a freshman -- we went to Madison Square Garden. We managed to get to the NIT and Butler, Gonzaga, North Carolina, and Tennessee were the four-team field.

And we didn't show up. Madison Square Garden is holy ground. And growing up in Boston and being in that environment, it was an honor for me to listen to that horn that only -- only Madison Square Garden has that horn. And I wanted to honor the basketball with the way we played. Well, we didn't play well at all. And we had very little people in the stands.

And our band and cheerleaders didn't even make it. And it looked like -- we looked like an SEC football school that was trying to play basketball filling out the field. It was embarrassing and it was something we talked about not -- trying not to happen again.

I can tell you those moments have been few and far between. Our fans traveled. We're fourth in the nation in attendance. We've remodeled our building into one of the nicest buildings in college basketball, and we fill it. It's a tough place to play.

When we go on the road -- anyway, we're here in St. Louis. What would happen this far from home? Would Tennessee's basketball program show up? Well, we showed up on the court. We did. And we certainly showed up in the stands. And we certainly are showing up in town.

And so I think what it's saying to the folks here in the Midwest, that we've got a really -- we've got a top 20 basketball program at Tennessee in all facets, both on and off the court.

So I'm very, very proud, and very appreciative of the support.

Q. Bruce, you wore body paint and went to a woman's game. Tom Izzo has rappelled from rafters and worn goofy costumes for Midnight Madness. Why aren't there more coaches that coach with personality, coach with the passion? You guys do. Seems like you guys are totally different than a lot of coaches in the country.

COACH PEARL: When I left Tom Davis, he told me, “Listen, if your teams look like our teams, that would be great, because that's what you know. You don't have to be me. Be yourself.”

And so I don't know why more coaches aren't that way, that's Tom Izzo, for better or worse. This is who I am, for better or worse.

So, I think for coaches to try to be something that they're not, and so if some of us are a little bit more animated, it's because that's just how we are. And I always tell my players: Pay no attention to how I'm saying this, but pay attention to what I'm saying.

Q. Bruce, even though it wasn't Division I, you do have a national title to your credit as a coach, I know. Even though it's not totally a similar situation obviously, do you learn anything from that that's helping you now?

COACH PEARL: Well, I don't know. I mean, we're just taking it one game at a time, and we're trying not to -- we're trying not to be any different than we normally are. This is how we are. We're just going about our business.

We're enjoying it. There's no question. After we get done today, we're going to go out and we're going to get some barbecue in St. Louis and we're going to go watch the game on big screen TVs and that's kind of what we would normally do on a road trip. Or the guys would go -- last weekend in Providence to go to Dave & Buster's and play video games. I don't want them in the hotel room locked in their rooms thinking about everything.

We'll get them together tonight and we'll go back and watch some more tape and focus on the opponent. But just keep doing what we're doing. And should the guys have a level of confidence that we've won championships before? Yes. Should they have a level of confidence that this isn't our first Sweet 16 or Elite Eight, you know, Final Four, championship game? No, we've been here before.

And so I'll try to share whatever experience I can with them.

Q. Bruce, second time here this weekend facing a Big Ten team. Is there a common denominator, I guess, and does the Ohio State game help you prepare for Michigan State for a chance to get to the Final Four?

COACH PEARL: I think there are two different teams. Obviously Michigan State is much more inside oriented, particularly with their rebounding, their post-up game. And they're also a great jump-shooting team. Ohio State was more off the bounce, and obviously Evan Turner.

So it's just different people. They both play hard. They're both extremely well coached. They're both confident. And what they do is what they do. What Thad Matta is what he's been doing a long time. What Tom Izzo does, he's been doing a long time.

So hard, aggressive, confident, experienced teams, and well-coached teams. But nothing necessarily that we haven't seen before, with the exception of the tenacity with which the way Michigan State rebounds. It's not just one guy. It's several guys. If they can't get it, they keep it alive. If they can't keep it alive, they'll knock you down trying to keep it alive.

Q. Brian, you kind of smiled when Bruce mentioned getting barbecue and watching it on TV. How do you guys stay loose? How do you guys stay loose and is that, then, kind of the way that you guys have functioned all season?

BRIAN WILLIAMS: This team is a family. And we're down to earth. On the court, it's business. But off the court, it's still business. But we know how to have fun and know how to stay on path to do the right thing.

And barbecue, I mean, it made me smile, because it's something I'm proud of right now. That's all I gotta say.

Q. Brian and Scotty, Michigan State's a high-profile program, I'm sure when you were growing up and watching college basketball, they're out there. What's your image of Michigan State? Scotty first and then Brian.

SCOTTY HOPSON: Definitely a great program. They have been to many Final Fours, and I'm just happy to be in a position to knock them off. And like J.P. said, we've got to play the best to be the best. Glad we're in this position and hopefully we get this win.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Same thing that Scotty said. I've been watching them since '99 with Mateen Cleaves and Jason Richardson. All of them had great plays since the beginning. They've been to the Final Four six, seven times. It's just a great team, like they said. We've got to compete them to be the best.

Q. Bruce, you guys came into this thing. You beat Kentucky. You beat Kansas, yet there's been a lot of doubt cast at you guys since the start. Have you understood that? And do you think you've changed the minds with three more wins, including Ohio State, or do you care?

COACH PEARL: We probably don't care at this point. When there's 16 teams left, we may have been the 16th best team. And that's okay, because if there were only 16 teams left and we were one of the top 16 teams in the country, if that's where we are, that's what our record says, that's how we play, that's fine. It doesn't bother us.

If there's eight teams left and we might be the eighth best team left, that's okay. We're not upset about it. But you have an opportunity to play in a game. And if we're better than Michigan State, we'll beat them and we'll advance. If we're not, they'll beat us and they'll advance.

We try not to pay too much attention really to that stuff. And, again, just go about -- go about the game. Defense and rebounding is going to win the game. If we can defend and rebound we'll be okay. If we defend like we did in the first half against Ohio State. If we come out intimidated, like I think we were early in that game against Ohio State -- and, listen, great players can do some great things, make you go ooh and ah. But that's not what our intention is.

So we truly don't pay much attention about who is going to be the upset special and who is the first team out.

Q. J.P., I asked Michigan State this same question. Certain teams have a name for their starting five. Do you guys have a name for your starting five?

J.P. PRINCE: No. We just come play the game. We don't worry about names and stuff and everything. We just play for Tennessee and the name on the front of our jersey and that's all that matters to us.

Q. Bruce and Wayne, you guys have one of the most productive benches in the country, along with Michigan State. How much confidence do you have that when you go out of the game that you know your team is still going to be pretty productive?

WAYNE CHISM: At the beginning of the season, Coach always says to us, it's like nobody on this team is going to play 40 minutes. And this team agreed with them and said, okay, we know what Coach does to go out and get good players, and that's what he did. And we have a bunch of players on the bench that can play basketball. They didn't come on this team to play the bench; they came on this team to play.

And everybody in our starting lineup said we're going to split the time. We'll go out and play our butt off in the first couple of minutes, let them come in and do the same thing. And that's what our bench is doing. They're helping us come out with good wins, and sometimes our bench will win the game for us.

COACH PEARL: I think it takes a little pressure off. I think it brings teams together. I think it builds chemistry. I think I can look at every single player in that locker room, look them dead straight in the eye and say we wouldn't be here without you, and it's a good feeling.

And so you have to -- these are our five best players. These five guys are worthy and deserving of their starting positions, and the majority of their minutes in certain times.

We're not here without Melvin Goins stepping up against San Diego State or the defense he played last night or the big shots. Bobby Maze understands that. And together Bobby and Melvin are a pretty good point guard. That's how we look at it. So we do have confidence in our bench. And I could go right down the line.

Q. Early January, Bruce, beyond your concern for the players, did you have concern for where the season might go from that point? And can you quantify the importance of the Kansas game maybe as a catapult from that point?

COACH PEARL: You can't answer the question beyond the concern for the players, because that's where it really truly started, in the sense that we had concern for the players that were involved, and we had concern for the players that were on the team.

And I think it was our concern that really helped us survive. But you are correct in the sense that with six scholarship players and three or four walk-ons, we won four games against Charlotte, Kansas, Auburn and Ole Miss. Had Wayne and J.P. and Bobby, Scotty, not been able to step up in a huge way and do more, and then if it wasn't for Renaldo Woolridge making four 3s against Kansas or Josh Bone playing in the last 14 minutes of the game against Ole Miss, so on and so forth, we wouldn't be here at this point.

So I think it was very, very crucial. And I think in a lot of ways it sent a message that, you know, no one player or two players or three players or five players is more important than the whole team.

And I'm proud of the guys for stepping up. I'm proud of the guys that weren't playing coming in and being ready to jump in and contribute.

But it clearly was a crucial time in our season. Could have been a turning point.

I will mention one other thing. Our crowds at that time were incredible. I mean, I can't tell you how many times the crowds picked us up and stood on their feet when we needed stops, because it was almost like our fans understood that we were shorthanded. And they were an incredible sixth man for us, because we needed a sixth man. Q. You know how hard it's been to get to where you are for the first time, the Elite Eight. How much of an appreciation do you have for the job Tom Izzo has done to do it as many times, get to the Final Four as many times as he has?

COACH PEARL: I can't put it into words the appreciation and the respect. Coach Izzo is a lot like Coach Summitt in the sense that those are two of the hungriest, humblest people who achieved as much in their business as anybody I can imagine.

Tom, he's no different than when he was an assistant for Jud. He's the same guy. You've got a question for him, he'll stop and answer you. If you want to know something about his offense, he'll get the pad of paper out and he'll draw it and call it and what it's all about. He's one of the very finest people in our business. And so I have great respect for the job that he's done.

It's easier to get it going than it is to keep it going.

MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen. We'll go to questions for Coach Pearl.

Q. When you guys were clobbered by Kentucky by 29 in the SEC tournament and there were some technicals and some of your guys lost their poise, did it take much to reel them back in, your team? Did you get over it pretty quickly to get to this point?

COACH PEARL: I think the tournament was over for us at that point. And it was all about getting back in and regrouping. And the very next day was Selection Sunday. One of the things that we did was prior to Selection Sunday, I did bring the guys in to watch some tape of that game.

And we couldn't watch much of it because I couldn't stomach it. But I wanted it out of our system before we started to prepare for whoever we were playing. And it was the last I wanted to talk about it.

But I wasn't going to -- I didn't want to go to practice on Monday in preparation for whoever our opponent was and have one word to say about Kentucky. I wanted it to be over.

And I think the thing about Kentucky, that last game -- two things. One, with eight minutes to go, it's a six-point game. And when Wayne picks up his fourth foul and then they start to make every shot, make every play, it was just -- it was a long eight minutes. But I wanted it to be behind us and move forward.

Q. I got a note from someone describing themselves as a Tennessee fan who was trying to explain to me how much Wayne Chism has meant not only to your program but to the athletic department and to Tennessee in general, particularly just this year with all that's gone on, not only with your team, but with the athletic department. Can you put that in your own words?

COACH PEARL: Sure. I think the thing about Wayne was coming from Jackson, Tennessee, small town, actually Bolivar, he came from a very loving, caring high school situation.

But Wayne was not prepared for success in college academically. And they knew it. Wayne knew it. But Wayne absolutely rolled up his sleeves and understood that he was challenged in the classroom early on and was so accepting of the help and the tutoring and the assistance. He spent ten times as much time on his classwork than any other student that was sitting next to him.

And so I guess the reason why I get sometimes emotional about Wayne is because I have so much respect for how far he's come.

And Wayne is a fraternity brother. Most student-athletes don't have time for anything beyond books ,basketball, and maybe a girlfriend.

But Wayne's a frat boy. Because Wayne loves brotherhood and he loves friends and he loves the connections.

And so Wayne has gotten a lot out of Tennessee, and obviously Tennessee has gotten a lot out of Wayne, in the sense that nobody's played more games. I don't know where he is on wins, but he's right there. And obviously championships.

Wayne was my first big recruit. He was the first guy that said yes before we had ever accomplished anything.

And so it's a great -- it's absolutely a great story. And it's a story that is important because so many of the rules profile student-athletes into this group can make it and this group can't. And Wayne was profiled into one of those groups that can't. And Wayne proved them wrong. He broke down all the stereotypes.

And so I'm really proud of him for that. So he's been a great Vol. A great Volunteer.

Q. Standing courtside in Providence after the Ohio win, you made a comment specifically referencing Tom Izzo in the sense that you knew each other obviously from the Big Ten, assistant coaching ranks, and you took a very different path than he did to get to this level. Now another win later and facing Tom Izzo for the right to go to the Final Four, can you give some perspective on your journey and what you're feeling today personally, and then going against Izzo for the right to go to Indianapolis?

COACH PEARL: Well, Tom and I were assistants together at Iowa and Michigan State. And when Jud retired, Tom got a great opportunity and really took what he and Jud had done and elevated the program. The Breslin Center was just getting started, the way they started to recruit. And Tom just -- the program just took off.

At the same time I was in Division II at Southern Indiana and I was having success, but at a completely different level on a different stage.

And one of the things that finally got me to leave Division II was I just didn't ever want to get to a point where I was in life and I wouldn't say, I wonder if I could have done it at the next level. See, we're in the business of encouraging our student-athletes to be the best they can be. My job is to see something in them that they don't see in themselves.

And at that point, at 40 years old, I was nine years Southern Indiana, loved it there. But I was settling. And I was doing something that I don't -- that I challenge my players not to do, and that is be the best you can be. So I jumped on that coaching carousel a little bit later.

I had several really good opportunities to leave Southern Indiana, but through, I think, more loyalty than anything and the fact that I liked it there a lot, I just stayed there. I was okay.

It was between the lines, 94 feet. It wasn't about the money either. But then it got to be I want to see if I can do this at this level. So Wisconsin-Milwaukee gave me the chance. And obviously Tennessee gave me the chance to be a high-major. So you make the most of your opportunities.

Q. You've been in this business long enough to probably have faced anything. But trying to keep the wheels on in January and bringing it all together, did you find yourself having to stretch coaching muscles you've never had to use before? Did you have to step up as well as the kids in your program?

COACH PEARL: Yeah, I'm sure we did. But I think the whole thing about coaching, I think, and working with young people is preparing them for adversity. Anybody can sail the ship when the seas are calm and the winds are favorable. It's when it starts to blow and get choppy that you need to have all hands on deck. Who is going to jump overboard? Who is going to panic? Look, this is what we have right now.

And this is okay. This is what we can do. And so let's find a way to take this right -- don't worry about what you can't control. And so I try not to have my team worry.

Listen, young people are resilient. Some roles were going to change. There were some opportunities that needed filling. And they were ready to respond.

So maybe it was because I've been doing it for a long time and putting teams together and changing your style of play to suit what you have.

So it was certainly a challenge. But it was very rewarding. And the kids responded extremely well.

Q. Tom Izzo talked a lot this season about avoiding distractions, dealing with distractions. He had to do it; you had to do it with your team. In this day of Twitter pages and all sorts of stuff, what kind of demands does this day and age of college basketball place on you as a coach and how do you deal with it compared with what you normally dealt with in the past?

COACH PEARL: As long as these guys right here maintain some solidarity, because each one of them have an army of people that are in their ear that are telling them this or that, and as long as they can edit and know who to listen to and stay together and understand that when we, as a team, are successful, you as an individual will benefit far more than if you as an individual are successful but the team fails.

And I think obviously because the team has been successful, each individual has gotten more attention, more notoriety, and certainly, you know, deserving of that.

Wayne Chism would be a great example. J.P. Prince would be -- who would have ever known that J.P. Prince is as competent a player, as good a defender had we not advanced to this point where the nation got a chance -- who is that Prince kid?

It was because our team was successful. J.P. understood that. He played into that and he played unselfishly and he's been rewarded.

Q. How do you describe this tournament so far, the way that certain games have been played, and certain teams have been ousted real quick that were not supposed to?

COACH PEARL: What's your favorite weekend of this three-weekend tournament? What's your favorite weekend?

Q. The championship weekend.

COACH PEARL: For me it's the first and second round. I think the first and second round, that Thursday and Friday, I think it's the best two days in college basketball, not the last two. That's for me.

It's because of all the Cinderella stories, all the people that are playing each other from all around the country, the upsets, the Cinderellas. And this tournament, every day has been like the first and second day of this tournament. You just stay tuned; you don't know any more.

I don't even know what our seed is. It doesn't matter. We play Michigan State. And it doesn't matter. I felt that when we played Ohio. Ohio was the MAC champion. They just beat Georgetown by 20. What was their seed? It doesn't matter. So it's been -- I think it's been a great tournament. And it's one of those -- that's why you play the game.

Q. You have Wayne Chism, who has the most 3-pointers from a post player in school history. Michigan State's got Draymond Green that can run the point. How much is the versatility and athleticism of your players? How much does that make your job easier?

COACH PEARL: I love dimensions and the fact that Wayne Chism has dimensions you can go to, offensively and defensively. And right down the line.

And a coach's job is to try to take those dimensions and put them together. You know, Tom Izzo has got some tremendous dimensions that he can utilize. Great players that have got great abilities in certain areas. And he just puts them in positions that they can be successful, where they're hard to guard, where they stay away from their weaknesses and go to their strengths and obviously play with a passion and a physicality.

I would like to think that our Tennessee teams are also known for that. We're not No. 1 in rebound margin, and we've not had the track record that Michigan State has had. But I would like to think, if there was something that people said about our Tennessee team, is that we played hard and we played unselfishly, because that's certainly what Michigan State's known for.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.

 

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