Transcript: John Beilein, Jim Boeheim preview Final Four matchup

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Bryan Fuller

John Beilein and Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim were both available on Monday afternoon via teleconference to share their first thoughts on Saturday’s Final Four matchup between Michigan and Syracuse. Read both coaches comments in the transcript below.

COACH BEILEIN: It was quite a day yesterday, playing a very good Florida team, getting out to such a great start.

Hanging on was the biggest thing after we got off to the good start. I really love the way our guys sustained their effort, even though I think both teams showed fatigue in the second half.

So good trip back. It was a great trip back. We had a lot of Michigan fans, particularly our students here waiting for us. It’s a great day to be a Wolverine.

DAVE WORLOCK: We’ll go ahead and take questions from the media.

Q. Those of us who know you from the east, I don’t want to say this was inevitable, but we realized how long you’ve been coaching in four different Division I programs. I’m assuming this doesn’t feel like a validation to you because you always knew at every level what you were doing. Is it true or is it a validation?

COACH BEILEIN: I said yesterday in the press conference, you know, it’s great to be in the Final Four. If we had never made it, it’s not the reason that I’m coaching. The reason we’re coaching is about the student‑athletes, the relationships, the overall excitement we have of seeing young men grow in every way.

However, it’s terrific to see what this has done for this university, these young men, for all our fans worldwide. So that really brings a great deal of certainly not relief, but appreciation for all of us, for what we’ve been able to accomplish so far.

We’re all just thrilled here. But just like when we went to the Sweet 16, we’re ready to move on and concentrate on the next opponent.

Q. There have already been some questions about the past, and I think the word you used was ‘nomadic.’ Nazareth College, I was told Jeff Van Gundy was on that team. Can you talk about what it was like there and why you left after one year.

COACH BEILEIN: Well, you’re off by one year. I did not get to coach Jeff, unfortunately. My first game at Nazareth was at Brockport State. Jeff Van Gundy was the starting point guard at Brockport State and his father was the head coach. Interesting sideline. Both teams showed up with gold uniforms. The Brockport State guys had to go back to their rooms to get their new uniforms.

When Jeff’s father stepped down as the coach at Brockport the next year, Jeff and his father came to see me at Nazareth. We began the recruiting process. I took the Le Moyne job. Bill Nelson, a great coach at Nazareth and John Hopkins, continued the recruitment. That’s how Jeff ended up at Nazareth.

There was an opportunity at Le Moyne where I had a long association with going to camps there. Division II was a great opportunity. We hadn’t bought a house yet in Nazareth, had another child being born any day. That was the only time I didn’t stay a significant amount of time at a place. I felt bad about it. When I look back at it now, it still was the right move to make.

Q. People are going to ask about Boeheim all week. Carmen Basilio, did you know him?

COACH BEILEIN: The late Carmen Basilio.

Q. Did you have much interaction with him?

COACH BEILEIN: He would come over to Le Moyne in my earliest days quite often. He was very good friends with my uncle, who was the athletic director. When he came into the offices, we all knew he was there. He was a tremendous athlete, but quite a character as well. He had all our respect, believe me. You might get playful shot to the solar plexus, which was never good (laughter).

Q. On the Syracuse zone, you’ve seen it a few times, what are the big challenges going against it? I don’t know how much you’ve been able to see from last weekend on them, but if you’ve seen much of it, is that as well as Syracuse has played in that zone?

COACH BEILEIN: Yeah, I didn’t watch any of their games at all. I usually wait and do that all by video afterwards.

Seeing the Syracuse zone both at Le Moyne, then at West Virginia several times, it’s basically the same great defense. The personnel, the names change, the abilities stay the same. One thing I’ve seen, more times there’s more shot blocking, and right now this is a great steal team that gets their hands on things, much like our old 1‑3‑1 zone used to do. It creates offense with their defense.

With them turning the ball over 15 times a game in the NCAA tournament is remarkable. Think about that. When you turn it over, everybody’s in their lanes, guards are out front. It’s really hard to stop and play transition defense against a turnover. That’s really helped them through this tournament.

Q. Fred looks at this matchup as not a great one for the zone because of the number of shooters you have. Do you feel you match up well with it?

COACH BEILEIN: We had a lot of shooters at West Virginia. We had a lot of shooters at Canisius and Richmond, as well. I do like the idea we have at least a week here to try and simulate as much as we can.

But that length is never a good matchup for any team. So we have to get familiar with it and really be on. The big thing is with them, you make tough twos, but when you get an open shot, you got to knock it down. You don’t get many of them. You got to be able to do that. We’re going to practice all week to make sure we can do that.

Still it’s tough. Their offense is no joke, for sure, as well.

Q. Could you go back to your days at Le Moyne, the bus trips to College of St. Rose and St. Michael’s. Could you ever have imagined yourself on this stage when you were making those trips?

COACH BEILEIN: You upgraded as to bus trips. There wasn’t a lot of bus trips. It was more van trips with Coach Beilein in van number one, Mike Rizzi, or Tony, my assistant, in van number two.

No, I thought about that often. I often refer to the times we’d be up playing St. Lawrence or Potsdam or something, playing St. Rose or St. Michael’s, being white‑outs, snowstorms, listening to the Syracuse/Georgetown game. Here we’re trying to make it home alive sometimes.

I thought about it often, what it would be like, having confidence maybe I could get here, but knowing it was going to be a long struggle to get to this point.

Really been very fortunate. I wouldn’t suggest this route I took to anyone. You have to be very lucky to get to this point if the right breaks fall your way.

Certainly changed from what Kathleen and I were doing raising four kids just over 20 years ago.

Q. Going back to your Le Moyne days, how helpful was Coach Boeheim in helping Le Moyne emerge or put your program on the map?

COACH BEILEIN: I think this happened more than just a few times. Maybe every other season. We’d be playing a game, maybe it would be a big game, Philadelphia Textile, different teams that were our rivals at Le Moyne. I would look up in the stands, never called me for a ticket, maybe called others, but Jim would be in the stands watching a game on occasion. I had a couple clinics at Le Moyne, he helped me, brought his team over. They would practice, we would practice. It would be a clinic that was helpful to our budget.

We interacted. I wouldn’t say we were back and forth all the time. Where he was really helpful, as I already mentioned, whenever he would see Kathleen or the kids, whatever, very outgoing and just a good role model for seeing what a coach’s wife goes through, what you do with children.

He really helped me get the Canisius job, no question. I was a borderline candidate. He really got me on the board. Ended up getting the job. That was 20 years ago. So I owe him a lot, and admire him a lot, as well.

Q. I think Le Moyne beat Syracuse in 2009. Did you have any close encounters against them in an exhibition game?

COACH BEILEIN: No, at that time there wasn’t the rule where you would play Division II teams. So it wasn’t like that. I think there was just mutual respect. I hope it was. I know it was on my part. I would watch them play, but it wasn’t like we went back and forth to practices.

In that era, you couldn’t play Division II teams. I guess you could. It would be a real game. We never did that. That’s probably good news for us. It would have been difficult. In an exhibition game three or four years ago, Le Moyne did beat them. I’m sure Dolphin fans everywhere loved that one.

Q. Since you got to Michigan, long before it, too, the high bar has been where the Fab Five got to. Everybody was talking about that yesterday as well, 20 years since the Fab Five. Can you talk now what it’s been like to coach with that as the shadow bar you were yet to reach until getting to it now, and what this means to Michigan in terms of having a team in the present tense, that if you win on Saturday, you will have gone as far as any of those Fab Five teams did, establishing a new high bar by accomplishing what you did by getting to the Final Four?

COACH BEILEIN: I’ve never looked at it that way, that it was a shadow bar or whatever. I think I know what you mean by that with the Fab Five. It’s been about the complete Michigan tradition. ‘Cause I go way back to it. I still remember the team that went to Philadelphia in the Final Four.

It was survival now for three or four years. Let’s get into the NCAA tournament. We haven’t been in there forever, let alone worry about getting into the Final Four.

We realized the expectations, getting in the NCAA tournament, after you start to get there, four of the last five years, it’s not enough, you have to win and advance.

That just creeps up on you. It’s part of the game. To me it’s just about continue to grow this program so that we’re in position to be in this position. Hopefully one day, He’s been in the Final Four so many times, he needs to win it or win it more. It continues on.

But we’re all paid really well to do these things. Those are the expectations. We understand it.

The Fab Five era is a great, great era here. I think everybody needs to remember there were great coaches on that team. Those five players were tremendous players, but there were great coaches on that team. That wasn’t just five guys. If you’re in Michigan, it’s about the team, the team. I’m guessing there were 10 other guys on that team that were very important in that run as well.

Q. The second team especially, there were five sophomores who had started most of their careers, three of them every single game. Can you compare what your group with three freshmen, a sophomore, a junior as starters, isn’t that equally as impressive considering one of your freshman starter hasn’t been a starter but for six games?

COACH BEILEIN: I wasn’t aware of that. That is a remarkable similarity. We had a young man Matt Vogrich who was a starter, was a sixth or seventh man for three of his four years here. Now he’s all of a sudden a scout team guy, has stepped back. We had Eso Akunne, a senior could be playing at Division I at a lot of mid‑majors, here he is running our scout team. There’s a lot of sacrifices that era with the Fab Five, I’ve got to step back for the team. That takes a lot of sacrifice.

I’m sure the guys that did that, I’m sure the Fab Five is very appreciative of that during that time, because I know the coaches would be.

Q. You referenced this a little bit earlier, the reception you got back when you got back to campus last night. I’m curious when you found out about how many people had gathered around the arena, what the reaction was like on the bus before you got off and talked to the fans.

COACH BEILEIN: We made a call back to security just thinking there may be someone there, not knowing the numbers, make sure that security was there. There could be autograph seekers, things like that. We want to make sure we have some type of control with our enforcement here.

They said, It’s much more than that. We’re estimating 1,000 people. Looked to me like 90% students who had walked over from the dorms on a Sunday night and wanted to see these guys and congratulate them.

It meant a lot to our team. It really meant a lot to our team and our coaching staff. So it was special. I don’t think those guys will ever forget that one.

Q. You talked about the zone, but have you ever seen a zone as problematic as Syracuse’s zone is, and as successful as this one has been in the tournament?

COACH BEILEIN: It certainly withstood the test of time. Jim continues to work at it and tweak it in different ways. The length and some of the slides, I believe, I don’t know for a fact, he changes the extension of it at different times of the game, makes adjustments within the game.

No, it reminds me of when people used to play Temple and John Cheney, you were going to go play them, and it was going to be a very unique prep to get ready for them because you can’t simulate it in practice, you just can’t do it. It’s a thing we just got to work at. We’ll be as ready as we can be.

Q. Boeheim said after the Elite 8 game he can’t stop a team from shooting, but he can dictate which guys are going to shoot on the team. Would you agree with that from what you’ve seen?

COACH BEILEIN: He’s had an ability, particularly with our teams, is really make sure some of our best shooters don’t get open shots, don’t get their traditional shots. So that’s our job to try to figure that out, to make sure we can get clean looks, we call them. That’s different. But he’s a master at keeping the guys who really making those clean looks from getting them.

DAVE WORLOCK: Thank you, coach. Safe travels to Atlanta. See you in a couple days.

COACH BEILEIN: Thank you very much.

Jim Boeheim

DAVE WORLOCK: We now have Coach Jim Boeheim of Syracuse. Coach, congratulations on advancing to the Final Four again. If you don’t mind, please make an opening statement and then we’ll take questions from the media.

COACH BOEHEIM: Well, I’m obviously thrilled to be able to get back to the Final Four this year. This team has really come together, has played tremendous basketball over a four‑game period, which is not always that easy to do.

DAVE WORLOCK: We’ll take questions from the media.

Q. I know a couple of the guys talked after the game on Saturday about the players had practice after the Georgetown game, how you kept the spirits up after the loss to Louisville in the championship. Did that maybe strike a tone for what these two plus weeks have been like for you guys?

COACH BOEHEIM: I think it was very short. They probably scrimmaged for 10 minutes before we were down there. It was good to see that.

But I think that we were always a good team. We obviously had a very difficult last part of our schedule and didn’t shoot the ball particularly well. But our defense was good throughout.

Once we got to New York, started to play there, we could see that we were fine. We had a good basketball team. We’d be able to play well in the tournament.

I wasn’t worried at all about the NCAA tournament after we got done with New York. I knew we were in a good place and that we would play well in the tournament.

I think it helped us going out west, a long trip, but I think it helped us. I think we got focused in on what we needed to do, played well. Then coming back, we played even better on the defensive end against Indiana and against Marquette.

Q. On Coach Beilein, his career, a guy that has had a lot of adversity to get to where he is, what have you seen?

COACH BOEHEIM: I’m not sure he’s had any adversity. He’s been successful wherever he’s been. I remember him at Erie, Le Moyne, Canisius, Richmond, you name it. West Virginia. He’s won every place he’s been. That’s difficult to do, to be able to go to five or six different places and win.

John has been able to win at every place along the line, and nothing different now.

Q. You said this team has come together. After the Georgetown game you won in the Big East tournament, was that the game where you saw this team have emotionally, mentally its highest success going into the NCAA tournament and being ready?

COACH BOEHEIM: I think after that game, once we got to New York and started to play well in New York, we started to feel that we could compete with anybody.

Q. When did you start doing this zone exclusively? In the ’96 run, were you doing all 2‑3 at that point? Also, just wondering if the way your team is playing it now, where does it compare with your best teams in terms of playing the zone?

COACH BOEHEIM: Well, until ’96 we played some man every year. In the exhibition games, non‑conference games, even the conference games we played some man. We continued doing that probably up to ’03. ’03 we pretty much played all zone, and after ’03 we still played some man, but it really probably hasn’t been until ’10, 2010, when we lost the exhibition game to Le Moyne, we just said, We’re going to spend more time on our zone.

We still spend some time man‑to‑man, but mostly it’s zone for the last two, three years, pretty much exclusively zone in all of our games.

Q. Is this team playing as well or right up there with your best? And what about this matchup with what Michigan has?

COACH BOEHEIM: We’ve played the zone the best that we played it probably in all the years we’ve been playing zone.

Michigan presents more problems than anybody in the tournament. They’re the best offensive team in the tournament. I think they were the best offensive team coming into the tournament except their center hadn’t stepped up yet. Now their freshman center, McGary, has really stepped up. They’re a different team with his presence inside. He’s now in some games dominant. Before, he was not a factor. He’s a dominant offensive player. They still have the same guys on the perimeter. Each one of those guys can score 20 points in a night. There’s nobody on their team in that lineup that can’t score 20 points.

Offensively they’re by far the biggest challenge we’ve had this year. We played some really good teams, but we haven’t played anybody as good offensively as Michigan.

Q. How tough is this team, considering everything that’s happened towards the end of the season? How focused are they?

COACH BOEHEIM: I think everybody has distractions. There’s no team that doesn’t have distractions during the course of the year. That’s part of life. That’s what you have to learn to handle.

They focused well all year. It’s difficult when you lose four out of five games. But people go through that. Duke lost three games in a row this year. Kansas did. Michigan had a bad stretch. I think most teams have a bad stretch sometime during the course of the year, particularly if you play four games against three teams in the top 15 in the country, you’re going to have a bad stretch.

We got through that and played well in New York, got in the tournament, and have continued to play well.

Q. Having a bad stretch at the end of the season is a little more difficult.

COACH BOEHEIM: It is probably a little more difficult (laughter). But we still had confidence in what we were doing.

Again, going to New York helped us obviously. To play well there against Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Louisville, those are good teams, difficult teams, and they’ve beaten us. Pittsburgh and Georgetown beat us in the regular season. So to beat them was a big boost of confidence, I think.

Q. Rick Pitino, he could be inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend. Are you surprised that he’s not in there already? What does it say about this guy that he’s got 660 career wins, yet he missed eight seasons to coach in the NBA?

COACH BOEHEIM: Well, he’s a tremendous coach. He belongs in the Hall of Fame. Getting in is the only thing that’s important, it’s not when you get in. He belongs in the Hall of Fame based on what he’s done even prior to this year, not even counting this year and last year.

I think there’s some backlash from NBA people sometimes. They have votes on this thing.

But he’s a tremendous coach. He’s one of the best coaches that’s ever coached this game. I think from a style point of view, he’s somebody that’s able to change and press, pressure, play man, play zone. He’s probably the most diverse, if not the most diverse, coach in the country in terms of the style that his teams play.

He’s a tremendous coach. That’s why he was the first guy I hired when I got the job at Syracuse. I’m not stupid.

Q. Can you talk about Carter’s play here in the tournament. For someone who doesn’t shoot the ball well, he still gets pretty much where he wants to be on the court.

COACH BOEHEIM: Well, I think he’s even picked up his play defensively, leadership, getting balls to people, still being able to score when we need him to, because we need him to score.

I think he’s had a great year, but he’s had an even better tournament, which is hard to do sometimes for a young player, to play well in the regular season but have a better tournament. He’s really been good in terms of helping his teammates be better, scoring when we need to, rebounding, passing the ball.

He had eight defensive rebounds against Marquette, which I’ve never had a guard get that many defensive rebounds. I’ve had guards get eight rebounds, but I can’t recall a guard of ours getting eight defensive rebounds in a game. I’m not sure there’s been any guard anywhere has gotten eight defensive rebounds. Five steals, six assists, one turnover. Michael has played great in this tournament. Overall he’s had a tremendous year, but he’s played great in this tournament.

Q. Obviously the matchup with Trey Burke, how is that going to play out?

COACH BOEHEIM: I don’t pay much attention to matchups. It’s teams. Teams play. Trey Burke has had a great year. Michigan is a great team, probably the best offensive team in the country. It will be a great challenge for us.

Q. There’s been so much talk about your zone defense. One of the things your zone is doing well is blocking shots. Why do you think this particular team is so good at shot blocking?

COACH BOEHEIM: Well, I think we have more guys. We’ve had one guy do it over the years in different situations. I think our forwards have blocked shots and our guard, Michael, is capable of blocking a shot. We’ve got two centers that can block shots.

I think we’re just a little bit better there, although we’ve had some better individual shot‑blockers, I think our team is probably a little bit better.

Q. In ’96, was there a loss or something that happened in the season that triggered the move to the zone with exclusivity?

COACH BOEHEIM: That was best for that team. We had played some man, and continued to play man after that up through probably 2010. We still played man‑to‑man at different times. I don’t think we went exclusively to zone until about 2010.

But ’96, that particular team, we had the big guards. We weren’t very good man to man, but we were very good in our zone. So we used it exclusively. We tried to use man‑to‑man even in the tournament in the Montana State game, first half against Drexel, then the coach finally got smart and played zone the rest of the way.

Q. John Beilein was talking earlier about his days at Le Moyne, how you would come over and watch, participate in a clinic. He also added that you helped him get the Canisius job.

COACH BOEHEIM: I helped him get the Canisius job and West Virginia. Both jobs I recommended him highly because I thought he was a great coach and would do a great job at both places. Especially when the West Virginia athletic director called me, I told him to hang up the phone and call John Beilein back and hire him without waiting another minute because he’s a great coach and he’s won every place he’s been. He’s just a tremendous guy and a great basketball coach.

I’ve always admired his coaching at every level, watching his teams play. We’ve never even gone out to dinner, but I just have tremendous respect and admiration for how he coaches.

Q. The 2003 championship, how important was that to the city, do you think?

COACH BOEHEIM: I think getting to the Final Four seems to be very important. That’s a huge thing. I’ve had numerous things this year already. I think our fans really support us and they like what we do. I mean, I think getting to the Final Four is a great thing for the fans and the City of Syracuse.

I think the non‑basketball people get involved when we get to the Final Four. Of course, winning the championship is a great thing for this area.

Q. About maybe three weeks or so ago you talked about being happy to be in the position your team was. Considering the four guys you lost last year, has it sunk in at all, given the magnitude of the production you lost, that this group was able to gel together and make such an incredible run this year?

COACH BOEHEIM: Again, I was happy with what we’d done up to the point, especially with the regular season we had, what we did in the Big East tournament, I was very pleased with what this team has accomplished with what we’ve lost.

But certainly the way we played over the tournament run has just been tremendous to see what these players have done, how they’ve come along and what they’ve been able to accomplish.

Transcript via ASAP Sports.

  • Wayman Britt

    I sure hope Devin Boker has been watching UM play in the tourney and all the post game festivities. He is crazy if he doesn’t come to UM to be part of this program.

  • MarcO

    Airfare booked, shopping for tix. Go blue!

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