Head Coach Rod Barnes Quotes on Southwest Missouri State Game

March 20, 2000

Ole Miss Head Coach Rod Barnes Teleconference March 19, 2000 - Ole Miss vs. Southwest Missouri State - Second Round NIT

Opening Comments

I'd like to start by thanking God for giving us another opportunity to play this great game. We're really excited about playing Southwest Missouri State on Tuesday. I'm very impressed with their basketball team. I feel like we've had some very good practices. Our kids are focused and ready for the game.

It should be an exciting game. They have a lot of good players, and because of their depth and, more importantly, senior leadership, they are a very good team. This is a team that went to the NCAA Tournament last year, and have every right to believe they should have been in the NCAA this year. I've been very impressed with Coach Hinson, and the job he has done getting his guys ready to play in the NIT.

I want to thank our fans for coming out to our last game and supporting us and hope they will come again. This is a very important game for this team and our program. I'm very pleased with how our young team has matured-more off the court than on it. As a result of that, we're starting to play well and have played well the last couple of weeks.

Q: Talk about Southwest Missouri State.

A: The most important thing they do is they don't beat themselves. They have players who have played in close games and on the road in tough arenas. You can tell they are an experienced team. They can really shoot the three, and they have very good shooters. They take good shots, and that helps their shooting percentages. They don't take bad shots, and that is a result of senior leadership and a great job of coaching. We have to defend their shooters like we did against North Carolina Charlotte. Their inside player, (Scott) Brakebill is very good, and we will have to do a great job of defending him. He is their best inside threat, and he does a good job with his head fakes and that can get a lot of guys in foul trouble. We got to make sure that we play smart in the post against him. We also have to get out and defend the three-point shooters. We have to play a good game. They are a solid basketball team.

Q: Talk about Southwest Missouri State's improvements the last month (winning 11 of last 12 games).

A: Often times, when a program has a coaching change, it takes time for the players to believe in what the new staff is teaching. It also takes time for the coaches to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of their team. A couple of months into the season, Coach Hinson really got the players' attention, and since that point, they've played really well. Even in the game they lost in that stretch (57-45 loss to Creighton in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship game), they played well. To win 10 straight games no matter where you play or who you play, that means somebody is doing a great job-the coaches and the players.

Q: Talk about Kevin Ault and William Fontleroy.

A: Fontleroy starts at the point, and does a great job of getting the ball where it needs to be. He does a good job of distributing the ball, and he can also shoot the ball. He's a very quick guard and a little different from the North Carolina Charlotte point guard. Ault is just a good player. He is fundamentally sound and can shoot the basketball. He is very aggressive on offense. They have a very talented backcourt. Fontleroy and Ault have been together for a couple of years, and as a result, they don't make too many mistakes. They are not going to get rattled because they have played so many games together.

Q: Talk about Marcus Hicks.

A: Marcus is a very talented basketball player. He is a very athletic player who can score a lot of different ways. He's undersized to be a power forward in our league, but because of his athleticism and determination, he does a great job of playing inside. Now, he has developed his perimeter game and that is good. I think Marcus and several other guys on our team have been underrated all year long. Because of the teams we have played and the performances those teams have had, our players haven't received the credit they deserve. Marcus is a junior college transfer from Northwest Mississippi Community College, and he has done well. He has been an asset for our basketball team the last two years.

Q: Talk about Syniker Taylor and his contributions.

A: Syniker joined the basketball team right after he finished football season, and when he joined the team, he fit right in. He came right in and did what the other players had been doing all season long. He worked hard, and waited for his opportunity to play. He is an asset because he brought an energy and a toughness to our basketball team that we were missing before he got there. If had started with us from the beginning of the season, maybe we would be in the NCAA Tournament. He has helped us get to where we are now. He can defend and rebound, and because of his toughness, he has been a plus for our team. The other players on the team have accepted him. For a player to join our team as late as he did, our guys' acceptance of Syniker says a lot about the other players on this team. It's been a happy marriage, and once the season is over, he'll go back to football. Hopefully, after the fall football season, he'll come back and be a part of our team next year.

Q: What kind of player could Syniker be if he was just playing basketball?

A: He could probably be an All-SEC player if he just concentrated on basketball. He's an off-guard, so for him to move on to the next level (pro ranks) would be a question mark. He could be a day-in, day-out starter because of his work ethic, athleticism and toughness. It's fortunate for us that (football) Coach (David) Cutcliffe lets him come out and play for us, but it's sort of unfortunate that he doesn't join us until after football season is done. He's talented. He'll tell you that I tried to convince him not to play football coming out of high school. But, after visiting with his family, I realized that he could be an All-Pro defensive back, whereas he would only be a good college basketball player.

Q: After UNC Charlotte game, are you still seeing the same crispness in practice?

A: I think so. Since the day we found out we were playing in the NIT, I've seen a different energy, a different excitement, a different team spirit. I think two weeks before we received the NIT bid we were starting to play well. In the Vanderbilt and Alabama games here at home, I saw this team coming together, starting to enjoy playing together and understanding our team's strengths and weaknesses. After we got the NIT bid, I saw the fun come back. We've had a very tough season. We've had a lot of highs and several lows, but the players have hung in there. Whether we win Tuesday or not-and I love to win-I've enjoyed the last couple of weeks of seeing these guys smile and have fun. That's what playing this game is all about. Coaches, media and fans have blown this game of basketball out of proportion. As a coach, when you can get out on the floor and see your kids trying to learn and execute and they enjoy doing that, it's fun. I hope we're able to play the next couple of weeks because, despite all the tough times we've had, I've enjoyed the last couple of weeks coaching this team.

Q: Will Southwest Missouri State sneak up on you?

A: I hope they don't sneak up on us. Many of our fans may not know a lot about Southwest Missouri State, but I do. I've known how successful they have been since (former head coach) Charlie Spoonhour was there. That's basketball country, and their fans believe in their team, believe in going to the NCAA Tournament. That's a community that is very disappointed that they're not in the NCAA Tournament, and they have every reason to be. If our kids look at what Southwest Missouri State has done, the games they've won and how many they've won in a row, I hope our players don't just walk in the gym on Tuesday and think we're going to win. We're not good enough to overlook anybody. We've got a good team and we're playing better, but we're not to the point where we can overlook anyone. Our kids will be focused. I don't think our kids are concerned about who they are playing as far as their energy and excitement. I just think they are glad to still be playing basketball. That's not taking anything away from Southwest Missouri State. I'm saying that whoever we're playing our kids are going to bring that same excitement and energy that I've seen in practice. Normally, when you practice well, you play well in the game.

Q: You couldn't ask for anything more than playing another home game?

A: No, I couldn't-except for another win. To have another opportunity to play a home game is great. Our fans at the last game created a lot of excitement. I normally do not recognize what's going during a game outside of what's happening on the floor, but having a crowd at last Wednesday's game was a concern of mine. I was concerned about the enthusiasm and excitement and how our fans were going to react to an NIT game. But, on that day, you could just feel the excitement all over town. I'm looking forward to Tuesday's game. I'm sure our fans will come back out and have that same type of excitement.

Q: Some look at NIT as a secondary tournament, but your team is taking advantage of it.

A: We started off the season with a 12-1 record, but ran into some problems in conference play because of inexperience. Lately, we're starting to play well. We lost some games the past couple of weeks, but we lost to some very talented teams. Our kids and our fans feel a new excitement with the NIT. I've love to be in the NCAA Tournament because you have a chance to play for the national championship. However, we were chosen for the NIT. The NIT committee didn't have to put us in. They chose us to be in their tournament, and we're very grateful for that. We're going to show that we are excited about the NIT, and that there is no letdown because we didn't make the NCAA Tournament. We know that only two teams will finish the year with a postseason title, and we have an opportunity to be one of those teams.

Ole Miss Players -- Rahim Lockhart/Lataryl Williams

Q: Rahim, talk a little about Southwest Missouri State.

A: I don't know that much right now about this Southwest Missouri State team (because we haven't seen a lot of tape), but they are a very talented team. They advanced to the Sweet Sixteen last year, and they didn't lose a lot of players from that team. I also know they have a good post player who can shoot the three very well. I've worked on my defense on the perimeter this week. We feel if we play our game and the coaches prepare us with a scouting report, then we should come out with a victory.

Q: Lataryl, has the NIT given the team new life?

A: Yes, it has given us a new life. We're getting another chance to practice together, and learn what the coaches are teaching us. It's another chance for me and the team to play at home. For me, it's like a dream come true to play another home game. I'm just taking it day-by-day and game-by-game, and hopefully we can get to New York and win the title.

Q: Rahim, talk about your homecourt win streak against non-conference opponents.

A: It comes from the pride our guys have about playing at home. Every year, one of our goals is not to lose at home whether it is non-conference or SEC. We try to win as many as we can at home because when you go on the road, it's a crap-shoot. We try our best to take care of business at home. We've played some tough non-conference teams at home, and fortunately, we've come out with some wins.

Q: Lataryl, was the UNC Charlotte game about as good as you've played this year?

A: I think it was my best game overall from my defense to scoring and passing. I try to work on all parts of my game. If Coach (Barnes) wants me to sacrifice my offense to guard somebody on defense, that's what I'll do. Last Wednesday versus UNC Charlotte, I know I needed to help on both ends. Defensively, I got to their shooter on the perimeter and forced him to put the ball on the floor. He didn't want to do that. On offense, I was trying to look for my teammates in the post, and if they weren't open, then I took the shot. Thank God I made the open shots.



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