For Albany, facing Duke in NCAA tournament 'a tremendous stunt'

Courtesy of ASAP Sports, here's a transcript of Albany's press conference ahead of Friday's NCAA tournament second round game against Duke at the Wells Fargo Center.

THE MODERATOR: We will start with questions for the student athletes. 

Q. Mike, you guys lost Gerardo Suero and Logan Aronhalt before the start of the season, a lot of scoring and size. How concerned were you, and what type of team did you expect? How did you expect to compensate for that?

MIKE BLACK: You know, going into the off season losing two good players like we did, we knew we had to work hard. We lost a lot of scoring, you know, but we knew we had a locker room. We knew we were going to be better defensively, and it was tough, but we worked hard in the off season and just got better every day, and defense won us a lot of games. 

Q. This is for all of you guys. You've been asked all week about the task you've got in front of you. What gives you the confidence that you can even play with Duke?

JACOB IATI: You know, I think at lot of parity in college basketball nowadays comes from the AAU games and non‑conference schedules. You play against a lot of big schools at the arenas. So I think a lot of that dies down a little bit. We're pretty confident in our school and we know how hard we worked to get here.

We're going to come out as hard as we can and play to win. We're not going to roll over and be scared just because of the name on the front of the jersey. We know how good Duke. We respect them. They have a lot of great players, NBA players on their team, we understand that. But we're not just going to roll over. If we're going to do that, there's no point in coming.

SAM ROWLEY: Yeah, just to reiterate what Jacob said, we know who they are. They know we're the heavy underdogs. We know how talented they are. We also know we're going to have to play unbelievably well just to be in the game, but that's what we're going to try and do. 

Q. Coming out in the conference tournament, you had said we have to play relaxed, we have to play loose, and we saw that for most of the tournament. How do you do that in a setting in an environment like this?

MIKE BLACK: You know, just play relaxed. It's a big stage. I'm sure guys will be a little nervous and anxious just because we made it and we're playing a great team. We just have to let the game come to us, do what we've been doing every year, every game of the year, so I think we'll just be fine.

JACOB IATI: I think it's just coming in with the mentality to play relaxed. We don't have any pressure on us. Nobody in the country expects us to win or even make it a game. That makes it easier to relax and play loose. We are going to do what we have been doing in the conference tournament and the game before that to get to this point and just play relaxed. That's one advantage we have is to play relaxed. They're supposed to win, we're not, so we're going to come in and play as hard as we can and we need to play extremely well to be in the game and have a chance to win, but we're going to come out and give it our all.

SAM ROWLEY: Our team has done a good job of just blocking out external factors throughout the conference tournament. There were a lot of people doubting us and there was a lot of hype around us but we do a good job of once we're on the floor focusing on what we're doing and just playing the game. 

Q. Jacob, how much hope do you take from the fact that Lehigh upset this team last year, or do you worry that they came in a lot more focused this year?

JACOB IATI: Yeah, I've been asked this question a couple times this week. I think that's actually a disadvantage for us because I'm sure that Coach K will remind those players and keep that in the back of their minds, and I'm guessing - I know some of those guys were on that team last year, so I'm sure that doesn't sit too well with them. He even said a quote about no one is going to sneak up on us this year or something like that.

You know, that makes the challenge tougher, but we're ready for it. I think that that plays in our favor more than it does in ours. I think a lot of people think, oh, they were beaten last year so they can be beaten again this year. We're ready for the challenge and we're going to play as hard as we can. 

Q. Sam, does it help a lot that you guys did have a really good non‑conference season? You played competitive with Ohio State, you won at Washington. How does that help you for this?

SAM ROWLEY: I mean, absolutely it gives us confidence. Just knowing that we can compete with those sort of elite teams. And you know, just knowing in our heads that they're only mortal. They can be beaten. They're just players, they're just kids. So we certainly get confidence from that and our past experiences playing against those good teams for sure.

Q. Can you talk about what the experience has been like so far since you got here?

MIKE BLACK: We're used to this. We get this every day at Albany (laughter). No, it's been a great experience. Something that we'll never forget. But we're not just happy to be here. We have a tough game tomorrow. We're ready for it. We didn't come here just for like the party and celebration, we came here to win.

JACOB IATI: Yeah, it's been a good time so far just experiencing everything. We're trying to suck it all in and embrace it. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. But like Mike said, there's two sides to the spectrum, one where we're trying to enjoy the moment and one where we're coming to play a basketball game and trying to win. You've got to be responsible about both things, coming to enjoy it and coming to win.

SAM ROWLEY: Yeah, basically what they said. We are trying to soak it all in. I've got family flying from halfway across the world coming to watch us, my brother and my father and my mom. But once the game starts, once tomorrow comes, it's back to business.

Q. Mike, they're going to have a lot more size than you guys at every position. How do you handle that? How do you attack it?

MIKE BLACK: We're used to that. Ohio State, Washington, even in our league, Stony Brook has bigger guys than us, and we beat them. Size really doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is your heart, how good you are, and just competing. So size, I don't really think that should be a big factor for us.

THE MODERATOR: We have head coach Will Brown.

COACH BROWN: We're very excited to be representing the America east conference in the NCAA Tournament. Our league enjoyed a lot of success this year with five teams going to the postseason. This is a tremendous stunt for the University at Albany, our athletic department and our men's basketball program.

It's an opportunity that we're excited about, we're going to embrace. We know we have a tough task of competing against one of the elite teams in all of college basketball and the greatest coach in our business today in Coach K. With that being said, we believe we're going to scrape, we're going to claw, we're going to fight, we're going to be smart aggressive and we're playing this game to win.

We're definitely not just happy to be here. We're going to do the U Albany fans, crowd, administration proud. This is a great group of kids. We play really hard. We play together, and all this group cares about is winning. This has been a tremendous group to coach. I'm excited for them, and we hope we have a couple more games left in us. Thank you.

Q. Obviously they're going to have so much more size than you at every position. Do you worry more about the front court or the backcourt?

COACH BROWN: You know, I got migraines all week watching Duke film. I'm worried about everybody. They're so good. They're the most efficient team offensively in the country, and I've said it all week long: With a healthy Ryan Kelly, and I believe he's healthy right now, I think they're the best basketball team in the NCAA Tournament.

They score from all five positions. It's tough to simulate Duke in practice because we don't have that size, that length, that athleticism. But this is a tremendous basketball team, and we're excited about the challenge.

You know, the tough thing is you can't help off one guy, you can't dare one guy to beat you. They all can beat you, and that's why they're so difficult to defend.

Q. Can you draw on your experience from early in the season playing against Ohio State, beating Washington? How does that help? And how did you adjust, also, to the loss of all the scoring and the height of Suero and Aronhalt?

COACH BROWN: Well, I think what you have to take a look at is how you performed at Ohio State, how you performed at Washington. At Ohio State we were tremendous for 15 minutes, then Coach Matta decided to take a time‑out and really yell and scream and get on his team a little bit, and they came out and went on a 13‑2 run in the half, and the rest was history.

But we really did a good job of challenging them. They're a top 10 team. When we played Washington at Washington they were defending Pac‑12 champions. The biggest thing is when you play the BCS level schools it's important to get off to a good start. It's important to hang around. I think what happens you get into the second half, those teams get tight, they're expected to win, they're expected to win big.

We have two seniors in the backcourt in Mike Black and John Iati who are veterans. They're not afraid of the moment, they're not afraid of what it says on their chest, Ohio State, Duke, Washington. They're two kids that are fearless and I think you have to ride that experience and in those moments get those guys the ball.

Those are guys you need to make plays for you in those tight spots, and those seniors can also be a calming influence on the rest of the group. With that being said we are a totally different team. We changed our lineup two or three times throughout the year. We did it the last eight to ten games of the season and it really paid off for us.

You know, let's face it, we can play very well tomorrow and not win this game. That's not the goal, but this is a tough, tough task for us and one that I know we're up for, and we're going to meet the challenge head on.

But again, I just think we have to relax tomorrow, really control tempo, but we have to make some shots early so we gain some confidence and feel good about ourselves early.

Q. A little earlier Iati was talking about Duke losing to Lehigh last year being a disadvantage for you guys. Do you see it that way?

COACH BROWN: Well, Lehigh didn't do us any favors, that's for sure. I think the one thing with your kids is if you look back at the NCAA Tournament, a 16 seed has never beaten a 1. A 15 has beaten a 2. So when you talk to your kids about that and you look them in the eye and you're preaching, they believe you because it's happened. You know, why can't it happen to- why can't we do it?

You know, the tough thing is the team we're trying to beat is a team that got upset one year ago. So I think Duke will be focused. I think they'll play with tremendous energy, and like most BCS level schools, in a game like this, they're going to try to throw a knockout punch early and often, and we need to be prepared for that, and if that happens we need to weather the storm.

But I think we have to come out and be the more aggressive team early, but we need to be smart aggressive because we have to control tempo, we can't play the way Duke wants to play.

If the game is up in the 80s we're going to be in trouble because we're not an explosive offensive team. We have found ways to score this year, and late in the year we've become a good defensive team and a good rebounding team and we've picked our spots offensively.

Q. Can you surprise them with how physical you can play, because that's what got to Stony Brook.

COACH BROWN: Yeah. You know, I think we can grind games out in the America east. We can play physical. We're not going to back down from Duke one bit. We're going to try to be physical with Duke. The problem is as somebody has already mentioned, they're bigger, stronger, more physical, more athletic than us at every position. Even their managers are bigger and stronger and more physical than our guys (laughter).

But that's the thing, we're not going to back down. Jacob Iati, you saw him, he's 5'8", 155 pounds. Sulaimon is 6'5", 205. Kelly is a seven‑foot jump shooter. Rowley we list at 6'6", he's probably 6'4". So there's a size disadvantage there, but with that being said, how big you are has nothing to do with how tough you are.

And I think our guys are going to play with tremendous toughness tomorrow, it's just a matter of are we going to be able to exceed their physicality and how much is their size and length going to bother us.

Q. Can you just speak to the quality of your league this year?

COACH BROWN: I think our league was very good this year. What happens with a league like the America East Conference is we're one big league, and that's why it's - a team like ours should be very proud to be here today because it's very difficult to get to this point.

One of my goals is during a four‑year career I want the kids that have come through my program at least once to experience this because they have no idea how much fun it is, all right, but how difficult it is to get to this point.

Duke loses in the quarterfinals of their conference tournament, they get a couple extra days to rest and relax and prepare. The eight‑nine game in the Big East Tournament, the loser goes home and gets to rest and relax and get ready for the NCAA Tournament. You lose in the American East Conference Tournament, you are not going to the NCAA Tournament. That's just a fact.

With that being said, I thought there were five teams in our league that played tremendous basketball all year long. I think it's a league that is underappreciated. It's got some tremendous coaches, some tremendous administrators, and what we're trying to do is to grow and get better as a league.

But I think any time five teams go to the postseason from a conference that's not a BCS level conference, I think you're doing something right, and we need to continue to do that, and I think we will as a conference.