Jan. 24, 2008
Head Coach Kelvin Sampson Press Conference
January 24, 2008
On what to expect from Connecticut:
"Speed, rebounding. Their size, obviously, with (Hasheem) Thabeet inside. They're just a much more mature team than when we played them last year. They've grown up and (A.J.) Price is what Jim (Calhoun) thought he'd be. He's really good. Price, (Jerome) Dyson, those two guards have great quickness. They play in great bursts. Thabeet I think has improved in every area. He's 70-for-100 free throws. I think that is significant. I don't have his stats from last year right in front of me, but I know that is just an example of how he's improved. He's more comfortable. I think he see himself as a great low post player now. Whether he has the ball or not he controls the lane defensively. (Jeff) Adrien is just a tough kid. He's a warrior. And they are playing good now. I think early in the year...we all are what we are early in the year. The win over Marquette and they went in a won a great road game last night where just about everybody struggles is at Cincinnati. They will come in here with a lot of confidence."
About Connecticut leading the nation in blocked shots:
"If (Hasheem) Thabeet played on our team, we would too. They have a 7-foot-3 center that can really block shots. That's why they lead the nation in blocked shots. And then they bring size in behind him. The (Curtis) Kelly kid, (Jonathan) Mandeldove, both those kids....Mandeldove is right at 7 foot. They have great size."
On this game being a measuring stick against a top post player like Thabeet:
"I am trying to think of the big kids we've played. (Patrick) Patterson (of Kentucky) is a good big kid but he's not a center. He's a 6-9 kid that can really play. This is definitely the best center we've played. I don't think Xavier has a center. They don't play that way. Very few teams play with a center today. Most of them have 6-8, 6-9 forwards that can play from the three-point line and in.
"Guys like Hasheem Thabeet and the big (Roy) Hibbert kid from Georgetown, there just aren't a lot of guys like that anymore. I know Thabeet thought about going out early last year; for Connecticut I hope he stays but reality is he probably won't. The Hibbert kid probably could have gone out last year, but probably will this year. When you get a good big one today, they just don't stay very long. It is unique. But I think Jim and his staff have done a great job with developing him too. And give Hasheem credit for being smart enough to know what the right decision was. You just don't play against a lot of centers. Thabeet sets up his tent in the lane and that is where he stays."
On how you prepare D.J. White to face a player like Hasheem Thabeet:
"Well D.J. played against him last year. I think D.J. has an understanding. You have to be careful about playing at the rim, because he is a much better shot blocker than he was. We're not going to shoot every shot on the perimeter."
On playing a nonconference game in the middle of the conference season:
"I go back and forth on it. We've played Connecticut six-straight years. I played them the last four years I was at Oklahoma too. And most of those games, some of them were in February I think. We've done it for a long time. We played Maryland one year at their place mid-February or early February. I would have preferred, I think most coaches would have preferred to be finished with their nonconference schedule. But it is a great game. You've got two great programs playing. Television dictates a lot of that too."
On whether you prepare differently for this game compared to a Big Ten game:
"No. If you keep score, you should prepare to win. No different."
On facing a full-court press from Connecticut:
"I think they do it based on need. I haven't completed watching all the tapes I need to watch. They play some games where they didn't press at all. I think that guys that don't press all the time use it when needed. We'll prepare for the press, may see it and may not. If we see it, then we'll run our press offense."
On how Indiana is improving with its scouting reports:
"Paying attention and understanding more. And how what we do relates to taking away their strengths. Like some kids are better to their left hand, some kids are better to their right hand. Hedging ball screens tougher and quicker on kids that like to shoot threes. Just things like that. Being able to have carryover from the scouting report to the game."
On Mike White not getting in the game until late vs. Iowa:
"I just want Mike to play with more energy. There is no such thing as a good matchup or a bad matchup for Mike. I think he played 30 minutes against Connecticut last year, against the same team. We'll see. Sometimes you have to pull a string here and there. I like doing that."
On the spark provided by the play of Armon Bassett:
"I think Armon is playing with confidence. You know when the injury was bothering him he wasn't able to practice. I don't know how you can be good...you don't win the games on game night, you win they the two days prior to with your preparation. And each player has to be accountable for how hard they play. And Armon's been allowed to practice so he is having good carryover from practice to the game.
"I think after the Chicago State game, I think that was the game he got hurt, but from that point to whichever game he came back...Illinois, I guess, he's practicing well and playing well. But I think the big thing with Armon is just confidence. It's hard to have confidence when you just show up and play on game night. The last time we played Iowa he hadn't practiced that week but he wanted to give it a try. After warm ups it makes no sense to have him sit down on the bench for 7-8 minutes then put him in. So we decided to start him and see how he could do. He wasn't moving very well so we took him out. I think we held him out of the next game, if memory serves me right, I think we did. But that was also to give him some time to heal. I think he is as healed now as he is going to be. I just think we have to be lucky with his injury and hope it doesn't progress. "
On the play of A.J. Ratliff:
"I think with A.J. it is just finding his niche. Missing all the games he did, he's behind when he started. We're not playing games where I have the luxury of giving him 10-20 minutes so he can get his confidence back. These are games that when you get in the conference season or you are playing against a great nonconference opponent like Connecticut, my emphasis is to put in the kids I've got that I think we can win with."
On what it is like coaching with his son, Kellen
"He is such a great kid. He's got a great mother. He is just going to do whatever is required and then some. It is the `and then some' people that usually make or break your program. They do things that are a little extra. He's always been a little bit more mature. He graduated from college when he was 20, for instance. He finished college last December and started working on his master's degree. Very mature, great people person. Never has a bad day. That is a great attribute to have as a coach. He'll get tested over the next 30 years, though."
On what Eric Gordon has brought to the team:
"Other than his numbers, it is just his presence. Eric has some less than great games in there but watching him every day you can almost see his development in front of you. You can just see how much better he is getting. There were some games early, I think the one that jumped out at me and I think this is where he's made his biggest improvement is in the last week. Against Illinois and Minnesota, anytime there was a ball screen they trapped him. Any time he came, if there was a pass from the point guard to the wing whoever is guarding the point guard jumped off it automatically, doubled him. We sat down and watched tape with him and showed him, `okay, easy play is to throw it back to the point guard because they are jumping off him. They are jumping to the ball, kick it back.' And then we swing it back to him , there is no double team.
"Patience and knowing when to go 20-25 in a school zone, 35 in a residential area, then you get on the interstate, go 75. What is the speed limit here? 70? Go 70. There've been times when he would try to go 70 in a residential area. But that is the maturation process. It is just the way he's always played. And the better the players you play against, the more you have to play at variable speeds. And I look at his last two games, I thought he had great control on Sunday against Penn State, especially the second half. And then last night...he can get to 60 before a lot of guys can get to 30. So why would you get to 90? Play at 60. And he is a very attentive listener. Some kids hear you, but I am not sure they listen to you. Some kids look, I'm not sure they see. This kid hears you, he listens to you, he looks and he sees. Sometimes when you are coaching your best player, it's not like I pull him to the side and coach him by himself, you coach in front of you team. The way he adjusts to things I think helps the others adjust too. He is an easy kid to coach, though. Defensively, offensively, if we can ever get him to rebound he is going to be pretty good."
On why freshmen have been able to adjust to the college game so quickly:
"I just think it is the difference in April, May, June and July. April, May, June and July is ridiculous. That is the biggest change that has happened in college basketball. I remember recruiting a kid named Hollis Price in Orlando. Was there a kid at Maryland named Taj Holden? I think that's who Hollis' team was playing...I think Jason Williams who played at Duke was on that team too. And here we are in Orlando, I think this would have been 2001 maybe, in July. It might have been the last day of the (recruiting) period, maybe July 31. And there were probably 3-4,000 people at the Milk House in Orlando, that Disney Complex. And the game was being televised by the Sunshine Network. It was an intense, well-coached possession battle.
"But those kids play those games every weekend now, especially in the month of April...April, May and July. The intensity of those AAU games, that changed freshmen. They've played in big games. And a lot of them are 15, 16-years old playing against these kids. So when a freshman comes in, freshmen have been playing against the freshmen, sophomores and juniors since they were in the 10th grade. There is no wondering or anticipation of `can I play at this level?' They've been beating these guys for three years. So why wouldn't I come in and have an impact right away? When they come to college their confidence level is extremely high. There isn't a lot of anxiety in them. Eric Gordon, our first day of practice, that Saturday after Midnight Madness, he was really good that day. And he's been good every day. Shot doesn't always go in, but that doesn't mean he played bad."
Freshman Guard Eric Gordon
On trying to improve his rebounding:
"I have been rebounding alright, at times. Sometimes it is hard for a lot of guards to rebound. D.J. (White) has been getting a lot of rebounds so it's hard to pull some down sometimes."
On whether how involved he should be in rebounding:
"Coach (Sampson) always tells us to have two guards back, so I'll be back if I am shooting. Sometimes I might have to crash, it just depends on the situation."
On playing a non-conference game in the middle of the Big Ten schedule:
"I would say this week is one of the toughest parts of our schedule. UConn will be a big test for us because of their athletic ability and their size. They are bigger than us and it will be a good challenge."
Senior Forward D.J. White
On the strategy going against a team that blocks shots like Connecticut:
"You always play aggressive and never back down. It's not in my nature to back down from anyone, no matter what the stats say. We are going to look at the game plan today and just play like normal.
"Obviously, they are a great shot blocking team but we aren't going to try to do anything differently to try to avoid that. If they block a shot, it's just part of the game."
On whether his ability to shoot from the outside is an advantage against a shot blocker:
"I think so, because it moves him away from the basket. It opens it up for other teammates because you don't have that dominant shot blocker around the basket if he is guarding me 17 feet away from the basket."
On playing a non-conference game in the middle of Big Ten play:
"I didn't make the schedule, I just play the games. You would want to play all of your non-conference game at the beginning of the season to get them out of the way, but it has its ups and downs."
On the eagerness to play a ranked team in the future:
"Of course, you always want to play against the top competition. UConn is a team that is getting better and better. They were young last year and we went into their place and got a win, so I know they are probably eager to come in here and do the same. It should be a good matchup and I'm looking forward to the game."