Nov. 13, 2001
Here are selected quotes from head coach Ben Braun from this week's media luncheon. The regular season opener is Nov. 15 against Princeton in the first round of the BCA Classic in Haas Pavilion.
On the upcoming game with Princeton:
If you really want to challenge your team, Princeton is the ultimate challenge. I really mean that. I mean that out of respect, and I think it challenges you. It challenges you to really defend. It challenges your sense of discipline and your sense of patience. They are simply the best in the country at what they do. A question that someone asked me recently was, 'Is there anyone in your league where you can have a look at that?' I remember Oregon State gave some teams some fits. And although they didn't win, they stretched some teams down to the wire last year by playing a little bit with that kind of basketball with the open post cutting and bringing the big guy on the floor. They had some very good reads and UCLA had some success last year by bringing their high post guy out on the floor, backdoor cuts and guards around. Princeton really does a good job of reading defenses. You need to get out and try to really pressure hard in the passing lanes and really exploit that, because they are so good at the back door.
The key to their attack has always been their high post player. Every year they seem to get a big guy who really passes the ball well. It makes them tough to play against. When you start overplaying the point, they hit you back door. When you start sagging to protect against back door cuts, they start coming back around for three-point shots. So they have a lot of different reads off that. It really tests your players' patience. Most teams just want to get up and down the floor and not have to stay in their stance. It's hard. We challenge our players to stay in their stance for 30 seconds, and that's hard for any team at any level to do. If you don't do that, Princeton will make you pay the price. You must stay extremely disciplined and extremely patient.
It's been a challenge for us to prepare for this as an opening game. They have it all. They're working the shot clock, they're working the pressure release and it's a tough style to play against. You have to have a mentality to play that style and you have to believe in it. Their system has been successful. John Thompson stepped in and I give him credit for staying with a system that has been very successful. If we weren't playing against them, you could really take the time to appreciate what they do. Even watching the game film in preparation for this game, it's a big challenge from a coaching standpoint, but you really appreciate what they do.
How do you make it so you are not playing Princeton's kind of game?
Everybody has his or her thoughts. Some people say 'let's press,' but they're a very good passing team. So if you're going to double up on the ball, they're going to find the open people and suddenly you may be defending three-on-two. You could say, 'let's pressure the passing lane and speed up the tempo,' but when you get burned on the backdoor that takes the wind out of you a little bit. So you have to be careful ... you don't want to play passively and change everything that you do to play against Princeton because then you're going away from your strengths. From our standpoint, we're going to stay with what we do, but we told our players to be a little more patient and disciplined. We've played against Princeton in the past and an intelligent player will watch film and realize that it is a tough team to play against. Just when you say 'Well, I'm not going to get back-doored,' you will. You're going to get back-doored. To prove it, we went against that in practice. I put our scout team out there, they back-doored them, and the starters got beat in practice. Our scout team can do it to them, and we're going against a team that does that everyday and that's their style. You better believe that they're going to do it to us. I think it's a challenge to play that way and a challenge to play against.
On Princeton returning four starters from last year's squad:
It concerns me tremendously. It's a really tough opener. Defensively, they play very good match-up defense, they're very good on the post, and they're really aggressive and help down in the post really well. That's an adjustment we're going to have to make. A lot of teams don't do as good a job as they do defensively.
How is Brian Wethers doing?
Better. He's practiced the last couple of days and we anticipate that he'll be ready to go Thursday. He's missed the whole exhibition season (with tendonitis in a knee) but he really has been working hard. He'll be ready to play and help us a lot. Getting him back will be a plus, he's a player that can make a difference for us in this game.
Defensively, against Princeton, do you use a smaller team as opposed to two big men on the court at the same time?
At times, I think we can play a small lineup and at times we have to play our big lineup because that's who we plan on playing this year. I don't think you can put everything you have into one game when you play a 30 games season. We're going to get exploited in some areas. Our big guys are going to get basket-cut, we're going to have a 6-11 guy on a smaller player, but I have faith in our players with their quickness and agility. Now they're really going to get tested ... we're going to see how quick and agile they really are. At the same time, I don't want to take those players off the floor and say 'You can't play this game,' because then we're giving Princeton an edge and making a concession to them by saying 'now you don't have to defend us on that end of the floor.' It's a give and take. There may be an advantage at one end and a disadvantage at the other. Now it's just a challenge: what can you do with what you have? Imposing each other's wills on each other is what happens.
How do Solomon Hughes and Jamal Sampson complement each other?
Right now, they're growing a lot together. They are learning to complement each other. It's a process, it's not going to happen in one game. It's something that will be a process as the year goes on. In practice, I am seeing an improvement in what they are doing. Their passing skills are improving along with their ability to run the floor. Jamal is starting to get better in terms of conditioning and durability. Every week is a better week for him and he is gradually getting better. That's a great sign. You add Solomon Hughes, Jamal and then you add Gabriel Hughes ... those guys can get up and down the floor and that's a plus for us. They can play together defensively, help each other offensively, and read each other in high-low situations. That's going to be a plus for us this year, but it's going to take some time. Solomon Hughes and Jamal Sampson are similar in that they both are agile players, they can move their feet and cover ground. They are both becoming pretty solid around the basket and they are working on their range.
With the loss of Sean Lampley, is there a dramatic change in you offense?
There is a change in terms of ball movement. We're a team that is able to move the ball and put the ball in different people's hands. There is not going to be the predictability, although it was pretty reliable predictability. It's going to have to be shared, the ball is going to have to be rotated, and I am confident that our players will use that to their advantage to make it tougher on opposing defenses. Sean was a tough challenge because you either had to double him or give up some shots. That has changed right now. It's a change that the players have welcomed. They have accepted the challenge and done a good job with it. I think it's refreshing to see your guys out on the floor playing basketball, catching, moving the ball, cutting, and not being just one-dimensional. Hopefully it has made it difficult on our defenders.