Jan. 10, 2008
Head Coach Kelvin Sampson Press Conference
January 10, 2008
On Illinois and Illini players Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle:
"We had a lot of problems with Pruitt last year. I just think he is one of the best big guys in this league. Around the rim, being left-handed, you are constantly having to guard his right shoulder when 90 percent of the time we are always talking left shoulder. I am talking jump hook...jump hook over his right shoulder, whereas most guys shoot a jump hook over the left shoulder. Plus, he is a senior. He and Randle are senior veterans on that team and they pose a lot of problems for you.
They're as good man-to-man defensively as there is in the conference, I think. And it starts with (Chester) Frazier. Frazier is just a tough, hard-nosed defender. I really like him...Frazier, (Trent) Meacham, (Calvin) Brock, Randle, Pruitt, all those guys are all veterans. They have been through the Big Ten. I know they have struggled as of late. Sooner or later every team is going to struggle during the course of the season. They are doing theirs now. But in all their games, every one they've lost, it is not like they are getting blown out. They could have won every one of those games. I watched the Arizona game; that is a game I am sure their coaching staff feels like they should have won that game. Same with Tennessee State, same with Penn State. Every one of those games were all winnable. You win those games, you reverse your record. We have great respect for Illinois. They have veteran guys who have been through the wars in this league. If they were a young team and struggling you are probably going to have to massage a lot of different things. But their veterans have a lot of pride and I am sure they will play well."
On the status of Eli Holman and Armon Bassett:
On what he hopes players who are hurt can get out of practice:
"Eli, I am pretty sure we are going to go the medical redshirt route on him. I think it just makes sense to me to request a medical redshirt. I feel Dr. Rink feels like that is the way to go too. "I haven't seen Armon. Yesterday was strictly an academic day. We'll see how he goes. I don't think there is anything new to report on him."
"Rest. Getting Better. They all watch practice; they pay attention. The big thing is not getting re-injured, or rest. Look at Pittsburgh...you can't predict injuries and you don't worry about them."
On D.J. White taking the ball to the basket more in the last few games:
"I think one of the things you look for, in terms of shot selection, is your best players should take the most shots. If you look at our shot distribution, E.J. (Eric Gordon) has the most shot attempts on our team. The guys that should be shooting the ball for us the most are E.J. and D.J. And for D.J., the only thing we talked about from last season to this season was just not being...his go-to move on the post is probably his turnaround jump shot. But he's shooting his jump hook a lot more this year. And the more he shoots his jump hook, he is going to the basket. He is turning into the lane, being aggressive. He is going to get fouled more. And the more you offensive rebound, especially on put backs, you are going to get fouled more. But that all ties in to being aggressive. The more aggressive he is, the more he gets to the free throw line. If you drive the ball, if you drive it, you have a chance to get fouled. And for D.J., he is not going to drive it a whole lot, but there is a lot of other ways he can get fouled too. And he is doing those things."
On D.J. White's his rebounding effort over the last three games:
"I just think it is maturity. I don't think D.J. saw himself as a rebounder last year. You could see that. He saw himself as something else. He has transformed his game in the last year. I have never been much on what position someone plays, but if you are putting a numerical target on D.J., I think maybe he saw himself more as a 4-3, perimeter kind of guy. Son, you are not a perimeter player. You are a low-post guy. That is who you are...embrace it. I don't know that he embraced that, though, but he does now. That is why kids that make the good decisions for the right reasons...there are some kids that decide to come back to college for another year, they make the right decision but they haven't embraced it; they haven't jumped in with two feet and really committed to it. D.J. committed to this. I think one of the things that really helped him, though, was having the Pan Am Games to prepare for. We kind of put some fear in D.J. that you may not make that team. There is no guarantee. I coached enough of those teams to know you don't make those teams based on your reputation or your statistics from the previous year. You make it based on those workouts and those practices leading up to the cut. If you're not good in those workouts you aren't going to make the team. So. D.J. had a little fear, a little motivation in those workouts.
"The kids that have really worked and earned a right to play well, those are the guys you want on your team and I told him (Pan Am Games/Villanova head coach Jay Wright) how hard D.J. was working. D.J. would call me every night and tell me how things were going. He worked his butt off in May, June, July. He went there ready.
"The first three games (of the season) I know there was some adjustment period for all of us during those early games. He has been rebounding well for awhile. But now he is not taking possessions off. He is going after every board. It will get tougher for him now. If we are playing against a guy that had 22 rebounds, we're going to probably put two bodies on him, really make sure he gets no offensive rebounds. But I also think that was part of the game plan against their (Michigan's) zone. You have a 1-3-1 zone against someone where you're vulnerable is offensive rebounds. That was a big part of the gameplan; attack them on the offensive boards. Against a man-to-man defense it's harder to get offensive rebounds like that because you have someone assigned to blocking you out, whereas when you are playing against a 1-3-1 zone you are attacking areas. D.J. was attacking the rim."
On whether he worries about D.J. White becoming fatigued with all his work prior to the start of the season;
"I don't know if I worry about it, but I am conscious of it. We think about that. With the way the rule is, with the one day off a week, like we didn't practice yesterday. D.J. is finishing up school; he is going to graduate in May. So I know he had a long day in the classroom yesterday. You have a 20-hour a week rule. I don't know that anybody goes 20 hours this time of year. You don't have 2 ½-3 hour practices now. I think the intensity has to remain high but the length of your practice probably is cut short. But I am conscious of him. But you know, when you have senior, they've been down this road many times. D.J. knows where to rest himself and when to push himself. I worry more about Jamarcus (Ellis) and DeAndre (Thomas) and Jordan (Crawford) and Eric (Gordon) more than I do D.J., or Lance (Stemler) or Mike (Thomas)."
On where or not he will do anything different to prepare Eric Gordon for this game:
"No. Not at all. Eric doesn't think like you think. This is our third conference game; we are playing Illinois. That will be our focus. And I am sure that will be their focus too. Illinois wants to beat Indiana and Indiana wants to beat Illinois. I don't know that anything else needs to be said."
Freshman guard Eric Gordon
On people making a big deal out of playing against Illinois
"It's just another Big Ten game. I knew this was going to be a big game, but to me it's just a normal game in the Big Ten that we are going to have to play."
On whether he is happy the first one is a home game not on the road:
"We are going to go over there anyway. It is always good to play them here though."
On staying composed:
"I am always calm before each game. I know a lot of people are going to look forward to this game, but I'm just going to play the same way I have against other teams."
On whether playing two Big Ten road games makes him appreciate home games more:
"Yeah, because on the road the crowd and the environment is always against you. I would say this game the crowd will be crazy and it will be good for us to play at home again."
On shooting from so far behind the three-point line:
"I'm not sure. I saw on tape how far I shot, I think my third three-pointer against Iowa. I didn't know I was that far out. I usually can tell, but I didn't know I was that far out. Usually I don't shoot right from the three-point line, I don't know why but I just like being farther back. I usually just catch and shoot around the NBA-range."
On the progress made at being a better point guard:
"I think I am making strides. My ball handling has gotten a lot better here than it was when I was in high school. Since Armon has been out, I have been playing more point guard every now and then and I think my ball-handling skills have gotten better."
On how good junior Jamarcus Ellis rebounds from the guard position:
"It is hard to rebound like he does. In this league, the guys are big and strong and most of the time it is hard. I have never played with a guard that can rebound as good as he can. He just has a knack for being around the rim and getting the rebounds."
On the physical toll the season has taken so far:
"It's about what I expected. Since the Big Ten season started, it is a lot more physical and there is a lot of pounding with guys knocking you over. I don't know how many times I ended up on the floor in our last game."
Senior forward D.J. White
On following up the big game against Michigan
"I'm going to try to do the same things that I have been doing. I know getting 22 rebounds again probably isn't likely, but I hope to do it again some time."
On what he is doing better now compared to his freshman year when he averaged 4.9 rebounds a game:
"I'm being more aggressive. I was a different freshman than this guy sitting beside me (Gordon). I'm just being more aggressive and knowing what I need to do for this team to be successful. My freshman year coming in, I thought it was all about scoring and trying to win and I didn't rebound like I was capable of doing. I think I got better and better with that over the years."
On the difference between his game now and last year:
"I think I am different, especially on the rebounding end with being more aggressive. Now I look at as when the ball is in the air I think I should go get it and I go pursue it. On the offensive end, I don't have to have the ball in my hand every time like I did last year when I got double and triple-teamed. It is much easier to play this year, especially with Eric (Gordon), Jamarcus (Ellis), Jordan (Crawford) and Armon (Bassett) penetrating and making it easier for me to go one-on-one and not face the double and triple-teams."
On the challenge of facing Illinois center Shaun Pruitt, who shoots left-handed:
"It is a difficult task. We have faced each other now for three years and I think he looks forward to going against me like I look forward to going against him. We'll see on Sunday."
On whether Pruitt is one of the top center's in the Big Ten:
"I think so, he is one of the top centers in the league. He's left-handed so that is always difficult to guard. I was just looking at the stats, he is leading the Big Ten in offensive rebounds, so that is always a tough load to guard and keep him off the offensive glass."
On what he tells injured freshman forward Eli Holman since he cannot practice
"I just tell him to learn everything he can. It is good for him to be able to watch. I think he looks up to me in some ways and he is trying to learn everything possible to it is good for him to see things. Eric and I came in as freshmen and were thrown right into the fire, so for him to be able to sit there and see things will be good for him."
On what he learned when he had to miss practice due to injury as a sophomore:
"It's a different speed. Night in and night out you are playing against guys that are as good as you or better. But in high school you go against six-foot guys playing you in the post, so it is a big difference."
On the role pride plays in rebounding for him:
"That is probably one of the top factors. I take a lot of pride in rebounding, especially now. I also take a lot of pride in double-doubles, I think I should get one every game. That is one of may goals, along with going out there and playing hard and trying to win every game, to go our there and try to get everything I can off the glass."
On playing with a sense of urgency as his senior season begins to wind down:
"It is getting towards the end and I am hungry for a title. We haven't had one since I have been here and this is the perfect time to do it with the team we have this year. I am a senior, so I think I am playing with a sense of urgency with that always in the back of my mind. I just try to go out there every game and play hard like it is my last game."