March 20, 2008
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Kevin Stallings, Shan Foster, Alex Gordon and Ross Neltner met with the media Thursday to discuss the Commodores' NCAA first round matchup with Siena.
THE MODERATOR: We welcome our student athletes from Vanderbilt.
Q. Could you talk about how surprising it was at the speed at which A.J. Ogilvy became a key part of your team, and how he has changed the nature of this team from the one that went to the Sweet 16 last year?
Shan Foster: Well, I think A.J. is a great competitor. He's a guy that comes to practice every day ready to get better, and ready to give this team whatever it needs in order for us to be successful. Whenever you have a guy that comes to practice with that type of mentality, he's going to succeed. He's going to do great. That's been the story of his career this year. He brings a very tremendous level of intensity to our team, especially from a big man perspective. He plays hard, he gives us a great low post presence, and gives us the opportunity to throw the ball inside and get easy baskets, whereas last year it was a more guard oriented team.
Q. Playing in the SEC, you guys face some of the elite programs, some of the more tradition rich programs in the country. Siena is obviously not in that group. How do you guys insure that the natural tendency to overlook a team that you don't know much about doesn't take away from what you guys want to do tomorrow?
Shan Foster: Well, that's easy. We have four seniors, who, if we lose, it will be our last time playing. So we're going to do everything in our minds and everything in our power to kind of relate that sense of urgency to the rest of the guys on the team.
Q. You guys have been a popular pick among some experts to be ripe for an upset. There's a saying going on saying they're looking for an upset, they're going with Siena. How much are you aware of these predictions and how much do you guys talk about it in the locker room or do you dismiss it from hand?
Alex Gordon: Our coach brought it to our attention, but it's not anything we talk about in the locker room. We just talk about how we're going to prepare and get ready to go out here and take care of our business. But I think last year going into the tournament in the first round they predicted the same thing. We came out and played our game and executed our game plan, and we came out with the win. We've been having some great days of practice, so we just want to stick to what we do, and get ready to go out and have another good game tomorrow.
Q. Shan, obviously, you're talking about the team, but if I could get you to talk about yourself. SEC Player of the Year. You've improved every year at Vandy. What are you the most proud of in terms of your individual accomplishments this season?
Shan Foster: I think more so than anything probably the Player of the Year, just because I felt like that's not only a product of my hard work and dedication, but, you know, my teammates being great teammates and getting me the ball in positions where I'm able to score. The coaching staff continuing to work with me throughout the years and improving myself, as well as my support system. You know, that starts with Mark Davis in the weight room, it starts with my family back at home.
Q. How did Coach remind you guys that you're once again being picked to be the upset victim this year, and what was your reaction to it?
Alex Gordon: All I've got to do is turn on ESPN. That is the coach's job to challenge us as his team, and that's what he's been doing. And just challenging us to what they're predicting, but just bringing us into practice and trying to motivate us to go a little more hard and just to focus a little more and just to let us know how urgent this game is. So we've been focused in practice the last couple of days. Like I said, we've been having some good practices, so we'll be ready to go out and execute tomorrow.
Q. The question came up Sunday as to whether you guys would be better off going to some obscure location than in Tampa where it's nice and warm, and there are distractions. How do you guys fight against any type of distractions this time of year, or do you think there is any possibility of that?
Alex Gordon: Like Shan said, we have four seniors, if we lose, it's our last time. Most importantly, we had a chance to play in the tournament last year, and play in the Sweet 16 and possibly advance off that last second shot. But just playing then and getting that experience just let's us know how important it is not to fall into distractions. We've got some young guys, but they're following our lead right now, and they've been doing a good job of that all year. So we've just got to continue to be good leaders and lead by example and we'll stay focused on our goal.
Q. Alex was mentioning it's been two years now in a row that you guys have been the trendy pick to be upset. Why do you think that is? Do you think people just don't give the credibility to Vanderbilt?
Shan Foster: You know, that's something that I haven't been able to understand either. You know, last year we felt like we had a pretty good team, and had beaten the most ranked teams that season. And this year we've beaten a number of quality opponents. You know, we've won 26 games. We're not a 4 seed, but by a miracle, you know. We're confident that we're going to go in and execute our game plan and give it all we've got and come out with a victory. Really, that's all that matters. We say every day in practice the only thing that matters is those guys that's on the court and our coaching staff. Because in the end, you know, we can't control what other people are saying about it. All we can control is the effort that we put out on the court, and the result of the game.
Q. Why do you feel Vanderbilt sort of is an easy target each year these people make these picks? Actually, a two part question. That, and then don't you think the fact that this puts the same situation last year when you guys beat GW by 30, which might be the biggest spread ever by a 6 and a 11?
Alex Gordon: 33.
Q. Okay, thanks, man. Why are you guys a target? And do you think people should have remembered that game? And is it kind of confusing why they'd pick you again after you pretty much stomped them out of the tournament last year?
Ross Neltner: Yeah, we're kind of confused as to why we keep getting picked. But maybe as of late, our defense hasn't been and the SEC Tournament hasn't been as strong as it needs to be. And Siena likes to push the ball up and down the court and put lots of balls on the court. But like Shan was saying, we didn't fall into a 4 seed. We worked our way in, won 26 games in the SEC. So we're going to go out and prove ourselves like we had to last year against all the doubters.
Q. When you look at Siena, they have pretty good balance especially for a mid major. They have three or four guys capable of going for 20 or more. Can you talk about how much that adds not just being in this environment and back in the tournament, but when you face a team that has multiple options, how important it is to get those defensive things in the SEC shored up?
Ross Neltner: It's important no matter who we're playing. They have three prominent scorers. Their 2, 3, and 4 men. So we're going to take that as a challenge to step our defense up. You know, but right now, it's not about who we're playing, it's about us getting our defense right. You know, it could be Siena, it could be any other team. But we've got to make sure that we get our stuff right against them if we're going to be successful.
Q. You've gotten to see some film, does Siena remind you of any team you've played this year, either offensively defensively or overall?
Shan Foster: They're kind of similar to Auburn, the team we play in our league. They're relatively short in terms of, you know, their big men. I think they're big men are like 6' 7", 6' 6", 6' 9", you know, they like to push the ball and drive and attack the basket. They have three guys that can score pretty well. I think it's going to be imperative that our team defense be really, really good in terms of helping each other, and supporting the drive and keeping the ball in front and things of that sort. But I don't think it will be anything new, you know. Like Ross said before, it's about us right now. It's about us preparing and getting better at the things we haven't been good at in the last few weeks and getting ready to make this a long stay in the tournament.
Q. Ross just talked about how you guys will have to get yourselves together and fight off the doubters, I guess, is that more of a motivation for you when folks are picking Siena the way they are, and the way they picked GW last year that kind of thing?
Shan Foster: Definitely, it gives you a sense of motivation in terms of just always being the underdog. Whenever you're picked to lose, you always want to go out and show them why you're deserving of being on that stage. And that's the approach we've taken in practice. And that will be the approach we take for the rest of the tournament.
Q. If they do remind you of Auburn, could we expect you guys to try to pound it inside like you did against Auburn last week in Atlanta?
Alex Gordon: We definitely feel we'll have a few advantages inside with A.J., and Ross and Allen. And we'll try to get those guys the balls when they're in scoring position, and try to take advantage of those things. But, you know, they're a good team. Coach Stallings said that they're going to be well coached. And so we realize that we're going to have to come up with good shots. We need to just move the ball, and just do what we do.
Q. How much does the way last year ended the Georgetown game and how close a call that was and all that stuff, how much does that weigh on your minds this year or even in the last couple of weeks?
Ross Neltner: Yeah, that's been a motivation of ours all season. You know, we felt like we let our seniors down last year, and letting them go out in a game the way it did last year. It wasn't just one call, there were multiple plays throughout the game where we could have made up a few points, hit a few free throws, got an extra stop or two, and it wouldn't come down to that. So us three sitting up here, and Alan, and some of the guys that played on the team last year and were a part of that. Understanding what happened and what it takes to win in the tournament. It's just a possession by possession game. So we're going to take that into the tournament this year, and use it as motivation and trying to keep that from happening.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen. We'll take questions for Coach Stallings.
Q. It's an obvious point to bring up the way last season ended for your guys. To end it that way, is that something you want your guys necessarily fixated on right now, or would you rather them almost block it out entirely?
COACH STALLINGS: I think that's completely up to the individual. We've only got, I think, six guys that were a part of that. The rest of our team are freshmen. And it's interesting, because I was just asked that in an interview before I came up here, and it's the first time I've thought about it. So I've been asked twice in literally about a minute and a half. It's not something that's entered my mind. That was a year ago. Our basketball team had a really nice finish. Played a great game that night, so that was last season, this is this season. We need to have our own motivation. It doesn't need to be based on things that happened a year ago or a week ago or anything like that. It needs to be based on what we've done this week, and what we need to do tomorrow.
Q. Staying with that theme, your players said that you brought up the fact that some experts have predicted Siena as a potential for an upset there. Have you mentioned this to your players? How do you use information like that as a motivational tool?
COACH STALLINGS: Well, really it was how do I use that information? I think last year and this year to some degree we've been made to feel like we're the underdog in this game, and that's okay. If people want to pick other teams, and they did so last year, and if they want to pick other teams now, it's okay. None of that matters. What matters is how we play. Siena's got a very good basketball team. A very good basketball team. Very well coached basketball team. And we know we're going to have to play well. But when you get to this stage, unless you're a No. 1 seed or maybe a No. 2 seed, the rest of the games are going to be competitive and going to be hard fought and going to be played by two good teams. We know that's the kind of contest that we've got in front of us.
Q. I wondered at what point in preseason did you realize that A.J. Ogilvy was going to be as central a figure as he's become? And what is in his skill set that's enabled him to become so important so quickly?
COACH STALLINGS: I would say about the second or third day of practice is to answer your first question. And I think that it's his ability to use his body, his ability he has great hands. He's a great receiver of the basketball. He does a great job of getting himself in position prior to the pass being made. Then, obviously, he has good touch and good skills around the basket. His ability to draw fouls is really phenomenal. He just shoots so many foul shots and has the ability to get to the foul line. Because, again, he uses his body well, he knows how to use his lower body. He knows how to position himself. He has good feet, and I mentioned his good hands. Then he has good size. He's big and strong. So when you put all those things together, it makes for a tough cover on a lot of nights, and he can be a very difficult guy to guard.
Q. Considering you guys have been in the Sweet 16 the last two times you've been in this tournament and beat GW by 33 points last year in the first round, would you not think maybe people would start looking for some other people to point out as the likely upset victims? Does it make sense to you, why Vanderbilt every year?
COACH STALLINGS: As Shan is fond of saying, we're just used to it. And we're used to it, so we don't we're not going to make a big deal about it. It is what it is. It's a great thing about the tournament, the games have to be played. We probably don't get the respect that we're due based on 26 wins and playing in the South Eastern Conference. A year ago we were second in the league. In a year where everybody in college basketball would have been second. The best they could have done in our league last year was second, because Florida was going to win the league and the National Championship. But for whatever reason, maybe it's the coaching. Maybe we're just poorly coached and people don't respect us because of that.
Q. How familiar were you with Ronald Moore having had Chuck for a couple years?
COACH STALLINGS: I've known Ronald since he was a little guy. He was a young guy, and his mother used to bring him to games. So he's a good player. I didn't really watch him play much in high school, but he's a very good player. A lot like his brother. His brother was a good player for us, and Ronald is a good player for Siena.
Q. So he wasn't on your recruiting radar?
COACH STALLINGS: No. We didn't need a point guard then. We actually got Jermaine early, so we felt like we were kind of settled.
Q. Do you think on some level all of this talk of a 13 4 upset has done you guys a favor in that if there was any chance that your kids could look by a 13 has been somewhat eliminated now?
COACH STALLINGS: Well, if we're not able to win tomorrow's game, it won't be because we've overlooked it. I don't think that all of the people picking us to lose have made us more aware that Siena's a good team. You only have to watch film for about five minutes to figure that out. I've known Fran for a long time. I know that he's an outstanding coach. Our team doesn't make the mistake of looking past people. That's not something that we're prone to. So I wouldn't say that they've done us a favor in terms of making us more ready or making us more aware, because we've got a pretty aware group.
Q. Shan has elevated his game every year, really has elevated it this year. What's impressed you the most about the way he's played this year?
COACH STALLINGS: I think his ability to make big plays at big times, really, regardless of the defensive pressure and everybody knowing that that's where the ball's going. He still is able to make shot after shot. He's just a phenomenal shot maker. It's absolutely, if you watch it, you sort of get numb to it. As a matter of fact, I got mad at him today because we were practicing and he didn't make one. I said, what's wrong with you? But he's an unbelievable shot maker. He's one of those rare guys that is going to shoot better in a game, and he's going to shoot even better when he's contested.
Q. Is he more impressive as a person, the way he handles himself away from basketball?
COACH STALLINGS: Well, Shan, Jay Wright and I were talking just a little while ago and Jay had him this summer with the Pan Am team, I think it was. And Jay was talking about what a great kid he was, and how much fun he was to be around. And I think that's certainly the best thing about Shan. Shan's a better guy than he is a player every day of the week. And we've been blessed because the best players that we've had at Vanderbilt have been the best guys. They've been the very best human beings as well. And that's made it really, really pleasing.
Q. Back to A.J., he was a bit of a mystery man for opponents for the start of the season. Have teams started defending you differently the last half of the year because of that post presence?
COACH STALLINGS: Well, I think what happened with Andy, you know, a year ago we didn't have a post presence. We were a team with four or five perimeter shooters. We would drive you nuts because we'd run around and had a bunch of guys that could shoot. But we weren't going to score inside or get to the foul line very much. And A.J. changed all of that for us, because, again, I alluded to his ability to draw fouls earlier. But now people have to defend us on the inside because that's the second place that the ball's going. The first place it's going to go is in Shan's hands. But A.J. is going to shoot the second most shots. So it just mandates that there's more attention given to the interior portion of your defense, because he's going to score some points. I mean, you look at his percentages. He's a good free throw shooter. And I don't know, I think he's shooting 59% from the field for the season. He's going to score some points. So I think that necessitates some attention from our opponents to defend us a little differently.
Q. You've seen Siena on film, do they remind you of any of your other opponents you've faced this season, either offensively or defensively overall?
COACH STALLINGS: You know, I can't really think of anybody that they remind me of, but the thing I really like about their team is they've got really good balance, they've got three guys that can get 25 or 30, which, you know, most teams are happy to have one guy that can do that; they have three. I think Ronald Moore is, and I'm biased, obviously, because of my affection for the Moore family, but I think he's a terrific player for them. So they've got really good point guard play, and they've got three guys that can just blitz you on any night. Then their ability to create turnovers with their defense and the things that they do defensively are problematic as well. So they're just a very, very impressive team, a team that is obviously well coached and has a great idea of their scheme and what they're trying to accomplish.
Q. When the guys were asked that same question, somebody said Auburn. Can you see a comparison there?
COACH STALLINGS: I think the thing, the comparison in that way is that they're probably Auburn's size in some ways. Their five man, if you will, is a three point shooter. Which, you know, with Prowell from Auburn, that's what he liked to do. He liked to be on the perimeter shooting threes. And then their guards are athletic and explosive. And I think that's probably what the reference is from our guys in terms of Auburn. But they're deeper than Auburn. They're a lot more balanced than Auburn is in terms of scoring, especially with three guys scoring. So while there are some similarities in terms of maybe problematic match ups for us, I think Siena certainly poses a lot more problems in their entirety. That would be my take on it.