Kennedy And Players Speak At SEC Tournament Press Conference

TAMPA, Fla. - Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy spoke with media at a press conference following the Rebels' practice on Wednesday at the St. Pete Times Forum. SEC Freshman of the Year Terrico White and All-SEC guard David Huertas also spoke with media.

Below is a complete transcript of the press conference provided by the SEC Media Relations Department.

CLAUDE FELTON: Coach, if you'd begin.

COACH KENNEDY: We're excited about being here, and being a part of the great tradition of the SEC Tournament. Who doesn't want to be in Tampa this time of the year? It seems like it's going to be a great venue, and our guys are really excited about the opportunity to play the most storied program in all of college basketball tomorrow, the University of Kentucky, a tremendous challenge. We know that very well having played them earlier in the season.

But we're really looking forward to the opportunity. Everybody comes in here 0-0, and we realize that if we want our season to continue, we've got to do what we're supposed to do tomorrow.

CLAUDE FELTON: Questions for either of the student athletes.

Q. David, can you just talk about your health and how you expect to play or not play in the game with what that situation is?

DAVID HUERTAS: Right now I still feel a little bit sore, little bit in pain. But they're trying to do what they can. I'm getting treatment every day, so hopefully tomorrow I'm going to try to come out and play, try to help the team.

This is win or go home, so I've got to play.

Q. How did you feel in the shoot around?

DAVID HUERTAS: I feel better than the past three or four days. Hopefully I can do well tomorrow.

Q. What did you think against Kentucky the first time you were able to beat them? That was the first really big win without the other guards. What were you able to do against them and what do you remember from that game why you were able to win?

TERRICO WHITE: We came out with the right game plan. Just trying to stop (Jodie) Meeks and (Patrick) Patterson, and, obviously, we were making our shots, running our plays and stuff. We really played well that night.

Q. Given what Georgia did in this tournament last year and given there's been a lot of parity this year in the conference, do you guys see this thing as wide open? Anybody can win it?

TERRICO WHITE: Well, we feel like the tournament is wide open. Anybody can win it, from Arkansas to LSU. But as far as our team, we've just got to come out, play well, and play defense really well.

DAVID HUERTAS: Definitely, I think this is wide open. Like Georgia did last year, so why not us this year?

We're just going to take one game at a time and see what happens.

Q. What was your first reaction when coach talked to you about playing point guard?

TERRICO WHITE: Well, my first reaction was I mean, I'm not used to it because I kind of played it in high school, but not really. But on the college level it's much faster. I just had to get my speed and rhythm to stay with the guards in the SEC.

Q. You mentioned having to stop Meeks and Patterson in the first game. Who else do you guys consider a threat on this Kentucky lineup? Who else is going to hurt you?

TERRICO WHITE: Well, they've got some other players that can really step up, like for instance (Darius) Miller, and their point guard, (Michael) Porter. Porter he can step up and make shots. I mean, the whole team can step up at any time.

Q. If you don't mind a question about Arkansas. I was wondering what you thought when you played up in Fayetteville, what did you think of Courtney Fortson and Rotnei Clarke?

TERRICO WHITE: Well, Fortson and Clarke are really good freshmen. I mean, when we went up there and played them, Clarke came out hot. Fortson kind of struggled the first half, but he came away the second half.

For me, on me guarding Fortson, it was kind of tough because he's really quick. But I kind of stayed with him the whole night. And Clarke, he can shoot the ball real well. Transition and spot up; Clarke is a tough match up, too.

Q. I'm wondering about the balance between just playing basketball like you know how to play and all the responsibility that a point guard has? How do you try to handle that in a game?

TERRICO WHITE: Just trying to carry the team. Trying to be a leader really. I mean, not really vocal, but just try to carry them on the court. Try to run the plays and try to play defense really well.

CLAUDE FELTON: We'll excuse the student athletes and continue with Coach Kennedy.

Q. Is Georgia's run motivation for the team?

COACH KENNEDY: There are certainly certain players coming in better than others. You have to look at quality of depth.

Now Georgia last year wasn't the deepest team in the tournament but they certainly caught lightning in the bottle. I know South Florida is known for thunderstorms, so I'm going to have my bottle out this afternoon. Maybe we can catch a bit of that lightning, because we'll need some.

Q. Looking back at that game against Kentucky when Zach (Graham) did pretty well against Jodie, what are the characteristics you look for in a defensive stopper? And what did Zach do that game to slow him down a little bit?

COACH KENNEDY: He was very persistent. We team defended. When you've got a guy like Jodie Meeks who is arguably the best two guard in college basketball getting 25 points per game, it is a team effort. Got to know where he is. We have to team defend, we just try to limit his rhythm shots.

If you allow him to have rhythm jump shots, you're at his mercy. So we try to deny him touching the ball as much as possible. And when he got it, we tried not to allow him to have rhythm shots.

Q. How has Terrico handled, I don't want to say celebrity, but the hoopla about how well he's played this year?

COACH KENNEDY: You can see he's a pretty humble kid. His emotion never changes. You would never know from watching us play whether we're up 20 or down 20. We've given him a number of different challenges and trying to allow him to evolve into the player that he became, the SEC Freshman of the Year, which was certainly deserved.

He's a kid with tremendous upside physically, and as he got more confident in his role as he spoke about, he said when he tries to remember the plays, I thought that was informative. I'd like for him to remember the plays as well. But it's just consistency. Having the ball in your hands, being the focal point, trying to put people in the right place.

For a long time he accepted the fact that he was going to be in the game for heavy minutes as all of our guys do. But he was still looking around for somebody to make the play and we convinced him, son, that's what your job is. You have to go make the play.

He had a couple of breakthrough games early in the SEC play, and he got much more comfortable in that role.

Q. From your perspective what you saw today, how much is David going to be able to give you tomorrow? Is it an hour by hour thing?

COACH KENNEDY: You know what, we, obviously, as a coach, you play them for worst case scenario. So we'll game prep as if he's not going to play. I would hope as he spoke, this is one and done, and it's a situation where we have to trust him.

The doctors have told us that we're not going to do anything to further the injury by playing. So then I go back to him and ask him how do you feel? Can you play? And he'll tell me whether or not he can play. If he says he can go, we'll play him. If he says he can't, then we'll have to make do.

Q. How key is he to what you you guys are doing?

COACH KENNEDY: Well, you know, we play typically eight guys. He's one of our quote unquote veterans. He's an all league guy, getting us 19 a game. He's vitally important to what we do.

We've had to reinvent ourselves on a couple of different occasions based on the prior injuries. And we based it a lot on David and his abilities. We'd run a lot of the stuff to play to his strengths. So if he's out of the lineup, we have to adjust again and someone's going to have to step up, and we'll have to do it collectively in order to fill that void.

Q. There's been a lot of talk about the down nature of the league this year. What is your feeling on the reasons for it, and is it just a cycle that's caught you guys down or do you think it's a down league?

COACH KENNEDY: I think I heard Bruce talking about this, Bruce Pearl on the teleconference, and I would be inclined to agree. I think the league is very, very competitive. There's not a dominant, though LSU had a dominant run, there's really not a dominant team that everybody, I think, in the room would pencil in and say this team here is the odds on favorite of winning this tournament.

So I think the balance in the league bodes well for competitive basketball throughout. I think as I was talking with Mark Whitworth from the league, if you look at it, and I looked at it closely, we have probably the youngest collection of teams in any of the major conferences. I know that we're the least experienced team in all of college basketball, and I want to say seven or eight of our league members are in the bottom third of the least experienced.

I looked at our all freshmen team, and there are eight members on that team. And I would dare to say of all the BCS conferences, those eight players are as good an eight as there are in any league of those BCS conferences.

We have a kid, Murphy Holloway, who averaged close to 9 points and 7 rebounds a game. Had 5 double doubles in league play, and did not make the all freshman team. Initially I picked it up and said boy, can that be right? Rotnei Clarke averages 12, 13 a game and is not on the all freshman team.

Brad Tinsley from Vanderbilt, a double figure scorer, usually if you're a double figure scorer, you're going to be on the all freshman team, I think it speaks to the quality of the youth in the league. As a result when you're young there are some growing pains involved.

I think that's where we are as the league. The future of the league has never been stronger based on the abundance of young, talented players.

Q. I'm trying to ask you just about Terrico being able to perform and produce when there are not a lot of veterans around him to maybe sort of hold his hand and help him?

COACH KENNEDY: Well, it's been baptism by fire. We again, we had to convince him of this. We don't have any options. He's got the physical ability. He's a kid that's very coachable, which we've been fortunate with. He's always had an innate ability to score. He said before that he's played point guard.

Well, when I went to him and said, hey, son, we need you to run our team and be a point guard. Have you ever done it before? And he said, yeah, I've done it some before, coach, but this is real point guard, isn't it? And I said, yeah, that's what we'd like to refer to it as, real point guard.

So he's played some before, but this is real point guard. So it's been a transition.

But I said when he won the award as Freshman of the Year in the league, if he wasn't the Freshman of the Year in the league, I'm not sure this team could be sitting here with any modicum of success. He's been instrumental in what we've been able to do. And he's grown by leaps and bounds in a number of areas.

Q. Wondering what you thought of Fortson and Clarke, and what kind of freshman seasons they've had and what kind of futures they have in this league?

COACH KENNEDY: They're tremendous players. Courtney Fortson is as difficult a match up, when you look at his stat line it's pretty amazing as to what he's been able to do. He can dominate the game at a number of different ways at 5' 9", 5' 10", whatever he is. It's quite a statement to him. I think he's as competitive a kid as there is in this league. He is a tremendously difficult match up as Terrico alluded to.

Rotnei Clarke is a dead eye shooter. He went through ups and downs as most freshmen do. Most especially when you're dependent upon making jump shots. Thought he finished the year strong, and both of those players are going to be tremendous as the foundation of the future of Arkansas basketball.

 

Q. Do you see this, talking to the other coaches, they see this as a wide open tournament this year?

COACH KENNEDY: Yeah, I do think it's a wide open tournament. I think there are two or three teams playing better coming into the tournament. You know, the concern that I may have, I'm sure Coach Felton had last year at Georgia, the teams with the most quality depth, you would think would have an advantage simply because of the format, most especially for us, four games in four days and we're try to do it with 7 or 8 bodies and the wear and tear does take its toll.

Georgia overcame all of that last year. They weren't overly deep. They certainly didn't come into the tournament on a great momentum ride, and yet as I referred to early, they caught lightning in a bottle and played outstanding basketball. That's what tournament basketball is all about.

I don't think it would be a surprise to anyone to see someone do that again this year. It's most certainly wide open. I think there's a number of teams that are still playing for their post season lives. A lot of people want to talk about how many bids this league will get. We all get consumed with our own world. But the reality is everybody they're competing with for those last slots are also playing.

So there's so much that's yet to be determined as it relates to those last, five, ten, 15 slots whatever they may be. So you I think that's going to lead to some very, very competitive games as we get deeper into the tournament. Because people are quite literally playing for their postseason lives.


 

 

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