Southern Illinois Press Conference Quotes

March 15, 2007

2007 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship
First and Second Rounds
Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio
March 15, 2007
Southern Illinois Press Conference Transcript

REPORTER: This is for Tony. It's been quite a while since you guys played a game. How do you guys handle the time in between the tournament and do you think that will have any effect on the way you play?
YOUNG: I think the last week or so we've been getting back focused on doing the small things that we do. After last week's loss, we've had a lot of time to sit back and focus on things we need to getter better on and we've just been going hard at each other getting ready to play the game. I think we'll be ready to play once we get back on the floor.

REPORTER: Jamaal, could you just talk about your opponent and what kind of a game you expect.
TATUM: Well, I know off the top we expect a dog fight. That's the type of things we're good at. We know they're going to come out and play hard for 40 minutes just like we're going to do. As far as the type of defense and all that stuff, we haven't really gone over that stuff a lot yet, but I think we're ready to go.

REPORTER: A question for Jamaal or Tony, you've always been a really defense-minded team, but this year you're scoring a lot more points, you're winning a lot more games, getting a lot more national attention. Is there anything in your minds that has changed this year from last year that you're doing in preparation?
YOUNG: I don't think we're doing anything differently, I think we're just more focused on getting better at the thing we weren't as good at. Like I said last year we struggled a lot on offense, so for us being a more mature team and growing and learning from the things we did last year, I think this year is just focusing on doing offensive things and Coach is giving us a lot more shots in practice and just working on your own game and working on your own offensive skills.

REPORTER: Jamaal, I wonder if you could just reflect on when you first met Tony and how you've seen his game at all, but also his personality and temperament.
TATUM: When I first met him, I just thought that we were -- I looked up to him and I was like, he's going to take me, he's going to be what shows me the ropes and stuff and then I kind of realized that we were pretty much peers, you know, and we enjoy the same things, have similar personalities and we're both sore losers. And over the years, I just realized that we both had to become better leaders and we were both willing to do it and we both did. So I think that over the course of time, he's become a lot more mature and that's helped me become a lot more mature.

REPORTER: Both of you, I know I'm putting you on the spot because your coach is sitting next to you, but what's special about playing for Coach Lowery?
YOUNG: The biggest thing about playing for Coach is he's one of the coaches that understands his players. You've got a lot of people that push you to do things you don't want to do, he gives us the freedom to go out and play the way we want to play but within his offense and the things he wants us to do. And he really rides us and makes us strive to be the best we can be as far as people, as far as players, really just all around. He doesn't settle for us being second best. He doesn't let us settle for it either.
TATUM: I'll agree with Tony on that. He definitely pushes us. When he came back from Illinois and we got our first workout with him, he put me and Tony against each other and I thought he was trying to make us transfer schools or something the way he came at us, but he was just expecting a lot out of us, he knew it was going to be a big year and he knew that he had some shoes to fill and we had some shoes to fill and that we had to be a good team and we were a great team that year and he came back and he really put it on us and made things difficult for us. That's the thing about him, he expects so much out of all his players that he will push you and I'm thankful for what he's done because I've become a lot better player under him.

REPORTER: For both of you guys, Southern's been sort of the underdog in this situation in the last few appearances, now you guys come in with a high seed and you're sort of taking on a different role, could you talk about that, being the favorite, and also is Southern starting to become like a Gonzaga of the midwest?
YOUNG: I think as far as being a favorite, you look at every game the same because going into the NCAA tournament, anyone could lose at any day, so you can't come in and think that just because you're a favorite that you're automatically going to win or you can't disrespect your opponents. I think the big thing is to stay level headed and play our hardest.
TATUM: I definitely think we have the same mind set as we had the year before and the year before that, no matter what seed we are. We go in and fight every day in practice, we go in and work hard and we compete and I think fourth seed or 10 seed or 12 seed, we're going to go play the same, hardest on the court.

REPORTER: This is the fourth time around for both of you guys, it's the last time around for both of you guys, how are you approaching this or is your mind set any different after you've been here all these years?
YOUNG: I think maturity level is the big difference for us. Before we came in knowing we won't win, but having the outlook that if we lose, we'll be back next year, having something to look forward to as far as getting ready for next year, but with it being our last year, it really just hits you, the fact of reality that once you lose it's all over with, so we just stay on everyone else and stay on each other to continue to get better and get ready to play hard.

REPORTER: Tony, just look back at how you came to Southern Illinois, how that worked out, it seemed like kind of a crazy path.
YOUNG: I think it worked out great for me when I came in, I was a little scrawny kid getting beat up by everybody. It was a learning process for me, I mean, now, I go out and try and pick on as many people as I can. Once you've been in a program like this and you play with so many different people and so many different types of players, you learn how to grow up and you learn how to go out and try your hardest to win games and I think Coach Lowery really taught me a lot about myself as far as a person and playing basketball.

REPORTER: Just to follow up, also how did it work out to be at SIU?
YOUNG: How did I get there? I was getting recruited by a bunch of different schools, SIU, when I went on my visit, I went to the Sweet 16 and watched the practice. I talked to Marcus Belcher and Coach Weber, and then when I came on my visit, it was just a lockdown, talked to all the players, got a chance to hang out with everybody. With this program, being around us, you can feel how much of a family everyone is. You can feel how much everyone actually likes each other and is always around each other. When I got that feel from everybody, it was a no-brainer for me.

REPORTER: Do you feel an edge this year that you all didn't have last year at this moment going into this tournament, and why do you think that is? Based on what you guys have been talking about, but what's the single biggest factor?
YOUNG: I think the biggest factor is fear for us right now. We know what we want to do, but everyone's scared for it to end. Nobody wants to lose, nobody wants to go home. So I mean, we just go out and just continue to practice hard every day regardless of what we're going to play, who we're going to play. We continue to beat up on each other regardless of how we feel. We came to shoot a lot of shots and do all those little things that people would usually lag away from, just to try to get to the NCAA tournament, just for the fact that we want to continue to get better. So our mentality this year is different from other years and we don't want to lose, we're not going into it as, well, if we lose, it's another year. We're looking at it as if we lose, it's all over so we're going to go out and just give it our all.
TATUM: I think that we can tell we have an extra advantage this year by the way we're practicing right now, and practice has been very physical and everybody's been competing and that's what you expect for a team that's going to make a big run in the tournament. And every day, we haven't seen the intensity slip and that's what has to happen to carry over into the game so I think the edge is definitely there.

REPORTER: Can you answer the question I asked Tony a while ago, about how your attitude towards playing in the tournament is different this time around and how it's changed through the four years?
TATUM: I think we both know that this is definitely on our clock right now. You go out the first round of the tournament and that's when your clock is on, Tony and Jamaal's clock, no one else's clock. It's kind of one of those things if you want your legacy to be good or not, Tony and Jamaal, their senior year, they were really mature and leaders and led their team to how far we go in the tournament, to a lot of wins.

REPORTER: Could you just describe Tony's demeanor on the court and do you think it's accurate to say that he likes to have the other fans kind of hate him.
TATUM: I think so. I think we all like to have the other fans hate us, we get our motivation that way. But I think more than the other fans hate him, I think he likes to have the other players hate him and that's the biggest thing right there, when he knows he's getting underneath somebody's skin, he tries to do it even more. That's what you've got to have. That's the mind set of a great player, a great competitor like he is.

REPORTER: For both or either of you, for your years now you've seen how the Missouri Valley just keeps getting better and better. Can you talk a little bit about the quality of the conference, as a Mid Major, and maybe whether it's about time for it to go?
YOUNG: I don't even refer to us as a Mid Major. I don't even like the word, so I just look at it as if we're a competitive school. I feel we can compete with anyone anytime we get on the court with them. As far as our conference goes, we've got all these schools constantly winning games and beating these high major teams and all these bigger teams and the quality of players and all these schools are getting the quality players that we recruit and all these other schools are constantly getting better. So I think that just makes our conference that much better every year.
TATUM: Honestly, I don't even pay attention to the terms they use to describe the caliber of team as us right now or our conference, because we get the respect we deserve after the game and nobody comes up to us after the game and tells us, you're a good Mid Major team, they come up to us after the game and tell us, you're a good team. And I remember playing Oklahoma State sophomore year and their coach coming up to the coach and telling him how good of a team we are, he didn't say you guys are good for a Mid Major team, so I don't really even pay attention to the titles anymore.

REPORTER: Tony, maybe I should have asked you this first, do you sort of like that feeling of, I don't know if villain is the right word of really getting under people's skin and relish that?
YOUNG: I enjoy it. Ever since I was in high school, you just play defense on somebody, they get mad at you, it's funny to me, just to see how other people react, and then when I got here, I know how I reacted when Stetson and B. T. and all those guys did it to me, so if I can make somebody feel the way I used to feel, that's a great thing.

REPORTER: Just to follow up, what would you say the difference in your temper is today than it was four years ago?
YOUNG: I think it's maturity, just growing up and becoming more of a man than I was before. Before you get mad over everything and let certain things bother you, and now you just brush it off.

REPORTER: Tony, does Holy Cross remind you of any team that you've played before? How would they compare, say, to Creighton?
YOUNG: I can't compare them to Creighton, because I haven't seen them play a lot. I watched a couple games, but unless you play against them, you can't really compare two teams like that. But watching them play, they're a good team. Seeing them get out and run and seeing some of the things they do, but like before, we need to go out and continue to play hard, just do the things that we do.

REPORTER: For both of you, when you saw the brackets and people looked and saw Illinois is a possibility, what was the reaction or was there any reaction at all?
TATUM: I think everybody had to get past the fact that we couldn't possibly be playing them, because you have to get past your first round game to play everybody. We're a very mature team, so I think everybody got past that quickly and realized that we had a good Holy Cross team ahead of us, and that was the first line of business.

REPORTER: Can you just talk a little bit about Tony emotionally and on the court, what you saw when you first had him?
COACH LOWERY: When we first had him, he was kind of an emotional nightmare. Everything was an explosion. Everything was -- when things didn't go well, he melted down and he had to -- he got people to run a lot as a true freshmen, so he quickly learned that in order to be a part of the team, you have to learn to blend in good or bad. I think that was the biggest adjustment for him was winning doesn't always mean that you have to be the focal point. And once he learned that -- because he was already a winner, he won the state championship in high school and he needed to come and learn how to be a part of the system.

REPORTER: Chris, have you guys got to the point, I think they asked one of the players this already, have you guys gotten to point with your program that are now like Gonzaga, that people can consider you the Cinderella of the Mid Major, that you're at that level with your program?
COACH LOWERY: We hope so. You know, we hope that, once you've seen and watch ESPN, you watch the selection shows and they say who had good wins and you see Arkansas say a good win was Southern Illinois and when you get to the point where they're saying you're a good win, I think you overcome that because we're not a bad loss, we're not even considered a bad loss. Hopefully that transfers over to nonconference schedule, we can get some good people where they look at it, like it's not a bad loss to a team of our caliber.

REPORTER: A lot of people have been asking a lot of questions about Tony. Is this guy another Chris Lowery in terms of a guard who's going to end up as a coach, because I see him working on the bench a lot when he's sitting down?
COACH LOWERY: He's very smart and he understands everything we do. And if you come to our practice and watch him teach our other guys what to do still this late in the game, obviously you hope the kids are where they need to be, but scout report, he's a dream, because he understands what needs to be done and he understands how we're going to guard things, no matter if we've never seen it before. So therefore, when we're talking about leading up to it, he can inch people in the right direction when the coach is explaining how you want to take this away and that's golden for kids to be able to do that in your program, not only be a coach on your staff, but also in your program.

REPORTER: What are your impressions of Keith Simmons, Holy Cross' top player?
COACH LOWERY: That he could play a lot of different places in the country. I was shocked how good he was, I had no idea until you watch him more than once. When people say somebody's good, your first impression is, yeah, he's okay, but as you continue to watch him, he's very talented. He's an explosive athlete. He's obviously become a much better shooter than when he got there. His field goal percentages are high. He's a kid who's going to make money playing, so obviously he's a good player.

REPORTER: Chris, how concerned are you about their big people and do you see any comparison, say, with Creighton big guys and what they did to you guys in the conference tournament?
COACH LOWERY: Our biggest thing is we didn't play hard defensively, and we beat Creighton eight times in a row and said enough is enough. So I need to say that. We didn't just lie down for those guys, they beat us. We don't worry about stopping. We have to guard all of them. And I think when we focus on that and are consistently focused on trying to take away stuff and trying to make their life miserable, make them feel like they don't have enough space on the court, we have a chance. And when we don't, things happen to us like they do at Creighton, people get in the middle of the floor, we don't guard the post, we are not talking, we're bad on transition, that makes us vulnerable.

REPORTER: Have you really seen anything specific out of Randal in the last two weeks to make you think he won't have a repeat performance of what happened in St. Louis?
COACH LOWERY: I don't think you can worry about one game. If we're constantly talking to him and saying, hey, son, we didn't win 13 in a row, you're not first team, as kids you can't constantly harp on their one negative failure in the last probably 10 or 11 games he played. So at this point, we've looked past it. We haven't gone backwards and talked to him about it, because I don't want him to think about it. I want him to think it's over. Obviously we need him and he needed to hear that more than how bad he played in St. Louis.

REPORTER: Chris, your name started to show up on coaching lists, candidates' lists, that sort of thing. What's your reaction to that and is it something you have to address with recruits, kids you're looking at now in high school?
COACH LOWERY: I don't have a reaction to it because I'm the head coach of Southern Illinois. So when I don't react to it, obviously nobody else does. So that's the most important thing. Right now I'm coaching my team. We have guys committed that are juniors, so obviously they're wanting to come play for us at Southern Illinois, so, no, it's not a distraction at all.

REPORTER: Both teams have a reputation for their defense, but can you kind of compare and contrast your defense with theirs?
COACH LOWERY: They do get a lot of steals, so when people say that they're positioned, that is not true. They have defensive players on their team also, I love the kid, he'd be great with us. He steals the ball from anybody close to them. That sets up everything that they do, because not only is he their best defender, he also is their best guy at pushing the basketball. And that's why him and Simmons really have a strong niche together as teammates. They get in transition after steals, after misshots, as well as anybody in the country. Watching them, how they played Duke in the first half, up 6, it was impressive to see how they scored and in many different ways.

REPORTER: Could you talk about how you address being the high seed as opposed to SIU when it was the underdog? Do you sense a difference in the kids and do you remind them -- how do you keep that mindset away from sort of changing up that you're the favorite now?
COACH LOWERY: Two out of last three years we've been a higher seed, we were a 7 seed my first year back, so that was kind of the first stepping stone to feel that way. Tony and Jamaal were sophomores. We relished it. You can't be afraid of it. When you're constantly trying to tell them, hey, we're a higher seed that's correct's where people get upset. That's not the way to go about doing something you've never done before. We talk about confidence and act like you've been there before, so we're coming into it to play hard and do what we do and not talk about labels and not talk about things that people are going to ask us, what are you a Mid Major or this or that or what are you doing with a high seed, kids don't think about stuff until people ask them. We talk to them about family, winning the program and stuff like that and that's where their focus is.

REPORTER: Chris, 12, 13 days, you're coming off a loss. Explain for us a little bit what practice has been like the last week or so and how the guys have responded.
COACH LOWERY: The first part of the week I couldn't find my whistle and the guys told me I need to find my whistle and we get after it and sometimes they chase balls into the bleachers and stuff, and if the whistle doesn't blow, they don't stop. So without the whistle, we almost killed ourselves the first day back from two days off against after losing to Creighton. So our consistency and our toughness are things we needed to address for a longer period of time, because when went like we did, six weeks or whatever, as the tournament went on, everything started to slip and you could tell how we were playing. And in the end, a very good Creighton team got us and that's the stuff we have to combat against in this tournament.

REPORTER: Coach, could you talk about your offensive balance a little bit? I mean, do you feel confident that you can overcome like a bad shooting night by Randal? I mean, do you feel that there's enough points there in your starting lineup that you can overcome something like that like what happened with Creighton?
COACH LOWERY: Once we lost at Evansville, I think our seniors really stood up and took notice. Our younger kids understood the seniors' urgency from that point on. The biggest thing is during that winning streak, somebody was having a bad game. We didn't all play well during that streak and to answer that question, yes, I think we can overcome things. During that stretch, we overcame a lot of different things, winning in different ways, winning when people fouled out. So, yeah, I do. Unfortunately for us, the Creighton game was the third in three days and that has a lot to do with how we played too because the way we play, it's all out, it's energy driven, those things take effect when you have to play repeated days over and over. So having a day's rest in between or having the time off obviously helps us to get prepared.

REPORTER: Coach, what Jamaal was talking about earlier about the big workouts when you took over, where he was afraid you might be trying to run them off or something like that, when you look back on that, how much of that was the seed for what's going on now?
COACH LOWERY: Well, it was always the seed. I knew we had very good seniors leading, but I knew that they helped start this. And when you have guys leading that started the winning, that helps your program, you have young guys that don't understand why you're winning, they're just winning with you. And they're talented enough, and that's a good thing, but we needed them to understand why we were winning and I think that's why I came back that way, and I established that was the reason, it's not just because you show up and obviously they paid attention because they've been very consistent, they've been very good winners and I'm very proud of both of those two kids and how they've grown and matured.

REPORTER: Could you talk a little bit about the Holy Cross inside attack with the big guy?
COACH LOWERY: He's huge. I mean, he's very big. He's probably better defensively than most people think and he's not a high-riser. He takes up a lot of space and he challenges a lot of shots. So our biggest thing is that we can't allow him to get his confidence on offense, because when he does that, he can step away and make shots away from the rim, and when he's doing that, that makes Simmons even better, because now he can exclusive on the block, which he's very, very tough to deal with if they're making perimeter shots and they have him inside using him as a post, using him as a perimeter simultaneously within the shot clock. So they have very interchangeable shots but they also are older and very well coached.

REPORTER: Southern has more of a tradition than I think a lot of people understand. Do you explain that to recruits or to people what Southern has been and what it is now, what it can be?
COACH LOWERY: I think that we've kind of flooded the mainstream with our brand now. We really worked hard to get our name national and with this year, we really just overexerted mentioning us and mentioning trying to really just show as many people what we are and who we are. It's a different cycle. People understand us better now after seeing us on TV the last three or four years and having our name be consistently called in the NCAA tournament, with the help of racket busters, but I think people are more interested in our program and what we do now, just because of national ranking and because we've been talked about quite a bit more in the national media.