ASAP Sports Logo

NCAA MEN'S 1ST AND 2ND ROUNDS: PITTSBURGH

March 16, 2018

Avery Johnson

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

COACH JOHNSON: Good afternoon, everybody. Obviously, I'm really excited to see you guys here today. That was supposed to be an opening joke, but I guess you guys are operating on 30 minutes of sleep like I am.

But we're thrilled to be here. Obviously, we know we're playing against an outstanding team, championship team, a team that knows what they're doing on both ends of the floor, well-coached. Jay has just done a magnificent job. He's the kind of the poster child or role model for a lot of coaches that are just getting into coaching on the collegiate level.

The team is always well-prepared. They've seen a lot of different defenses. Their defense has improved here at the end of the year, but we think we're up for the challenge. As I've shared with you guys, we just didn't want to come and participate in this tournament, we came to play and have the mindset that we wanted to give ourselves a chance to win a game and advance.

But, you know, the men are ready to go. Obviously, we know it's a quick turnaround. Fortunately, we've played in a lot of twelve noon games here recently, so hopefully some of those positive experiences we've had with the twelve noon games and energy and preparation for twelve noon games, we can refer back to those and see what worked and what didn't work. Because we know we're going to have to be ready to play from start to finish in this game.

Q. Coach, just to piggyback on the quick turnaround. You said you usually don't get a lot of sleep anyway. When did you find out it was going to be a noon game and how have you had to adjust your schedule?
COACH JOHNSON: I think we found out about 2:00 a.m. -- I think about 2:00 a.m. it was a twelve noon game. But I was kind of anticipating that anyway. We're a no-excuse team. If they say the game was going to be at 9:00 a.m., tonight at 7:00, we'd just show up at play. We played three games in a row in the SEC Tournament. Obviously, we all know how that turned out. So whether it was a back-to-back game or a day in between, it doesn't matter. Everybody's basically, for the most part, on the same schedule. They got a few more hours of a break than we did, but we just play ball.

I'm getting very good compliments, even throughout the game from even - from game officials. We just play ball, man. We just play ball. I'm the one that talks to officials and gets clarifications on calls. As young as we are, we've done a good job of being just a no-excuse team, so we'll be ready to go.

Q. Jumping off game officials, I noticed last night when your team is on the other end of the court, you skirt closer and closer to half court sometimes as you're yelling at them. I was wondering if you've ever been warned or called for getting too close to half court, if you wish the box were further. How do you deal with that?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, the guys from the media in Alabama, they don't ask me questions like that. You must be from Pennsylvania.

So -- hey, I'm pretty active throughout the course of the game. I -- I don't think I'm the only coach in the country that, you know, kind of stays on the -- that line, and I like to get animated sometimes. And I have a young team, and sometimes they don't talk. So you can hear it in my voice, I got to talk for them, so -- I got warned yesterday, and probably going to get warned tomorrow.

Q. Of course, this is the first time since 2006 Alabama is in the second round of the tournament. I'm just curious, you had a long career in the NBA. Where does this rank among your coaching accomplishments?
COACH JOHNSON: It's different. And any time there's a first in your career, you're always excited about it. We talked about year three, you know, our fans. I think sometimes people are sick of me talking about it, but we've always pointed to year three of trying to be in this position.

Now, it didn't happen the way, you know, people thought it was going to happen, but we had to go through a lot of adversity, which I think is really helping us during this time of the year in a weird way. But we've always talked about year three, and I knew in year three, if we could make it to the tournament and have a chance to advance, that would be a first for me and my career.

But it only happens if we got the type of coaching staff we have. Coach Yasir and Pettway and Pelphrey, those guys have been here before. I've leaned on them a lot during this time of the year, just on their experiences, both the good and the bad. And specific to Coach Pelphrey, being our associate head coach, he's had incredible runs at Florida, and his head coach has been sitting here all the way through Final Fours and Championship.

And obviously with him being the head coach in the league at Arkansas and other places, South Alabama, he sat in my seat before. So it's just great having this staff to work with on a day-in and day-out basis, and they are a big part of any success that we have. But I'm enjoying this tournament. It's a little bit different. Because it's win or go home. It's like the seventh game of a seven-game series.

Q. From the Alabama media. Just wondered what you thought. Daniel Giddens didn't play last night --
COACH JOHNSON: Coach's decision. He's healthy. Just Coach's decision. We decided to go with two big guys at the five spot. And if we wanted to go big, those big guys were going to play together. Specific to Donta Hall and Galin Smith.

Q. 11-point underdog going into this game. How do you guys embrace that, or how do you treat that going into the game with a 1 seed?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I just think over the -- probably the last four games or so, we were the underdog. I mean, when we got on the plane, Mike, to go to St. Louis, we were underdog against A&M. I don't think we were a favorite, and we're an underdog against our in-state rival and on and on.

I think that's a good place for us to be right now. And I don't think anybody's, at this point, thinking that we're going to win this game. But we just got to play ball. Weird things happen in the NCAA Tournament. We've already seen it. So, even though we're an underdog, you know, I have a lot of confidence in our players. We have some problems for -- we present problems to the other teams, you know?

We got some big guys on the wing that can put teams in the bind. And with the way our big guys playing inside, you never know what could happen. But we've got to play some really outstanding defense combined with being balanced on offense. When you're playing against a team with -- this championship caliber of a team that knows what they are doing, and they've played -- they've been here before, and they've -- they've won it.

Q. Avery, good to see you.
COACH JOHNSON: Good to see you. You know why I'm happy to see you? My daughter went to school in Philadelphia at Penn, and I'm glad I'm not playing that tuition anymore.

Q. I would have gone there, but they didn't want me.
Jay Wright said that as he and his staff scouted and watched your team, they found you have a unique team. The components and stuff, not having the bigs in the wings. But when you hear coaches talk about your team being unique, how do you interpret that? What do you think they mean when they look at you and see the problems you could cause?

COACH JOHNSON: I think it's the size. Our wing guys when you talk about Dazon Ingram, 6'6", 208 pounds; Herb Jones 6'8.5"; Braxton Key is 6'8", those guys, we can change our defenses a lot because of those guys' ability. Donta Hall, because of his speed at center position and being able to guard multiple positions, it just gives us much more flexibility where we don't have to be a plain vanilla defensive or offensive team.

And because I've seen a lot in my career now on the collegiate and the pro level, I've seen a lot of teams -- and Villanova is a team that reminds me of some of those Phoenix Suns' teams that I've coached against in the playoffs back when I was coaching Dallas -- everybody can shoot the three. They spread the floor. You know, one team has a Steve Nash. The other team has a bigger Steve Nash in Brunson, who can post up a little bit more.

So I've seen this team before, just not on the collegiate level.

Q. Basketball is a sport that lends itself to creative and fun personalities. You know, what makes John Petty such an interesting guy?
COACH JOHNSON: John -- yeah, John is hilarious, you know. He lights up a room as soon as he walks in. Obviously, he has a lot of confidence in himself, not only on the court, but the guys have a lot of fun with his -- the way he dresses off the court. He's a guy that's pretty flashy, and -- but he's a fun-loving guy. Just a great kid. His mom, Regina, has done a really good job with him, and if you are on an island stuck for a week, this is the kind of guy you want to be with.

Q. Why is that?
COACH JOHNSON: He'll keep you loose. Things may be looking pretty bleak, but in John's mind, he'll figure out a way how to make things happy, and take the edge off.

Q. You told us last night that you were in on recruiting Collin when no one else was. What did you see in him?
COACH JOHNSON: I saw that "it "factor. You know, we talk about that when you see it with players. They just have it. They have it when they walk in the door, that confidence, ability to navigate their way out of difficult situations. Even though they get knocked down, they don't stay down. He's a two-way player. He's not a one-way player. You know, he's as competitive on defense as he is on offense.

He has -- his ability to get the ball up and down the floor at an accelerated rate of speed is pretty -- it's a gift, okay? I haven't seen that before much in my career. You know, obviously, he shoots it, but he just has a way of lifting his team up and -- for such a young man, at this stage of his career, he just kind of has that "it" factor.

Q. Avery, you talked about how at times, especially during the losing streak, that people would stand around and watch Collin do his thing. When did you feel like this team learned to play with Collin and not like watching and just enjoy what he's doing?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, we worked on it a lot before the SEC Tournament. That was -- I would say, normally in a practice situation, we would lean a little bit more towards defense, maybe 60 percent towards defense, 40 towards offense. And we had some practices going in the SEC Tournament -- because obviously we had a familiarity with those teams where practices were 80 percent towards offense. And part of my -- part of those work-outs were about ball movement and not just passing the ball to Collin and everybody becomes statues. And even if he ends up scoring, we like him to score with movement from the other people.

So that was a huge part of us going into the SEC Tournament and it carried over into last night's game. You saw, you know, A.J., Jr. make some plays. Petty moved and made some play, Donta, Galin, guys were just moving. And that's -- that puts more pressure on the defense for us and makes us much more harder to go at.

Q. Just curious, you talked about your three, your three a lot, I've heard that. When you accepted the job, how challenging did the endeavor seem? Because obviously the program hadn't been here for a long time and also as everybody knows it's a football school and maybe players are tougher to get?
COACH JOHNSON: I think the main thing is I like to draw on experiences that I've had in my life. When you -- when you're an NBA player and you get cut on Christmas Eve, and your contract is not guaranteed, that's challenging. When you get fired on your wife's birthday when you're coaching a particular team, that's challenging. All right?

So, even though it's challenging, it's a good challenge, and it's one that I wanted to embark on and -- because part of what I'm doing is more about serving our student-athletes. My career is over. All right? And I tell them that all of the time. This is all about me serving you. And because of the wonderful people that I get a chance to work with every day, not only in our office but throughout our campus -- and several of those who are here on yesterday like Dr. Bell, our president and Greg Byrne, our A.D. -- and I can go on and on -- you get a chance to work with some incredible people.

The challenge is not as hard as you may think because of the relationships that I have with a lot of the great people that I work with on a day-in, day-out basis. The challenge is, when you get fired from your job, and, you know, you're living from check to check and you don't know where the next meal's going to come in, that's a challenge. Not doing what I'm doing. This is very gratifying what I'm doing, and -- even being in this situation, because I was in the media like you guys were for two separate stints. I'm having a good time, win or lose.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

ASAP sports

tech 129
  1. Recent Interviews
  2. FastScripts Archive
  3. Upcoming Events
  4. About ASAP Sports
  5. Contact us