Vanderbilt and Murray State met with the media on Wednesday afternoon at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., to discuss Thursday's matchup.
Vanderbilt player quotes
Q. Murray State guard Isacc Miles talked about your relationship going back to the AAU days, can you shed light on how you guys communicate?
Jermaine Beal: We used to play for the Kansas City Keys. I played for team Texas, and I used to see him in the summertime. I know him pretty well. When I found out he was down the street from me we talked on and off on Facebook every now and then. Me and him pretty cool.
Q. Jeff, what was your reaction when you saw that the Lobos were at the same site that you are?
Jeffery Taylor: It was a fun reaction. They've obviously had a great season. Coach Alford has done a great job with the program, and it's fun. Hopefully we will be able to watch 'em play, and I wish 'em the best of luck.
Q. What about you guys as far as your becoming kind of familiar with Nashville and that kinda thing, how was your transition from New Mexico to Vanderbilt?
Jeffery Taylor: It was pretty easy, I'm an easy going guy, so getting used to how life is in Nashville, pretty easy going, people are nice to you as it was in New Mexico.
So it wasn't that much of a difference, getting used to college at the beginning at the end of my sophomore year, so I made a good transition and I'm living life, really.
Q. Jermaine, can you reflect back a little bit on the '07 run and how special that was, and what you guys can use from that to trip out to California to motivate?
Jermaine Beal: '07 was fun. We played George Washington and then Washington State to get to the Sweet 16 in overtime. Last time we came out west we won some games, hopefully we can do it again this year and right now our main focus is Murray State.
Q. A.J. your thoughts on how glad you were to have a big game coming off of the Mississippi State game, and sizewise, you guys have an advantage over Murray State, and what you can do.
A.J. Ogilvy: Obviously, we didn't play our best ball against Mississippi State, and I'm happy to come out and try and improve on that. They have a lot of ability, and we do have a size advantage, but that doesn't always work out.
So we know we're going to try and make the most of our advantages, and they're going to do the same. So we will have to wait and see how it goes.
Q. Guys, some of the national media outlets are picking Murray State as the upset of the year, how do you feel about that?
Jermaine Beal: It's fine, those people who say that, it's their job. We don't really pay too much attention to it. So we listen to it, say, okay, and we do everything we got to do. It's not a big deal.
Q. Jeff, your thoughts on how important it is to get the inside game goin' with A.J. and Festus in the NCAA Tournament.
Jeffery Taylor: We need to get our inside game established we have two guys in Festus and A.J., and we need to make a concerted effort to get them the ball; and hopefully they can make plays with it against the smaller defenders. Him, Festus and Steve are going to mean a lot to us for us to make a run in the Tournament.
Q. In terms of game planning for that team with a handful of different guys averaging about 10 points, do you just know that they have a lot of different go to options there?
Jermaine Beal: Yes, Murray State is a very balanced team. So we know any day, any night, any player can step up and have a big game. Hopefully, we can just keep each player at his average or below it and come out with a victory, but Murray State is a very balanced team so any night, any player can go off.
Q. One of Murray State players sliced his index finger cutting down the nets at the Tournament. I wonder if you guys know anybody who has gotten injured while celebrating.
Jermaine Beal: No. (Laughter.) I hope he's all right, though.
Vanderbilt Head Coach Kevin Stallings
Q. Coach, give me a little bit about Jeffery Taylor. He's one of our home guys.
COACH STALLINGS: Okay, Jeff has had an outstanding season for us, an outstanding two years for us at Vanderbilt, has started every game of his college career. That's a very rare thing, and it's a rare thing in our program. He has been an outstanding addition. He's a great young man, very, very talented, one of the best athletes in the Southeastern Conference which makes him one of the best athletes in the country. A kid that's going to play basketball for a long time.
He's going to make a living playing the game and make a good living playing it. Comes from a great family. His father and his uncle were both terrific players. Jeff is one of the most important contributors on our team, and he's an excellent defender. He does everything well on a basketball court, and he's a joy to coach because he's extremely competitive.
I'm a big fan of Jeff's, and like I said, it's not a surprise that he is the way he is because he comes from such a great family.
Q. Coach, A.J., how did the recruiting story go? How did you get him to come to Vanderbilt? Is he the kind of player you thought he would be?
COACH STALLINGS: We started recruiting A.J. on a tip from Ray Giacoletti who was then the University of Utah coach, and Ray had gotten a commitment from another kid, and he and I were talking at an AAU event. One thing led to another, and he gave us A.J.'s name and information and we followed up.
We started the recruiting process with him, and it became a process of we went over there to see him a few times and then he made an official visit to our place and we got him.
A.J. has been a terrific player for us really since the day he stepped on to the campus, and he was second team All League, and has had a very good year for us this year.
Again, I believe he's our second leading scorer and our leading rebounder, and I believe he's scored more points than any freshman in Vanderbilt history. He's had an excellent three year career and it's very important for us as we make this Tournament run. His play will be one of the big keys to our level of success.
Q. I saw an interview within the last week or so where you said your team wasn't getting to the line as much as they were earlier in the season. Was that adjustments made by other teams or something your team was or was not doing?
COACH STALLINGS: Honestly, I think it's the way the game I think as we near tournament time I think the game is called differently, I think more things are allowed to happen and I think that's consistent with other years as we get near tournament time.
Our team averaged 31 free throws a game in league play, and that's a lot and we're an excellent foul shooting team. So we like to get to the foul line. I know that the game is going to be called the same both ways. It's just we like to throw it in there, and we like to drive it in there. Like I said, when we get to the foul line then that usually is a good thing for us.
Q. I know there is no magic words to inspire A.J., but do you get a sense before a game whether or not he's going to give you an inspirational efforts, especially coming off the Mississippi State game?
COACH STALLINGS: Not necessarily. A.J., like every player does, has had some subpar performances and certainly Mississippi State was one of them. But in some of his subpar performances, you look out on the court and you don't see the energy level at times that you want to see, or you don't see the level of physicality that you're hoping for. That was not the case against Mississippi State. It was almost like he was trying too hard.
He started the game off, got to the rim and made a good move and just missed a layup and then things never got any better for him. Obviously, with Vernardo back there, that's a problem in and of itself, although A.J. has always had success against him.
But I don't get a sense before the game of what's going to happen with him because we've seen plenty of times with him that he's not played very well in the first half and comes back and literally will have 16 or 18 or 20 in the second half. So you can never really count him out.
I think he's becoming more self aware, and I think he's more determined not to have, you know, the dismal performance may be in the first half and try to play the complete game.
Q. How do you handle Murray State's offensive depth? How will you attack them defensively?
COACH STALLINGS: I don't know. I think that they do a number of things well. They shoot the ball well. They drive it well. They use ball screens well. They offensive rebound well. There are a number of things that they do that you have to be aware of and really at this time of the year there is not anything that you haven't seen.
They've seen everything that we do. We've seen everything that they do, probably, or at least close to it, and I think it's just a matter of playing good, solid team defense and knowing your assignments and being able to execute your assignments.
They do have a little bit of an unusual situation in that it's been two weeks since they played or almost two weeks and they could make some significant adjustments or they could add some new things. They could do some things differently. Whether they will or not, obviously remains to be seen.
But when you have that amount of time, you can mess around and do some things, and I know when I was in the Missouri Valley, I found that to be one of the advantages of having that have gone that length of time before you play in the NCAA Tournament, and whether Billy has done that remains to be seen, and I guess we'll find out tomorrow.
And even if they have it won't be things that we haven't seen someplace, that's the way it goes at this time of year. You rely on what we call our principles, and we play together and for each other and cover for each other and, again, carry out our assignments regardless of where the ball is or where our man is, we wear out our assignments, and we'll be okay if we do those things.
Q. It was encouraging to see Brad Tinsley knock down a couple shots against Mississippi State and wanted to see if you see him rounding back into his freshman form?
COACH STALLINGS: I think that Brad went through a stretch where he didn't shoot the ball well, but we all know Brad is a good shooter. You can look at his free throw numbers. He's shootin' 93% from the foul line. He's not a guy that's lost his touch or anything.
But it was nice to see him make some shots. I was disappointed for him that he got injured in the South Carolina game. But nevertheless Brad is a tough kid. He's a great competitor, and you know you're going to get a great effort from him anytime he's on the court. I know that if he's left open I feel good about it. The problem in playing Murray State is getting open. They're a tough team to get open against, but hopefully we can find some open shots and make them.
Q. Can you talk about Festus' recruitment? I see he went to Jesuit high here in Northern California.
COACH STALLINGS: Festus did not play high school basketball. We saw him play on an AAU team. He was going to go to a prep school out east, and we convinced him that it would be a better option for him to come to our place and redshirt, and that's what he ultimately decided to do.
He had a will the of good programs that saw the same kind of potential that we saw, so Fest is a wonderful, wonderful kid and a pleasure to be around each day and has gotten better and better. He's one of those guys that you look at and you think his growth, if he continues progressing the way he is, he could really become a terrific player.
But he's one of those guys who he may be, you know, 26 or 27 before he really realizes all of the basketball potential that he has. Anyway, his recruitment was nothing more than in the summer what would have technically been after his senior year seeing him in an AAU Tournament, asking questions, finding out that he was going to go to a prep school, talking to his American family, if you will, and we started the recruitment then and got him in on an official visit and he came.
Q. Did he choose not to play high school basketball?
COACH STALLINGS: I don't know what all the story is with that. I tend not to know more than I need to know. Actually, I tend not to know as much as I need to know, but I certainly don't know any more than I need to know. I'm not sure what transpired with that.
Q. Their coach had to give an injury update on B.J. Jenkins who cut his finger while cutting down the nets. Have you ever heard of that happening or do you have any quirky stories along those lines? He gashed his finger taking the nets down.
COACH STALLINGS: Really? I didn't know that. Well, no, the only never to my team, the only one I can tell you is my son's high school baseball team when he was a junior, they had a good team and a team that would have had a chance perhaps to play for a state championship and they won a big game at the end of the season against one of their rival teams, and the kid who is one of our best hitters came into close the game went and chest bumped with the catcher as he got the third out and suffered a severe high ankle sprain and was out for the season. That was the dumbest one I'd ever heard of. But I was not aware that B.J. Jenkins hurt his finger like that.
Q. The other day you mentioned a couple of ESPN guys picked you as an upset and Obama went against you in his bracket today, and Murray State's coach said it might have been because they had a few more people vote for the president.
COACH STALLINGS: Well, I don't know. We actually kinda feel like the underdog, because you have all of the experts saying that we're going to lose, so out of respect for the position of the president of the United States, I won't comment on his predictions.
Murray State player quotes
Q. You guys have almost impossible statistical balance in scoring, is that something that's just happened or is that something you strive for?
DANERO THOMAS: I think it's something that just happened. Coach Kennedy wanted people to come in and defend but I knew we had a special group in the summer when we first got together in July, and there was a whole bunch of guards put the ball in the basket. So it's probably something that just happened.
ISACC MILES: Like Danero was saying, we were coming in working hard, and I think we're unselfish as a team and as a unit. We rely on our defense and offense will come, but it's really our defense that makes plays. It's always great when you have 6 players averaging 10 points a game because you never depend on one star, we just got a whole team that can do that. We real estate lie on our defense and the offense comes around.
Q. For any of the players, do you remember either attending or watching any tournament games when you were kids and any upsets that stick in your minds from the tournament that you remember watching as kids or attending in person?
TONY EASLEY: In '05 we actually went to the tournament, and we lost to North Carolina by four, and before we played actually George Mason had just knocked off somebody. I can't remember who it was.
Q. Michigan State?
TONY EASLEY: Yeah, and they were coming in the locker room saying I just need to go out there and beat them so that would be mine.
ISACC MILES: My freshman year I made it to the tournament as a transfer from Creighton, so I got to experience an almost upset of Nevada and it didn't come along. But I've been watching the tournament all my life and it's a great atmosphere. It's what the best of the best play in, and we're glad to be here and ready to play.
Q. Hey, guys, you guys are the underdog. But a lot of media outlets are picking you to pull the upset in the tournament. How do you feel about that pressure?
DANERO THOMAS: Everybody got their own opinion, we have to go out and do what we do best, just take care of business.
Q. Danero can you talk about the first game of the season against California? What do you remember from that game and how far have you guys come? How have you improved?
DANERO THOMAS: We improved a lot from that game. I don't think we knew we were going to have the season we had, but it was a tough crowd, different atmosphere but we came a long way. We had a great season.
Q. Isacc, you have tournament experience and Tony a little bit as well, but you have a lot of players that don't. What have you guys talked to them about the atmosphere?
ISACC MILES: Like Coach says, another game in the stage. All year long we've been working hard and trying to get better and get to this level and we're here now, we aren't taking anything for granted. We are supposed to be in this situation. Coach said this summer this is what we were working for. The difference is you're on a big stage and it's nothing like we haven't did before, we played Cal when they were a top ranked team, and Vanderbilt, they're a good team and we've been watchin' them play all year long. They're only two hours away. We know them and they know us. It's just another game.
TONY EASLEY: I've been telling the guys to have poise. When you get in games like this you can speed up and get outside yourself. So I've just been telling them keep balance to themselves, be quick but don't hurry it down the floor. That's basically it, everything else should hopefully fall in line, we've been playing ball the whole season and besides letting emotions creep into it we should be fine.
Q. Tony, with Vanderbilt's big guys do you consider this a personal challenge with your defensive game?
TONY EASLEY: Definitely, I think of every game as a challenge, me being not so much as a big guy, I take it upon myself to use it as motivation to actual go harder. Definitely is a challenge, another team effort once again. That's really about it.
Q. Bill, can you give us an update on Jenkins' status and talk about whether or not you've ever seen that happen before?
COACH KENNEDY: He cut his hand cutting a net down, and I don't understand how it happened. But he was at practice yesterday and was full go and looked good and he practiced Monday.
I think he's near he's 100%, I would say he's ready to go and should be play well hopefully tomorrow.
Q. Cut it with the scissors?
COACH KENNEDY: He said he did. I think he was embarrassed, he hid it. I didn't know about it until the next day but it was a pretty good gash and I wasn't aware it was as bad as it was in the hype of winning the tournament.
Q. Guys, could y'all talk about John B.J. Jenkins and whether or not you've been told to help off him?
ISACC MILES: When you shoot 48% you're a great shooter and we play a lot of great shooters, but only thing you can do is not let him catch the ball. So he can't score. The scouting report not letting him catch it and put it on the floor like any other good shooter. That's what we got to do.
Q. Coach, can you talk about your time here in the Bay Area when you were coaching at Cal and how everything unfolded with your career since then?
COACH KENNEDY: It's very interesting that the coaches that were on that staff, Curtis Townsend is in the tournament, he was on the staff. Todd Bozeman won his league, and we actually played them this year. Three of the four coaches are all in the NCAA Tournament this year and have had blessed seasons.
I learned a lot about basketball here, had a chance to be around Coach Newell some, great players with Jason Kidd, Tony Gonzalez, we had fun, played a lot of games, always something that kept the Bay Area talk bug us, whether it was good or bad we kept it stirred up and probably hasn't been the same since we left.
But we had fun and played a won a lot of games and it was fun to be part of the Pac 10, and it was fun because it's different than being in the rest of the country.
Q. Were you expecting to be the head coach?
COACH KENNEDY: Had a chance, I was the interim head coach for about three weeks, and Steve Lavin went through the same thing. He got the job and went through that process of was on the committee that helped choose Ben Braun, and Ben took the job and did a good job here but it was a good experience for me to go through in a tough situation. But we were a Sweet 16 team, very talented senior laden team, but we had a good time here.
Q. Guys, can you talk about what presence Tony has in the paint as a shot blocker and what that's like once in a while in practice what he does and what other teams should expect?
DANERO THOMAS: It's good to have a shot blocker on there if you get beat off the dribble as you know you got back up down there. We go so hard on defense sometimes you will never know. He's coming out of nowhere blocking shots but, that's a good advantage.
ISACC MILES: It's a great advantage to have one of the best defensive players in our league and probably in the country because, you know, like Nero said, if we get beat off the dribble we rely on him to help us and we're supposed to have his back if he gets beat but it's a team effort and it's always good when you have Tony behind you.
Q. Can you talk about whether you look back on Murray State's history and how that impacts you going forward?
TONY EASLEY: I think the last time we actually made it past the first round was '96, maybe, or farther than that.
TONY EASLEY: So even farther than that. We take it as motivation, hopefully this is our year to do that, to get past that. This whole season we've had a blessed season, knocked off a lot of records at our school and this is one more we want to add on to it so I think we take it as motivation.
Q. Given the schools are so disclose do any of you have Vanderbilt connections?
TONY EASLEY: Tyler Holloway played at our school, what, two years ago? And he's a grad assistant at Belmont and through a promise he works Vanderbilt games for the media so he always calls and talks to us about the games and whatnot and one of the players is from Cameroon, too, just like George, and he always talked about how big the players are.
ISACC MILES: I know the point guard for Vanderbilt, and we go way back for AAU ball, always keep in contact on Facebook, ready to play each other again and we know both teams are good so ready for the match up.
Q. Isacc how often do you guys talk and has he defriended you?
ISACC MILES: We've been talking since I got to Murray State, and we stay in contact and never visited him because I don't have time, but we always said if we get the chance to play each other we'll see the best of the best, and we get the chance to play.
Murray State Head Coach Billy Kennedy
Q. Coach, with Jenkins injury were you surprised that he hid it from you, were you angry?
COACH KENNEDY: I don't think he hid it from us, there was so much going on after the game and we got on the bus and came back and he had it taped, and nobody knew how severe it was until they got a chance to look at it the next day.
It's on his index finger in the bending area, so it's an awkward in an awkward spot when you're handling the basketball and catching the ball it caused him some problems the first few days.
Q. Do you anticipate problems tomorrow?
COACH KENNEDY: No, he was good the last two days, it's healed up, he had staples in it to try and heal it up, but it was hard for him to maneuver with it but once the staples came out it's healed up pretty good.
Q. What hand was it?
COACH KENNEDY: His left hand, so it wasn't his shooting hand. So that's a positive for sure.
Q. Could you talk about the emotions of the last week, very highs and obviously a serious tragedy, can you talk about that?
COACH KENNEDY: It's been it seems like we haven't played forever, that's the only thing that is somewhat of a concern now, when you haven't played in a game almost in two weeks and that had been the case for us that hasn't been the case for us all year except probably the Christmas break.
But it's been nice to enjoy the season because when you're picked favorite in your league and in your tournament so to speak, at our level you have to win the tournament to get in so the last six or seven weeks we had a winning streak, and obviously we didn't want to lose but we ended up losing but we had the longest winning streak in the country. So you hear that all the time so every game was so much pressure it seemed like.
When you get to the conference tournament it's life or death, you know? We're 29 5 we're not sittin' here today, and it is what it is, there are talks about the conference tournament, I'm not a big fan of it but I'm thankful that we were able to win and get in. This last week has been good to take a couple of days off, enjoy the season a little bit and just the emotions of gettin' away from it a little bit and the urgency Sunday coming, selection Sunday and gettin' right back in it has been tremendous. Our guys are excited to play, I'm a little concerned because it seems like it's been forever since we played a game.
Q. Coach, president Obama picked you all to beat Vanderbilt this morning, how do you feel about that?
COACH KENNEDY: I told our assistant coaches we probably had more guys vote for him I don't know, I'll leave that alone. He's a basketball fan, he knows what's going on, you know, we're thankful, but I've watched a lot of tape and I see Vanderbilt in a different perspective and they're difficult and they're good but it's always nice when somebody like that in a great position like he is and being a true basketball fan, it's a nice thing and I'll leave it at that, that's about all.
Q. Coach, what do you see as the key match up as far as what you guys have to do to give yourself a decent chance in this?
COACH KENNEDY: We have to do a good job on interior defense. They're big, they rebound the ball extremely well, we're going to have to do a good job of limiting them to one shot and keeping their size from being a huge advantage that it presents itself as. They're physical, they're an SEC team finishing second in the SEC in a power conference means they've been battle tested. It will be the best team we've played so far.
Q. And also a lot of them majors, obviously they get their conference tournaments done early and you mentioned not having played in a while. How big of a concern is conditioning? I remember Jeff Neubauer playing North Carolina a few years ago. How concerned are you?
COACH KENNEDY: We play very deep and we're conditioned, I don't think that's going to be an issue. The biggest thing is being razor sharp. You play in a pressure atmosphere and not having that experience for two weeks and all of the sudden jumping into an experienced game to an experience is my concern.
But from a mental and physical standpoint of being able to play we've got an experienced team, nine guys back from last year and being the coach and playing at Murray State there is pressure on you, our guys are pressure tested because the expectations of being at Murray State and winning is on our guys all the time so I don't think that will be a factor, either. It's just the layoff is the concern.
Q. Coach, did Picasso make the trip out? Did he make the team?
COACH KENNEDY: He's here and he doesn't want it to be about him and his situation. So that's all we'll comment on.
(Quotes courtesy of the NCAA)