Jayhawks Getting Ready for Bison in Minneapolis

March 19, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS – Following a morning practice at a Minneapolis community college, the Kansas men’s basketball team went through media obligations and a public practice at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome Thursday in preparation for its NCAA Tournament first round game against North Dakota State Friday at 11:30 a.m. (Central).

No. 3 seed Kansas takes a 25-7 record into the contest. The Jayhawks won the Big 12 Conference regular-season title – their fifth straight, ninth Big 12 and 52nd overall – with a 14-2 league record. No. 14 seed North Dakota State is 26-6 on the season and won the Summit League regular-season title with a 16-2 conference record and the Summit League Tournament as well.

Here are quotes from Kansas players Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich and head coach Bill Self from Thursday’s media session.

MODERATOR: We are joined on the dais by Kansas student-athletes Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins.

Q. Ben Woodside was asked in their news conference about matching up with you and the difficulties that that’s going to make for him. Can you talk about how you look at your matchup with Woodside?

Sherron Collins: He’s good. I can’t take nothing away from him. He does a lot. Crafty. A good 3-point shooter, a good foul — he’s good all-around. He has a good game. And, you know, he knows how to use screens real well and does a lot of different things for the team.

It will be a tough matchup, but I think playing against a lot of guards all season, that’s prepared me for this moment.

I mean, it will be tough for us. It will be a tough matchup, but I think I will do all right.

Q. Cole, with you being from Bloomington, is it perhaps — are you the only one on the team that knows where Fargo is? And if so, what do you know about Fargo and North Dakota?

Cole Aldrich: I think Sherron probably knows where Fargo is, don’t you, Sherron?

Sherron Collins: I played up here a few times.

Cole Aldrich: He said it’s in North Dakota (laughter).

No, a lot of guys — we have Midwest guys. A lot of guys from Kansas, a few guys from Chicago. And we have big tournaments here over at AAU, so a lot of guys have played in Minneapolis and whatnot over at the AAU circuit over high school.

We’re just really looking forward to the game tomorrow. We know that they’re going to be good, as proven over the past four or five months, over the season.

So, you know, we’re just excited really to get back on the court. It’s been a week since we played, and, you know, I’m anxious just to get out and play again.

Q. Sherron, can you put into perspective what it means being the defending champion in this event, and also how you guys approach that?

Sherron Collins: I just think, you know, of it as a title. We won last year. Of course we’re defending it, but that’s not how we’re thinking. We’re just trying to take this thing one game at a time.

I think it means a lot to the guys. We have a lot of new guys, so they weren’t here last year. And we carried it, and we’re going to have a target on our back anyways just because we play at Kansas. It is not much of a big deal really.

Q. For you, Cole. Last year you got some big minutes in the semifinal game, and I’m just wondering if you can explain how that experience maybe gave you some momentum to be able to do the things you have been able to do this year. And also the opportunity to play, because you guys did have a lot of departures.

Cole Aldrich: Yeah. You know, we had a great game against North Carolina last year in the Final Four. You know, I was fortunate enough to get in the game, you know. And when I got in the game, you know, I played well.

One thing I took out of it really, it gave me confidence. You know, it gave me great confidence just going into the summer. You know, I think I had a great summer. And I worked really hard with some people back home here and with the coaching staff and guys, you know, down at Lawrence.

But, you know, it’s been different from last year’s team to this year’s team, because, you know, on last year’s team I was the fourth big man off the bench. You know, I got a few minutes behind, you know, three guys that got drafted into the league last year. And, you know, I just really took it as going from practice, you know — that was my game, was practice last year because, you know, I knew I wasn’t really go to get into too many games. And when I did, I wasn’t going to be there for, you know, 35 minutes at a time.

But I learned so much from those guys last year, which has carried over to this year’s team. Because Sherron and I are looked upon as the leaders, you know. And there’s been, I have to say, a 180 from last year’s role to this year’s role.

Q. Sherron, the North Dakota State coach said that he thought that you and Ben Woodside were very similar type players. Both good finishers, good shooters, point guards. Having seen as much as we’ve seen of Woodside, how do you think you guys are alike and how are you different?

Sherron Collins: We watched a few clips of him on tape, we watched tape. I actually watched some more at night, but I just think they hand the ball to him most of the time so he has to make a lot of plays for the team. He shoots it pretty well and I shoot it pretty well. And, like I say, finish at the rim a lot in a similar let.

But, you know, there are some things that were different. I’m going — I like contact. And, you know, this is the type of game, that’s the type of game I play. But he’s good, you know. We have a lot of similarities and I just think it’s because we have the ball in our hand more of the time. We have to control the game. And they depend on us most of the time to make shots.

But I think my upper hand is the big fella right here, just throwing it to him, so.

Q. For either of you guys. Is there a team that you played this year or in the Big 12 Conference that is similar or reminds you of North Dakota State?

Cole Aldrich: Missouri. You know, they kind of run the same motion. You know, they’re not quite so, you know, large all around as a team. But, they’re really good, you know.

You take a good hard-nosed Missouri team and you take the North Dakota State team and, you know, they’re going to be really good, you know. And that’s the one thing, you know, when we’re playing North Dakota State or another school, it’s the NCAA. You know, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, it’s going to be a tough game.

Q. Cole, how many times would you say you’ve been here to this building as a fan kind of growing up?

Cole Aldrich: A lot. This is my first time ever, you know, being able to be not a spectator at the building.

You know, I told all the guys, I remember watching Twins games, Vikings games, you know. And I came back, I think it was my junior year of high school when they had one of the regionals here that I came and watched I think it was Florida and Boston College and Villanova and another team play here.

You know, so I’ve been a big fan of the teams that have played in this building for, you know, 19 years. You know, 20 years that I’ve been alive. So it’s kind of really fun of not being that spectator and just having everybody come watch us.

Q. And either one of you guys can answer this question. You two were the only guys off last year’s team that played any kind of significant minutes but came back. How were you able to have the success you did this year after losing so many talented players off of last year’s team?

Cole Aldrich: I would say Sherron. Me personally I think Sherron has done a great job. I give all the credit to Sherron because, I mean, I don’t even know if I consider myself a significant player in last year’s team because, you know, I only played — I think the most minutes I played last year was 17. Which is a good amount. But Sherron was the guy that, you know, made plays in the real big games, you know. And I think Sherron has been an absolute great leader. He’s led us to really, you know, great places, you know, winning the Big 12 and whatnot. I think Sherron is an unbelievable leader.

MODERATOR: Sherron, do you want to add to that original question?

Sherron Collins: Yeah, I think just Coach really getting me ready to become the leader that I am. And I think it’s just the young fellas that came in, they didn’t come in thinking they knew it all. And I think it made my transition easier because they want to learn and want to get better.

And early in the season we was having a problem with, you know, coaching effort instead of just coaching the little things that we needed to work on. So my deal, I had to get them to buy into Coach’s system, which Coach played a big deal in it, too. And I was able to lead and they was able to listen and we stopped coaching effort and started coaching little things we needed to work on, and that’s when we got better.

MODERATOR: Okay, if there are no more questions, we will go ahead and excuse you guys back to your locker room.

Joined on the dais by Kansas head coach, Bill Self. We will go ahead and beginning with an opening comment from Coach, and then turn it over to questions. Coach?

COACH SELF: Well, this is, you know, of course in our biassed opinion the most special time of the year, and certainly we’re honored to be part of the tournament again. And really looking forward to playing a very, very good North Dakota State team that’s very well coached in the opening round.

Q. Bill, in watching them, how obvious is it that it’s a better team with a lot of guys that played a lot of games together?

COACH SELF: We’ve watched quite a bit of tape, a lot of tape, but it didn’t take long to figure that out. These guys, they all — they say the longer you play the game the slower the game becomes. And I think they’re a prime example on both ends, but probably more so offensively. That they don’t panic, they understand where the shots are coming from, and they know how to move without the ball.

They really are a hard team to scout because their movement is dictated by what the defense does as opposed to what they have pre-set in their head to do. And that’s much harder to do with the young team than it is a veteran team.

Q. Bill, from all you’ve been able to watch Woodside and talk to people about him, what have you been able to determine about him, other than obviously he’s a very fine basketball player, but about what makes him tick? His heart, his toughness.

COACH SELF: You know, I don’t know him personally. But he would be the type of guy that every coach would want on his basketball team. He gives the appearance to me of being their leader without question. But he does it in a way where it looks like to me everybody respects him so much because they know he makes all them better.

Very unselfish for a guy to average 23 points a game. And, you know, he’s got different gears. A lot of guys are easier to guard because they only have one speed they play at. And I think he does a terrific job of playing at three or four different speeds and really utilizes that to his advantage. He does a good job of keeping his defender off balance.

Q. As you know, President Obama filled out his brackets. Disappointed that he didn’t have Kansas in his Final Four? And do you agree with Coach Krzyzewski saying that the economy is something he should probably be focused on more than the brackets?

COACH SELF: Yes and yes. And I think everybody needs a little release every now and then. I think it’s okay for our president to spend five or seven minutes of his day getting away from all the things that he has to deal with daily, because I am sure his plate is more full than any of us could imagine.

But no, I’m not disappointed at all. I don’t think that — last year we may have been a little bit of flavor of the tournament type of pick because we had so many returning guys and so many obviously talented guys. We’re a little bit unknown ourselves. We have a good seed in being a 3 seed, but there is still some unknown out there about us because we are so young. But that doesn’t disappoint me at all.

Q. How are Ben Woodside and Sherron similar as players? And how are they different?

COACH SELF: They are both under six foot. I don’t know who’s taller, neither one of them are, I don’t think, going to spend a lot of time in the post posting each other up.

But, I think there are some similarities in that both — you know, Sherron is a point guard first that can score. We need him to score. I look at Ben, you know, he’s a true point guard that can really score and make baskets. So from there, there is a similarity.

I think that Sherron is probably more of a guy that gets his shot on his own, maybe than Ben a little bit, but not a lot. Ben can get his shot on his own as well.

So Sherron is obviously a bigger point guard from a weight standpoint, but I think there are similarities. Not very often you are going to find two guys that score that many points that are also, you know, truly guards.

Q. Have you or will you — do you feel any need to address the dangers of the first round with this team in connection with Kansas?

COACH SELF: Well, you know, I think you always address every situation, but not have a negative standpoint. You address it, this one who we need to be and this is how we need to play to give us the best chance.

You know, you say, you know, struggles in the first round. And we did have two first-round flame-outs I guess four and five years ago. So I believe that’s right, four and five years ago. So was it three and four years ago? Three, excuse me, I was corrected. Three and four years ago. But I don’t think that’s the mentality you go into anything thinking that oh, no, this could happen. I don’t think that’s the right thing.

You know, North Dakota State has got a good team or they wouldn’t be in the field. We’ve got a good team or we wouldn’t be in the field.

And you’ll find out, just like in our conference tournament, just like in their conference tournament. They played a good Oakland team in the finals, if I am not mistaken, that could have gone either way. And you know what? We played the ninth place team in our league and they beat us in the first round.

There is so much parity in college basketball, I don’t think anybody can afford to look past anything. But I don’t think you ever approach anything saying let’s not let a negative thing happen to us. I think you approach it thinking hey, let’s go make something positive happen.

So it certainly — I remember it better than anybody else, but these guys didn’t have anything to do with those two losses.

Q. Bill, is it any different playing in these big dome stadiums more suited for football than, say, a regular —

COACH SELF: I haven’t even been out here yet, so I don’t know the configuration or anything else. Somebody told me they had it seated to 32. Is that right? Even though that is huge, that’s not Detroit big like we played in last year where they seated for 75. But I don’t know if it makes that big of a difference.

We obviously haven’t played in a venue this big. I wouldn’t think North Dakota State has played in a venue this big. I don’t know it to be a fact, but I don’t see it being a huge difference or advantage for either team.

Q. Bill, from watching Cole in practice all last year, and watching him develop, did you see this type of season coming from him in his second year?

COACH SELF: Probably not. When we first got him, I thought that he had a chance to be a good player in time. He turned out to be a much better player last year by the end than what I had envisioned because he worked so hard. He is a winner, coachable. He has a lot of attributes that the great players need to have in order to become great.

Then he had a good summer, a confident summer. Then when we went to Canada I’m thinking this guy has improved so much, he needs to get a touch every possession or when he misses I’m disappointed. And I caught myself, hey, he is just a sophomore and hasn’t even averaged three points a game yet. Then as we got into season, he got off to a good start and he just got continually better.

He’s really got a chance to be a really good player. And certainly he’s a good player now, but I’m talking about he can be one of the best true big guys that Kansas ever had, not just in recent memory, because he is a true 5-man and you don’t really see many of those in today’s time.

Q. Coach, what concerns you most about this North Dakota State team? And are they similar at all to any other teams that you played so far this year?

COACH SELF: I don’t know if they are similar to the teams we played, but I would say that — I’m saying their personnel is not similar, but their styles, I mean, they run the best motion of anybody that we played this year. And, Texas Tech obviously with Pat and, of course, you know Coach Knight being there for years, they run a similar form of true motion that we obviously did not guard very well. We had a guy go for 35 against us. So we have been working hard on that.

But if you are going to just match up styles offensively I would think that Texas Tech could possibly be that style. I am not saying personnel-wise or anything like that, just the ability to get shots off the catch, I think that North Dakota State does that probably better than anybody we played this year.

Q. You mentioned you’re a young team. With that in mind, how much of a concern is it within NDSU’s experience in a game like this?

COACH SELF: I do think experience matters. There’s no doubt about that. It mattered last year for us. I’m not sure our team could have been in the situations that it was in last year and been successful if they hadn’t been through the wars before. We know that.

But also I do think we play a pretty difficult schedule, and it’s a pretty good league. And you have a bunch of young guys that somehow manage to go 14-2 in a pretty good league, so you have to develop some experience beyond their years in order to do so. There is no way we can add it up tomorrow and say we have an experienced team as North Dakota State.

But I will say this, we are more experienced than our years because we’ve been through a lot at an early age. Cole is an inexperienced guy, but he still has done more than most sophomores in the country has done. Sherron is a junior, but he has been in more crucial situations than most juniors have been. Even though our other guys are all freshmen or guys that haven’t played before, they put themselves in positions to play big games this year and also have some success and also some failures.

I think it is a factor. It remains to be seen how much of one it is. But I think our guys can play beyond their age. They have pretty consistently this year.

Q. Going into the season, talk about your expectations for Sherron and how much, if any, he has exceeded them. And let’s say if he can max out at 100 rpm, where does he play best?

COACH SELF: I’d say he probably plays best about 90. And I’ve never been asked that question in rpm-wise, so I have to think it through. It is pretty deep. Probably about 90. Because when a guy is sped up, he is usually not his best. But he is a guy that needs to be in attack mode all the time. I say about 90. That’s one thing about Woodside I think is really good, he can play so fast and not be out of control. Sherron has a tendency sometimes, when he gets to 100, it can be a little wild sometimes. And I think about 90.

And I don’t think Sherron has exceed my expectations for him. And I told him before the season I thought he could be the best league guard in the country. And to be honest with you, I think he is still working to get to that point. But when he plays well, he’s really, really good. And when he hasn’t played well, it is usually because he has missed shots or been a little sped up. But I have as much confidence in him as any guard I’ve had.

Q. Talk a little bit about pros and cons of the time off, getting a little fresher, but maybe not playing a game as long as you have maybe this year?

COACH SELF: Well, I don’t think it’s — I have a hard time getting a lot of positives out of getting your butt beat. But, if you allow it to be a negative, it will be more of a negative, so we have to address what our weaknesses were and come out and hopefully understand that intangibles were the reason why we got beat the other day, in my opinion, more so than execution. We were a team that did not play with the same energy level that we had played with when we played well other times. So hopefully that’s corrected.

But I would think in the NCAA tournament it could be corrected. Of course energy doesn’t mean you are playing well, but it certainly gives you a better chance to play well.

Q. Any chance to be rusty?

COACH SELF: I guess there is a chance to being rusty, but there is a chance that North Dakota State can be rusty, too. I don’t know this for a fact, the game against Oakland was on Wednesday or —

Q. Last Tuesday.

COACH SELF: Last Tuesday, we played on Thursday. So we have that going for us. They will be rustier than us.

Q. Coach, do you do anything differently when you’re playing a game this early in the morning, an 11:30 game? Does it change your approach or mindset going into a game at all?

COACH SELF: Probably not. It certainly — when we found out the game times this week, we’ve gotten up and eaten early breakfast as a group and practiced at the same time as game time, so that’s about the only thing that’s different. Just trying to get into the routine a little bit.

Q. Coach, how important is it for your team to hopefully in the first couple of minutes of this, five, 10 minutes of this game maybe try to take control, especially knowing they could potentially have a crowd that’s pretty large in their favor, kind of take them out of it a little bit early and not let them hang around, I guess, towards the end?

COACH SELF: You think — you guys are saying that you guys will have more fans than us? That’s just a guess, huh? No, I heard you guys travel pretty well, so we anticipate that.

You know what? I am not going to say whether it is important or not. This is my deal on that. Every coach wants his team to get off to a good start. If you go in and tell your team hey, we have to get off to a good start, what are you telling them if they don’t? The whole deal, it is a 40-minute game. And certainly we want to be ready to go right from the opening tip.

But the whole thing, it is basketball and there is a human element. And sometimes guys make hard shots and sometimes they miss easy ones and you can’t put too much emphasis on it that early in the game, in my opinion.

MODERATOR: Okay. Thanks, Coach.


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