Brandon Paul holds up his tournament MVP trophy.
Nov. 22, 2012
THE MODERATOR: Coach, some opening comments? You're allowed to smile. The game's over.
John Groce: That's a great perspective. He's right. I need to take a deep breath. Obviously, we feel extremely privileged and honored to win such a prestigious tournament. I carried the trophy with the guys up to the locker room, and you see the names that are on that trophy, and it really puts it in perspective.
The quality of this tournament, as I've said the entire time, I think it's the premier, pre season tournament. I remember as a little kid watching the championship game on Wednesday night before Thanksgiving when I was younger growing up in Danville, Indiana. So it's what a privilege. Our guys are humbled.
But I thought Butler obviously was an extremely worthy opponent. Watching them on film, not surprising. Brad is a terrific coach. They've got a great program. I think it's a really good basketball team that we beat. The thing I was probably the most proud of was our toughness. Whenever you play Butler, you have to be tough.
They're just so tough mentally and physically, they never beat themselves. That says a lot about Brad and what he does with his kids. We're excited. I told the guys upstairs, it's obviously a tremendous start for our basketball program. But we can still get better. As long as the guys in my locker room believe that and they continue to give great effort and they've been very coachable. They want to be really good. They're fun to be around every day. As long as we stay humble and don't swallow the poison of success, I think we have a chance to play better basketball.
Q. This is your first year at Illinois. Are you surprised at how well things have worked out so far?
John Groce: Obviously do you envision sitting at 6 0? I'm a little different. These guys will tell you. I focus on practice every day. At least I hope they'll tell you we come to practice ready to go every day. We try to get better every day and let the results take care of themselves. We don't get caught up in necessarily thinking two games ahead or a game ahead.
Obviously, it's a great start, and I'm happy for these guys. These guys have been through a lot, especially the seniors, Tyler and Brandon and D.J.; and Sam has been a tremendous addition to our class of seniors as well. So I'm happy for those guys. Really happy for Illini Nation. I had no idea we had sold that many. It was unbelievable the turnout that we had. Tremendous support from our fans, so we're blessed and thankful for that as well.
Q. Brandon and Tyler, I want to know how your legs feel after three days in a row? Coach put in a lot of the second string and kept rotating guys. Did you feel fresh?
Brandon Paul: Quite honestly, my legs feel great. The coaching staff made sure we got what we need done before the game, and when it comes to practice time. But they take care of us body wise. They make sure we get in cold tubs and make sure not to go too long in practice. As long as we go hard in everything we do, Coach Groce likes to have a pace for everything. They make sure we're fresh, and I'm feeling pretty good right now.
Tyler Griffey: I know not a lot of people liked us coming over and playing in Hawaii beforehand, but I think that helped us get accustomed to the time change and getting our legs prepared. But first of all, it was a tough game, but it really helped us fight through the fatigue of jet lag and got us ready to play for the tournament.
Q. Brandon, you won the MVP award and rose the trophy above your head. Just talk about what that was like to salute the crowd with that trophy?
Brandon Paul: It's obviously a blessing. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for God, my family members, friends and my teammates and coaching staff. But it means as much as the championship means to me. We came out with the mindset that we wanted to prove ourselves, and I think we did that. We're in no shape to just stop right here. We got the championship we wanted, and I'm proud of my teammates. And MVP is just the icing on the cake for me.
Q. For the players, you were picked ninth by the media in the Big Ten. Is that motivation?
John Groce: I didn't know that.
Tyler Griffey: We don't look at that. Final rankings are the ones that matter. Sorry to be blunt.
Q. Last night he asked you about the style. If you could describe your style in one word, you said attacking. Did you feel like you guy it's that tonight?
John Groce: First half for sure. We got a lot of stops and we were out running. I thought the start of the second half Butler made a lot of adjustments in terms of trying to take advantage of stuff with ball screens and stuff like that. I thought we were taking the ball out of the net too much to start the second half. We weren't able to get out and run. But once we started getting more stops, which we were able to string them together midway through the second half, I thought we got back out running again.
These guys will tell you, it's one of those deals. Running is hard. It sounds good in theory but I've got to give a lot of credit to Mike Basgier, our strength and conditioning coach. Our guys played four games in six days. I thought we competed hard. We looked good out there for this early in the year, and Mike and his staff, Jimmy Russomano, our GA deserve a lot of credit, because they had these guys ready.
Q. I'd like to know about a play in the second half. It seemed decisive from me apart from Tyler's two daggers, Brandon you had a good angle on this. I don't know if you could see it, coach, but Sam McLaurin had a play in the lane, he got an elbow to the head that was pretty sharp and still managed to get the ball in. Was that a game changer, Brandon?
Brandon Paul: Yeah, Sam's a monster in there. He's one of the biggest additions to our team. Obviously, we lost a great player in Meyers, but Sam coming on is a blessing for us. He plays hard on both sides of the floor. If you look at the last game, he got a rebound after I missed the three. He got it back out and got another three after that. He has plays like that all the time. He's a bulldog in there, and he plays hard on the floor.
John Groce: I saw the play. Brandon will tell you, we talked about it and told him he got lucky, because actually, they came and zoned up. It was what we call a traffic catch. It was unbelievable. I told Sam that's one of the best catches I've seen in 19 years. Brandon and I laughed about it, and said we probably got away with one there.
But once again another thing that Sam does that adds value to our team. He's one of those guys that doesn't show up on the stat sheet all the time.
I had one guy like that when I was at Ohio. His value to our team doesn't show up on a box score: His leadership, his toughness at both ends, his screening, hustle plays, charges. He's a winner. Like Brandon said, he's been a real blessing for our program and our team.
Q. Coach Stevens talked about the back to back threes as being kind of the ballgame. Can you guys talk about how big that was?
Tyler Griffey: Well, I missed my first one, and Coach Ford, our assistant coach came up to me and put me back in the game. He said, "Don't hesitate, if you hesitate, you're coming out." I said, "Okay, Coach." They were doing a good job of switching on the ball screens, and I was able to come down below the man that I was going to set the screen on and slip the fade. I got Tracy Abrams gave me two good looks and two good passes so I could get open looks. I couldn't do it without Tracy or Brandon at point guards giving me the ball.
Q. I've been watching you play since freshman year. You seem to have taken your game to a completely different level this year. Talk to me about what's different this year?
Brandon Paul: I think Coach Groce's offense opened it up for us we pretty much have the green light. The offense works with the type of players we have on the team, and as long as we shoot good shots which I think most of our shots are good shots. I probably took a couple bad shots today. But for the most part, the offense gives us a chance to make baskets. Not only that, just working in the off season. We put up a lot of work not only as a team, but individually and it's starting to show now.
John Groce: Before we leave, I want to thank Coach Odom, and Briana and KemperLesnik and EA Sports and all the sponsors. This is our first time over, and a lot of us it was our first time to be in Hawaii, and it was fantastic. The hospitality was second to none.
We really appreciate all the efforts that everyone made to welcome the Fighting Illini, and I'm proud of the way these guys represented the University of Illinois, but we're thankful for the opportunity. Thank you.
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