Jayhawks Get First Glimpse of Ford Field and Meet With the Media

March 27, 2008

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The Kansas men’s basketball team got its first glimpse of the playing floor at Ford Field on Thursday. The Jayhawks met with the media before holding a 50-minute practice session. No. 1 seed KU will face No. 12 Villanova Friday night at 8:40 p.m. (Central Time) on CBS.

THE MODERATOR: We’re ready to go with the <?xml:namespace prefix=”st1″ ns=”urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags”?>University of Kansas student-athletes. Questions, please. <?xml:namespace prefix=”o” ns=”urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office”?>

Q. You’ve been in the program with Brandon Rush now for all three of his years. Can you discuss his development. The knock on him has been his focus. Has he improved in that area?

Russell Robinson: Well, I think Brandon’s made tremendous steps becoming a better teammate since stepping on campus. I attribute the main improvement to him being a better person, sacrificing for the team. It’s helped him out in his game, as well.

Q. Russell, Scottie Reynolds, who you will be facing tomorrow night, does he remind you of anybody in the Big 12, D.J. Augustin, other guards you’ve faced in the conference? Can you use that against Scottie tomorrow night?

Russell Robinson: Scottie does remind me of D.J. a lot. Has the ball in his hands a lot. Can get a shot any time.

It’s going to take concentrated effort from everybody to guard. You gotta come out with a lot of him energy. We’ve been successful when we’ve done that in the past.

Q. Seems like a lot of players on your team have dealt with different kinds of adversity off the court. How does that create a common bond? Does it? Does it help you on the court or as teammates?

DARNELL JACKSON: Yeah, it helps us a lot. I think everybody on this team has been through a lot. When we’re on the court or off the court, it brings us together. We’re not a team that fights a lot. We’re a team that we talk about a lot of things that’s going on on the court. We have to just tell each other we need to bring something to the table, that’s in practice or when we’re on the court.

Q. Russell, can you describe what you think makes a New York City point guard special. What is the intangible? From day one, when you were playing, you always loved playing defense. So many guys love playing offense. Why defense?

Russell Robinson: Well, to answer your first question, I think toughness, plain and simple. Coming up in the city, there’s a lot of talent. You got to find a way to separate yourself from the rest.

To answer your second question, I like playing defense because it created a lot of offense. Not too many guards are passing the ball in New York, so you got to get the ball somehow. I used to get it on the defensive end (smiling).

Q. You’ve led the country in scoring margin in terms of beating opponents. You’re favored to win by a bunch. Does that create a swagger or do you have to keep some kind of humility to know you could lose and go home?

DARNELL JACKSON: Yeah, just like you said, we just have to stay focused. We’re not worrying about how many points we blow a team out. The only thing we’re worrying about is the next game, the next opponent, which guys on their team is the main key for that team. So we have to worry about them and make sure we’re doing our job to keep us going in this tournament.

Russell Robinson: Well, you know, at this point during the season, you know, every game’s gonna be tough. No matter what the score margin is, it’s going to be tougher than what it looks like.

We just try not to — we stay humble, stay grounded. Nothing’s guaranteed. So we just go out and play our hardest.

Q. Have you seen Corey Fisher at all outside of on tape? Did you ever play against him? Anything in particular jump out at you?

Russell Robinson: Well, I heard a lot about Corey Fisher. He’s from the Bronx, great player. A lot on the courts in New York, created a reputation for himself. But me being in Kansas, I haven’t really been able to go back and play against him any. From what I hear, he’s a really good player.

Q. Darnell, it’s been pretty well-documented you had some sort of team meeting amongst the players after the loss at OklahomaState. What came out of that meeting? What was discussed? What changed for the team after that?

DARNELL JACKSON: The main thing we talked about is just how guys need to bring something every day. Doesn’t matter if you’re a walk-on or scholarship, somebody needs to bring something every day, even if they’re not in the game. The guys need to be cheering their teammates on. If you see something going on, you need to speak up and say. We need to go out there and play with a lot of heart because nobody wants to go home right now.

Especially for the seniors, we made an agreement we’re going to give it our all. We’ve been doing pretty good with that.

Q. You got to check out the court today in person. What did you think of the elevation, the number of seats that are here?

Russell Robinson: Well, really surprised about the number of seating. Really excited. Ready to play. Look forward to that.

The court elevation, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. I can play on a roof, you know, if that’s where we have to play at. At this point in time, we’re just going to go out there and play the game.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, guys.

Coach Self, we’d like to have you open it up with a couple of comments.

COACH SELF: We’re obviously excited to be in Detroit, you know, to have our team here, the opportunity to play in the Round of 16 against a very good, hot Villanova ballclub. It should be a lot of fun.

THE MODERATOR: Questions.

Q. I don’t know how much you had a chance to check out the court, the arena. What are your general feelings about playing regionals and events like this in buildings so big that’s not as natural for the players?

COACH SELF: You know, even though it’s not as natural for the players, both teams have to play there. So I don’t have a problem with the size of the building at all because, you know, the winning team — the team that wins this tournament this weekend is going to play in a big building next weekend. Maybe the winner coming out of here would have an advantage.

I don’t have a problem with that. I think the court setup is unique. Of course, our players haven’t been out there yet. I haven’t coached on it yet. But I’ll reserve comment. We’re excited to be here. It will be a little bit different. But that’s okay. It’s different for both teams.

Q. With the balance you have, playing at both ends of the court, would Larry Brown say that this team plays the right way? Is it kind of a Dream Team in that respect in terms of the balance, that you don’t have one star?

COACH SELF: Well, I think Coach Brown would like this team a lot. He’s been out and seen us practice a couple days, watched us play. I think he likes this team. But he also likes Villanova’s team, too. He’s seen them a lot more than he’s seen us because he lives there in Philly. I know he and Jay are pretty close. I think he would like both teams.

But we are a team that’s balanced. I don’t know if we’re quite as balanced as what people make us out to be. But it seems to be a different guy most every night for us. But hopefully we’ll play both ends of the court as you alluded to because that will be a big key.

Q. I know you’ve always been a guy that kind of hangs his hat on defense. Can you talk about the unique challenge when you’re dealing with some of these high-profile recruits coming in, getting them to buy into your system defensively?

COACH SELF: I think it’s easier to get them to guard than it is to score. I’ve always than a big believer in that. You recruit guys that are hard to guard, then you teach them how to guard once you get ’em. That would be the perfect scenario from a recruiting standpoint.

But, you know, we’ve been fortunate because we’ve had some pretty unselfish good players that aren’t hung up on individual stats. Kansas has a great tradition, history. Winning is a huge part of that. You know you can’t win consistently unless you guard.

That hasn’t been a hard sell at all, getting our guys to guard. They know they’ll play more if they defend a little better.

Q. When you recruited Brandon, what kind of a ceiling did you see for him? As he gets close to the end of his third year, how close has he come to reaching that ceiling?

COACH SELF: It’s been fairly well-documented, our recruiting of Brandon lasted about 10 days, from the time we made contact till the time we got him on campus and got him committed.

I thought the first time that I ever saw him during individual workouts, I thought he could be as good as anybody I ever coached. I do believe that is the case. Not very often do you have that size, that body. He’s got a great athletic basketball build. He’s got great, great touch. He’s competitive. We wondered if he would try to defend, as you alluded to. He’s become our best defender.

He has a very high ceiling, one that I don’t think he’s come close to reaching. But he’s a lot closer to it than he was a couple years ago.

Q. I assume you’ve now seen plenty of tape on Villanova. Been playing especially well since the second half of that Clemson game. What stands out to you about their offensive or defensive efforts?

COACH SELF: I’ve said this before. I think the thing that stands out first and foremost is how hard they play and how hard they compete. They take great pride in getting 78 or 80% of the 50/50 balls. They steal extra possessions for their team. I think they’re not good defensively, I think they’re great defensively and they’re getting better. They have interchangeable parts defensively.

So you could have a 6’8″ guy guarding a point, you could have a 6′ guy guarding a center. They’re tough enough they can do that and be effective doing it.

That to me jumps out more than anything. Then we played Villanova, as you may recall, four years ago. It was 38-34, a few minutes later it was 72-40. They were great at jab series, really being able to beat their man off the bounce and that kind of stuff.

This team is like that also. They’re young. They’re going to get better and better at it. I think they have great individual talent. They know their roles. They spread the floor offensively. They make it really hard to help from different positions. When they’re making shots, which is a key for us, it’s a key for any team left in the tournament, when they’re making shots, they’re awful hard to defend because they really spread you out.

Q. Scottie Reynolds, what makes him so tough to stop? They don’t have a ton of scorers, but teams don’t stop him.

COACH SELF: I think they have more scorers than what you think. I think they’re so young in some areas, some guys are just starting to score the ball consistently, like Corey Stokes. He’s a good scorer. His season stats wouldn’t say that because he didn’t play as much early. And Fisher is a terrific scorer. Cunningham is consistent. They have guys like us that they can go out and get anywhere from 7 to 10 a night, and you don’t look at them as being prolific scorers, but at the end of the night they have 75 points.

Scottie, from the outside looking in, he takes great pride in having the ball in his hands as much as possible. He wants to make the pass to finish the play. He wants to make the pass to start the play. He wants to shoot the ball to finish the play. He is a guy that wants the ball in his hands. When you put so much emphasis on stopping him, he’s plenty good enough to make others better and look really good.

And he’s tough. You can’t underestimate how tough he is. The way that defenses try to defend him, still yet he has great success.

Q. You mentioned earlier you don’t know you are as balanced as people say you are. Do you think that’s been overplayed, how balanced you are?

COACH SELF: I think so. I think minutes dictate balance, too. We have some guys that they were playing 30 minutes a game. If you prorate their minutes out, averaging 16 or 17, things like that.

But we are a balanced team. I didn’t mean to say we weren’t. But when you look at it in the big games, where guys are playing 30 minutes a game, you usually have certain guys leading us in scoring, which is I guess a good thing. Over the course of a season, we played a lot of games that weren’t real close games, so we had different guys every night.

But in the games where it’s been tight, we usually have the same cast of players up there leading us in points.

Q. At a time of year like this as you make another run, do you hear from old associates like Tim Jankovich, Kirk Hinrich?

COACH SELF: Haven’t heard from Kirk. Last year when we played in Chicago, the first and second round, Kirk was there, in the locker room, everything else. But I haven’t heard from Kirk. We hear from a lot of guys, a lot of ex-coaches. Heard from a lot of ex-players and everything wishing us our best.

Also personally I’ve heard from a lot of ex-players that don’t have Kansas ties wishing us well. I think that would be common for every staff. This is why we do it, to put ourselves in this position. This is the most important time of the year for everybody that coaches or plays the game. So I think everybody kind of takes pride in saying, Hey, that’s one of our guys out there still competing.

Q. When you said you heard from others from the past, people like Deron Williams, Steve Brown, have you heard from Jankovich?

COACH SELF: Yeah. Tim and I are close. In fact, we’re planning on him being here this weekend. Tim had a great season at IllinoisState. I hear from him regardless if we’re playing or not. We talk three or four times a week.

Q. Jay Wright commented on this earlier. Do you feel a personal challenge to match him in the wardrobe department Friday night?

COACH SELF: I’ve heard from several of my so-called friends that told me, Don’t try because that’s one battle you can’t win.

If our team doesn’t outperform Villanova, then we will go 0-2 against them ’cause nobody looks sharper than Jay on the sidelines (smiling).

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.

FastScripts by ASAP Sports

UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS LOCKER ROOM QUOTES

THURSDAY, MARCH 27

Junior Guard Brandon Rush (#25):

On playing in a big stadium like Ford Field:

“It is going to be weird but we are not going to worry about that. We are going to focus all our attention on Villanova and what they are trying to do. We are going to have to have show common sense about flying after balls near the edge of the stage and things like that but it really is all about Villanova tomorrow (Friday).”

On Villanova:

“We are concerned about some of their guys making plays. They don’t run too much stuff, they just have guys who make a lot of plays. That is the main thing we have to guard tomorrow.”

On playing in front of such a big crowd:

“It is going to be great. We are going to have a packed house with most of our fans and some of their fans. It is going to be great and we are going to have a good time, and it is important we have our minds focused on the game.”

On Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds:

“Great player, great player. He can shoot the ball or take it to the rack. He gets to the free-throw line whenever he wants to. We have to guard him and try to take him out of the game because he is the key to the game for them.”

On Kansas’ keys to the game:

“Defense and rebounding. We know they (Villanova) are a really tough team. They get on all the loose balls. We just have to have the mindset that we have to be tougher then them.”

On the break between games this week:

“I think it is great for us. We have practiced hard the last couple games but have also made sure we got a lot of rest. We play late tomorrow (Friday) night, so we are going to make sure we get a lot of rest tonight and tomorrow.

Sophomore forward Darrell Arthur (#00):

On the keys to the weekend:

“Execution, limiting our turnovers, taking care of the ball and executing our plays. We need to go out there and play our game.”

On whether he expects Villanova to try to run:

“I think they’re going to try to do what they’ve been doing. They’ll probably try to run and keep trying to play like we’ve been playing, try to get up and down too.”

On Kansas’ size advantage inside:

“In the last game UNLV clogged it up a lot, so they’re probably going to do the same thing. I know they like to front the post so it’s going to be kind of difficult getting it down there, but if our guards come out and make some shots outside that will probably take the pressure off us inside.”

On his friendship with Villanova guard Scottie Reynolds:

“We’re close. He’s a good player, a good guard, and we just have to get out there and guard him. He’s one of my close friends and we talk a lot off the court so it’s going to be a fun match-up.”


Senior guard Russell Robinson (#3):

On Detroit and the atmosphere of this weekend’s portion of the Tournament:

“It brings back the New York City feel that I’m used to. You can’t let the pressure get to you. This is the stage you want to perform on and perform your best on, so you have to go out and be ready to give it your all.”

On Villanova:

“Like UNLV (who Kansas defeated 75-56 in the second round), they are not tall but are scrappy and athletic. They are fast, they pressure. It is going to be a good challenge for us. We have to go out and execute our game plan.”

On Villanova’s guards:

“You look at (sophomore guard) Scottie (Reynolds) and you see glimpses of (Texas guard) D.J. Augustin. He has the ball in his hands a lot and takes a lot of shots. He’s a good scorer for them and it is going to take a conscious effort from everybody to get the job done.”

On the Jayhawks’ attitude entering Friday’s game:

“We’re really good right now. We’re confident and playing with a great amount of energy right now. Everything is looking good for us. We have to take that and carry it over to the court.”

“I’m excited for the number of fans that are going to be out there. I heard the floor is elevated so that is going to be different. It’s going to be a great experience and we are going to make the most of it.”

On his role with the team:

“In my situation right now, it’s best that I move the ball and get everyone else involved. I need to be more of a facilitator than scorer. It depends on the situation. If it calls for me to be a scorer, I’ll be a scorer. In New York there is a lot of talent so you have to find a way to distinguish yourself and separate yourself from the pack. Whatever that way is, you have to do it.”

Senior center Sasha Kaun (#24):

On the large expected attendance:

“It is definitely the biggest crowd of people I have ever played in front of and it will be exciting.”

On the affect the size of the Ford Field arena will have on the team:

“I don’t think it will affect us. The court and the hoop are the same size as any other arena we have played in this year.”

On Villanova:

“They are definitely a tough team, their coach has been to this round before, they play hard and we need to play just as fast as they do. They have good guard play. It is going to be important that we guard the ball and get stops when we need to down the stretch.”

On Villanova guard Scottie Reyonlds:

“He reminds me a lot of D.J. Augustin from Texas. He is a very good player and it is important to make sure that you help the guy who is guarding him. He is going to get his points, but we need to make sure that we are getting a hand in his face and make him take some tough shots.”

On the late start of Friday’s game (approximately 9:40 p.m. Eastern time):

“We just need to stay calm and just relax. We have a long time until we take the floor on Friday, so we need to make sure that we are ready to go.”

On the team’s mindset heading into its game against Villanova:

“We are just focusing on Villanova. We need to take one game at a time and not look ahead.”

On the importance of getting head coach Bill Self to the Final Four:

“I think it is important to everybody, especially for the seniors – including myself – because this is our last chance.”

Freshman center Cole Aldrich (#45):

On the court setup:

“It’s a neat place. The University of Minnesota has kind of the same setup. Williams Arena is about a three-foot raise. It’s a unique but fun way to play on a court. You’re not used to having it being raised, but I think that it really won’t affect us diving for loose balls and whatnot.”

On Villanova:

“They’re a very good team. Even being a No. 12 seed, seeds don’t really matter in the tournament any more. We’re in the Sweet Sixteen and we really know that they’re going to give us a good run for their money. (Sophomore guard) Scottie Reynolds and (freshman guards) Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes and all their other players are really good players and they’re going to pressure us and run the floor a little bit.”

On how Villanova compensates for the Wildcats’ smaller size:

“Their big guys can drive us, so it may be a little tough for our big guys again. Against UNLV it was a little tougher for us big guys to move our feet but I think we can against them tomorrow.”

On the keys for Kansas:

“Just playing our game. I think whether it’s (junior guard) Mario (Chalmers) hitting, (sophomore guard) Sherron (Collins) hitting or (senior center) Sasha (Kaun) down in low, whoever is playing well we just need to keep distributing the ball throughout the whole team. Just keep playing defense and just executing.”

Sophomore guard Sherron Collins (#4):

On playing against Villanova:

“We just have to play. They are fast, quick and tough. We have to take care of the ball and not give them opportunities to run. They are a tough team and are not going to back down. We have to be ready to play.”

On what concerns him about Villanova:
“Their guard play and they have bigs who play like guards, they step back and shoot jumpers. We have to do a good job of helping out bigs out there. They are scrappy and we have to match their intensity.”

On comparing Villanova to any Big 12 teams:
“I can’t give an exact comparison but they remind me a little bit of Texas. Their guards and bigs are able to do a lot.”

On his relationship with Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds:

“Scottie was a McDonald’s All-American, and I played with him at the Steve Nash Camp last summer and went with him to the Pan-American trials, so I know him pretty well. He sent me a text message after I got hurt and I text him sometimes. We stay in contact.”

On not making the Pan-American Team:
“I didn’t take it personally. There were a lot of guard s there who were good. I don’t think that I performed well enough to make the team. I think that I performed all right. The shots weren’t falling and things didn’t go my way.”

“Coach Wright told me that he would like to have me on the team when I was there. He gave us praise but we just didn’t make the team.”

On the shooting background at Ford Field:

“Both teams have to play with it. We do know that it is a raised floor. I don’t think that there is any advantage one way or another.”

On his frustration this year with his injuries:

“It is frustrating but you can’t be too frustrated with it because it is an important time of the season. You have to suck up it and play.”