By Scott Wright
I had a little league coach who always told me, “you practice like you play.” If that’s true for St. Joseph’s, Oklahoma is in trouble today.
Watching the Hawks practice on Thursday was like watching that scene from the 1990s movie “Pleasantville” where all the guys shoot at the same time and all of them make their shots. It was phenomenal. I can hardly remember a single missed shot from the 50-minute workout.
If this comes down to a game of shooting, OU is in trouble.
Oklahoma took the stage for a 20-minute press conference on Thursday. Here’s the transcript:
Q. I would like to start with all you guys, have you noticed in practice this past week completely different mindset, more excitement, more enthusiasm for appearing in your first NCAA tournament?
DAVID GODBOLD: Yeah, there’s been a lot of excitement in practice. Guys are more focused. Everybody’s coming out with a lot of energy. So it’s good to see and hopefully he we come out with the same energy level that we had at practice the last couple days.
BLAKE GRIFFIN: Definitely, say we have more energy, because it’s our first time and it’s a big stage, everybody’s excited. Some guys haven’t been before. It’s definitely exciting and it’s definitely good because when you have better practices you tend to have better games. So, this week is really important to have some good solid practices with a lot of energy to come out and play hard tomorrow.
LONGAR LONGAR: Just like they said, a lot of focus, intensity in practice, just a lot of excitement. We’re very fortunate to be here. We know it’s going to be a really good game. St. Joseph’s team, we watched them some, we just been preparing for them. So we’re excited to play tomorrow night.
Q. How do you guard against just being happy to be here? This time last year your season was done for you David and Longar. But how do you guard against just being happy to be in the tournament and forget you got to play a game?
DAVID GODBOLD: Well, we just try to use that energy that we have from being excited to be here and we try to use it in the game.
We know that if we’re going to have a chance to win the game tomorrow we’re going to have to play with a lot of energy, get a lot of stops and defense. Make sure we get rebounds. So we’re going to try to use that energy that we have from the excitement and hopefully it turns out well for us.
BLAKE GRIFFIN: We definitely just need to use our own energy and remember how we or remember how it was last year to be done. Some of us weren’t here, but at the same time, that feeling is it’s so close and watching games on TV you can see teams losing and you see their last game being played and some of the seniors last time they will be playing on the college level. So, just kind of for me, it just kind of helps put things in perspective and kind of gives you more excitement to play.
LONGAR LONGAR: It’s important, I mean, last year like you said, at this time of the year we were done already. But we got to understand that you lose, you go home. It’s not going to make any difference, so we got to come out with a lot of focus, a lot of energy of the you got to elevate your game to a whole different level. Every team in this tournament is good. We just got to take care of business tomorrow night.
Q. Guys, most of us and most of your fans back home haven’t seen this team play very much. When you look at their style of play and maybe some of their personnel, is there a team in the Big-12 conference that you could sort of compare them to for us?
DAVID GODBOLD: Just looking at them I think that they’re best compared to maybe a Texas A & M. They have great inside players and they have a 3-point shooter and good guards who are quick and can drive. So we just kind of compare them to them and they’re looking to pound the ball inside and they also take open shots when they’re available. So we kind of compare them to Texas A & M.
BLAKE GRIFFIN: Definitely. I was going to say, “Texas A & M” too.
Q. For any of you guys, really, what does Coach Rich do for you guys? Kind of — how does he work and why is he effective as far as strength training and all that?
BLAKE GRIFFIN: I think just because he’s not a lot of teams have a more of a football strength and conditioning coach doing their workouts and stuff and I think that Coach Rich is more prepared for basketball. And he kind of designs our workouts like that. And he builds our conditioning program to match kind of a basketball aspect and more than just running for distance or running for speed on all that. So, I think just kind of the way he puts things together and the way he incorporates basketball into everything we do is important.
Q. Blake, this question for you, you went through the injuries and before that everybody was talking about you and Michael Beasley as two of the top freshmen in the country. But when you went through the injuries, your name kind of fell off the list a little bit. Is there a certain amount of excitement for you coming to a NCAA tournament being able to be back in the spotlight and get some of that recognition back that you lost in the injuries?
BLAKE GRIFFIN: There definitely is a certain level of excitement, not just because of being back in the spotlight, but just to be here in the NCAA tournament. And being able to play is something I’ve been watching since I was — as long as I can remember. So, it’s more of just being able to be here and have the experience and get to play in these games, not so much really trying to put my name back in the spotlight or whatever. Just trying to come out and have fun and play and win games. That’s what’s important.
Q. David, do you remember when Tasheed Carr played at Iowa State; and, if so, what do you remember about him?
DAVID GODBOLD: I know he’s really quick, he can get to the basket and if you leave him open, he’s not afraid to take an open three. Just watching tape on him, from what I’ve seen so far, he does a good job of penetrating and dishing out for the 3-point shots for this team. So, we just have to be aware of that and make sure we contain him because he’s a really good point guard.
Q. How tough do you guys think you are as a team I assume you think you’re tough and why?
DAVID GODBOLD: In games we’re tough. Some games we’re tougher. We’re not tough all the time. If we play together, that makes us a better team, and if we come out tomorrow and we show what we have been showing for the last couple days in practice and previous game before our last loss we showed a lot of toughness, we showed a lot of heart and that’s what we have to bring out and that’s why I think we’re tough.
Q. David and Longar, you guys seem during your poor stretches this year you really had a hard time scoring the basketball, especially making shots from the outside. So what can you do to improve that in this tournament where if you miss shots you’re going home? David first.
DAVID GODBOLD: Just make sure we get the ball to the right people at the right time. The strength of our team right now is our post men and once they start getting doubled, which hopefully will happen, because you have to be able to respect those guys, you know, and once they kick it out the guards just got to be ready to step up and make shots. So just be confident when we’re shooting, be confident when it’s down low, make sure you make a strong move and hopefully that will help out for us. We struggled a lot early just thinking about shots, missing shots, so now we’re trying to make our self more relaxed and just be confident.
LONGAR LONGAR: We are limiting, we got to limit ourselves, execute down the stretch, make sure that we don’t get away from the game plan, run our plays and just follow the game plan, basically. I think if we continue to do that, throughout the game, most likely we’ll win. Just follow the coach’s game plan.
Q. When you guys have had some tough shooting nights you’ve been able to come back other games and shoot well. What is it about that? That you’re able to do that. Is it just some games the shots are on. You don’t worry about confidence or things like that?
DAVID GODBOLD: Sometimes it’s attributed to how we practice maybe the night before. Some of the games we didn’t perform as well in I think our practice level wasn’t as high as coach wanted it to be. So, if we just take how we did today, I think we would be shooting pretty well tomorrow. So we’ll just have to just keep confident in yourself. Know that you can make a shot, and know just, just don’t have any worries about it.
Q. For any of the players who want to take this up, to have a coach whose got so much NCAA tournament experience as a player and some as a coach, do y’all feed off that? Is there any advice that he’s given y’all that kind of helps y’all settle down for this game and get confidence?
LONGAR LONGAR: He tells us stories. A lot of stories about his former teams and the teams that he’s been in. And what it takes to win games at this level and to be — and what it means to be in the NCAA tournament and how you have to play.
He helps us in so many different ways. To just focus and understand that every game is a win-or-go-home from this point on. So, it’s just a story, it’s just stories that he told us about his former teams and the teams that he played on. And what it took for guys to come together and play, I mean to continue to win and move on.
Q. Blake, I wonder if you could talk about this matchup specifically from the low post aspect of it. They’re a team that likes to get out and shoot threes and they don’t really seem to have that strong inside presence. Is that, in your minds, one of the biggest keys of this game? Is Blake, you and Longar establishing the down low game?
BLAKE GRIFFIN: I think it is. But, at the same time, we need to do a good job of distributing the ball and not just going to one player at one time. Because if you look at some of the games where we played really well we have four or five six guys playing really well and hitting shots. And that’s what’s going to make it tough to beat us is if we’re, if a lot of guys are clicking and a lot of guys are shooting and scoring because you can’t really focus in on one guy and stop him, you have to stop five guys. I think that’s one of the most important things in this game.
LONGAR LONGAR: They’re a team that can shoot the ball, all five guys on the floor can shoot. We got to be able to guard them outside all the way to the 3-point line. They have a really good six-ten, three man. We’re going to have to do a good job on him. He runs through screens and stuff like that so we just got to make sure that we contain him. It’s going to be a team effort to beat this team tomorrow. It’s not going to be really an individual.
Q. Do you guys, coming into this game, is it kind of refreshing in a way, and anybody can answer, to step out of your league and play somebody away from the Big-12 since you had 16 tough conference games plus the tournament?
DAVID GODBOLD: Yeah, it’s exciting for that, just to get a chance to play against somebody else. Playing in the Big-12 is a tough league, of course, and it’s good to see how we matchup against those other teams. Being in the NCAA tournament is a great opportunity everybody here that’s playing in the NCAA has to be a good team or they wouldn’t be here. So, we just get an opportunity to play against another top tier team and hopefully we just perform well and just come out with a lot of energy and focus.
THE MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you guys. Coach, why don’t you start with an opening statement and then we’ll go to questions.
COACH CAPEL: We’re excited to be here obviously to be a part of the greatest sporting event which is the NCAA tournament. Really happy for our guys to get the experience. Some of them for the first time.
We’re happy to be here in Birmingham. There’s a lot of basketball tradition here in the city and in this state. And hopefully we can come out and play well.
THE MODERATOR: Questions from the floor?
Q. How do you approach a post season play? Some coaches say hey, it’s a new season. Do you approach it that way or is it just another game extension of the season?
COACH CAPEL: Well, it is a new season. There’s new hope for everyone that made this tournament. And it’s no different for us. One of the things I told our guys just with my past experience of playing in this tournament and having an opportunity to coach in this tournament, before, is number one; let’s have a lot of fun with it. Let’s really have fun when you play.
But that’s not anything different than I tell our guys all the time. I think you should have fun when you play. It’s not — if it’s not fun, then you’re not going to be as good as you can be. And when it gets to be when it’s not fun, you shouldn’t play any more. That’s just my opinion.
But approach it with a sense of urgency. All year long you try to get your guys to believe that, but now when you get to this point, every game really could be your last. For this group, this could be the last time this group could be together. Today could be the last practice that we have. So, you really want to try to savor each moment, but really lay everything out on the line to try to keep extending your season.
So, that’s something that we have talked about with our guys. A sense of urgency, playing with incredible passion and being consistent with it all game long.
Q. He was wondering if you could just talk about this team and its second year, the makeup of the team, who do you credit for on your team as becoming really good leaders for you and guys that kind of carry on your message on the floor?
COACH CAPEL: I don’t know. That’s something you probably have to ask them. It’s an area I still think that we have room for improvement. Because leadership has to be consistent. Leadership can’t be just when you’re playing well or things are going good for you.
I think all of our guys have a lot of room to grow as far as leadership. Obviously, our seniors have more experience, David and Longar being four year guys and being guys that have played in three NCAA tournaments, David actually playing in the three tournaments, he’ll play tomorrow, obviously, but in the two previous ones that he’s been here.
So, hopefully our guys can lean on them for some experience and hopefully they can share some of their experiences in the NCAA tournament. I think they won a game their freshman year and their sophomore year in the NCAA tournament it wasn’t quite as good for them. But that’s an area in our program where we still have to continue to grow.
Q. When you guys have defended well pretty much all season, including your last stretch of games, but you’ve had a hard time scoring the basketball and you said that at the start of the season including the Big-12 tournament. So how will you overcome that? How will you make shots in your first NCAA game?
COACH CAPEL: Hopefully we just, we do just that, we make shots. There’s — I don’t think there’s any coach that has a secret formula for making shots. Sometimes you don’t.
We want to get good shots and hopefully if we’re getting good shots, we’re making a good amount of them. Those that have seen us play this year when we make shots, especially from the perimeter, that really makes us a difficult, a more difficult team to beat because it opens things up inside for our post guys.
So hopefully tomorrow’s a day that we can make shots. And if we do that, then and we do a lot of other things, then hopefully that means we have a chance to win the game.
Q. If I’m home watching, I’m a Sooner fan watching the game what do I need to look for to say that Oklahoma is playing well today?
COACH CAPEL: If we’re making shots. That’s really what it is with us. We, I think our guys for the most part with the exception of a few games here, I think we play hard all the time, I think our guys get after it. But when we’re not making shots, it’s not pretty. So that’s really what it is for us is making shots. Obviously we have to execute. We really have to execute on both ends of the floor. Offensively, defensively we have to communicate at a high level. St. Joseph’s is good. They’re well coached, they have very skilled players, they have a toughness about them, they defend you well, and they can obviously score the basketball, averaging 75 a game this year and get it from different areas. Obviously Calathes is the guy that can really score and he has a confidence and a swagger about him that on tape I love it, I don’t know if I will love it tomorrow, but in watching him and getting prepared, I really like that swagger that he has. Ahmad Nivins is a post player that can really score the basketball and shoots an amazing 65 percent from the floor. And so there are a lot of things we have to do defensively to put ourself in a position. But if you’re at home sitting and we’re making shots, then usually that makes us look a lot better.
Q. You just mentioned St. Joseph’s being tough. Taylor just told me in there that he thought that was one of the things that was missing from your team at Kansas City, how do you get that back?
COACH CAPEL: Well hopefully our guys will play tough. That’s interesting that he would say that. Hopefully our guys play tough. Hopefully they have more of a passion and a pride and a sense of urgency than we did in Kansas City. If we don’t, then we won’t be here long.
Q. I was wondering if you could talk, talking to your players this week they talk so much about your talk with them after the Colorado game, what was the biggest change in your team that happened after that game?
COACH CAPEL: Our guards started playing better. I thought we played with more of a sense of urgency. I thought we got tougher for a stretch there. But the thing with us is that it’s been sort of inconsistent. Usually when we’re bad, we’re very bad. But then somehow we can come back and we can go through a stretch of two or three games where we look really good. And we beat teams. We had a very bad performance, I felt like at Kansas City in both games. And that’s no disrespect to anyone and especially Colorado. But hopefully that means that we can come back today, sorry, tomorrow, and we can have a really good performance tomorrow. It’s going to take that to beat it this St. Joseph’s team.
Q. Can you comment on Rob Ferguson and what he means to St. Joseph’s and how you plan to maybe handle him?
COACH CAPEL: He’s a difficult matchup and the thing about that, they get most of their scoring, if you look at their season stats, their top three scorers are their front court players. Calathes is six-ten and playing mainly on the wing, but because he’s six-ten you can kind of play him all over the floor. Nivins, at six-nine, the post guy, second leading scorer. And then Ferguson. And the challenge that he presents is, he’s really a face up skilled four man. Pick and pop guy. Shoots threes, puts it on the floor a little bit. Can post. And that’s just sort of a different matchup, especially when we have Blake and Longar in, because one of those guys is going to have to defend away from the basket a lot. And for us we have to really make sure that we have the right guy. Because one of the things we don’t want Blake away from the basket too much because he’s our best rebounder.
And so it does provide some intriguing matchups for us and some challenging matchups for us. Ferguson is good, I mean he shoots it, gets it off quick, confident player, strong, pretty good athlete. And they’re older. That’s the thing about these kids from St. Joseph’s, they’re older. They’re seniors, couple of them fifth year seniors, couple of them are transfers, sophomores and juniors, so they’re a little bit older and they ever been a lot and they know how to win. They have won.
They’re well coached as well. And there’s a tradition there at that program. And so like I said, it’s going to be a tough matchup for us. But we’ll be ready to go.
Q. Do you have a relationship at all with Phil Martelli and if so what do you think of him as a coach?
COACH CAPEL: I think he’s a really good coach. I’m from the east so I’ve known about him for awhile. When I was an assistant with my dad at Old Dominion we played them. He’s a good guy. A good guy and a very good coach and has done an incredible job at St. Joseph’s.
Q. I don’t know if you heard, Phil wants Stoops to put Blake at tight end and for you to leave him at home. Did you talk to him about that?
COACH CAPEL: No, not really. Not really. Surprised he knew who Blake Griffin was, with his comments about football the other day. He knew who our starting tailback was. No, I’m just kidding.