Michigan will face Texas A&M tomorrow night in Los Angeles, here’s what the Aggies coaches and players had to say on the podium this afternoon.
Q. For the two bigs, Tyler and Robert, if you could take us through this match-up, how interesting it is with their ability to stretch out on the perimeter, but obviously your guys’ ability to bang it inside against them?
TYLER DAVIS: We’ve guarded teams that can really spread the floor before, so it’s really nothing new to us. They’re a good team, they play really hard. They bring great effort, and we’ve just got to stick to the game plan and guard them.
ROBERT WILLIAMS: I’d just say it’s a unique match-up, like he said. We’ve played bigs that can stretch and shoot the floor, but we plan on dominating the areas that we specify, so just keep that mindset.
Q. Robert, I’m curious, you and Tyler had big rebounding games in your first two games. When you look at the Michigan roster, is that something you’re confident you can keep up against Michigan?
ROBERT WILLIAMS: Honestly, we’re always confident in our rebounding skills, no matter the task we’ve got ahead of us. We feel like we take pride in rebounding, and our coaches stress that’s a big part of us winning. So I definitely feel like we could control that part.
Q. Tyler, I think you were the only player who played in every game this year. With so many guys coming and going with injuries and suspensions, did you ever lose track on who was available, and did your confidence in the team drop in terms of making a run in March?
TYLER DAVIS: No, I never lost track, and my confidence definitely didn’t drop in my guys. We had a great summer, the young guys did a great job of stepping up during those games. We lost a couple, but I thought we had a great practice leading up to those games, a great effort in the games as well. So I think we handled the ups and downs as best we can.
Q. When guys kept coming and going, did you ever think: What’s going on here? Are we jinxed this season?
TYLER DAVIS: Oh, no. I mean, stuff happens. You go through it as a team. But you have to do the best you can to stay together and keep your head right.
Q. Admon, as a guy who has played the point at times throughout your career, whether it’s by necessity or not, how have you seen T.J. grow in that position, and how have you helped him along in that position?
ADMON GILDER: You know, T.J. is a natural scorer, that’s what he is. So I think he adjusted as time went. So I told him just go out there and play your brand of basketball. You could see it’s benefiting our team because he gives us another weapon from the point guard position to be able to score in.
I think he’s done a great job with his composure. He’s a super confident guy, so we just tell him, just show it out on the court and do your thing.
Q. Admon, what have you seen on tape from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, specifically in his ability to score the ball in a variety of ways?
ADMON GILDER: They set a lot of up screens, ball screens to him. They do a great job of slipping out, too. That kind of throws defenders off because you don’t know if they’re setting the ball screen or if he’s slipping.
So I think he’s a great player. He’s able to score from all three levels. He’s able to get to the basket. He’s able to pull off from three range and shoot the three very well.
So it will be a nice match-up that we know we’re looking forward to.
Q. Tyler, when you start developing your footwork and all the post moves back in high school or maybe even before that, were there players that you looked at on TV and said I want to be able to do what that guy does when you were growing up?
TYLER DAVIS: Yeah, I liked Tim Duncan a lot when I was young. Just guys — when I was younger, I really wasn’t above the rim at all, so I used to watch guys I didn’t see that were high flyers. But I liked Tim the most. He has great footwork, great face-up game. But I tried to do the best I could to use my body when I was younger, so it just kind of came along.
Q. Tyler, a lot of people don’t realize you grew up in California and spent a lot of time here growing up. You were here two years ago for the Sweet Sixteen. What would it mean to you to not just get to the Sweet Sixteen in California but to go beyond that, to go where nobody in this school has ever gone before?
TYLER DAVIS: It would mean a lot. I feel like right now we’re paving our own way, but I’m in the moment. We’ve got a game coming up, and that’s all I’m looking forward to right now.
But it’s exciting. I love being back here. Love the weather. I just love seeing the city.
Q. When you guys were 0-5 in the SEC, did you have a team meeting, did you talk about how we can get this right? What was going on during that time?
ROBERT WILLIAMS: We had a couple team meetings, you know. We just felt like everyone was kind of branching out when things started falling apart, they were doing their own thing. So we just had to buy into we’re all here for each other. Letting the coaching staff know, too, along with the players, we’re here for a mission.
ADMON GILDER: Yeah, that was a time when I was in and out of treatment and stuff like that, So I wasn’t with the team a lot. Like I told — I think we actually did have a team meeting, and I think the main thing was just next game. Because my freshman year we went through a stretch where we lost five games and we were five in the country. So it’s capable of happening to anyone.
BILLY KENNEDY: Obviously we’re glad to be here. Coming off two good wins and having been to the Sweet Sixteen a couple years ago we know how special an opportunity it is for us to continue to grow our program, and in order to do that we’ve got to beat a very good Michigan team that is playing really well with 11 straight wins. They’ve got a good streak going, and defensively and offensively they present a lot of different problems.
Q. If you could take us through how well your two bigs are playing right now in the match-ups and the nightmares they can present an opponent?
BILLY KENNEDY: Yeah, Tyler Davis and Robert are playing extremely well, obviously, just being dominant in the paint offensively and defensively, and really it just seems like I think we’ve gotten 80% of our rebounds off of missed shots, which is a high number, and those two guys are the reason why.
They’re getting everything in their area, they’re getting everything out of the area. Then offensively they’ve been a factor in the post, and we’ve been able to power the last two teams we’ve played against. And that’s what’s going to make this an interesting match-up because they’re going to now have to go out on the floor and guard perimeter posts in Robinson and Wagner, which presents a challenge for us.
Q. I was going to ask about your bigs as well, but now that he’s asked that, your guard play has been pretty solid as well, in particular Starks. Can you talk about how well he’s played so far in these first two games?
BILLY KENNEDY: For a kid whose first start was at Kansas, and he actually played pretty decent against Kansas, he’s come a long way in a short amount of time.
To be a point guard at this level requires a lot of attention to detail, and usually a lot of experience on both ends to get this far. But what he’s been able to do offensively and defensively has been really tremendous for us.
He’s a threat offensively. He’s not afraid. Again, sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes it can be a bad thing, and we’ve got to limit those moments when it gets out of control at times, as a freshman can do in these situations. But he’s been a big factor of our success for sure.
Q. With so many players coming and going during the season, were there times when it was difficult to plan for practice and games? Did you ever get mixed up as to who was available on a particular day?
BILLY KENNEDY: Yeah, the biggest thing is like you said, for practice and preparing for games, not having guys play, and then starting freshmen in the SEC play and those guys used to starting, and then we get the two guys back and then all of a sudden those guys go to the bench was disruptive for everybody.
I’m just thankful these guys stayed the course and believed in what we were telling them. We told them, hey, if we can keep doing the right things and stay together through this time, then we’ve got a chance to do something special because we knew we were talented and we knew we had some pieces that could take us a long way.
Q. Was there ever a day when you had to think hard about who you had and who was not available?
BILLY KENNEDY: Yeah, I mean, plenty of times. Because Robert Williams, he had a concussion at one point. He had the flu at one point and didn’t play against LSU. We had knee injuries, we had suspensions, unfortunately.
But our culture is very important to us and doing the right things and growing as a program is very important to us. So sometimes you got to go two steps backwards to go one step forward. Fortunately our guys bought in and grew up some, and that’s why we’re in this position today.
Q. You were not in this venue but in the same town two years ago for the Sweet Sixteen. What is it about this group and your leaders already experiencing the Sweet Sixteen that may make this particular team maybe that group that could advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history?
BILLY KENNEDY: I think the first time you get in a situation like this you’re celebrating and everything’s about having fun. You want your guys to experience it all. Sometimes you experience too much of the success.
What we’ve tried to do after beating North Carolina is talk to our guys about keeping their eyes on the prize. Our goal is to get to San Antonio, and whoever is in our way is what we need to be prepared for next.
Michigan presented that challenge. This team has done a good job, right after we beat North Carolina, obviously, was a great win in Charlotte. But we’ve done a good job of putting that behind us and getting focused on the next challenge, which is a very well-coached Coach Beilein Michigan basketball team.
Q. Your team went from number 5 in the country to unranked, unfairly or fairly, your team kind of got the label as an underachieving team of the season, and now you’re here. Talk about what that was like, and did you ever lose faith that the team could be here at this stage?
BILLY KENNEDY: Well, I never lost faith because it happened so early in the year. It was the beginning of SEC play, and I knew we lost two guys to knee injuries that we had a good chance to get back. The mistakes that were made that we had to handle, I believed that we could get it corrected, and I knew we had the pieces.
The hard thing was, just like I talked about earlier, getting practice time, getting guys used to playing roles. We have — I think I figured we had nine different starting lineups this year. So just getting the pecking order and getting in the rhythm of rotations was key in the midst of SEC play, which is not the time you want to be figuring that out.
But I think we’ve won nine of our last 13 games in league play, and we were able to figure that out and start playing well. It was early enough in the year that I thought we could right the ship, and fortunately we were blessed to get that right.
Q. After your victory over North Carolina, Roy Williams talked about the respect he has for recruits you’ve shown, and dealing with Parkinson’s. I wonder what it requires of you on a daily basis, and how it’s changed you?
BILLY KENNEDY: Well, every year in the spring and in the summer I look for different opportunities to learn new things and was blessed to experience a new procedure in the spring and in the summer that has helped me get through this process, and every year I’ve gotten better because of the new medicines and the new procedures and different things someone with my disease would go through.
I’ve been blessed to have great support, nutrition, exercise. And I’m fortunate that my symptoms aren’t as glaring as maybe some other people who have the disease. So I’ve just been blessed to have resources and accessibility in my position to have some advantages maybe some other people didn’t have. I’m very thankful.
Q. What is the new procedure, and what are your symptoms?
BILLY KENNEDY: Well, my symptoms are just like anybody that has Parkinson’s, I get stiff. Fortunately massage therapy and acupuncture — I do a little bit of everything. When you get in this situation, you do what you need to do to attack the is disease. But fortunately, like I said, my symptoms aren’t as glaring as other people’s. I’ve been blessed from that standpoint.
Q. Coach, I’m sure you’ve had the opportunity to watch a lot of Michigan over the last few days. What are some of the things that jump off the film as challenges that they present you?
BILLY KENNEDY: One, how good they are defensively. I think their ball pressure defensively and how aggressive they are defensively on ball screens could present some problems against our offense as we set a lot of ball screens in our offense.
Then I think their personnel. The ability to shoot the three at every position, especially the five position, is something you don’t see. We’re more of a traditional, low-post, power team, probably more like Purdue is in that league. So they’re a perimeter post league, and more like Vandy in our league.
So that’s where the challenges are going to be presented with our bigs being able to go out on the floor and guard them, and maybe their bigs being able to guard our bigs inside. I think that’s the biggest difference in how both teams will attack each other.
Q. You were talking before about how it’s been “one step forward, two step back” at times season. Given obviously the stuff that you’ve been going through off the court, has it kind of changed your perspective when you have a season like this or you have guys coming in and out of the lineup and you have all kinds of stuff going on that maybe ten years ago you would have reacted a little differently, to now there’s maybe a different perspective on what’s important?
BILLY KENNEDY: Well, I always thought we had good kids, and I knew we had good players. So probably ten years ago it would have given me more problems, but having — when you go through things personally and you go through things in tough times, basketball’s really simple. The basketball part of it was easy. The culture things in our program were very important.
The suspensions bothered me more than the injuries. But I think we corrected the things we needed to correct, and that’s why we’re here today.