Georgia State coach Ron Hunter and players R.J. Hunter, Ryan Harrow and Kevin Ware participated in interviews today before Thursday’s game against Baylor in the NCAA tournament.
I’m en route, but here’s a copy of the transcript of what they said, provided by the NCAA;
Q. R.J., obviously Baylor, very good defensively. How do they accomplish that? What do they do to keep teams off balance?
R.J. HUNTER: I think it’s a combination of their length and athleticism. They play that zone and take a lot of stuff on the wings away. You have limited space in the corners and those other spots on the court to move. Really I think it’s the length. We’ll try to work on this week, trying to pick our spots and where we’re going to attack from.
Q. Ryan, just curious it seem to you how long it seems to you like you were playing at NC State, and kind of what in this whole Odyssey sense, what stands out to you as some of the craziest or strangest moments?
RYAN HARROW: I mean, this is my fifth year in college and I started at NC State, so it’s been a long time since I played there, but I’ve always kept up with them. I think the craziest thing for me is just going from NC State, going to Kentucky, then going to Georgia State and just seeing how it’s just all different types of arrangements and stuff like that at each school and how every school has a different way of doing things.
Q. Ryan, physically are you planning to play tomorrow, and if so, how effective do you think you can be?
RYAN HARROW: I’ve been doing rehab like three times a day. I’m trying to get myself ready. It’s going to be a game‑time decision. I’m just working as hard as I can to be out there on the floor to help my team in any way. Obviously I won’t be 100 percent, but as long as I can do my rehab and try to get out there on the floor, I will.
Q. Have you been practicing with the others?
RYAN HARROW: No, I’ve just been doing straight rehab. R.J. and either of the other guys, for your dad, how much have you guys been teasing him or on him a little bit about his current situation, casted, on the wheeler, and all that stuff.
R.J. HUNTER: Yeah, I think you can ask Kevin, too, it’s been straight joke. This is the comedian right here. He’s got all the jokes for him. And it’s just funny trying to see him maneuver onto the bus and into restaurants and into his chair, but I think he’s enjoying it. He’s getting a lot of pub from it, so he’s got the jokes for you, too.
RYAN HARROW: Well, yesterday with his cast on, and he didn’t have a sock over his foot, so I told him I just wanted him to put a sock over his toes while he’s out there on the floor.
Q. Kevin, can you just describe the emotions of being back in the tournament?
KEVIN WARE: It’s great. You know, being with these guys, it’s been a long season, but I feel like we work real hard to get to where we’re at right now. We know we’ve got a good Baylor team that we’ve got to face tomorrow, but we’re just ready to play. During the Sun Belt, we were the team that everybody wanted to knock off, but in the NCAA we’re just a sleeper, so we just go out there, have fun, and play basketball.
Q. Kevin, I hate to bring back a bad memory, but what do you remember about the day two years ago when you injured your leg, and what brought you to Georgia State?
KEVIN WARE: These two guys here brought me to Georgia State. It’s as simple as that. I saw how they played so well last year, and they made it look so fun and easy. I’ve watched Ryan play since I was in Atlanta, so since I was like 15 years old, and I’ve would watch R.J. when he came to Georgia State. And these are two of the best scorers I’ve seen in my life, honestly, outside of Russ Smith. But what was your other question? I forgot.
Q. The day two years ago when you broke your leg, what do you remember about that day?
KEVIN WARE: I remember Thornton contesting a shot, Shane probably messed up the rotation, so I was the next guy over, trying to help him out. I contested the shot not knowing where I was landing, kind of grazed the ball just to see if it was going in the rim or not, and that’s all she wrote. Broke my leg, and I was on the floor, and Luke came over there and said a prayer for me and kept me pretty calm.
Q. How painful was it?
KEVIN WARE: It wasn’t painful at all, surprisingly. I didn’t feel the pain. I didn’t know that my leg was broke at the time. Only reason I did know is because I looked at Coach Pitino’s eyes, and they just got huge like they do when he gets mad, and I kind of just glimpsed down at my leg, and that’s when I saw it.
Q. Back to Kevin, when you’re sitting there waiting for the selection to come out, were you thinking in your head, they’re going to pair us against Louisville?
KEVIN WARE: I was hoping. That would have been big, not just the story line and things like that, but just being the first game in the NCAA Tournament. I definitely would have wanted to play them, but we got Baylor, and that’s all we’re really worried about right now.
Q. Relief or a little disappointment that you didn’t get them?
KEVIN WARE: A little of both. I miss those guys, but it is what it is. Hopefully, they advance and we advance.
Q. Kevin, when you started playing again this year, how long did it take you to get into a rhythm of playing again, or was it mid‑season, toward the end of the season?
KEVIN WARE: It took me a while actually. During the beginning of the year, it was pretty hard, just finding my spots on the floor. Playing with these guys, you really don’t have to do a lot. It was more just facilitating and trying to understand the offense. When Ryan went down, that’s when I kind of took on more initiative, like all right, I’ve got to be a threat instead of just trying to run plays and things like that. These guys tell me all year, you’ve got to be aggressive. We see what you can do in practice, things like that. So it’s finally starting to show.
Q. Was it frustrating or did you just know you had to be patient?
KEVIN WARE: No, I knew when the time was right that I’d be playing how I was supposed to be playing, and what better time than the tournament.
Q. R.J., given that you guys were two seconds away from being here last year and had to live with that all season and go through the Sun Belt, do you feel more a sense of relief now and an opportunity rather than all that pressure that you lived with since last March?
R.J. HUNTER: Yeah, definitely, and I think the whole time during the off‑season, every time we’re in the workout, we kind of thought about that moment. I got over it, though, because I was losing too much sleep over it, and I was being mad over it, and I couldn’t do anything about it. It was more sweet to the fact that we scored 38 points, and we won the game more than us losing last year. But it was just ‑‑ that loss last year fueled off‑season workouts and motivation, waking up early, stuff like that.
Q. Kevin, can you talk about how NCAA Tournament games are different from maybe other championship or high‑pressure games, and for R.J. and for Ryan, can you guys talk about achieving a goal of making it to the tournament and having the chance to move on?
KEVIN WARE: I mean, this is one of the best times of the year regardless of sport. It’s the NCAA Tournament. It’s win or go home. A lot of people make their names here, and it’s just honestly fun. I can’t really say it another way. At Louisville we were projected to win, but we’re here just the underdog. It’s more just about having fun for us.
Q. R.J., obviously your dad wants the best for you, but I’m sure he wants to coach you another year, as well. When you make your decision about what you’re going to do after the season, how much are you going to involve him, or because there is a little bit of a conflict of interest there, are you going to sort of do your own thing?
R.J. HUNTER: Yeah, it’s a lot that I have to think about. That’s why I’m kind of putting that off right now. Really just focused about Baylor because, if I get wrapped up in that, then my mind will be everywhere else. It’s a lot to think about, a lot to sit down and talk about, but I’ll think I’ll worry about that when the time is right.
Q. R.J. and Ryan, your thoughts on achieving a goal of making it to the NCAA Tournament and having the opportunity to move forward?
RYAN HARROW: Ever since we lost that game last year in the tournament when we were so close, that’s all we could think about was making it to the tournament. That was our main goal. We didn’t care about anything else. That’s all me and R.J. could talk about, and we knew we had another year to come back, and we wanted to make sure that we got good players to surround us. And once we got those players, we just started working hard, like just going overly hard. I mean, we achieved it and we’re here now, and we didn’t just come here to play. We wanted to come here and win some games and make people be believers out of us even though they might think Georgia State is a little school. We feel like we can play with anybody.
Q. R.J., how big of an inspiration has Kevin been for this team considering what he’s had to come back from?
R.J. HUNTER: Yeah, he’s always talking about how we helped him, but he’s helped us tremendously, especially me. Because I remember when the injury first happened, I tweeted Kev and he was getting a lot of media and he tweeted me back, but he’s just been an inspiration. He’s such a humble dude. The dude is famous, too, and you’d never know it. Seems like when I’m getting out of whack, him and him, they always come and help me, and he’s just a positive dude. He’s got good vibes all the time. He’s a jokester. He’s funny and he’s helped me a lot this year. He’s helped me actually mature on and off the court.
Q. R.J., I was just curious, your senior year in high school, I think your dad already had the Georgia State job, you stayed behind in Indianapolis. Could you just talk about why you decided to do that instead of coming down to Georgia and maybe how that helped you get where you are?
R.J. HUNTER: Yeah, I just felt like that was my time to mature, trying to be away from my dad a little bit. I had to take care of my mom for that year. I think me and him both talked about it and said stay home in Indiana, and I wanted to win an Indiana State championship, and at the end, I got there and got second place. But it was a lot of things that went into it. I felt like I didn’t want to follow him, and I felt like he needed to go do his job, and I needed to go finish my job where I was at.
Q. R.J., just first and foremost, congrats to you guys and good luck tomorrow. Your father being the head coach, how has that chemistry off the court been able to transition to success on the court thus far?
R.J. HUNTER: It’s cool because we’re close and sometimes it gets a little weird because he’s emotional, I’m emotional, on the court, so fireworks can go. But sometimes you just have to get away from him during the season, especially in the middle of the season when everything is kind of happening. During the season we don’t really talk that much. It’s kind of professional. But once the season is over, we’ll be back talking again.
COACH RON HUNTER: Well, we’re excited to be here. I’ve got ‑‑ I feel like I’ve got a really good basketball team that not a lot of people knew about, so we’re excited to represent Georgia State and our alumni and really excited to represent the city of Atlanta because we’re the only team in the city of Atlanta that’s going to play in the tournament. We’re excited to represent all facets.
Q. What’s your plan for tomorrow and how you’re going to get around on the sideline?
COACH RON HUNTER: I’ve never been in this arena, so I want to see the depth from the court to the bench and so I want to see where I can sit and roll, but I’m not sitting down. I haven’t sat down in 23 years as a head coach. I don’t plan to. What I have gotten, which has been great, I’ve gotten a lot of guys that want to give me free things in regards to how to get around. Some guy just made a new crutch he wants me to try out, just ‑‑ the Rolling Board Company said they’ve got this roller board they want to give me for the game, so I’m saying yes to all that. So just send it to me for free and we’ll try all of it. We’re going to do that. I’m going to coach the way I’ve always coached, and it’ll be a little painful, but it’s worth it to me.
Q. Did you ever think you’d be this famous for suffering an injury?
COACH RON HUNTER: No. Actually I hope I’m not famous for that, because again, at the end of the day, it’s about our players and what they’ve done. Actually to be honest with you, I’m more embarrassed by it than anything because I’ve always considered myself a great athlete. My son and I had that conversation a couple days ago. He said who’s the best athlete in the house now? So more it’s embarrassing. But again, this is great for Georgia State. I remember when I took over this program a few years ago and walking through campus, and most people on campus didn’t even know we had a basketball team. So for people to know what we’re doing now is something special. I think our kids probably have said this: We really believe we can win this game. I mean, we’re not coming here because we’re just happy to be the ‑‑ you know, the coach tore his Achilles and we won a last‑second shot to come in and get the game. We really believe we can win this game.
Q. Your players made it pretty clear there’s been a number of jokes and ridicule and whatnot going on. Can you share some of that with us?
COACH RON HUNTER: No, I can’t, because this is the one time that they can get on Coach and really get at me and do some things, especially my son. You would think I would have a little more sympathy with my son with this, but he’s been wearing me out. I want him to come back and play for me next year, but all the jokes, he can go ahead and leave now. It’s been absolutely crazy how he’s been killing me with this. But I’m happy for them, just to see the smiles on their faces, and we knew this was a goal of ours, but yeah, they have ‑‑ from accidentally trying to hide my scooter ‑‑ I couldn’t find my scooter trying to get on the bus and he hid my scooter, so yeah, they were having fun with this, trust me.
Q. I saw you coming in and you stumbled a little bit on the scooter. How many close calls have there been in terms of crashing this thing?
COACH RON HUNTER: I fell once. I fell yesterday because I’m not used to driving the thing, and then one of my players said they wanted to test me for drugs, said I was drinking and driving. It’s been a little bit of everything. And instead of helping Coach up, the 50‑year‑old coach that falls down, and they’re all laughing and thinking it’s one of the funnest things. I told them, that’s okay. As soon as I get healthy and conditioning starts again, we’ll see how funny this thing is.
Q. Ron, you mentioned you want to coach R.J. again next year. You do have sort of a conflict of interest there about what he’s going to do. I know you want to coach him. There’s also maybe a great opportunity for him to leave. How would you compare that to sort of the process of deciding whether or not you wanted to coach him in college?
COACH RON HUNTER: There’s no conflict of interest, I’m his dad. There’s no conflict. I’m going to buy him a car, give him a lot of money, new clothes. All NCAA buying ‑‑ for my son, when we’re done with this, the stuff that he’s going to have in his room, I’ve already talked to the car dealer, I’ve got enough stuff ‑‑ I can illegally recruit somebody and get away with it and that’s what I’m going to do with this, so my son has no idea. Then the key thing that I’ve got, I got his mom such a nice gift ‑‑ she doesn’t know about it ‑‑ he can’t say no to mom. So mom has got something, she’s going to get something really special that she doesn’t know about so she can be on my side and we can kind of sweet‑talk him into coming back one more year.
Q. I’m going to test your memory a little bit. I think the last time you faced Coach Drew was in 2003. Do you remember much about that game, the tournament championship?
COACH RON HUNTER: Did he win? No, I didn’t think so. I wanted to test your memory. No, and I’m going to remind Scott of that when I see him again. Scott has been a great friend. His family has been a great ‑‑ what a lot of people probably don’t know, one of the reasons R.J. is playing for me is because of Bryce Drew. I did a lot of research and we talked to a lot of people that had a father‑son relationship, and Homer called me and said that Bryce would be a great person for R.J. to talk with. And so R.J. went to talk to Bryce, and Bryce gave him the good and the bad with doing that, and really, two days after that conversation is when R.J. committed to us, and so that was huge with that. I appreciate what the Drew family did, and I’ve known Scott for a while. And I do owe them a favor, but it won’t be just giving them a win tomorrow, that’s for sure.
Q. Going into the Sun Belt last week, you had so much pressure on you knowing what had happened the year before. Now that you’re here, do you feel like, not only do you have to play a good game against a good team, but that you’re going to be able to enjoy the moment and get as much out of it as you possibly can?
COACH RON HUNTER: Yeah, you know, I’ll be honest with you. The semifinal game against Lafayette was the pressure because Lafayette had beat us before and we wanted to beat Lafayette, and then playing Lafayette in the conference tournament in semis is like playing a road game. I felt the pressure for our guys even at pregame. We were tight up until about five minutes in the game, and then all of a sudden we go up 20. I thought we were a little bit more relaxed going into the final game, and then we couldn’t make shots, we couldn’t make shots. Georgia Southern slowed the game down and we got tight again, and then we ‑‑ we’re also playing without Ryan Harrow, so there’s 20 points not playing in both of those games. So I thought we got a little bit tight. On this one, again, when we won ‑‑ I thought yesterday’s practice was great. I thought we were flying around. We may have had our best practice yesterday than we’ve had in about 30 days. I felt the kids were relaxed, felt like they accomplished what they wanted to do to get here. But then they kind of turn their attention on winning. So yes, we’re going to do that. But I’m going to spend more time ‑‑ I want to make sure as a dad ‑‑ this is one thing I haven’t done and I’ve been disappointed in myself since I’ve coached my son ‑‑ I haven’t been dad during the games. And I’m going to enjoy it as a father, also, this time during the games. I’ve been dad off the court, but on the court, I haven’t been able to enjoy my son and some of the great things that have happened with him because it’s very just difficult to do. But I told myself, and actually I told him yesterday, that as a dad I’m going to enjoy this a little bit more tomorrow.
Q. Your thoughts on how loose your team is? You’ve been predicted or been favored to win a lot of your games. This will be one of the games you won’t be favored to win. Your thoughts on how loose you expect your team to be when the game tips off tomorrow?
COACH RON HUNTER: Yeah, that’s a good question. We opened up the season with Iowa State, and that was the first time, I think the only time all year, that we weren’t favored to win the game, and so this is ‑‑ I think I like that underdog role. Georgia State is an underdog. I love coaching that way. So I love the idea that my guys feel that we’re the underdog. We’re already sold that no one believes we’re going to win. I’ve got a great thing I’m going to show them right before practice that we clipped up. Obama didn’t talk about it, but he picked Baylor, so I’m taking my votes back from him. So I’m going to let my guys know that even the President of the United States believes we’re going to lose. I love coaching in this underdog role. My kids will be ready on Thursday, that’s for sure.
Q. Can you talk about facing their zone, how it’s different maybe than some of the zones you see, and then also facing Rico Gathers?
COACH RON HUNTER: Well, first we’ll start with Rico. It’s like facing J.J. Watt. That guy is unbelievable. It’s like facing a football player. He’s bigger than any football player we’ve got at Georgia State. We don’t see guys like that even walking on campus, so I don’t know what that’s going to be like. But the zone part, that’s how we play. We’re 40 minutes of a match‑up. So we’ve practiced against that every day and we go against that, so I know the nuances of that because we haven’t played one possession of man in the 20 years I’ve been a head coach, so I do understand that. So I don’t think that’ll be a problem for us in that regards. Their length is something we’ve got to kind of get used to in that regards, so we’ve got some things that we’re going to try to do with that. But I’ve coached against Scott, so I kind of know what he’s trying to get done, but our players haven’t. What I’m hoping is that I know Scott knows that we’ve got a good basketball team. We’re hoping that the players don’t know anything about Georgia State and the guys that we’ve got and kind of take us lightly a little bit, because we know we’re going against a good team. This team was in the Sweet 16 last year. Scott has done an unbelievable job. I’m absolutely shocked that he hasn’t been National Coach of the Year in the last couple years. This is a great opportunity for us, and so we’re excited about facing it.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about Kevin Ware and what he’s overcome and how he’s done it year?
COACH RON HUNTER: Yeah, I think I said this yesterday, and I really believe this, is that all the student‑athletes that are participating in the NCAA Tournament starting this week and this weekend, it’s a wonderful thing. I participated as a student‑athlete, but I would venture to say I don’t think that there’s one young man that’s more deserving to play tomorrow than Kevin Ware. What he’s gone through mentally, none of you can even imagine. Forget the physical part, but the mental part, the hump that he had to get over, the number of times that he sat in my office and wanted to quit and give up, the number of times I’ve seen his mom crying about trying to get over the mental part of it is something that’s been a struggle. So I am so happy for that young man to come to where he was and be the conference tournament player of the game. And what he did and how he got us there, and then what he said, and I won’t go into this, but what he said to our players after the game in the locker room was amazing. There’s no pregame speech that I’m going to give to my guys that could be more powerful than what Kevin said to our team. Whatever happens Thursday, it’s great. Win, lose, whatever. But for Kevin Ware, man, I’m telling you, I couldn’t have prayed for this and gotten this for Kevin. Because what this did, this has changed his life back to being Kevin Ware the basketball player, trust me.
Q. Realistically what do you think you can get out of Ryan tomorrow?
COACH RON HUNTER: You know, I don’t know. I mean, we’re going to prepare as if ‑‑ we’ve played nine games without Ryan Harrow. He had a tough year with injury. We’re 9‑0 in the games Ryan Harrow hasn’t played. I reminded him of that this morning. I said, if you don’t want to play it’s okay. We are 9‑0. We do need those 20 points and so, it’s a tough injury he’s got, because the problem is the explosion. And so when it’s ‑‑ he’s one of those guys that he’s so quick and when he pushes off, he needs that. I’m not quite sure. I don’t know if we’ll start him to see how he’ll go. I’ll look at him in warm‑ups, which is what we did the other day. He though he could go, but I didn’t think he was ready, and I don’t want a 60 or 70 percent Ryan Harrow because it’ll affect our team. Right now, we’ll prepare like we’ve done. Like I said, we won a championship in the regular season without him at home, we won a conference championship game without him in New Orleans, so if we’ve got to come and do that here, we’re ready to do that.
Q. Follow up on Kevin Ware, when did you think he got over that hump?
COACH RON HUNTER: I don’t know the precise time to be honest with you, but I do know that, late January, it was a struggle, and we just talked about it because he had another setback. It’s just everything was a struggle. He thought he was there, it was a setback, and then the week before we went to the conference tournament and we played in the championship game at our place and you could just see he had a different vibe about him. He moved a little bit differently. And from that point on he’s been a different player. Even in practice yesterday he was flying all over. That’s the guy we thought we were going to get. I asked the trainers are we doing anything different, what’s going on, and she said no. It’s just almost like a light switch has gone on, and he’s just been a completely different player.
Q. Can you share what Kevin said to the team after you won?
COACH RON HUNTER: Well, it is very personal, but he talked about his experience last time he went to the NCAA Tournament. At the end of the day, it was mostly about enjoying this moment because it could be taken away from you, and so that was the main thing, and you could just almost ‑‑ from the excitement, and it was so loud in the locker room to hearing an absolute pin drop when he talked about that when the guys huddled up. From that point on, our guys seemed to relax because one of the things we have not done, we have never talked about Kevin Ware’s injury. It was off limits, not in the locker room, nowhere. So that was the first time any of that has been brought up anywhere in our program.
Q. What are your memories as a student‑athlete playing in the NCAA Tournament, and you’ve talked about the uniqueness that you’ve had coaching R.J. What are your thoughts that he’s gotten that chance to experience, now, a chance to come and play in an NCAA Tournament game?
COACH RON HUNTER: Well, the first one, actually I completely forgot about. I got a phone call from Lefty Driesell who used to coach at Georgia State and one of my last games was in the NCAA Tournament against Lefty when he was at Maryland ‑‑ and I completely forgot about this ‑‑ and of course Lefty, who called to say congratulations, basically ended up telling me a bad memory how Adrian Brand had a last second shot and beat us in the NCAA Tournament. And before the time I could say thank you, Lefty had already got off the phone. If you know Lefty, that’s just how that works. You just let him talk. So that’s probably the most painful and the memory I do remember is Adrian Branch hitting the shot at Maryland to beat us. And I didn’t remember the other question because I was thinking of the pain you just gave me.
Q. Your thoughts of the uniqueness you’ve had coaching R.J., but now your son gets to participate in the NCAA Tournament?
COACH RON HUNTER: You know, I’ve been in been all my life, playing and coaching. I’ve been blessed to be able to do that. But the highlight of my life honestly is coaching my kid. I won’t appreciate it until he’s gone, all the things that have happened from back‑to‑back Player of the Year to scoring camps, all the things that he’s done, and that’s the thing why I want to appreciate this. And if I can go back to the first day, his first college game I coached him was against Duke. He got the lay‑up and scored the first point of the game, but everything after that has been a blur to me. So I can’t wait to go back and celebrate as a dad. Because when you are the head coach of a program, it’s hard to say, hey, that’s my kid. I’ve never been able to thump my chest and say, hey, that’s my son. I’m really, really proud of him. I love him. But this has been the best experience that I can share this with him and the two of us can share this together because this was a goal of ours.
And here’s what Baylor’s players and coach Scott Drew said:
Q. Kenny, what are you seeing from Georgia State? Looks like they’re pretty good on the perimeter?
KENNY CHERY: We’ve seen they’re a great team. They’re well coached. They’ve got great players, great guards, and they play well defensively.
Q. Royce, with Rico averaging double-double, how relentless is he on the boards?
ROYCE O’NEALE: He’s very relentless. He just goes off after every ball. Every rebound he thinks is up there, he’s going for it. He thinks it’s his every time.
Q. This is also for Kenny. What have you seen from R.J., their guard, the coach’s son? What have you seen from him?
KENNY CHERY: He’s a great player. He can shoot, he can put it down on the floor. He’s good defensively. He’s got length. He’s going to be a hard match-up to contain, and we’re going to do our best to make every shot difficult, but he’s a great player.
Q. Royce, how do you guard against being that team? Nobody wants to be that 3 or 4 seed team that all of a sudden goes out to the underdog in the tournament. What’s the mindset going in to prevent that?
ROYCE O’NEALE: We can’t take any team lightly or any team in the NCAA Tournament. Every team is good now so we’ve just got to prepare every game, and any game could be your last, so we’ve got to play like it.
Q. Royce, do you like being the favorite? Is that better than being the underdog?
ROYCE O’NEALE: We don’t pretty much look at it like that. We always think we’re the underdog, so we always play with a chip on our shoulder.
Q. You guys haven’t allowed an opponent to score more than 75 points all season. How much of a pride is your defense and that streak?
KENNY CHERY: That just shows how hungry you are. We take a lot of pride in playing defense. I think that’s key for us, and we have great coaches pushing us every single day on playing defense. Coming into games, it makes it easy.
ROYCE O’NEALE: Yeah, along with what he said, we’ve got guys who are very active and long on defense, getting deflections, steals. That leads to easy transition offense.
Q. Kenny, just wondering from your standpoint the job that Coach Drew has done bringing this team along. How has he brought this team along, kind of brought you together, and has he changed much as a coach since you came to Baylor?
KENNY CHERY: His attitude never changed. He’s always been positive, and positive with every single player, the last player on the bench from the first player starting. And Coach Drew, his mindset is always about trying to put us in the best position as we can to be successful in life and on the basketball court, and he’s done a great job for the past two years I’ve been here, and I’ve learned a lot from him.
Q. Royce, you made the Sweet 16 last year, of course. Do you have a certain comfort level having been here before?
ROYCE O’NEALE: I mean, just the guys who played in this last year know what to expect, but we’re just going to take it one game at a time, try to get back to where we were last year and even further.
COACH SCOTT DREW: Well, to be a part of March Madness is a blessing for any team, and I know, just like everyone else in the field, our guys are excited. To be able to be in Jacksonville, sunshine, beach, nice weather, I mean, it’s hard not to be excited. Just ready for the games to get going.
Q. I guess you’ve had a little time to look at Georgia State now. What do you see from them?
COACH SCOTT DREW: Just like every team in the field, very well coached, talented players. I think they’re a little different than a lot of teams, though, from the standpoint they have two players that have won national championships. Harrow was with Kentucky and Ware was with Louisville, and any time you have that experience on your team, that says a lot. The other thing is R.J. Hunter, Coach Hunter’s son, is a projected top 16 NBA draft pick if he chooses to come out. I’m a little sensitive and favor those coaches’ sons. Bryce worked out pretty well for us, and Coach Hunter, I know he talked to me dad, and R.J. talked to my brother before he decided to go to Georgia State and play for his dad. I know that’s a great experience for them. But he’s an outstanding player, and I know, with our team, it’s real easy to prepare for a time when you put in a couple of highlights and all of sudden, they’re like, wow, I didn’t know they were that good.
Q. You mentioned beach and the sunshine for your guys, but obviously it’s a business trip.
COACH SCOTT DREW: Yeah, they’re not going to get any of that, don’t worry.
Q. They seem like they’ve done a good job of focusing on the task at hand all season.
COACH SCOTT DREW: Well, and I think that’s a tribute and testament to the leadership of Kenny Chery and Royce O’Neale. Those guys have been outstanding since day one. The team looks up to them. They listen to them, and they set the standards of what needs to be done and what’s expected. They’ll keep doing that.
Q. Scott, because you had lost so much from last year, did you handle this team differently or bring it along any differently than teams in the past?
COACH SCOTT DREW: I think this team has been a very competitive team, and if anything, we’ve backed off maybe some of our practice time and practice habits from the standpoint — since day one, whenever we begin practice or do anything, they go 100 percent and full speed, and I think that starts with Kenny and Royce’s leadership and just how hard those two compete. And then your next two upperclassmen with T.P. and Rico, those guys all have motors, they have energy, so the one thing is we’ve probably backed off some of the practice time and length because of their energy level. As far as the team coming together, developing, I think it’s been — we’ve stayed injury free for most of the year, and that’s really been helpful, and our strength coach, Charlie Melton, and our trainer, David Chandler have done a great job keeping guys healthy.
Q. I guess you go back quite a ways with Coach Hunter. What are some of the trademarks of some of the teams you’ve seen of his, and I guess y’all faced each other in ’03?
COACH SCOTT DREW: Yeah, that wasn’t a good memory for me. But Coach Hunter has got a great personality. He’s very energetic. That’s why his injury is going to affect him. On the sidelines he gets moving and there’s no coach that traps as well as he does in the corner. I know their team is going to miss that energy and that defense he provides, but I think what Coach Hunter’s biggest strengths is his teams always play really hard, and because they play hard — this team, for instance, 13th in the nation in defensive field goal percentage, fourth in steals — they really allow themselves to get a lot of easy baskets because of the energy level which they play with. I think because of his personality, people enjoy playing for him, and they want to play hard for him.
Q. I think T.P. had legend scoring seven — Taurean Prince legend scoring seven straight games before the Kansas game. After that game, I’m guessing he’s ready to get back out there as far as?
COACH SCOTT DREW: I’m hoping we got all our misses out for the next couples games in that game. But as a coach, the thing that we really try to spend most of our time on is are the good shots, and if they’re good shots, we know that you can’t control if they’re going in or not. It’s just we want to make sure we’re taking the right ones. I think the good thing is the day we got back from the Big 12 Tournament, you got a lot of the guys in the gym, it’s our day off and they’re in there shooting and working out, and again, that’s why this team has been successful is their work ethic.
Q. Several of the guys were on last year’s Sweet 16 team. Does that help coming in, having that kind of experience?
COACH SCOTT DREW: It definitely can’t hurt, and I think the big thing is year in and year out as we’ve had postseason success, player-led teams are always better than coach-led teams in passing on their experience, their information, their thoughts, when you come into team meetings, just them being focused and making sure everyone else is focused, that goes a long way. Hopefully those are kind of memories that we can continue to pass on to the future Bears, and definitely that’s helped us in postseason.
Q. Even in preseason, Big 12 poll, you guys weren’t getting a whole lot of love there. When did you realize that, hey, we’ve got a pretty good team going here and we’ve got a chance to do something this year? Did you know that the first day of practice or was it something that kind of evolved?
COACH SCOTT DREW: Well, coaches are always cautiously optimistic because we all understand chemistry, injuries, leadership. You have no idea how things are going to progress throughout the year, how your team handles success and how they handle adversity. At the same time, we did feel really good about the leadership with Kenny and Royce. We also did feel good about how competitive this group was, the fact that they didn’t take days off and you didn’t have to motivate them to compete hard. I think if you’re playing hard each and every day, you’re going to get better and you’re going to give yourself a chance to win a lot of games. The rest of it, again, we couldn’t forecast, but we definitely thought we had an opportunity to surprise some people.
Q. You’re in the postseason NCAA Tournament. Could you speak to the culture of winning that’s been developed at Baylor in athletics?
COACH SCOTT DREW: Well, I think first and foremost, everyone knows it’s a win or go home tournament, so you can play well and not guarantee a win, so it’s a blessing always to be a part of the tournament. I think we all realize seeding doesn’t matter. You look at last year’s championship game, you look at the parity, if it’s 1 versus 16, 2 versus 15, every game is highly competitive. I think the experience that our guys have been able to pass down, and really the most important with that, would be the leadership of the upperclassmen each and every year. If you have good leadership, you have a chance to be successful. I think the younger players want to play for the upperclassmen, as well. Because of the leaders we’ve had, we’ve been able to be blessed in the postseason.
Q. On the culture of winning, take us back to when you first got there and you had that one year where you didn’t play any non-conference games, through no fault of your own —
COACH SCOTT DREW: We got a lot of practice drills from that year if you want any (laughing).
Q. Now, you look at not only your program here, which has become a regular in the NCAA Tournament, back-to-back Big 12 championships in football, with the women’s program, up and down the line, what’s going on there? When you first came to Baylor and you’re dealing with all that kind of stuff, was that even comprehensible to you that there could be that kind of pay-off for the athletic program?
COACH SCOTT DREW: Well, I think first and foremost that’s why the coaches at Baylor were drawn to Baylor leadership is because of the leadership, starting with the president’s. Ian McCaw has been there for a long time. And when people come into the program, you respect his leadership, you respect his vision. I think because of that, every one of our coaches envisioned us all having an opportunity to be successful. At the same time, as other teams start to have success, I think it feeds off of each other, as well, because you see the football team, you see the women’s basketball team, whatever sport you want to pick, being successful, I think that motivates any competitor and athlete to be successful, and I think that all feeds off one another, but it starts with the leadership, and we’ve been blessed at Baylor.