Oct. 27, 2011
COACH MATTA OPENING STATEMENT: Well, obviously very excited to be here and get college basketball started. Our guys have had a very good work ethic to this point, and we realize probably the biggest thing they realize we have a long, long way to go to be a good basketball team.
And I think that’s the exciting thing, when you’ve got a group of guys that understand we’re not where we need to be but willing to do the work. And that’s exciting to me.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Can you talk about how Jared’s come along and improved? We’ve seen the work in the offseason. He’s lost weight. Were you always confident he was going to come back for the second year?
COACH MATTA: Yeah. Answer the second question first. Jared had told me a year ago last summer that he was going to be here for at least two years. And so there was no shock and awe in my mind when he announced that he was coming back.
He had told me that all along. And even throughout the course of the season we would have half-heartedly joke about it. And he was very true to his word. It’s a great young man. It’s a great family. He’s grounded and true to his word.
I think in regards to the physical changes that he’s made, you know, he’s obviously dropped body fat, and along with that, as everybody knows, goes weight. He appears to be, in my mind, moving more fluidly. He seems to have a better mortar.
The thing we talked to him through the preseason going through the rigors of the Big Ten, if we can move him around a little more, they won’t be able to beat on him as much. Along with that he’s taken to improving his ball handling, improving his outside shooting.
And I think more of a complete player, more of a power forward with a touch of skill.
Q. If you can talk a little bit about Deshaun Thomas and what you see from him and what you need from him.
COACH MATTA: I’ve been extremely pleased with the progress that Deshaun has made in the off season. Like Jared, his body has been transformed a little bit. Last year he played at about 229; right now he’s about 214.
The most noticeable thing with Deshaun that I’ve seen is his basketball instincts have gotten quicker. And he has a much more natural flow to how he’s playing right now. A better understanding. I think that was the thing that we were kind of on him last year.
He’s really developed a keen awareness of what the little things in the game of basketball can do for him, be it an extra pass, offensive rebounding position. He’s seeing things better defensively.
So I’ve been extremely pleased probably with him maybe more than anybody with the strides he’s made in the offseason.
Q. About a week ago you said you weren’t even at the point yet where you were putting groups of these guys together. I wondered if you could update us on that a little bit, and maybe the thing that fans are most interested in is what might be the group that you put out there first.
COACH MATTA: Well, I will say this: I think that as I met with guys individually the other day and told them I really haven’t put a ton of thought into a, quote/unquote, starting lineup. And the reason for that, I’m really enjoying the competition that we’re getting in practice every day.
And as I told our guys at the conclusion of last night’s practice, I think that guys are getting better and they don’t know it, because of the competition.
And leaving things a little bit open-ended right now in my mind, from what I’ve seen, is helping our basketball team. We’re going to scrimmage on Sunday I think it is — yeah, Sunday, and then play an exhibition game.
But my thoughts really are on the opener, which is still two weeks away. And I think our guys know this: We’ve got a lot of improvement to make before we play that home opener.
Q. This season, when you play Michigan, you’ll be facing a new point guard in Trey Burke who was actually Sullinger’s point guard in high school. Tell me what you expect out of him and how you might defend against him as well.
COACH MATTA: I haven’t seen Trey play in quite some time. I know that he had a terrific senior year. Seeing him when he played with Jared, I think he was a guy that could score the basketball. I think he’s a very good athlete. And he comes from a great program in Northland High School. He’s accustomed to winning, that’s for sure.
Q. Want to ask you about the freshmen, the four freshmen you’ve got in there, after working with them a week or so, just some observations about maybe how they’re meshing into what you want to see and if you already have an inclination that one or more of them is going to play a good number of minutes this year.
COACH MATTA: I think, you know, starting with Shannon, been very, very pleased with what he’s brought to the table in terms of a basketball IQ for a freshman, his ability to distribute it. Probably the biggest surprise is how he shot it. He’s shooting the ball at a very high percentage for us.
Sam Thompson, I’ve been once again very, very pleased with his ability to shoot the ball. He’s probably the best athlete that I’ve ever coached. He’s a tremendous kid and doing all the things he needs to do to contribute for this basketball team.
Trey McDonald is the — the strides he’s made from October 14th to now has been amazing. And Trey, I give him a lot of credit, whatever you ask him to do, he does and wants to be a guy that can contribute to this program.
Amir Williams, the thing we see with Amir is every day he gets better. And with his size, he’s getting a sense of urgency to how he’s playing. And I think that’s been an excellent thing for him.
I think going against Evan and Jared every day has really heightened his awareness to what level he has to compete at. And he and Trey are over there every day after practice for 30 minutes working on the things that they need to do to help our system.
Q. Could you just talk about setting the bar as high as you have with your program these last few years, and continuing this year?
COACH MATTA: Well, I think that that’s something that we set out to do. Obviously I’m very proud of what this program has been able to achieve over the course of seven years. We’ve been blessed to have some terrific players. And the hard part I think in my mind is getting guys.
And I’ve talked about this. Probably one of the toughest years of coaching I ever had was coming off a 35-win season and playing for the national championship. The following year was extremely tough because I think our guys had a sense of entitlement that they were going to win basketball games, and I think that taught not only the coaches but the players a strong lesson.
As we go out and try to build this program, we try to recruit great kids with high character and kids that have a great appreciation of working hard and striving to be the best.
And fortunately we’ve been very lucky in trying to get those kids. But knowing this, I’ve said it’s so much easier to get to the top than to stay there. And not that we are the top, but that is what we are striving for. And just getting guys that enjoy the fight every day.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
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