March 21, 2019
THE MODERATOR: We have the student-athletes from Virginia, head coach Tony Bennett, SID Erich Bacher. Student-athletes with us are Kyle Guy, De'Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, and Jack Salt. We'll now open the floor for questions.
Q. Ty, you committed to Virginia early in your junior year of high school. Kyle committed like six weeks later. When did you meet Kyle for the first time? When did you first play together? This is for you too, Kyle. How quickly did you realize that your games complemented each other?
TY JEROME: I remember I committed, and then Kyle started following me on every social media. I was like who is this kid? I think we started talking over social media. He told me he was going to commit, and then I think I met him -- was it Mary Kline? The first time we played in the All-Star Game together called Mary Kline Classic in New Jersey. He stayed at my house for the weekend. We played for the first time there together. We were on the same team, and it was just fun.
We also went to Top 100 Camp together, too, at Virginia.
KYLE GUY: I mean, he pretty much nailed it. I definitely bombarded him with a lot of questions and follows in all forms of social media, and then I invited myself to his house for the tournament and for the All-Star Game. We've been friends ever since.
Q. For any of you guys, having played in this arena already this year, how much of an advantage is it for you knowing kind of a shooting background? It's a unique background with the wide sight lines here. How do you guys feel about playing here having played here already this season?
JACK SALT: Yeah, I mean, it was good to play here during the season. Kind of got a feel for the environment. It's good to have that game in our back pocket.
TY JEROME: Like he said, any time you can get familiar with an arena, there's always a little bit of a benefit. But when the ball's tipped, nothing really matters.
DE'ANDRE HUNTER: Yeah, like they said, having experience in this gym definitely helps us a lot.
KYLE GUY: They pretty much nailed it. I don't need to say anything (laughter).
Q. Ty, we know De'Andre's probably not going to talk about himself too much, but he's been on the team two years and hasn't had a chance to play in this event. Can you describe what it's like to have him on your side heading into what you hope will be a long run here?
TY JEROME: Yeah, just a guy that might be the most versatile guy in the tournament, can guard one through five almost, can get a bucket when you need one, isolation, offensive rebound, knock down catch-and-shoot shots. Does everything, a guy you want on your team. Pretty cool guy off the court too.
Q. For Ty and Kyle, the Gardner-Webb coach was saying that he's telling his players have fun, play loose, attack, be confident, enjoy the moment, enjoy the experience. Don't be tight. If you're tight, we have no chance. Are you guys hearing the same thing from Coach Bennett? Is that the attitude you guys are taking into the game?
KYLE GUY: I'd say most teams are probably saying that you want to play free, you want to have a sense of joy and fun when you're playing the game, but it's also -- when you step on the court, it's business time. So there's a level of focus that we have to have in preparation today that we're looking forward to.
TY JEROME: For us, it's about doing what we've done to get to this point all year. We've had a pretty successful year so far, and just about when we step on the court, playing with that edge that we've had all year.
Q. Kyle, the Gardner-Webb coach referred to Ty as the head of the snake. Are you okay with that?
KYLE GUY: 100 percent. I've been saying that all year. He runs the show, and we just sit back and wait for his passes and knock them down.
Q. Is he a snake?
TY JEROME: Do you try to make him mad or --
KYLE GUY: It is a compliment? I don't know. It is.
Q. You mentioned the edge with which you guys play. What is the source of that edge? Where does it come from?
TY JEROME: I think it comes from knowing what we want to accomplish, how hard it is to accomplish what we -- how hard it is to do that. Last year's defeat and just the desire to be great and all those different things and try to instill that in every single person on the team. So when we get into a tight game or when we get into a tournament game like tomorrow, it's not just one or two guys or three guys with that edge. You're playing ten different guys that have that same edge.
Q. For Kyle, you can speak for your teammates, as well. After what happened a year ago, for those of us who haven't been around you, how have you guys kind of dealt with that history moment, and how anxious are you to kind of get that off your back and get a roll going this year?
KYLE GUY: Coach Bennett and the coaching staff did a great job of making sure we talked about it after when the next preseason started and stuff. So we've become closer as a team. That loss doesn't define us. We watched a TED Talk, and he said something along the lines of, if you use it right, it can buy you a ticket to a place you couldn't have gone any other way. So that's been the motto.
Losses happen. We knew it was going to happen eventually. Just ready for this year.
Q. Last week in Charlotte at the ACC Tournament, I think you said to the media, you guys don't have to apologize for asking about last year. I don't know if you meant that or not. But do people kind of toe the line with you guys when they see you around campus or in the media when they approach you about last year? Or how badly do you guys want them to know that is behind you?
KYLE GUY: I'm not going to speak for anyone else, but like I said, you don't have to apologize to me. I'm very transparent. No one around campus or grounds really mentions it to us or anything. Some people don't let it go on social media. I get Venmos all the time saying we've got to pay them $5 because we lost. I don't pay them, by the way. But it definitely is behind us, and we're ready to put on a show this year so we can talk about something else.
Q. For Ty as well as Kyle, how much does it help having a lot of that same group around that knows that hurt and that can fuel that going forward into this tournament?
TY JEROME: It's definitely helpful, but you've got to be careful because you don't want to play with anger. You don't -- you've got to be careful playing with anger, I should say. Last year, like Kyle said earlier, we watched a TED Talk about it. We discussed it a lot. We used it as motivation. And like we said, it can take you to a place you've never been if you use it the right way. So it's more about doing what we do, playing with our same edge every single game we've played so far this year rather than just knowing we've got to make up for last year and playing with anxiousness and anger.
KYLE GUY: Yeah, I would say in practice, whenever somebody's tired or you're trying to fight through a rep or take a play off or something, I always think back to that. And then when I'm on the court, I don't even think about it. I'm focused on what's in front of me because, if you're too focused on the past, you're not going to be able to move forward.
So, yeah, it's a chip on our shoulder, but it doesn't define us. We're just trying to move past it and let the inspiration and motivation behind it take us somewhere we haven't been.
Q. Real quick, Kyle, screen saver on your phone, is it still the picture?
KYLE GUY: Yes, ma'am.
Q. De'Andre, for you, as you hear these guys talk about last year and knowing you couldn't be on the court for that, just kind of curious your mentality and what emotions it stirs up as you hear them reflecting on last year and look forward to this year?
DE'ANDRE HUNTER: I'm just excited for myself and more for the team just to get back to this stage and have the same opportunity as last year to play against the 16 seed and possibly erase what happened last year. People are going to still remember, but we have another opportunity to do something really special in this tournament.
Q. Kyle, Ty has talked about how much he learned from London (Perrantes), the one year they played together. Was there anybody that first year, the older guys, who was a mentor to you?
KYLE GUY: Yeah, I would say London, also. He was my roommate on the road, so I learned a lot from him. But to be honest, I learn so much from all these guys every day. Even freshman year, I was learning a lot from Ty and his mindset and the way he plays the game, so yeah.
Q. Ty and Kyle, this TED Talk you're referring to, was this specifically about your situation, or was it about handling adversity and using it to your advantage in the future? And who made the TED Talk?
THE MODERATOR: Whoever has that answer.
TY JEROME: No, they didn't make a TED Talk just for us. It was --
KYLE GUY: His name was The Storyteller.
TY JEROME: Yeah, it was The Storyteller, and it actually had nothing to do with basketball, the TED Talk. It was a story he told about his life experiences, which weren't basketball related, but most of the times, you can relate almost anything to your passion.
Q. This is for Kyle again. Could you talk about Braxton Key's contributions this year.
KYLE GUY: Yeah, I would go as far to say he's one of the better rebounders on the team. I think he leads the team in rebounding, unlimited minutes, and he's gained a lot of trust from the players and the coaching staff. In these last few games, he's coming around at the right time as we move forward in March. His versatility has been great, and he's improved every day.
TY JEROME: This one's got to be for Jack.
Q. De'Andre, I'm curious, as you're watching the TED Talk and even going back to just watching the game itself, what was that experience like for you, and how many times have you run over what you could have contributed had you been there?
DE'ANDRE HUNTER: I feel like in the moment I wasn't really thinking about it because I wasn't playing, but a few days after, I just thought about how I wouldn't be able to play with those guys again, play with that team again. I mean, it kind of hurt, but I don't really think about what I could have contributed to the game because it doesn't matter. I didn't play, so just try to move on.
Q. This one's for Ty. Sorry, Jack. Specifically for you, Ty, Jose Perez on Gardner-Webb says he knows you a little bit from some AAU experience. Can you talk about him a little bit and how you know him and just what Gardner-Webb, what jumps out on film about them?
TY JEROME: So we actually played in the same AAU program, PSA Cardinals in New York. I played against him, our high schools twice, I think. I heard he's having a great year. I think he leads them in rebounds. He posts a lot from the four position. He's been a versatile four for them, passed the ball well from out of the post. So I heard he's having a great year.
I think that versatility jumps out on film. One through five shoot the three. They're a little smaller, but they all attack. They're balanced. They have some really good athletes. They defend. They share the ball. They don't turn it over much. So they're a real good team. It's going to be a battle.
THE MODERATOR: Jack, do you want to elaborate on anything that jumps out about Gardner-Webb?
JACK SALT: Sure. Like Ty was saying, they're very versatile. They have five men that can shoot the three, face up and relentless. It's going to be a good matchup. We're excited to play tomorrow.
Q. This can go to any of you guys really, but I guess, as it relates to a year ago, you have new pieces that you didn't have then -- De'Andre being one, Braxton being another, Kihei being another. How much more equipped do you guys feel to play small ball defensively than you were maybe a year ago?
THE MODERATOR: This will be the final question. So we'll start with Kyle and anyone else answer.
KYLE GUY: I would say that on the ball Kihei brings something to the game that I've never played with or experienced. I'm not sure that full court-wise, Coach Bennett's ever seen anything like this in his program. He will be a key piece moving forward. Like I said, Braxton being able to rebound is huge. Obviously, we know what Dre brings to the table is just a little bit of everything. So whenever you're not playing with someone like that, your team's going to struggle a little bit. We've got him healthy and back and ready to go.
With Braxton and Kihei, I'm just excited for them to play with this team in the tournament for the first time.
THE MODERATOR: Anyone else? Thank you guys.
Virginia head coach, Tony Bennett.
TONY BENNETT: Obviously, excited to be back here and getting ready to play. I heard the tail end of our guys' responses, and I'm sure you guys got a lot of questions for me. So I'll look forward to answering them. Again, thankful to be in this spot, and we know how good, I'm sure you'll ask me, Gardner-Webb is, and we'll try to prepare as well as we can and look forward to playing tomorrow.
Q. Tony, you don't always get a chance to see your incoming recruits play together before they get to college. Were you confident that Ty and Kyle would complement each other as well on the court as they have?
TONY BENNETT: Yeah, they're smart, skilled players, and they got to play in the NBA Top 100 Camp. They might have been on the same team, but they played in that. Just watching them in AAU, guys that have a feel for the game and are skilled and smart usually gel or mesh together, and they've done that. I think they've come in, and they've added to their physical. Coach Curtis has done a great job. They've gotten stronger and more athletic. But, again, the way they play the ball and the way they are, it was can we get them ready defensively? They've even taken steps in that area. So no question they have that.
Q. Some of your players describe Gardner-Webb's style as relentless and balanced. What jumps out to you?
TONY BENNETT: I'm impressed, well-coached. Tim does a great job. Teams that have fours and fives that can -- well, all the players that can shoot the three, multiple actions, great spacing of the floor, very good numbers offensively and defensively. Just, they're good. They beat two ACC opponents on the road, and one of the ACC assistants just called me and said they're very good. You've got to be ready. They can play.
Of course we're going to be ready. We understand that. When you get into this tournament, everybody can play. So just their balance, their ability to stretch the floor, the actions that they run, and, again, what D.J. did in the championship game was amazing, but they have multiple players to attack and score and play that way.
Q. Tony, I wanted to ask you about Ritchie McKay, your former assistant, obviously at Liberty, in the tournament for the first time since 2013. What stood out to you about your time with him as an assistant and how impressed are you with how he's been able to turn around the program to get to the NCAA Tournament?
TONY BENNETT: He did a great job when he was there the first time. Ritchie was such a blessing for me to come in. He was a friend from way back, head coaching experience, and have -- you know, I think he had been in the Virginia area for I don't know how many years exactly when I took the job. But excellent recruiter, understands the game at a high level offensively, great mind. Just who he is.
You have to, when you go through these rebuilding programs or the rigors of just seasons, you want people that you always say are with you irregardless, and you trust them. That was built in because of our relationship before, because of who he is.
Hopefully, he helped our program. Hopefully, he gained some things. But he's taken that job, and he's got very good players. They play a sound system. They're defending well. He's got them doing good stuff offensively. So really happy to see the success that he had and Coach Soucie's there, who was with us as well.
Q. Over the course of the season, how do you make sure the guys are sort of mentally where they need to be at this point of the year. During the regular season, can it kind of feel long at times, and if so, how do you make sure this time of year they're at their best going into tournament play?
TONY BENNETT: Yeah, you're always trying -- the teams that can advance are the teams that are healthy, that are playing their best basketball and are fresh. The season is challenging and it's long. You know you always look at the season and say how can we try to peak at the right time and play our best basketball? When you're in a league like the ACC, we always use the term, it will check you for leaks. If you've got leaks, it will show up. You just have to be ready any time out. You're hopeful at that competition, if there's something that's off, it will show and then we'll address it to work at it. Just prepare the right way. That's all you can do.
I told our guys they're going to get so many questions, I'm sure, about last year, and I said, here's the deal. I said, you respect your opponent, which is easy to do because they're very good. You respect the game. You prepare well and then get yourself in the moment and go out and play. That's what you can control. Again, you try to get your team playing the best basketball. But that's the reality of it. Hopefully, we're in a good spot and ready to play.
Q. Tony, dovetailing off of that, your players talked about channeling last year's disappointment properly. What constitutes during that, and how do you prepare them just having dealt with that for this stage now?
TONY BENNETT: Everybody processes things or internalizes things differently, but in all of your experiences when you go through a relatively hard thing, those are the things that can really shape you, as you guys talk about, if you learn to use them right. That was something we've talked about as a team and certainly have dealt with it, and we've said we've owned that, and I think that's just use it in the right way. You don't stay in it forever, but you grow from all those things, but especially that, and then attack this year.
We talked about running to the starting line. That was kind of a theme we talked about through this year, and playing in the best way. Certainly, there's motivation from all the experiences that have happened in the past, but I think it's the ability, as I said, to prepare well and be in the moment now and be as good as you can and know you're going to be -- it's a new year and kind of that idea of pressing on, pressing on.
Q. Coach Bennett, the players were talking about a TED Talk that they watched. Was that your idea? Do you remember who gave the talk and what the point of the whole exercise was?
TONY BENNETT: It was -- if you've ever watched TED Talks, they're very -- I think they're inspirational. Actually, it was done in Charlottesville, a guy named Joe the Storyteller. He had gone through or witnessed something, a hard thing. At the start of the year, we showed it. It was powerful. It was a unique, I thought, TED Talk that really spoke to the situation at hand, and it's really just there's so many things guys take from it, but the ability to learn to use things that happen in your life in the right way because there's just a quote -- and I think I shared it at ACC Media Day -- that if you learn to use it right, it can buy you a ticket to a place that you couldn't have gone any other way, talking about a hard experience. That was kind of the idea about that.
You know, that's the reality of the talk and the guys, and we've used that and shared that and said, in anything, what can we learn from this? Are we thankful for what we learned? Whether it's a tough loss, a great win, or a situation like last year, the ability to grow from that and respond in the right way.
Q. Coach, you can show guys, and you can talk to them about certain things, but what most impressed you, the message that you gave them last year after that loss and the things you told them in the off-season? What's most impressed your -- what's most caught your attention and impressed you during the regular season about the growth and maturity of this team?
TONY BENNETT: Yeah, you just, as I said, the league is good. You've got to step in the moment and play. And with the guys' consistency -- a conference season or a season is about the consistency of your team on the road, at home, over 2 1/2 months or 18 games in the ACC. That's a different kind of challenge than the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA Tournament or the ACC is the one-and-done, but I've marvelled that how they found ways, they rallied, and they were at a very consistent level for the most part. That doesn't always happen when you're in a league -- any league, really -- because usually there's some drop-offs or dips, and certainly that's possible.
But how they did that -- what was our record in conference? What were we, 16-2, right? Yes, I had to go back. To be able to do that over that consistent time, that impressed me. And they really played together. I think their versatility was important, and they all improved in the off-season. So that always stands out to me that, over that course of time, I think that's kind of what you're asking, where I step back and say, hard to do, and they did it and well done.
Q. Curious if you could just speak to the impact of having De'Andre this year in the tournament and his versatility and what he brings and the difference it will be having him.
TONY BENNETT: De'Andre's had a heck of a year. He's improved. You said it, his versatility. Defensively, we've used him at times to guard ones, twos, threes, and fours. That can be helpful. The way the game is going with fours and fives now that are playing just like guards and separating, you need mobilitity and quickness to be able to hopefully guard guys like that well. Offensively, we've used De'Andre some on the perimeter and some as kind of a stretch four, and he's been able, at times, to certainly manufacture some shots, shot-making ability. Those things, I think, are really important, and you have to account for him on the offensive end. He's scoring the post some. He's just versatile really in both ways.
So at 6'7" or 6'8" with the long wingspan, just his dimensions are good. So just a high quality player, obviously, and I think that any time you can have a versatile player that can play some four for you or three, I think that's what helped us last year and has helped us again this year, among other things.
Q. Coach, Jack talked about Laster as a guy who can score on the outside, on the inside. Whether it's Jack defending him or someone else, what's the key to defending a versatile big like that?
TONY BENNETT: What was the first part?
Q. Jack mentioned Laster as a guy that can score --
TONY BENNETT: I thought you said last year. Oh, Laster. You have to be really good individually on him, and then collectively as a team, it can't be one man just stopping him because what he did in the tournament and all, he's playing his best basketball now, but it's not just him. You can say, well, we can just lock into him. They have so many other quality players that can score and are efficient, but they do a lot of good stuff with ball screens. You've got to be able to stop the ball and quick to him as a shooter and then be able to spread out because he drives well and, again, inside, outside. I think he's shooting over 40 from three. Their team is shooting almost 40 percent. So it puts pressure and the challenge on you, but very alert and very ready and quick to him because of his ability to play outside and inside as their five a lot of times.
Q. Tony, I've seen you after some tough losses. You seem to have this incredible calm about you in those tough -- in the toughest moments probably of your career. Is that a conscious choice for you to act that way, to comport yourself that way, or is that just something that comes naturally to you? When you're ever in private, do you ever go somewhere and scream?
TONY BENNETT: Punch the pillow. I used to do that when I played for my dad. When he'd yell at me, I'd go to the dorm and say this is a pillow and pretend as he's chewed us out. Of course you do.
I'm thankful for the things -- you certainly feel things, and things bother you, but where does peace and perspective come from? I always tell our guys it's got to be something that is unconditional, and I know I have that in the love of my family. Unconditional, acceptance and love. That's huge. And I know I have that in my faith in Christ. That's, for me, where I draw my strength from, my peace, my steadiness in the midst of things. But, of course you feel things. Of course you desperately want things to go well, and it's frustrating when you're not. You step back and look at it.
I always challenge our guys, what's your secret of contentment? What's your secret of contentment? There's going to be times, it talks about you're going to be well fed and living in plenty, and there's going to be times when you're going to be starving and living in want. What's your secret of handling that? That I know, without a doubt, those of us who have parents or kids, that love you give them unconditionally or if your faith is there, that has to buoy you, and that has to be your center, and you dwell on what is good because there is a bigger picture in all of this, and I believe I understand that. So going through those refining moments, they're tough, but you look back at them, and in a way, they're sometimes painful gifts that draw you near to what truly matters. I think that's the best way I could respond to that.
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