Illinois met with the media today prior to taking on Western Kentucky on Thursday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
March 18, 2009
Portland, Ore. - The Illini men's basketball team arrived in Portland last night in preparation for the 2009 NCAA Tournament. The team practiced at the University of Portland this afternoon and then went to the Rose Garden to meet with the media and take the floor for a shootaround.
Q. The absence of Frazier, how much pressure does that put on you from a defensive standpoint and how do you react to the word that's kind of around that as Demetri McCamey go, so go the Illini. Do you see any justification for that attitude?
Trent Meacham: I think Chester has been the heart and soul of our team. He's a warrior. He's still leading us. The other guys have to step up. Calvin has done a great job all year. And now he's playing more minutes and getting a bigger opportunity. Same thing with Jeff Jordan, myself, we've all got to step up defensively. As far as Demetri goes, when he's playing well, there's no doubt we're going to be better. The same thing for anybody on the team. He's talented. We get him going, that's going to be a boost for us. We have a lot of guys that can step up and make plays and that's been our strength all year, being a deep team.
Calvin Brock: Like Trent said, basically it's not a one man show, but when certain players on our team play well, the whole team plays well. It's basically a team thing. If everybody is doing well we have enough depth to be successful.
Q. Following up on that, how is it different, was it different in the Big Ten tournament running the offense with a different lineup, with Chester not there, with Calvin there? Are you better in some ways?
Mike Davis: It was a little different. We're used to the starting lineup with our five. But coach does a good job in practice of switching up the team, so we can play with different people on the teams. Calvin is another weapon on offense. He can shoot the midrange, get to the basket, shoot the three. He's a good all around player. There's not much of a dropoff on defense either. Calvin is our second best defender, after Chester. He gets after it pretty good. We're just looking for Calvin to step up in this tournament.
Q. Mike, can you talk a bit about Western Kentucky, and what kind of match up problems they might present for you guys.
Mike Davis: From what I've seen, we watched a little bit of film on them, but they're like a four guard, seems like the three and four man can push the ball himself and bring the ball up. No, they're pretty much four guards to the big man. So it's going to be tough for me to guard, I have to sit down and move my feet. So like you said the little match up problem, but on offense for me, too, I can get in the post and post up and hopefully use my hook over a shorter player.
Q. How have you prepared differently as a team with one less guy, considering you've been playing together all year, you've been fortunate with injuries until right at the end. All the adjusting at the end of the season, how has that gone? What do you have to be careful about tomorrow night?
Trent Meacham: Mike mentioned earlier, in practice we switch the lineup. Permanently, just trying to take some of the things that Chester does, just the intangibles, and being a leader and hopefully I can provide some of that and step in and do some of that, and I think that's going to be a collective effort from everybody on the team. We've all got to pick up our games a little bit. We've got to pick it up more and just do those little things, leadership, getting on the floor, playing hard nosed defense, rebounding. The whole team has to chip in a little bit. We've got some guys that can step up. Calvin getting more minutes. He's going to be more productive with more minutes, same with Jeffrey Jordan, he can push the ball, pressure the basketball. We've got some guys that have a great opportunity for them and they can really do some work.
Q. You mentioned moving your feet and all of that. What other sort of match ups have you been focused on as you prepare for Western Kentucky?
Mike Davis: The big man rolls to the basket, a lot of dunks, a lot of baskets and rebounds. We're going to have to rebound. They're a good jumping team. Mendez, he's an awesome player, awesome shooter, the same for the other guard. I'm going to have to move my feet and guard the guard. Pettigrew, he comes up, too. It will be different, but hopefully I'll be ready for it.
Q. Have you met anybody this season that you think compares to this team? Do you they remind you of anybody when you watch the film?
Calvin Brock: During the beginning of the season we played a couple of teams that had a four guard rotation and one big man, like Kent State. They had Chris Singletary play like the 3 4, he's a 6'4" combo guard for us. They're kind of like those guys with Pettigrew at the 3 4 and Valdez and Slaughter. So they're a very versatile team. We've got to match their intensity. All the guards play hard. They crash through the offensive and defensive boards very hard and they shoot three. We have to match their intensity and hopefully everything will take care of itself.
COACH WEBER: First, we did get Chester Frazier back to the doctor earlier in the week. He just after x raying it and examining it, he just felt there's too much damage to take a chance to have him play this week, even after that, he did try to give it a go in practice on Tuesday, just didn't have the strength or the hand mobility.
We thought if he could just pass and catch he could help us a little bit. So right now it looks like he is out for this weekend. It's disappointing, especially for a kid that's been the heart and soul of our team. Senior year, worked his way up to get to this point and he's truly been a key part of our success this year.
I guess on the positive, we did have an opportunity to play without him last week. Played well against Michigan, didn't play quite as well against Purdue. And hopefully those games, that experience from Calvin Brock, Jeffrey Jordan, Alex Legion and Billy Cole, all the extra minutes they got last week will hopefully help us be ready.
As far as Western Kentucky goes, just watching tape, I've been very, very impressed. It's amazing the job Coach McDonald has done. Since the new coach losing quite a few players, you can see by scores early they were trying to figure it out, but he's truly got them playing at a high level. They are a group that knows they share the ball. They know their roles, know how to get guys the ball in places where they can score.
And then the thing that I think has been most impressive for me is that they are able in the game when it gets to crunch time they make plays, they get long rebound, they get stops, they drive and kick or get into the right guys at the right time and they seem to win games, even when teams make little pushes on them.
So they have some experience back from last year and their run. We have a tough match up tomorrow against them, there's no doubt about it. And it should be an interesting game.
Q. With Chester out, it kind of falls back to McCamey to run the team. What's your reaction when people say as McCamey goes, so go the Illini at this point?
COACH WEBER: Well, I think it is important for him to play well. I think it's important for all our guys to play well. But when we hit that lull against Purdue, and we've had lulls even with Chester in, but that's where Chester maybe gets the long rebound. He penetrates and kicks it to one of the Mikes and they make a little shot maybe to stop the run, does the little things that makes the difference.
And that's where Demetri has to step up, be a leader. Jeffrey Jordan has done a nice job. Calvin has to do it with the tip in. We've got to have different people step up and make those plays. They're a good rebounding team and they get a lot of long rebounds. And seem to sustain runs, and that's where Chester would make that play. So we need somebody, whether it's Demetri, Jeffrey Jordan, Calvin, Alex, Billy Cole or combined, they've all got to make those little plays that make the difference that Chester helped us.
Q. You mentioned it a little bit a moment ago, but talk a little more about how the team has sort of adjusted to playing without Chester, when you had the real high game against Michigan, and the low game against Purdue, how do you expect them to deal with now they've got some practice time without Chester?
COACH WEBER: We only had two days of practice, to be honest. And today you get a little bit of a shootaround. But I think we played with a lot of emotion, a lot of determination against Michigan. I think they had something to prove. And we had a little bit we were worried about what would happen, the NCAA, and getting in, seeding, the whole bit.
So I think they rose up. I think we used so much emotion, that we couldn't turn it around against Purdue. Plus Purdue had a little sense of urgency after we had beat them a couple of times during the year and they were out to prove something.
I don't know how we'll play tomorrow. I hope well. This is an opportunity of a lifetime. You're in the tournament. This is what you build for, work for. We didn't get in it last year. I think we used that as a motivation. Now you're there, take advantage of that opportunity. So I hope they rise up, but until the ball goes up, we're not going to know.
Q. What indication did they give you, if you get through this weekend is given the nature of his injury, is there any hope for next week?
COACH WEBER: Right now we're worried about Western Kentucky, we have to advance past them to even think about it. It's sad Chester it's tough on him. You feel for the kid because the guys that are from our area, to watch his evolvement and all the injuries he's gone through and all that stuff, it's just tough.
Right now we have to see if some other guys step up, and just hope for the best. And if we get past Western we'll just see if we can move on and then we'll talk about Chester later on.
Q. What do you think your biggest match up problem would be with Western Kentucky and conversely what do you think theirs will be with you?
COACH WEBER: They're very perimeter oriented. They have a lot of different scoring weapons. The one thing we lose, Chester was if not the best defender, one of the top defenders in the Big Ten, I think in the country, so now you don't have him to lock down one of those guards. And it seems like each day each game it's somebody else that scores.
And we're going to put our best defender on Pettigrew, and Sergio goes off and Mendez Valdez and Slaughter goes off. So we've got to do a good job of defending the three, getting to their guards, and especially in transition. And not let them get the easy baskets the second chance points or the transition easy baskets, make them earn things.
I'm worried about all the match ups, to be honest. It's a different look, a look we had in non conference, of perimeter guys, don't have quite the size that maybe our guys, so they're going to bring us out and maybe use their quickness and shooting ability.
On the other hand I hope we're able to score in the paint. We've had some success lately with Tisdale and Mike Davis when he goes in there. We do have a little bit of size advantage with that?
Q. You've been so healthy all season, adjusting this late in the season as opposed to maybe if you missed a couple of games earlier, given your limited practice time, how do you cut the corner I guess is what I'm asking.
COACH WEBER: It is a tough situation. And you kind of pinch yourself, because of all the injuries. We had nothing in 04 05. Rich McBride missed one game in our run to 39 games, and the National Championship, he had the flu. And that's the only person that missed the game. And I guess it was almost payback the next two years, because we barely had people at practice, we had every injury I could think of. And this year we thought we were through it.
You don't even bring it up, but deep down in your deep thoughts you're kind of you just hope nothing else comes up, especially to Chester, and he had gone through so much. So it's tough to deal with. But at the same time I constantly talk to all the guys that maybe if they only play three minutes or five minutes or they don't play at all, you just don't know when you're going to have your opportunity. So it's so important that you practice hard. You're competitive. You keep that edge. So if you get your opportunity and coach says go in, you're ready to play.
I thought last week, Calvin really did, I thought Jeffrey did. I thought Billy Cole gave us some solid minutes. Alex finally hit a shot. And so I hope those guys can take advantage of those minutes. Again, they have a great opportunity, too. You only have four years to get in the NCAA tournament, so this is one of their opportunities, hopefully they'll take advantage of.
Q. How did you try to prepare these guys' minds and attitudes for this game being a defining game of the season?
COACH WEBER: I don't know about that. The biggest thing, we didn't have to do too much preparing, Davis helped us, as soon as it was on the board, about five seconds later he already called it his upset special. There hasn't been I don't know if there's maybe two or three people in all the national media markets that's even picked us. I think Erin Andrews did, because we're nice to her, I guess, I don't know. But no one else has picked us.
We put it on the board. They're the five seed, we're the 12 seed. We've got to be hopefully it will give us a little bit of a motivation. It's a credit to Western, their program, what they did last year. And I think a little bit people have watched our Penn State, and they've got so much tension, and now we don't have Chester. I hope we have a little bit of motivation there, and that it will help set a little bit of a fire inside that gets us to play hard and do some things so we can have a special performance tomorrow night.
Q. You seem to regularly be trying to light a fire under Demetri McCamey. And I wonder what is it there? Is it a lack of aggressiveness on his part, lack of motivation, and if so, I guess the question is how can that be for a guy who's one of your best players on the team?
COACH WEBER: I think Demetri has made strides. He's better than a year ago. He's better in the senior year. It's a case where you've got a lot of natural ability, talent, body, some skills. It came so easy and maybe in high school that and now it's not quite as easy and you've got to learn to turn it on every day.
I always talk about every guy gets to a point where they decide they want to be a player and they make that commitment. We've gotten a little closer with him. I hope somewhere here it would be great this weekend and the next couple of weeks it would be good if he can turn it on and be consistent. But I hope if not now it comes sooner than later.
One of his high school assistants told me a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting at a high school game with him, he said, we have made strides with him because now he knows that he's not doing those things. Now I think he realizes that now he's got to take the next step and go out and do them. And he knows he can be a little lazy. He knows he doesn't always play as hard.
So I guess we're doing little steps. One of the steps was recognizing it, understanding it. Now you've got to go out and do it on the court. And that comes from practice habits, game habits. I hope he can he's got the fire lit this week, because we need him.
Q. Could you talk a little bit in specifics about the Tisdale and Davis match ups, what they're going to need to do. They're playing guys that are a little smaller, and sort of what the issues are there.
COACH WEBER: One of the things we talk about in non conference, we play teams from a lot of different conferences, different styles of play, you get maybe smaller teams. In our league I think Michigan plays small for the most part. So first time Tisdale guarded Sims he struggled. I thought the next two times he did a better job. Even though Evans is not as tall as Mike, but he's more of an inside guy, his tips in, rolls to the basket, dunks, a few pulls moves here and there. I hope his role isn't as tough.
Mike Davis, though, is going to have a tough match up, whether it's Pettigrew or Sergio, they both go out on the court, they both can drive to the basket, they can shoot 3's. But on the other hand hopefully we have a little bit of an advantage if we can get it inside. If we have the patience and get it inside, we might be able to shoot over them a little bit.
But until we execute that and do it in a game, we've had some games where we're able to do it, other games we're not able to do it. I think those two guys will be key for us.
Q. Is there any correlation between Demetri's shooting accuracy, hitting baskets and playing well?
COACH WEBER: I think there's no doubt. I think a lot of our guys, we've talked since the beginning of the year, Mike Tisdale, if he makes a couple early seems to play with a lot of confidence. Mike Davis is very similar. Trent Meacham, and then Demetri, he seems to put up a quick three early, if it goes in he gets on a roll, feels good about himself. If that doesn't happen then he starts forcing, panicking and then it seems to at times it can get worse and worse.
I think for all our guys if we we have a young team. Chester was a little bit of our toughness leadership. And if we can make some shots early it sure probably would help our mental outlook for the game.
Q. You have these young guys that have dropped so well, and you have what looks to be very good recruiting class coming in. After having that streak, the NCAA streak broken last year, do you feel this game is the start of another streak considering what's happened?
COACH WEBER: I hope so. At the same time I know it's not going to be an easy game. Obviously Chester is a tough situation for us to deal with. If we don't have success everyone is going to say, the Big Ten, Illinois, they weren't as good. But that's just part of it. We've had a good season. Our kids have, I think to the man, they have improved. And hopefully they still have some hungriness that they want to have success.
You kind of kick yourself when you give them goals, I gave them 24 wins, they got there, and mentally they think they've accomplished what I've asked them to do. That's why a couple of weeks ago I started prepping them, jabbing them, giving them thoughts about not only getting in the tournament, but doing something.
Like Western did last year, they got the opportunity, and then they're advancing, now you're in the Sweet 16, now anything can happen. I hope I hit the right hot buttons, got some of the minds opening up and thinking about it and maybe got the motivation going. But we'll have to see tomorrow. I hope this season isn't judged on the one game, but still at the same time it is an important game because everybody is watching you get to the tournament.
Q. I know it's been a long time but I was wondering if you could reflect on the one year you spent under Coach Keaty at Bowling Green?
COACH WEBER: It was great memories. One, to get a chance to be a college coach. And he gave me that chance. I didn't know a lot about the history of Western Kentucky basketball until I got there. It's amazing the success they've had. The conference titles, the NCAA appearances, the players, the coaching, the quality coaches that have been through there.
The arena was tremendous. The fan support was tremendous. The red towels, E.A. Diddle, the whole thing. We won the OVC the year that I was there. We got in the NCAA tournament that we were hosting actually at E.A. Diddle and there were some good teams. Kentucky was there with Kyle Macey and Indiana with their great teams with Isaiah and we had Virginia Tech and had a 20 point lead, close to 20 at halftime, and let it slip away and lost a heartbreaker at home. That was tough to take, but really enjoyed my time there and just fond memories of Bowling Green and the program at Western Kentucky.
Q. A little bit more with that, Nottingham said he was working in a funeral home to make money to get by. What did you do to get by?
COACH WEBER: We did anything. Food stamps. Free food. Anything we could get. I made $2,000, ten months, two hundred a month, barely had enough to live on. We shared food. You just hoped the players had free meals, because I was jumping in there. Those are great memories, the recruiting trips.
At that time graduate assistants could recruit, and Coach Haskins would say go watch this kid, because I would get mileage and free meals. I made sure I went as many miles as I could. I saw places in Kentucky, Pippas Pass and places people don't know exist and watching kids. It was good memories and a lot of fun, and a great opportunity for me.