Michigan head coach John Beilein and his team met with the media today in Kansas City. Here’s Michigan’s complete pre-game press conference. (Video of Michigan’s players can be found midway through the post)
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon everyone and welcome to Kansas City and the Sprint Center and the NCAA midwest regional and the opening day of news conferences. Happy to welcome Coach John Beilein to the stage from the University of Michigan. Coach, it’s good to see you again, and I would like to ask for an opening comment on your team as you come to Kansas City.
JOHN BEILEIN: Our team and the University of Michigan we’re thrilled to be part of the NCAA Tournament again. We have really enjoyed over the last decade here being involved in such a great tournament and playing against some of the great teams we’ve played against. So Oregon would fit into that category, some of the top teams that we’ve seen over the years.
Dana and I have known each other for years. It’s funny in the NABC the way — we probably both started coaching at the same time. His name is Dana Altman, mine is John Beilein, somewhere in the NABC, same amount of years, alphabetical order, we have sat next to each other at a lot of the Final Fours. Right next to each other. It’s great to be battling against such a great coach and really a great program.
Our guys have had quite a wild ride here in the last six weeks, where we lost to Ohio State at home, February 4th. It was lower than low at that point for us, to lose a home game to a rival.
Ever since then our kids sort of put their backs to the wall and have played really good basketball. There’s been two losses, one in overtime at Minnesota and one on a heroic great play by Northwestern and other than that we’ve played really good basketball for those six weeks and couldn’t be prouder of our group of young men.
Q. Can you talk about your experience playing in Kansas City at all?
JOHN BEILEIN: I have been here twice. We played in the NCAA Tournament here in 2009, I believe, fortunate enough to beat Clemson the first round and lost to Oklahoma in the second round. One of my West Virginia teams came here and played in the Guardians Classic maybe it was called, still called. We lost at the buzzer to Texas and then lost to Kentucky, 1-3 here. Played really good teams.
My brother and sister went to Benedictine College, in Atchison, Kansas. So I’ve been out this way before and have a lot of respect for the great basketball fans they have here.
Q. 2005, your West Virginia team had airplane issues on the way to the Big East tournament at that time. A lot of parallels. How did that in 2005 affect chemistry with that team and is it comparable to how it’s affected this team, as far as the similarities that you’ve had?
JOHN BEILEIN: Well, that wasn’t nearly as dangerous. That’s all they had to do is they couldn’t land in New York because there was an ice storm, so we had to — and the deicer wasn’t working. So we had to fly to land in Scranton. The issue was it was six or eight hours to get to New York which should have been a two-hour drive, so we got there to 3 or 4 in the morning.
But I told that story to this team several times when we had sudden change because we played lights out for three days and it was a story I told again to this team when we said, okay we are not leaving tonight. But we have a 6 a.m. wake-up, at 6:30 we’re going to leave the hotel in Ann Arbor and we’ve got a game at 12 and we’re in our practice uniforms and Bo Schembechler called it “sudden change” and you have one choice in life and that is to embrace it because life is about a lot of sudden change.
Q. Coach, I read a story back in February where they were saying the Big Ten was down, but you had predicted that the Big Ten would be representative in the NCAA Tournament. I wonder what you saw to make you think that way?
JOHN BEILEIN: I just know the quality of the league. We were really good the last few years. Very good. We had us in the Final Four. You had Michigan State in the Final Four. We had Wisconsin in the Final Four twice. Just because we had these great group of juniors and seniors the year before and some guys go to the pro ranks, we probably started out just a little bit in the nonconference games not as strong as we’ve been. We got 14 teams now and other teams were — comparing the schedules is really apple and oranges in the beginning of the year. But that’s the only comparison that people can make. The Committee made it as well.
Time is a friend of truth. As time went on, just figured the truth would come — I thought we were really good. I know we have great coaches, great resources, that in time it would be the answers and it has been the answer with three teams. We probably could have had more if some teams were seeded differently maybe we would have more.
The Committee has an incredibly difficult job and I’m not second guessing them one minute because it’s tough to judge unless you’re seeing those teams every day.
Q. I’m just curious after that Ohio State loss and you said they were lower than low. What was said? How did you try to pick them up and use that as a teaching tool? What was said between the players?
JOHN BEILEIN: I think at that moment and if I’m recalling this correctly that was where the coaches, all of us, gave every one and each other a bit of a speech about we all had more in us. Even the walk-ons that do not play. You have to practice harder. You never talk in practice. We need — I know there was a Super Bowl catch by — and I hope I get his name Edelman. That was incredible, that we talked about the next day. That there were outliars on this team. We don’t know who they are, but they’re not going to come forward if we don’t work and everybody could give a little bit more and the sum of all those parts would be enough. We were so close. We went to Michigan State and lost a 4-point game late. We lost that game. Up 6 at Wisconsin with 6 to go. We lost that game. We had been up 2 with 20 seconds to go at Iowa we lost that game.
The difference isn’t much guys, but if you all give a little bit more, right? The point with the Super Bowl catch was that Edelman didn’t — he willed that catch! We have to will stuff to happen. You have to work hard. I really stressed the outliar things, too, and all our staff did. When you have great kids to work with they’ll believe and you they trust you.
Q. You guys have played one or two more games than everybody else. I think the two of your guys are leading the division I in minutes.
JOHN BEILEIN: Is that right?
Q. I was wondering if you did anything to keep them fresh.
JOHN BEILEIN: Going into the Big Ten tournament before the plane didn’t get off the runway and that kept us fresh because we couldn’t practice in the dark. We have a sort of formula to keep ’em fresh and we have these things called a catapult system that has been invaluable to us and it measures how much work load they’ve done every day and they wear it on their back. And I have been able to monitor Derrick and Zak. There will be 1,100 in a game but in practices we have them at 400 or 500. It a great technology that we’ve used every day all year long and it’s really worked well.
I think that they have an understanding we get good rotations in practice but they’re still going to play 35 to 40 minutes. If you look around the league or look anywhere that’s pretty common with the really good players. They’re going to play 35 to 40.
Q. What does this system measure?
JOHN BEILEIN: The workload that day.
Q. How does it do that?
JOHN BEILEIN: I wouldn’t have the answer for that one. All I know is they give me a report of what the workload was and it’s a little disk they have in the back of their uniform and it’s helped us to manage that. For example, we go back — we played really well in the NIT and our trainers were able to tell us what Derrick Walton’s workload and Zak Irvin’s workload going into those games we played well. A week later we played South Carolina and their workload before the game had been twice what I have done. Stuff you don’t see as a coach, you’re trying to back stuff off, let’s do that one more time and let’s do that one more time and all of the sudden you can overpractice. That’s been helpful, too.
If you don’t have young men, too, that take care of themselves, eat right, sleep right, there are guys that want to be the last guy to go to bed, none of that stuff works. We’ve got very disciplined kids off the court.
Q. This came up in Indiana and it seems to with you a lot this time of year. For casual fans outside the midwest you’re not as appreciated as the brand name coaches, Krzyzewski, Williams, Calipari, Pitino and Boeheim. Do you care?
JOHN BEILEIN: I don’t care. Our program is about Michigan and it’s about those kids. I don’t care about that. I came up a lot different than everybody else and I am blessed to be in these situations. I don’t want to be measured by those. I would love to be measured by, what are those kids like on the court and how they represent our university and what are they like many years later and not about the trophies. The trophies will come.
I just wanted to teach social studies and be a high school coach, and somehow it morphed to this. But I really want it to be about those teams and the University of Michigan.
Q. What is it in Derrick Walton’s nature that has made him so clutch?
JOHN BEILEIN: He came to us with a young birthday and he has always been a young man who really deferred to others at that time.
This year I think that — remember we talked about needing a little bit more? A little bit more? He took those talks seriously, whether it was from teammates urging him saying, Derrick, you are really talented. You’ve got to be looking for your shot! Sometimes your assist numbers are down because you’re not look for your shots and nobody is — we went to Michigan State and he never looked at the basket and they were playing our ball action stuff beautifully because we were helping them!
He’s got to look to the basket to score and then his assist numbers will go up. It was back to the wall thing, Derrick we need you to score and now he’s got that mentality. The other thing that happened was people were switching every ball convenient, he may get a chip on his shoulder they’re switching because they think a 7-footer can guard you. So he took that personally and he’s done a good job with it.
Q. Coach, your team’s story the last six weeks has been so incredible and so endearing. What has the reaction been for you? Have you heard from any notable people? Anybody reached out to you? Congratulatory?
JOHN BEILEIN: I was just talking with my AD about this today. I try to keep my email and texts all answered. But I’m not going to share who hit me up, but there’s 200 — it’s not unlikely to see 100 texts on your phone or e-mails, they’re coming in in the dozens all the time. So it’s really good that the people you know — you over all these years you meet a lot of people and the people that can sort of identify with this team and appreciate what these young men have done, it’s great and at some point I’ll answer ’em all but it’s not going to be, right, until somebody tell us me you can’t play anymore and I hope it’s after a Championship.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you very much. Good luck tomorrow. We are ready to begin with the student-athletes from University of Michigan, we have Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton, junior.
Q. Derrick, you’ve taken a lot of ownership of this team during the run that you guys have been on. What was the tipping point for you because after you guys had been beaten by Ohio State Coach had a talk with you guys about needing guys to step up a little bit more. You had taken that to heart, I guess. Is that in your nature to be a guy that wants to do that? What has been going through your mind as this run has been taking place?
DERRICK WALTON: That’s just my nature for the most part. Just want to win. That’s pretty much what it’s boiled down to and doing whatever it takes and whatever my teammates needed me to do. I can’t put it any other way, there is no special formula, just want to do what I can for my team.
Q. Derrick, you guys are making 90% of your uncontested shots in the Tournament so far. I know, that’s quite a number! What’s contributing to that? What are you seeing and feeling out there on the floor in these two games so far? Where is that coming from?
ZAK IRVIN: I just feel like our team is playing loose right now. We have a lot of freedom, got a great appointed guard next to me who is finding people and getting them in their spots and I feel like it’s contagious, when one of us gets it going we all get it dog and we’re out there having fun.
DERRICK WALTON: Pretty much the same thing we have so many actions that get us open shots and we work on it daily and it’s been yearly and we got great shooters, so I think it’s a testament to the system we play in and our individual abilities to knock down open shots.
Q. Derrick, so what are you all saying amongst yourselves about this run that you’ve been on the last six weeks? What are the discussions like when you’re alone and you think about what’s happened, winning these last six games?
ZAK IRVIN: I just think our team is doing a great job with limiting distractions, because I think it’s so easy right now to get off track and just lose focus and I think our leadership and our seniors have done a great job with that.
It’s been one heck of a run that we’re on and we’re playing really well right now. We just don’t want it to end.
DERRICK WALTON: Just not want it to end and I just feel like we strung together a couple of games and it was by luck and coming in with focus every single tame and have the same type of laser focus that helped us get to this point and it’s all about maintaining to this point.
Q. Derrick, so what are you saying to the younger guys? It’s a difficult environment, you know. It’s difficult to keep progressing. What are you saying to the younger guys in the pregame speeches in the locker room before the games? What are you saying to help them as you were saying, Derrick, maintain and keep that laser focus and stay loose?
DERRICK WALTON: As far as saying anything it’s hard to pinpoint. I think our schedule has prepared us for stuff like this. We play multitude of different opponents and we traveled and played and we played different styles. I think Coach B. did a great job of preparing us for when it’s time we play against so many different teams.
Our main focus is we’ve been through the rigor, pretty much, the toughest times where we played teams that propose different threats, so it’s all about adjusting and be being able to maintain and not lose focus when things aren’t going our way. So that’s the main thing that we focus on is not losing our cool when things aren’t going our way.
ZAK IRVIN: We talk about being 1-0 in the game we’re at, worry about that one game. We don’t want to think too far ahead. I think everyone has done a great job of that, keeping that goal winning that game.