Friday, July 11, 2014
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Butler coach Brad Stevens talks about joining the Big East

Soon after the new Big East conference was unveiled, Brad Stevens took the podium ahead of Butler's NCAA tournament game against Bucknell.

Butler coach Brad Stevens talks about joining the Big East

The big news in college sports on Wednesday morning was the launch of the new Big East. The old Big East's basketball schools, including Villanova, have formed a new league along with Butler, Creighton and Xavier.

Soon after Butler athletic director Barry Collier and James Danko met the media in New York, Bulldogs men's basketball coach Brad Stevens took the stage in Lexington, Ky., ahead of Thursday's game against Bucknell.

Not surprisingly, Stevens and his players had a few things to say about joining the Big East.

Here's a transcript of Butler's press conference, courtesy of ASAP Sports.

THE MODERATOR: Good morning, once again, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us. We now have the Butler student-athletes Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith. We have microphones that will be around so raise your hand.

Q. For both you guys, Butler has had a lot of success in tournaments, not just the NCAAs but preseason conference tournaments over the last few years, and I'm wondering y'all's thoughts on why that is and if you prepare differently for tournaments than you would just for regular season games?

ANDREW SMITH: I think the key for a tournament is just kind of pursuing it as you do the rest of the season in that you pursue - you prepare for one game at a time and you see a lot of teams kind of getting ahead of themselves and looking forward to two, three games in the future and that's when you get yourself into trouble. We kind of have had the same mindset all season that we just prepare for the next game.

ROTNEI CLARKE: Basically just what Drew said. Our mindset, you know, into the season has been one game at a time and preparing for our next opponent that's on the schedule, and, you know, we'll take that into the tournament as well was our opponent being Bucknell. We never look past any one. That's the mindset you have to have, you have to take it one at a time. 

Q. This is for Andrew. Andrew, you've been at Butler for four years, so you've been in the Horizon League, the Atlantic 10. As we speak, you guys are joining the Big east. What are your thoughts on that? Even though it won't affect either ever you two, what are your thoughts about this program taking that step?

ANDREW SMITH: Yeah, I mean, obviously I'm happy for the guys who will be here and I know that it will be fun for them. But, yeah, at this time we're all just trying to focus on this season and we're not trying to get too carried away with all that yet.

Q. My last question, you're facing another 6-11 guy. You don't see a lot of guys your size. In fact, in the Horizon League, you dealt with a lot of 6-7, 6-8 guys. Is this easier for you to face somebody similar to you rather than having to guard a smaller, mobile post player?

ANDREW SMITH: I can guarantee you, it won't be easy. He's a great player. It's going to be more than just me. It's going to be a team effort, and he takes up a lot of everybody's focus because he's so good on both ends of the floor. So, I mean, I go out and kind of play the same way regardless of who it is and whether they're 6-11 or 6-5 doesn't really make that big of a difference for me. 

Q. It was just five, six, seven years ago that Butler was relatively unknown. Now you guys are the favorite in the game against a team that feels like they can kind of make a name by upsetting you. Can you appreciate the irony and how things have changed and how their perception of Butler has changed?

ROTNEI CLARKE: Well, I mean first and foremost, we don't think there's any - the way we're looking at it, there's no favorites going into this tournament. Anyone who is in this tournament is deserving and Bucknell has got a lot of history themselves. 

So, you know, it's a tribute to everyone, you know the coaching staff, the administration, students, the players, everyone involved with Butler University, it's been - it's obviously what attracted me to come there just the success they've had, and it's doing it with the right people and doing it with good people.

But like I said, I mean Bucknell has obviously got a lot of history themselves and definitely not going to be any favorites going into the tournament. That's what we're looking at it as.

ANDREW SMITH: I mean nothing really different than that. It's kind of a tribute. There are guys long before Rotnei and I that really put Butler on the map and Coach Stevens was included in that, and so yeah, we've just kind of carried the torch. We didn't really start anything. 

Q. For both of you seniors, this team has obviously managed a lot of distractions from losing a player at the start of the year and both you guys were hurt and Eric had a loved one pass away. Are you at all concerned that the Big East talk, yet another distraction would affect the team in anyway? Because Butler sort of has a reputation of staying focused irrespective of what's swirling about them.

ANDREW SMITH: Yeah. It's just kind of at this point it doesn't really concern us right now. It has no impact on this game tomorrow. And so, yeah, we're kind of trying to avoid all that stuff and kind of focus on the game.

ROTNEI CLARKE: Like Drew said, we're focused on what's happening right now. You know, it's obviously going to be a huge opportunity for those guys next year and for everyone involved, but we're worried about right now and what we can control right now, and that's Bucknell. 

Q. This question is for Rotnei. How does it feel to finally be here, considering the journey that you've taken? And I know it's just starting for you, but has there been anything that's really surprised you or excited you about it this far?

ROTNEI CLARKE: I'm just excited to be here. You know, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to be here and especially with the people that I'm with, with these guys, you know, from the players to the coaches, to just being at Butler has been a real good thing for me and, you know, I'm just excited. I'm extremely excited to be here.

And, you know, the thing about it was just my first time going through I, having the opportunity to watch the selection show with this group of guys is probably going to be a huge memory for me going into my future and I'll always remember that. I'm just ready to go.

Q. What do you think some of the key areas are that you're going to have to focus to get through this first game?

ANDREW SMITH: Well, I think, as I briefly mentioned before, it's going to be a team effort and not one guy is going to be able to guard Muscala. We'll have to be focused and follow our game plan. We have the utmost faith in our coach's game plan. We think if we follow it, then we have a good chance of winning the game, and on the offensive end, just executing and running our stuff.

ROTNEI CLARKE: Pretty much the same thing. Bucknell is a really good team. They're very disciplined and, you know, so it's really just going to come down to the little things, I think, and just executing well and rebounding, offensive rebounding, just hustle plays, things that determine the end of a game.

Q. Andrew, having played in the Final Four championship game, too, is there more parity in this tournament now than there might have been five years ago? There's so much talk in football that little schools or smaller schools can't crack through. Have you guys gone past that in basketball, that it really is open to pretty much anybody?

ANDREW SMITH: I feel like since I've been here it's been pretty - anybody has a chance. I supposed this year you've seen throughout the whole entire season there's been a lot of upsets. There's just a lot of really great teams out there.

And so, yeah, I guess this year might be a little more unique in that you saw how many top five teams lost every week and it was just kind of - there's not really one dominant team this year. And so there's a lot of great teams and a lot of teams that have a chance to win.

ROTNEI CLARKE: There's nothing I can really add to that.

Q. For both you guys, first. Did either of you guys remember or did you watch Bucknell's upset of Kansas in 2005?

And then for Andrew, was there a moment at all during this run of success that you guys have had where you felt that Butler had evolved from a really strong program to being on the map you guys are now?

ANDREW SMITH: I've not seen the video, no.

Q. I wanted to know if you watched it on TV.

ROTNEI CLARKE: I remember seeing it. I think the next year - I don't know if this is correct, I think they beat Arkansas the very next year, too. They knocked off Kansas and beat a good Arkansas team the next year. Like we've been talking about, they have a lot of history themselves. They're a really good team with a lot of tradition.

ANDREW SMITH: What was the question again?

Q. Having been at Butler as long as you have now, was there a moment at all during this run where you felt was kind of the turning point where you felt, okay - excuse me, where the school evolved from a very strong program to being on the map as you guys are now?

ANDREW SMITH: Probably - like I said, there were a lot of great teams before us, teams that made it to the Sweet 16. But as far as my team being here, I think kind of turning point for us, which is pretty easy one, was my freshman year when they had that 20-some good winning streak and we were kind of clicking on all cylinders. UAB was our last loss in December and then we didn't lose again until Duke, obviously.

So, yeah, that was the time when we really changed from, I think, a good team to a great team.

Q. Andrew, can you take us back to when Rotnei was hurt and what was going through your mind at that point and what he's meant to this program coming in? And also can you talk about maybe what you've seen that is really interesting to you about his first experience since you've had a chance to go through it so many times?

ANDREW SMITH: Yeah. First thing that obviously we were just hoping that he was okay. That was a pretty nasty fall and it's not something you see a whole lot. When the guy is on the floor saying he can't feel his body, you kind of panic for a few minutes.

We were all very relieved when we heard he was all right and the next day we saw him walking around and we knew he was going to be fine. Just a matter of making sure there wasn't going to be any chance of a reinjury.

We knew he would be back quickly. I told him we would have to hold down the forth for a few games while he recovered. We played pretty well for the most part. Obviously we missed him and, yeah, he's back and playing really well and we wouldn't be where we are without him.

As far as anything I've really noticed about him, I just noticed that he's just obviously very happy to be here, and, I mean, when you always hear Coach just talking about guys that come to the gym all the time and shoot, I mean Rotnei is no exception.

And I know last night he actually got a gym after we got here and his dad drove him over there an he shot after we all got to the hotel. So, he's got one chance to make it count and he's definitely not going to let it go.

Sorry if I told anybody that. Had to.

Q. How long did you shoot for, where was the gym? Was it just you and dad rebounding for you?

ROTNEI CLARKE: I didn't shoot for very long. It was about 30, 45 minutes. I have a nightly routine that I do, and I was thankful that the coaches and people really cared about the players here and they knew that I wanted to get in and get some shots.

They found a gym and gave me an opportunity to get some shots up, and I'm not sure - I think it was Dunbar Community Center, somewhere around our hotel, and my dad went with me and my mom was actually with him. They came in to watch the practices, because it's their first time going through this, too. So they're excited. Yeah, got some shots out. My dad rebounded and did my nightly routine.

THE MODERATOR: One more question. All right. Thank you very much. We have coach Brad Stevens, Butler University, and same protocol. Just raise your hand and we'll get a mic to you.

Q. Coach, your university joined the Big East this morning. Your comments.

COACH STEVENS: Well, obviously I stand by our administration and certainly think it's a great, long-term move for Butler. And, you know, the one thing that always you think about when you're in my shoes is certainly - it's great moving forward and it's such a neat thing for the athletic program and for the school, and I also felt that way about the A10 and I really like the A10.

And I thought it was a great league, extremely well run, terrific leadership, terrific teams, but when you look at the big picture, I completely agree that it was the right move, moving forward.

You know, obviously you're excited about that. That being said, all I've done for the last couple of months as all this chatter has been happening is ask that I just am allowed to coach our team.

And so that's all I've focused on. I haven't had any conversations with President Danko in the last two or three weeks. I've talked to Barry really briefly. Both of them just said, hey, do the best job you can in coaching your team.

And I appreciated that, because to be real candid, it was a lot easier to say I don't know the last couple of weeks than - because I'm not in the middle of those conversations than - and obviously it would have been a distraction to our team.

It's great for the young guys. Right now I think, you know, it would be wrong of me to focus on that and not the seniors and their opportunities moving forward here with this season.

Q. Coach, I'm wondering how you guys prepare for tournaments and whether preseason tournaments like Maui those kind of things that y'all have gone to the last few years, if you use those as sort of a rehearsal for tournaments like this one?

COACH STEVENS: To an extent. To an extent. Certainly the first game, maybe but after that, the Maui and a lot of the exempt tournaments in the preseason are day after day after day, so there's not a day in between.

I think you use everything that you do in your regular season schedule to prepare you for post season. So, if you have a Thursday, Saturday, weekend you talk about, this is what it's like in the NCAA Tournament if you're fortunate enough to win.

Now there's not as much pressure on your Thursday night game during the regular season because you're going to play Saturday anyways. But the bottom line is, you have to be able to turn around quickly and play well.

We had two of those this year. One we played at St. Louis late on a Thursday night and then turned around and played well on Saturday against Rhode Island at home. And the second one we just had at the end of our season, at UMass on a Thursday night and then turned around and played Xavier on a Saturday.

You use all those experiences to help prepare for this moment. Moreso than that, in preparation I think what you utilize is what you learn from all the teams you prepared for and how you can then say okay, Bucknell does this, this and this, remember when we did this, remember who you played then? You kind of call those ideas back and at least gives you a level of familiarity with sets and actions and those types of things.

Q. Two part question for you, Brad. I thought the Atlantic 10 was maybe the most underappreciated conference this year, and I think the selection committee kind of validated that with LaSalle, et cetera. How do you feel playing in that conference this year with St. Louis, with VCU, et cetera, maybe helps you, makes you better for this tournament?

COACH STEVENS: Well, you know, I think it would be hard to argue with our past runs, but I think at the end of the, day we always try to play the best schedule we can. I think the best thing is that we continue to be targeted, so we played with a real target when we win on the road and played in a great environments and had to stick together to go 5-3 in the road in the A10, and that was a real challenge.

So I'd say that was the most beneficial thing from that standpoint, but night in, night out you had to be on your A-game or else were you going to get beat.

I credit our guys for really maintaining a level of consistency in their approach and preparation. We had quite a few little injuries and things that didn't go our way for about a six-week span in the middle of January, February, and I thought guys did a great job of sticking together through that stretch and making the most out of that season, and it was hard because the A10 it was really challenging.

Q. You answered that question by starting about what your success has been. Can you appreciate the sort of irony now that people looking at tomorrow is Bucknell's chance to upset a big time program?

COACH STEVENS: Yeah. I mean, I think that I can certainly appreciate it. Bucknell has all of the pieces and all of the experiences and all of the accomplishments that go along with the teams that go deep into the NCAA Tournament out of a non-BCS league, a lot like the Butler teams of the past.

You know, they've got four of their starters have combined for 5600 points, which is just unbelievable. I don't know if I've ever coached a team that had that number. If you took our starters at the same position, we've almost scored just barely over half that.

So, these guys are really accomplished. They've gotten a ton of accolades. They deserve all the accolades, but they're still in maybe the national media's eyes or the national attention's eyes not getting their due respect. From us and from basketball people in basketball circles, they have the utmost respect and they're a really good basketball team.

I can appreciate that. Made me fall in love with the tournament where the teams like Bucknell or the teams like Butler or the teams like Davidson, all the way down the line, that, you know, again, people in basketball circles know there's a reason they don't schedule them in the preseason. They know. I've appreciated watching them in preparation. I don't like preparing for them, but I've appreciated watching them.

Q. Brad, Butler has a reputation for being very focused and not allowing distractions to creep in. How concerned are you, if at all, about the Big East talk swirling around your team this weekend?

COACH STEVENS: If I was concerned about it, it would be another distraction. So, I'm not going to get concerned about it. I haven't been concerned about it for the last four weeks, our players haven't been concerned about it. You were with us last week. Not one kid, not one staff member, not one coach even mentioned it. We're not going to lose sight whatever we're trying to do this season first.

Q. Kind of a follow-up to the question about Bucknell, with what you guys were able to do a couple of years ago, has parity really reached the tournament? And when were you talking about injuries, how important has Rotnei been to you what you guys have been able to do this season?

COACH STEVENS: Rotnei is a critical part of what we've been able to do this season, because obviously you've got a guy that averages, 16, 17 points a game. He makes 3s at such a high rate that he demands attention even when he's not playing well. You know, as the other team and the other coach, you're on edge because when he catches it open, it's got a good chance of going in.

And he's really impacted our program in a great way with his work ethic. I heard him talking about, when I walked in, about him going to the gym last night, and it makes me adjust our practice schedule a little bit because I want him to do his routine and I want him to feel good. And so we've really made a conscious effort to do that all the way throughout this season.

As far as parity goes, you know, I just think it's so much more talked about even than 13 years ago. When I first got into coaching, I think there were really good non-BCS teams. The first team that I was a member of as the director of basketball operations was beating Wake Forest 43-10 at halftime in the first round of the NCAA Tournament game. People at that time called those upsets. Now they call it parity.

I think it's always been that way. I think with Twitter and with everybody else talking all the time about it, it just becomes, I guess, more cache to talk about in it terms of parity. But also, it becomes harder to win if you're the top seeded teams because of all the talk. And I think that that's been the case with our two Final Four runs is we played with no pressure.

You know, I've always been big on you don't play with it anyways, but even then, both of those runs I just felt like it was hey, go out, try win the next one. We're just trying to win so our last locker room meeting doesn't happen today. You know, one more day together.

Q. Coach, apologies for the non-game question, but I am curious, you've been at Butler awhile. You know the history of the school. What does today's official announcement of Butler's inclusion in the Big East mean kind of on the grand scope of Butler University?

COACH STEVENS: Well, that would be hard to tell in the long, long-term, but I think without doubt, it is a great long-term move from the marketing standpoint of not only athletic program but the school, and that was - you know, the markets that we're getting a chance to play and the schools that we're getting a chance to be associated with are obviously speak for themselves.

And, you know, it's been an unbelievable 13 years, I can tell you that.

To think about some of the places we've been and some of the places we're going is kind of mind boggling, and being in the middle of it, I just tried my best to focus on our team. And I know that sounds boring, but if I didn't, man, I could be pretty distracted right now.

Q. You were mentioning how the reason you fell in love with college basketball was the Bucknells, the Butlers, and the Davidsons. What was your reaction when you saw the draw and they were all here?

COACH STEVENS: Well, you know, I mentioned all three. There's many more, obviously but, you know, the only team that I really saw was Bucknell and then I glanced at the fact that Marquette and Davidson are next to it. I had no idea who else was our region until late Monday night when I finally got home and I actually looked at a bracket with my wife and kind of like hey, Illinois is over there, Indiana is in that region.

You just look for where your friends are and the schools that you're familiar with are and - but, you know, I think there's great stories everywhere, you know, and I stopped watching the selection show as Tom, who was there, can attest right after our name gets called, I'm done. I could care less about the rest of the tournament. It's Bucknell/Butler from here on out.

So, it's neat but there's great stories like that everywhere. I think there's a lot of potential great stories in this tournament yet to be hold.

Q. Any of the schools that perhaps aspire to have the success that you have, that they've in any way sort of patterned anything that they do after you, whether they've adopted any aspects of your program?

COACH STEVENS: I'm so busy trying to steal from everybody else, I have no idea. I spend a lot of time at coaching retreats, I spend a lot of time on the phone talking to other coaches at all levels. Some of the greatest coaches in the history of sports that everybody knows about have been very helpful to me.

Some the greatest coaches in the history of basketball that nobody talks about have been very helpful to me. I think that that's - as I heard said one time, there's not a monopoly of great - the biggest, most accomplished schools don't have a monopoly on great coaching.

And that is so true when you watch a team like Bucknell. That is so true when you watch some of these other teams play. I'm trying to steal from them. I don't know if they - they probably shouldn't waste their time looking at us.

THE MODERATOR: One more question.

Q. You mentioned earlier about preparing and comparing to situations you were in during the regular season. What did you draw from, what did you talk about in preparing to deal with Mike Muscala?

COACH STEVENS: I think obviously we're played some terrific big men. And it's been pretty well-documented when you talk about, you know, Gardener, the kid at Marquette, you talk about McAdoo at Carolina, Zeller at Indiana, talk about Olenik, talk about all the kids we played in our league. They all have terrific strengths, and they all have the ability to play well beyond their college teams.

That being said, I haven't seen anyone that we've played against score with his back to the basket in so many creative ways than Muscala. And I was talking to a BCS coach who has played them in the last few years, and he said in the last five years, Muscala is the best big guy they've played against.

I think that sums it up. I think that sums it up. He's got it all. He can go right shoulder, left shoulder, he can spin off contact, he doesn't need contact to score. A lot of the so-called great big guys in college basketball score most of their points with angles. That means they get offensive rebounds, they get transition buckets, they spin around and dunk it, they get an angle.

He doesn't need an angle. He can score with you between him and basket, which is really unique, which is why he's going make a lot of money for a long time. I think he'll be a 10, 12 year NBA vet.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
About this blog
Soft Pretzel Logic is Philly.com's college sports blog, with a primary focus on the University of Pennsylvania. You'll also see coverage of the Big 5, other major college sports events in the region, and the annual Penn Relays track and field meet.

Reach Jonathan at jtannenwald@phillynews.com or 215-854-2330.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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