Leonard Hamilton was joined by six of his players on the podium on Friday to preview Michigan.
LEONARD HAMILTON: As we reflect on last night’s game, I thought that our guys demonstrated a tremendous amount of effort, especially in the beginning of the game in the first half. But most teams at this level will come back on you. I think Gonzaga did a great job of making the adjustments.
At this level, sometimes you want to think about what you have to do to be successful, but the game becomes a continuous amount of adjustments that one team will make to another team as to what their strategy will be.
We had a tremendous challenge there for just about the remainder of the first half. But at the end of the half, I thought that we were a little frustrated at the end. We had some guys that were in foul trouble, and we were able to get a spurt right there at the end that allowed us to get a little separation.
As we look to our game against Michigan tomorrow, we have a tremendous amount of respect for them. I think Coach Beilein is a Hall of Fame-type of coach. He has one of the best offensive systems in the country. He’s won at every stop that he’s been. He’s been extremely successful. He has the ability to identify talent that fits within his system, and they’ve been extremely effective over the years.
We realize that they have a unique system in the fact that they have a seven-footer that shoots 40% from three, which is unusual in itself. We have a couple seven-footers that are more low-post type guys that don’t guard people on the perimeter as well as probably you would need to.
So we have adjustments we’re going to have to make. That seven-footer creates a lot of problems, and they’re tremendously effective on the outside perimeter. When you have a seven-footer that spreads the floor, that opens up the lane and gives them the opportunity to penetrate and pitch.
So we have our hands full. They’re very similar to a lot of teams in the ACC that we have to constantly be prepared to make adjustments for, and hopefully we’ll be the best that we can be, and hopefully there will be enough for us to win.
Q. I have two questions, if I may. Let me start with Terance. Terance, right now as you sit here in the Elite Eight, what does it mean to this team to be this far?
TERANCE MANN: It means a lot for us, because we’ve been working so hard all year. We always envisioned this and we always talked about it. So to finally be here definitely means a lot.
Q. Phil, I’m wondering, and you just heard what your coach said about Michigan. In your mind, what is the biggest concern you have about the Wolverines?
PHIL COFER: Really they can shoot the ball pretty well, so I think we’re going to have to do our job on contesting the shots and really just playing our junkyard defense that we’ve been doing so far.
But besides that, I think we need to keep doing what we’ve been doing, playing hard and playing to exhaust, and I think we’ll be fine.
Q. To any of the student-athletes, who does Michigan remind you of and why? What kind of problems does that present?
BRAIAN ANGOLA: I probably would say they remind us in the ACC probably of Clemson, how they have big guys that can shoot the ball, and they have players that can shoot the ball pretty well from the outside and people that can run the floor and spread the floor very well, so I would probably say Clemson.
Q. Braian, do you think your squad has the best Fortnight squad in NCAA basketball?
BRAIAN ANGOLA: I’d probably say we have the best squad in the nation right now. Our Fortnight skills are doing pretty well, pretty good.
Q. I know I’m supposed to be asking questions to the players. But, Leonard, I’ve never seen this many guys up here at once in a press conference setting. I was just curious is this symbolic of the way you’ve gone through the whole season?
LEONARD HAMILTON: Well, one of the phrases that we use to represent who we are, we’re 18 strong. We win games by committee. We might have five guys to start, but they may not be the same five that finish. We believe in that philosophy. That’s who we are, that’s what it represents, and this represents who we are, the type of program we have, and how much these guys trust each other and trust our system that they feel like they all are important.
It doesn’t really seem to matter with them who is playing as long as we are winning. This is a bunch of guys that are connected together. They cheer for one another.
The other night we were playing against Xavier, and Mfiondu was in the game, and he had four fouls. And I turned to Phil because I felt that Mfiondu would foul out, and he misinterpreted what I said. I said, You need to be prepared to go in and play the five, and Phil didn’t always do that. His comment to me was, Coach, he’s doing a great job rebounding. He thought I was trying to put him in the game for Mfiondu, not that he didn’t want to play, but he was concerned that Mfiondu was doing a very good job.
And that’s unusual. Most kids would have jumped up and just started toward the scoring table. But these guys are not that way.
Last night I put Christ in the game because Mfiondu, I didn’t want to take Mfiondu out because he was doing such a good job, and my staff kept telling me, He’s got to have a rest, he has to have a rest, he has to have a rest. I’m a little too old school, and I said, He’s got to suck it up. But I put Koumadje in the game, and Mfiondu thought Koumadje was doing a good job, and he wanted him to stay on the court.
So I turned to him, and he said, Coach, he’s doing a good job, he’s doing a good job. So that’s the kind of kids we have. Kids who share playing time, and share with one another, and this is who represents who we are.
Q. For you guys, along the same lines, Coach has been saying the last few days you guys bleed strength in numbers and that’s how you play. How has that translated to the success you’ve had this year?
BRAIAN ANGOLA: Well, I feel like it’s great for us. We are family. We’re 18 strong, and we really don’t care. We go in the game, and we don’t care who scores, as long as we can win. That’s our motto. Just 18 strong, from the last guy in the scouting team to the starters. We just don’t care who plays or who scores the basket, as long as everybody’s happy. We buy into the system, and that’s what we’re doing right now.
Q. Phil and C.J., for people who aren’t familiar with the term “junkyard defense,” how would you explain it?
PHIL COFER: Just really getting after it. Really just we say the saying of 94 feet, that’s just picking the ball up early and playing hard to exhaustion. I think that’s one of the key things of our junkyard defense.
Another thing I would say is doing the little things, steals, deflections, all the way down and stuff like that, rebounding. I think when everybody’s locked into that, we can take ourselves all the way to the top.
CJ WALKER: I would have to agree with Phil, I feel like picking up 94 feet and applying pressure on people and showing them something they’ve never seen before, and taking them out of their comfort zone. I feel like that’s helping us as a Florida State team, just getting out, running, getting easy baskets, and just apply the pressure and put people in situations they’ve never been in before.
Q. I want to follow up on the junkyard defense. Can you explain its origin? Was there a period where you guys drifted away from it and recommitted?
LEONARD HAMILTON: We have a set of principles that we try to govern ourselves by. We have some fundamentals that we try to live by and we grade them on how efficient they are and how consistent they are. None of them has anything to do with quickness and speed and athleticism. It has more to do with discipline, how you place your hands, how you turn your head, how you contest shots, what position you’re in when the ball is on the other side of the floor. And we grade them with that level of accuracy and on how consistent they are.
At the end of the game, we grade each and every one of them on each possession and how many times did they block out, did they close out correctly, did they get to the weak side help, did they contest shots. And we give them a grade. After every game we debrief and go over that.
But the junkyard dog principle is this. Are you from the Northeast? You all have junkyards where you’re from? Well, in the South where we’re raised, a junkyard is where a lot of broke-down cars are in a big old fence, and they have these ferocious dogs that guard the junkyard so that people won’t climb over the fence to go and take parts from cars and try to go and build cars up.
So they have these junkyard dogs that just run around all the time, and they’re ferocious and they get after you, and they’re mean and they’re ornery and they’re tough.
So we adopted the junkyard dog principle because that’s the way we want to play. We want to be consistent. We want to be like junkyard dogs that really want to protect their yard.
It doesn’t always work now (laughing). Sometimes we run into some junkyard lions, elephants.
Q. Coach, you had almost six days to prepare for the game yesterday, and it’s a quick turnaround for this game, only one day. What is the protocol like for preparing? What type of film are you watching in such a short period of time? Especially specific guards and big men? How do you prepare them?
LEONARD HAMILTON: Well, our defensive principles normally take care of all different types of offensive systems. Now, Michigan presents a different problem because they’re tremendously efficient at knocking down threes. They have ten threes I think they made in the first half the other night. Obviously a good shooting team. They have a seven-footer that spreads the floor and dribbles and hounds and passes the ball, and he’s their best three-point shooter.
So I’m not really sure that we’re going to have enough hours to do a whole lot of things other than be who we are. So we’re going to try to stick with the same type of offensive and defensive system that we’ve been using all year long, and hopefully that will be enough for us to win.
I do really believe that the team that will win the game will be the best of who they are. And we’re going to try to be the best FSU team that we can be, offensively and defensively. I’m sure they’re going to do the same thing. They’ll make adjustments to us, and we’ll make adjustments to them.
Hopefully you’ll have two teams that are playing well, and one team will play a little better than the other. Because we won’t have any — I don’t think there are any magic bullets. I just think we’ve got to be who we are, and hopefully that will be enough to mitigate who they are.
Q. You talked yesterday about you’ve recruited international players your whole career. I wondered two things. Number one, do you speak any other languages? And, number two, what do you like about international kids?
LEONARD HAMILTON: I’m still working on English, and I’m struggling with that a lot of times.
Now, as far as — we don’t make it a point that we have to get international kids. We feel we have to look under a lot of rocks and knock on a lot of doors, trying to find talent that we feel will give us a chance to compete in what I think is the best basketball conference ever assembled in the history of college basketball, the ACC.
But because I’ve been in the business a long time and I’ve developed relationships with people in a lot of different places, basketball has grown to be an international sport, and a lot of kids from a lot of different places around the world come to America. They play at prep schools. They play at junior colleges. And there have been times when we have been in need of guys who we feel could fill certain voids for us, and those guys have been available.
I mean, we’ve recruited very few guys directly from their international homes. Most of the kids have been kids that have been in high schools, prep schools and junior colleges here in the United States, and we’ve been able to develop relationships. They’ve found where we are suitable for what they were looking for.
Q. What do you think of Michigan’s Muhammad-Ali Abdul-Rahkman?
LEONARD HAMILTON: I just think they are a team that seems to — they’re kind of like a puzzle. They all fit. He kind of gives them whatever they need at that particular time. He’s a versatile guy who is quick and agile, he scores, he defends, he makes good decisions with the ball. He’s kind of the heartbeat of the team. I’m extremely impressed with him.
But they seem to really accept who they are. They rose, they play with a tremendous amount of confidence. A guy who comes off the bench, if he’s been in the game five seconds, if he’s wide open, he shoots the ball with a tremendous amount of confidence.
That’s one reason why they’ve been so successful in the league that they’re in. They’re well coached, they fit together, and they remind me a lot of our team. They seem to be really, really in sync and connected. They have a tremendous amount of poise. They don’t seem to get rattled.
I’m not really sure that we can be as aggressive with them defensively because they make such great decisions with the ball. They backcut, they space the floor, and I’m sure we’re just going to have to figure out how to make whatever adjustments we have to in order to be effective in a game that we feel is going to be tremendously challenging for us.
Q. I don’t ask this entirely seriously, but given Michigan’s basketball success the last five or six years, do you view them more as a basketball or football school? And coaching at a traditional football school, are there some areas that you can use to your advantage?
LEONARD HAMILTON: I think that’s one of the most ridiculous phrases that I’ve heard, football school, basketball school. I mean, gosh, they’ve been to the Final Four on a consistent basis. I think they’re a good academic school that really — and they have great sports.
The basketball world that I know of, that I live in, never identified them as a football school. As a matter of fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever really heard anybody use that phrase, other than maybe coming from a reporter.
I feel that at every school several sports have maybe had more success than others. Our baseball team has probably had as much success at Florida State as anyone, but nobody would call us a baseball school. Our soccer team does an outstanding job. Our volleyball team is good.
I mean, so I just think that’s a cliché and that’s a phrase that we need to eliminate. I think it’s healthy when all the sports are working and being successful. Obviously football seats at Michigan maybe about 100,000 people. So they’re successful. That brings a lot of revenue to the school. They’re able to support a lot of the non-revenue sports that gives kids an opportunity to — they raise money to pay for the scholarships for kids that maybe wouldn’t have an opportunity to go to school and get their degrees any other way.
So I just think that it all works together, and that’s part of the college experience. At Michigan, like a lot of other schools, they’re supportive of their university, and it seems like on the weekends they come back and it’s kind of like almost a homecoming every time or reunion on the weekends, which I think is all positive.
I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to work at Oklahoma State, the University of Miami and Florida State, and I kind of enjoy those football weekends myself. It’s good for recruiting (laughing).
Q. You’ve been doing this a long time, obviously. What would it mean to you personally if you were able to get another win tomorrow and make it to the Final Four?
LEONARD HAMILTON: Someone asked me that last night, and I hadn’t had a chance to really think about it, about what it meant to me. I’ve been fortunate in my career to have been, as an assistant, to three Final Fours, 10 or 12 — I don’t know how many conference championships. I’m more thinking about how important it would be for our student-athletes to enjoy that experience. I’m not selfish enough to feel that that’s a cure-all for me that’s going to make my life any more important or successful.
But I realize that these are memories that our young people will have that they will cherish for the remainder of their lives. I want so much for them to enjoy that experience, because I know how much it’s going to mean to them.
I’m more excited about when they graduate and get their degrees, when I get a chance to go through their weddings and be the godfather to their kids. When I see them grow from being young adults to — I mean, from teenagers to young adults, those are the things that are important to me.
Me personally, I hope that my reward would be to see the smiles on their face and hear their tone of voice and the excitement in it if we can win this game tomorrow.
So my job is to try to get them to be mentally and emotionally poised, connected, and energized and not pressured because they’re trying to satisfy something for the coach. Thank you very much.