Illinois head coach John Groce
March 24, 2013
ILLINOIS PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
#2 Miami 63, #7 Illinois 59
NCAA Tournament 3rd Round // Austin, Texas (Erwin Center) // March 24, 2013
COACH GROCE OPENING STATEMENT: Well, couldn't be more proud of our team throughout the course of the season. And I thought it was exemplified in full fashion today.
I thought we battled, I asked them to play with courage, they played with a high level of courage. I thought their poise was tremendous. They were resilient. We had several guys make plays. We had our opportunities. I want to give Miami credit. They're a really good basketball team. You don't win their league and their tournament championship unless you've got good players and you're well coached and you play well.
It was a battle. It was like a heavy weight boxing match out there. Unfortunately, we came out on the short end of it. The worst part for me is that I've got these guys up here, two of the seniors. I got three more back in my locker room and we don't get to go to practice on Monday and Tuesday. That's the part that's hardest to swallow. Because these guys are high character guys, I loved being around them from day one, they have laid a foundation for where we're headed and as I told them in the locker room, I'll be forever grateful for that. They represented the university well. Proud of them. Questions?
Q. Brandon, you kind of slumped over there at the end of the game and just wondering what your thoughts were at that moment. You guys were so close probably seemed like you were within reach there.
Brandon Paul: When the clock hit zero it kind of just hit me faster than I thought it would that that was the last game of my college career. And more importantly, just my last time being able to step on a court with the guys I came up with. With Tyler, Joe, D.J., the rest of the seniors, Kevin and Sam, as well as, the rest of the guys on my team as well as the coaching staff.
I've had a great career at Illinois, I've done a lot of things, and just looking back I'm proud of the way we fought tonight like coach say. We made plays and it put us in position to be successful. Miami played a great game and they never gave up and they're a good team.
Q. Nnanna, with about 40 seconds left you were battling for the ball I think with Kadji under your basket. And it looked like you guys thought you were going to get the inbounds play and then they gave it to Miami. Just how surprising was that to you? What was?
COACH GROCE: I'll answer all questions regarding that play. Thank you.
Q. Nnanna, just talk about the way you guys came back at the end of the game and just the feeling when you get that close and it doesn't work out.
Nnanna Egwu: Basically he just shows the resiliency of our team the whole year and we showed it time and time again through non conference season, through the conference season. The seniors, they led us well throughout the whole year and they showed us that they never give up. They keep battling from end to end and that's just another example of that tonight.
Q. Tyler, just a thought about what happened down the stretch and how close it was and how it didn't come to pass the way you guys wanted it to.
Tyler Griffey: Credit to Miami for making plays. We had the opportunities there, we just didn't convert enough of them. They're a good team and we just couldn't get stops down the stretch.
Q. Just talk about that inbounds play there. It looked like everybody was really surprised that it went the other way.
COACH GROCE: Well I had two thoughts: One, I thought the officiating Friday and today was tremendous. These are the best of the best. I thought they did a good job as you saw. And my second thought is you saw the same video that I did. Those guys did a good job though. They did. It's a hard game to officiate, it's both teams physical, both teams desiring the same thing. 50/50 calls are hard sometimes.
That's how he saw the play in life speed, and certainly respect him and respect the call that he made.
Q. You kind of touched on it a little bit with the guys, we have talked about this all year, but what do those guys mean to you and how hard is it right now sitting here right now knowing that you're not going to have those guys any more.
COACH GROCE: It's hard. It's really hard. It's really hard. Those guys have done a lot. To be in this position I think a lot of people wouldn't have thought that at the beginning. And then we got off to a good start and then we struggled a little bit at the beginning of Big 10 play and I felt like people kind of doubted them again. Then they found a way to be resilient and grind out some wins there in Big 10 play and play really well down the stretch.
Biggest thing though I said this is I just said this to them. I hope it's a great life lesson for them that don't put self imposed limitations on yourself. And believe in your self. And when times get tough, they're going to get tough, they're going to get tough when they're married some day, when they have kids some day, and they have got to pay bills and all those life lessons that you learn, that's what sports are about. To be resilient and to grind and find a way. And they did that all year.
I'm proud of them for that. I'm proud of our staff. Felt like we got a lot out of them. Our staff deserves a lot of assistant coaches deserve a lot of credit for that. I thought today we played really, really well. I thought they played well also and they're a good basketball team and it just didn't go our way.
Q. You touched on it sort of in general, but specifically Brandon gave you some big threes down the stretch, Tyler early, just talk about some of the individual contributions, Tracy to the hoop.
COACH GROCE: Yeah, I thought well we have got guys that have a lot of courage. They do. They believe in themselves and one another and the coaches. They have done a great job and guys made plays. Guys made I thought Sam's block was off the charts. I thought that Griffey made shots and rebounded the ball well. I thought Paul made plays. I thought Richardson was really good defensively. I thought he challenged the heck out of Shane Larkin's shot there. That was a big shot in front of the Miami bench and I give them a lot of credit for making that play. He's a terrific player.
We had Nnanna with 12 rebounds, I mean you could go right down the line. I felt like everyone that played contributed in some form or fashion. That's kind of how it's been all year, we have been kind of a committee of guys trying to do it together. And I think our guys have, for the most part, they have done that, they stuck together through thick and thin and for that I'm proud of them.
Q. How tough is it to see D.J. Richardson shoot so poorly in his final game?
COACH GROCE: It's not easy, because I believe in D.J. I know he believes in himself. I thought he had some pretty good looks there. They just didn't go in. We had enough chances to make some plays that could have affected the outcome throughout the game and he had some pretty good looks. And I trust him a lot and most days he shoots 10 threes of the quality that he had tonight, he's not going to make one of them, but you know, stuff happens.
And the great thing about D.J. is he found other ways to impact the game with how vocal he was, his leadership, the way he defended, I thought he was really locked in and engaged. I was proud of him and the way he handled himself all season.
Q. Kind of reflecting, can you talk about how lucky you were to inherit a group that was this resilient all year long.
COACH GROCE: Yeah, they have been I'm very fortunate, that they were open minded and having said that, I think that our assistant coaches worked very hard and we worked hard to develop relationships with the kids and that's what coaching is. Finding a way to connect and the players were very open minded and allowed us to connect with them and their belief in what we were doing. Grew exponentially as the season kept going on and on and on and on. Even when we were dealing with the adversity there where we weren't, we struggled a little bit, they stayed the course and so I feel very blessed to have coached that group and what they have done as we move forward here from year one to help us build a foundation of what we want to be about.
Q. Building off that, how much does this help you, the success and getting to the tournament for those young guys as you look to take further steps here?
COACH GROCE: Well I think it helps. Obviously. I'll have a chance to reflect more on that maybe tomorrow. In terms of the breadth of the whole season. Our guys have invested so much, I know that they're disappointed and they should be. They put their heart and their soul and their mind into this from day one and kind of had a cause and they battled every day to put themselves in position to have this opportunity tonight to have a chance to go to the Sweet 16 and they made all that happen, so they obviously deserve all the credit.
ILLINOIS POSTGAME LOCKER ROOM QUOTES
Illinois G Tracy Abrams
On emotions after loss: Next year I don't want to feel this, and to just remember this situation just to go out like that and remember this feeling for the future of our team. We have a lot of guys coming back and I'm pretty sure those guys know this feeling right now. We just have to grow from it.
On the difference tonight: We fought hard all night. I felt like we were the toughest team out there. It was a good game, those guys played pretty hard. Those guys made plays and our guys made plays. It was a hard fought game.
On the senior class: Those guys are half the reason I became the player that I was this year. I learned from those guys and fed off their energy and their experience. It definitely helped me out on and off the court just to have those guys around and showing leadership.
On Illinois going further than expected this season: This is a new beginning for us and our program. This is coach's first year and that was the foundation here for us and it just shows you have to be resilient.
Illinois G D.J. Richardson
On what Coach John Groce said to his team after the loss: He told us he was proud of us. Tell you the truth at the beginning of the season no one even had us making the tournament. There was a lot of stuff said at the start of the year. We stayed level; at the same time we didn't listen to all that. We made the tournament we won the [first] game, but I wish we could have gotten farther. Coach was excited for the type of season we had this year.
On how they stayed in the game: We made plays, they made plays as well. They punched and we didn't flinch. We kept making plays, Brandon [Paul] made some big plays for us, Tracy [Abrams] made some plays, Tyler [Griffey] made some big threes. We just kept fighting, that's basically what it was. They were fighting and we were fighting at the same time.
On going 1-11 shooting: Shots weren't falling, I was obviously taking shots that I'm capable of making. They fell in the last game, I was missing this game. My teammates did a good job of getting me the ball in the right spots I've just got to knock them in. But obviously my career is over so I have to look forward to my future.
On Nnanna Egwu: He played great tonight. He made some shots and those free throws at the end were clutch. He's going to be a great player. At about the middle of the season he became the captain of the team, next year he's going to have a bigger role for the team.
Illinois F Sam McLaurin
On the late out of bounds call against Illinois: I wouldn't say that call cost us the game. There was other stuff that happened throughout the game. Refs are going to make bad calls, players are going to make bad calls, coaches are going to make mistakes, players are going to make mistakes, and officials make mistakes as well. So we can't really say that that's the reason why we lost the game.
On whether playing in the tournament lived up to what he'd dreamt it would: Every minute of it, especially the way it went down to the wire. It can't get any better than that.
On how fun the game was against Miami in that atmosphere: It was so much fun, we had been here the last couple days hearing about how much they were going to beat us by, and for us to hang in like we did and have it within our reach it was just a great game.
On the younger guys coming back next season: Oh they're definitely a building block. I talked to all the younger guys and told them "just soak it all in, soak it all in because next year you'll get your chance to be back in a similar situation." They have a lot of good talent returning so I think they have a good chance to be in a similar position [next year].