Thursday, March 16, 2017

Northern Kentucky's PRE-Kentucky Press Conference FULL TRANSCRIPT

Indianapolis, Indiana

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Northern Kentucky. We'll have an opening statement from Coach Brannen and then go to the players. John?

COACH BRANNEN: Obviously, an honor to be here. Really excited about the opportunity to be here in Indianapolis for our school's first representation in the NCAA tournament.

For our guys, it's been an outstanding year. You hear the word Cinderella. It's something that takes place once you get to the dance. For us, it hasn't been like that throughout the regular season. 24-10, winning 12 of our last 14 and 9 of our last 10.

We talked about all year playing our best basketball when it got to March, and I feel like we've done that for the most part. Certainly, I know you guys will open up the questions as to who we're playing. We're excited to get an opportunity to play against a prestigious program like Kentucky.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for the players.

Q. Cole, I'm under the impression when you committed to Northern Kentucky, you knew that it would be a one-shot deal with the NCAA, playing in it. What led you to do that?
COLE MURRAY: First of all, I committed because of the location it was in. I really loved everything about the university. Academically, it had everything I was looking for. The facility at the mid-major level was a lot higher than the other schools I'd looked at previously.

For me and other seniors on the roster, it was about building a program. We wanted to bring something back to Northern Kentucky that we hadn't seen before. For us, I feel like we've done that to this point, and we're really excited about the opportunity that we have ahead of us.

Q. Lavone, Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis both talked about playing against you when playing in AAU and in high school. What are your recollections of playing against them or with them in AAU?
LAVONE HOLLAND: I played with Dominique Hawkins at AAU. He's a good player, fun to play with. Derek Willis is also good competition to play against.

Q. Drew, I wonder if playing Kentucky, is this something that's like a -- something you'll be telling your grandkids about some time in the future?
DREW McDONALD: I think this whole experience in general will be something I'll remember for the rest of my life. Just growing up, watching the NCAA tournament, it just was a cool experience. Coming here and getting a chance to play in it, and then a big school like Kentucky, it's just a great opportunity for us.

Q. For you guys, when did this week become about business? Obviously, you knew you earned a berth and you were waiting for Selection Sunday. Sunday night? When did you guys get into Kentucky, wanting to watch them or study them? When did that turn and what has this week been like in that regard?
DREW McDONALD: Really, after the selection show, we had a meeting with coach and our managers and players and everybody. That's when it really started. I mean, we enjoyed the experience of Selection Sunday. Once we heard Kentucky and we had a meeting right after that, that's when our business started.

We got into practice the next day, got in the game plan a little bit and got more in-depth as the week went on.

LAVONE HOLLAND: Really, it's been about business for us the whole year. It really began for the NCAA tournament two days after we won the conference tournament, we were right back in the gym.

COLE MURRAY: Yeah, what they both just said. I mean, right after the selection show, like he said, we met and we put a game plan in. This whole week, we went after it and got prepared.

Q. Cole, how much of an awe factor might there be? It's your first time in the tournament, and they're the winningest program in college basketball?
COLE MURRAY: I mean, you can't look at it that way. You've got to come in as if it's a faceless opponent like we used the term all year. No matter who we play, we prepare as if we play anybody. This week is no different. It doesn't matter what stage we play on, who we play, where we play. We go in playing like it's anybody else.

Q. For all the players, in a normal week, if I'm a student on the NKU campus, how many U.K. shirts do I see? Are there more NKU shirts now?
DREW McDONALD: You'll see a couple throughout campus. At the beginning of the year, you'll see some. As basketball season got on, we got more students to the game. It dwindled down. I did read any student who had a free ticket to the game or won a ticket, they are not allowed to wear U.K. stuff. It dwindled down as we won games, and they've come to support us more.

LAVONE HOLLAND: I only take class on campus right now. I don't get on campus much. When I do, I don't see many U.K. shirts.

COLE MURRAY: A few years ago, I used to see a lot. This year, it's toned down a lot. It's been nice to see.

Q. Lavone, can you tell us about a kid from Ballard playing at Northern and now playing against U.K.?
LAVONE HOLLAND: One more time.

Q. You're from Ballard High School, now going to play against U.K., what's that's like?
LAVONE HOLLAND: I think it's an opportunity I've been blessed with. I wouldn't say it was something that I, like, dreamed about, but it is something that I've always wanted to do.

Q. Cole, there have been some 15s to beat 2s in the last few years. I'm wondering how much you guys maybe take some, what, confidence that you can be another one?
COLE MURRAY: That's something that you look at, and you know what craziness happens in the tournament. Obviously, anything can happen.

Like I said before, we just try to prepare for whoever we play. We don't look at the seeding. We don't look at the tradition of the other school or anything like that. We just come in every day and do it like we've been doing it. It's helped us be successful this far.

Q. Just to kind of piggyback off that, how hard is it, when you look at rosters, their roster, kids who you played AAU with, you know your class rankings when you come out as high school kids. You know some of these guys will be in the NBA next year. Has that been hard at all to think about measuring up or how we'll do against that type of guy, I guess? I think any of you can answer that.
DREW McDONALD: I think it's kind of motivation, really. It's a great opportunity for us. They're on national TV all the time. They get all this exposure, and we're more of a lower mid-major team, and we don't get the exposure that they do. So being on a national stage like this gives us a chance to expose our talents and expose how we play as a team.

It's some motivation just seeing the rankings coming out and seeing guys that you're going to play in the NBA with. I played against several of them in the AAU. I know what they are. We played against them, beat some of the teams in AAUs. Like Cole says, it's a faceless opponent.

Q. Cole, you went to high school about 80 miles from here. Some of your teammates went to high school in Indianapolis. Have you talked about how unique this experience is to have the first tournament you guys are playing, to play it right here in Indianapolis?
COLE MURRAY: It's pretty special to have the first tournament for this school be in a place where I basically grew up. Us, BG, Jordan and I, talk about how cool it is that we get to experience this back in our home state.

Q. I'm wondering, for any of you guys, if you had time to stop and smell the roses, the accomplishment of being in your first year of eligibility, doing it or was there no time for this? It's business, business.
COLE MURRAY: A day or two after we won the conference tournament, that's when it really sank in, and you understand what we've accomplished, not only for us as a team, but as a university as a whole. To see all the people it affects, all the alumni that reach out to you and say how special it is and thank us for what we've done. Other than that, ever since we found out who we play, it's been business-like from there.

LAVONE HOLLAND: For me, we're going to take this as far as we can. And then when it's all over, we'll just soak in what we've accomplished.

DREW McDONALD: Kind of like what they both said. We got a little bit of a layoff after we won the conference championship, so a day or two, we got to let it sink in and enjoy it. We got back to work. Even before Selection Sunday, we were back in practice, working on our game, working on us. We're going to keep fighting and see how far we can take this thing.

Once it's done, we'll step back and realize how great a year we had. We have 24 wins right now. Hopefully we can increase that.

THE MODERATOR: Thanks, guys. See you tomorrow.

Continue with questions for Coach Brannen.

Q. John, you were able to sign two first team Kentucky all-staters last year, including Mr. Basketball. You've signed a really good player in the current class. Did you take the job planning to emphasize in-state recruiting? Are even you a little surprised at how well you've been able to do this quickly?
COACH BRANNEN: Yes, Mark. Our basis on taking on the program was two-fold; to build the culture immediately and try to do that with the current players we had when we took over the team last year, with a team transitioning to division one and the new league, the Horizon.

The second was recruiting. We gained traction in recruiting probably quicker than anything in our program. It had to do with a great staff. State of Kentucky was great at the time we took over the job. We had connections with Carson Williams, Mason Faulkner, Lavone Holland, a guy we signed. Drew and Cole were already here.

It's a situation for us where once we gained that traction quickly, it snowballed from there. Good players want to play with good players. We had an outstanding first recruiting class. Whenever you take over a program, these first two recruiting classes are important in this day and age in winning fast. Marry that with the culture that was built the first year, you have a 24-win team this year.

Q. John, specifically, about one of those in-state guys, Lavone, how important is it to have a guy played at Ballard and was a quality high player from Louisville and then just specifically about his game, what do you like and how has he stepped up for you guys the last few weeks?
COACH BRANNEN: He's been phenomenal. At the point guard spot, he's dynamic in what he can do with the basketball. He's a big part of the run we've had and the way we've had a successful season. Add to the fact he comes from a successful program like Ballard, he understands winning, has been coached.

More importantly, you probably saw that with the way they speak and how they handle themselves, he's a great kid. And for me, this has probably been one of the most enjoyable teams I've coached in my 18 years in the profession. It's nice that it's specific to Lavone, being a Kentucky kid.

Q. John, I wonder if you would buy the David and Goliath story line here and, if so, what is the rock in your slingshot?
COACH BRANNEN: I know you guys would like us to. It's not who we are. We're going to go every day. We're a process-oriented group. We divorce ourselves from outcomes. We focus on possession by possession, day by day.

What you heard out of our young men today is what they believe in. And this is a 15-2 seed. The committee put Northern Kentucky versus Kentucky. It's a good story line, first time ever versus the greatest program in college basketball history. It's an opportunity for us to continue to play well, hopefully. We'll take it as that.

When you're in the eye of the storm, Jerry, I don't know that many coaches look at it like that.

Q. John, could you speak to your familiarity with the history of the program and what's your relationship like with Ken Shields?
COACH BRANNEN: I'm from Northern Kentucky. I've got a lot -- the two national championship finalist teams in division two were guys I grew up with. Coach Shields calls me after every game, giving me a congratulatory message. 20 years ago, Northern Kentucky University was a school that was not a destination school. It was where kids went to school who couldn't afford to go to Louisville and Kentucky. It's now a destination school. We're up to 15,000 students. I could go on and on. I have tremendous love for this university and a tremendous amount of respect for what the program has done in the past to get us to the division one level.

Q. Talk about the freshman season Carson has had.
COACH BRANNEN: I made mention of this all year long. He started being the most consistent freshman I've ever coached. He's probably one of the most consistent players I've ever coached. I've been at every level.

Every day, he's the same. He's hard working. Toughness is a core value of our program. He's really increased the toughness of our program. He's really moved the needle in a lot of different ways.

A joy to coach, doesn't say a whole lot. Probably wouldn't get two words out of him on this podium, but he's a guy who every day impacts this team.

Q. John, when you guys are playing well, what is working? What is the approach you guys have?
COACH BRANNEN: Jerry, we're really up and down. We shot the most 3s and made the most 3s in the league in the Horizon. We play free offensively. We'll get up in full court defensively, but we want the game to be free-flowing with the ball to move. And I think rebounding wise, we've been a top 50 rebound team most of the year.

From a visual standpoint, I like to think we're a fun team to watch. Most of the people that come to that have seen that. So we'll see.

Q. What or who, I guess, really caught your eye or maybe has kept you awake this week in terms of watching U.K. and what you're going to try to have your guys do?
COACH BRANNEN: Three top 15 draft picks. They've got a Hall of Fame coach. I could go on and on about what keeps you up at night. What I've been impressed with the Kentucky team, again, I coached -- I was at Alabama for 6 years. Coach Cal does a great job of putting guys in spots and mixing talents together.

I think probably our guys' adjustment that would be made will be the speed because their speed doesn't show up on tape as well as it shows up in person.

Q. John, you were running through some metrics about how NKU has evolved in recent years. How big a platform is just this playing U.K. in the NCAA tournament to sort of spread that story throughout the commonwealth?
COACH BRANNEN: It's going to the NCAA first and foremost. Only two teams since 1970 have done it in their first year. That's a tremendous accomplishment that our guys will get a chance to take stock in when the season's over because it's just not normal.

Now, it wasn't a Cinderella story. This is a team 12-6 in the regular season, tied for third in the league. This is a quality basketball team. Put on top of the fact that you get to play Kentucky, that adds to it. You'll play somebody really good regardless of whether you're a 14 or 15.

Q. There have been 15s that beat 2s in recent years. How does that play on your mind?
COACH BRANNEN: It doesn't play on mine because I think each game is its own situation and each game's got its own life. Maybe it plays to -- speaks to the confidence of maybe other teams or maybe some of my players. But specifically to us, we've got a task at hand that we've got to be able to accomplish, and we've got to prepare to do that. We prepared all week. It will be a possession-by-possession thing. Really doesn't speak much to anything that really influences us this week.

Was that the answer you thought?

THE MODERATOR: See you tomorrow, Coach.

COACH BRANNEN: Thanks, guys.

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