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Q&A With Jay Wright

Here is the Q & A recap from a Jay Wright teleconference with the national media yesterday...

Q. Coach "K" was saying before your game in the Sweet 16 that he thought that your team was very similar to his in terms of quick guards and, you know, having a lot of guys run the perimeter that can run around and be a quick team, if you will. Do you agree that you're a similar team as Duke, and what concerns you most about Carolina? Is it loss and penetrating the defense or their size down low?

COACH WRIGHT: I would agree that we're a similar team to Duke. And to us, that's a flattering comparison. So I like that Coach "K" said that.

About Carolina, probably what concerns us most is just the completeness of their team. You mention right away you've got one of the best point guards in the country who can create shots, who can control the tempo of the game. You've got one of the best big men in the country who has the ability to play inside outside. You've got wing players like Green and Ellington who can shoot it, who rebound. And you've got a deep bench and length and size.

It's just a complete basketball team. Obviously, you know, when you get to this point, everybody's good. But I think we've all watched this team throughout the year and thought they were, you know, possibly the best team in the country.

Q. You mentioned Danny Green. Just wondered what your impressions of him specifically were, and, obviously, he got them off to a great start against Oklahoma.

COACH WRIGHT: He did. I coached in Long Island at Hofstra University. I watched Danny in high school. He does an incredible job at Carolina. And has just gotten better and better.

And I think he is one of the guys, you know, I just mentioned complete team. I think he is a complete player. He can do it all. He can get his own shot. He block shots, he rebounds, he scores around the basket. He shoots threes, and he's a veteran. You know, he's one of those guys that's been through a lot in his career.

As coaches in college we understand probably one of the toughest things for kids to deal with that are great high school players is when they don't come in and they're not a star right away or they have to come on off the bench. But he's dealt with that, that's made him mentally tough. Not a Final Four, not the game against Oklahoma. He's been through it all. He's a big time player.

Q. I want to say coming through the TV screen you called a timeout between the two free throws, and while some people will talk about the guys who have national titles. What I was impressed with was you weren't watching the game, you were coaching the player. Not only trying to ice a player, but setting up an inbounds play. Is that the value of having one of those left in your pocket? Having a timeout at that point to settle guys down to put them in a better place, is that what happened during that timeout?

COACH WRIGHT: Yeah, I was hoping to get to Levance Fields, but as you know, that wasn't going to work, because that kid has ice in his vein. The other thing that was important to us is if he missed we had not rebounded the ball well on free throws. Blair was getting in there and served.

We knew what we were going to do on a make, so we just wanted to review that. We wouldn't have needed an entire timeout to go over that. So that's a lot for guys to think about in the last couple of seconds.

Q. I don't know if you believe that you learned more about your team after a loss as opposed to a win. But talking to guys getting ready for the Final Four over the years, it does seem they reference losses more than they reference a win. Is there something that kind of falls in line with what we as the media have heard over the years along those lines?

COACH WRIGHT: Definitely. We lost a game to Georgetown late in the year at home, where we were very sloppy with the ball. Very lackadaisical offensively and played great defense. It was kind of the opposite. The way we played, we had played to a point in the year where we were always good offensively, and we'd get a little lackadaisical defensively. And try to make the points to the guys.

You know what, we played a good game here. We were consistent defensively, and we can be good offensively. And I think that game helped our guys click into the fact that we could be a good team here because defensively we're pretty good. And we know we're a good offensive team.

Q. I was wondering you're on a steady progression up through the NCAA Tournament. But the first three seasons at Villanova were NIT. Can you think back to then? Did you feel you were spinning your wheels a bit or behind, or was this the building process you expected to take as long as it did?

COACH WRIGHT: You know what, our first three years were wild. And when you go through those, you look back on it now and you say, you know, it made us stronger. At the time, you definitely think you're spinning your wheels.

Our first year we were a borderline NCAA Tournament team. We took over a team. Obviously, no one that we recruited. The guys did a great job. We were playing great basketball at the end, they he just missed and made it to the quarter just before the quarterfinals of the NIT.

And then we had our problems with, you know, the kids got the phone access number. And used that phone access number, so that got them suspended for two years. So that was a tough two years, you know. But I always felt like we were going in the right direction. But they were three years that made us stronger, definitely.

Q. What does it say about Reggie Redding that in the span of a few seconds off the game clock, he can make one, maybe not so good inbounds play. And a few seconds later, make a pretty key inbounds play for you at the end?

COACH WRIGHT: You know, that is something that we've talked about a lot and it's very important to us that our players learn that not just as basketball players, but as men, you know. In the past he threw the long pass.

As a coach, I have to take responsibility for having that option even available at that time. It wasn't the first option at all. But if you're a coach and that option is available, you have to trust your players' decisions.

What we wanted Reggie to learn from that was we'd always rather our guys make an aggressive mistake and not be afraid to make a big play. And that's what he was trying to do. So, you know what, feel good about the fact that you had the confidence to do that.

But more important the next play, we were down to our fourth option which was throwing that ball up to Dante, and he made the right decision. And actually a couple of other guy guys on that play did not execute right. And they left Reggie in a tough position. But he had the confidence, again, to trust himself and make that play.

You know, if that pass gets stolen, he's a go twice, and he has to live with that the rest of his life. But we've done everything to make him feel good about the fact that he was the guy in the arena making the play. Everyone else was watching.

Q. Is it safe to say if he doesn't play the way he has the final third of the season here, you would not be going to Detroit now?

COACH WRIGHT: Definitely. You look at the plays. There were other great plays at the end of that game. The drive he made, a pass to Corey Fisher, a crosscourt pass he made to Corey Stokes. He made a lot of big time plays late in that game. Marquette in the Big East tournament. He makes the pass at the end of the game to Dwayne Anderson.

He has stepped up. He continues to get better. He's one of the guys that's making our team better because he's getting better every day.

Q. Wayne Ellington said he was down to Villanova and North Carolina when he was making his college choice before deciding to go to Chapel Hill. How close did you think you came to getting him? And what do you remember about recruiting him back then?

COACH WRIGHT: He broke my heart, man. Broke my heart. But I'm very, very happy for him. He's had a great career. And I know he loves it down there.

He went to the same school as my children, he and Gerald Henderson. So I actually remember when he was coming out of 8th grade or 9th grade, they brought him to me and said this kid's going to go to Episcopal Academy where the kids go. They asked can you talk to his mom about the school. It had nothing to do with basketball. And he wasn't even a well known player or anything.

They came to me to talk about the academics, it's an outstanding academic school. It started in the 1700's. So his mom wanted to know about the education he'd receive there.

So I knew him since that time. Wonderful kid, great player. And I was at Carolina, and I knew we'd not had great success recruiting North Carolina or Duke. So you can never argue that.

If a guy's going to go to Carolina or Duke, you can't argue with that. He's either going to stay home or go with us or go away, you can't pick a better place in the country.

Q. Could you talk about Scottie Reynolds? It takes a special kid to make the kind of play he made the other night. Talk about him a little bit?

COACH WRIGHT: He is a special kid. I think any of us in coaching that have any success we're all doing the same thing. Some of us get blessed to have special kids, and that's what brings you to these unique situations. You know, you look at Tyler Hansbrough with that team in Carolina, and what he's done since he's been there. And that's what Scottie Reynolds has been for us.

He's made a lot of plays like that. One of his great characteristics is he never fears failure. And he doesn't worry about what he looks like. He never worries about looking bad. He's all out, and he knows he's going to be all out.

He gets a little out of control, and it's going to look bad. But most of the time he's making plays that people say wow. He's making a lot of plays that other people are afraid to make. And he's got a great inner confidence. He really is a special kid. He never seizes to amaze me.

Q. You have a lot of tournament experience over the last couple of years, but these other three coaches have some years on you and some National Championships under their belt. I'm wondering have they had any influence on you at all? And also, they all seem pretty tight with each other. And I don't mean any disrespect by it. But do you feel a little like an outsider?

COACH WRIGHT: I know what you're saying. This is definitely like one of those pictures you look at, choose which doesn't belong here, you know. But I think the three of them, you know, have been in these situations together. You know, when you get to the level that all three of these guys are, there are just certain experiences that you have, certain situations you're invited to that, you know, you have in common, and you get to know each other.

One of the things about the three of them that is very similar, Jim being in our league, he's one of the first ones to call me and congratulate me about going to the tournament. I love him. He is the toughest guy in the world to compete against, but he is a coach's coach. He respects coaching. And he's been great to me.

I've learned a lot from him being the East. From my Hofstra days I used to go see him in clinics and watch his videos.

Tom and Roy, you know, you watch them. You watch success. And you try to emulate what they do and try to figure out what makes them different. You know, those guys are incredibly successful. Probably just as humble as they are successful, and most of all, they're probably better guys and people than they are coaches. Both of them have always been great to me anywhere they see me. They go out of their way in any way to help you.

You've got three big time guys here. That's why they are in the position they're in.

Q. You guys have seen Carolina from afar, and they thought they were the best team this year. There were so many expectations around that team coming into the year. Talking about going unbeaten and all that kind of thing. I know that's something they're not necessarily concerned with. But the kids are human, is that fair for any team to go through that or is that a sign of respect?

COACH WRIGHT: You know, again, I'm kind of the new guy on the block here and I'm learning a lot through this process. Just watching the first time we played Duke, just watching the pressure on Duke all the time. The focus on Duke from everywhere, whether they win, whether they lose. Then Carolina is the same way.

You said is it fair? Probably not. But being the coach of Carolina is a lot different than anywhere else. And I'm sure Roy deals with things that none of us can even imagine with expectations. It's the same thing with being a player. I do think a lot of people did expect them to be undefeated. I think a lot of people would say wow, it must be great to go to Carolina. Must be easy. You win all the time. But it's not, it's tough.

They handle it, their players and coaches handle it extremely well. It amazes me how they handle it. And I think the injuries that they felt with this year with Marcus Thornton, you know, I think it really has strengthened them and made them great right now. They lost some games, but they know there's a reason they lost the games. It wasn't that they weren't good enough, they were missing players.

So you take the humility and a loss and you learn to work harder. But you know you're getting some guys back and you've got a chance to be great. I think in the end it's going to be a positive for them.

Q. Through the eye test a lot of time a conference will get a label. I was guilty, I called the Big East the beards and bodies conference. But you play better basketball than that. Is there a chance maybe now to have people realize that these games aren't 40 38, and guys aren't getting thrown into the fifth row? These are good basketball teams.

COACH WRIGHT: Yeah, I think sometimes it's tough to shed a stereotype. Like you, I was an assistant back in the mid '80s, and sometimes when we watch film of those games, I mean, there were fights in those games. They just break them up. There were no fouls called or anything. It has changed. It really has because of the way officials have officiated games. I think you can see some of the success that the Big East teams have in the tournament right now.

It's because, you know, it's not like it was back when Patrick Ewing and Derrick Coleman and those guys were playing. It is really good basketball. Not that that wasn't, but it's not as physical. The officials that ref in the Big East ref in the SEC or ACC. So I think people are starting to see that. I think it's kind of a stereotype that, you know, it's just tough to break, but I think it's being broken.

Q. Were there two officials that hadn't worked a Big East game for the game against Pittsburgh? And is there a cautionary oh, oh, I hope these guys understand at least what might be going on here in terms of physicality?

COACH WRIGHT: Yeah, you know what, the two guys yeah, you're right. There was. There were two guys that did not do Big East games. You're right. You know, I would be lying if I told you I wasn't thinking about that, because we knew what that game was going to be, you know.

It's, as I said, it's not like it was. But it's still tough and physical. But I thought they did a great job, obviously. When you win, you probably think that. But I thought they did a great job. There were a lot of fouls called, and it was a very physical game.

Q. I was wondering if you can reflect a little bit more on the history, specifically with the year the Big East has had, in comparison also with the '85 season, if that's something you take into consideration throughout your preparation in this tournament?

COACH WRIGHT: Well, you know, I'm not really a superstitious guy. But everybody was talking about it, and I was following it. As much as I love my man Tom Izzo, I was kind of hoping selfishly that Louisville got there for the Big East, because everyone was talking to us about how it was so eerily similar to the year that St. John's, Villanova and Georgetown were in it with one non Big East team. But Michigan State just played awesome, man. They just proved that they deserved to be there.

The thing that I think is comparable to '85 is if you remember '85, B.C. was a shot away from being in that Final Four also. B.C. played in the final eight. So there were four Big East teams in the final eight that year. And it was just one of those magical years.

Conferences go in cycles. That was just such an amazing year in the Big East in '85, and I think this year was the same way. And you look at all the teams that had success in the tournament from the Big East. And now we have two in the Final Four. I really do think maybe this year and last year were the two best years ever in the Big East. I mean this year and '85, excuse me.