Saturday, December 27, 2014

La Salle coach John Giannini: 'We feel like we're on top of the world'

La Salle's 1954 national championship was won at Kansas City's famous old Municipal Auditorium. Just a few blocks away sits the modern, glittering Sprint Center. That's where the Explorers will face Kansas State on Friday.

La Salle coach John Giannini: 'We feel like we're on top of the world'

La Salle's 1954 national championship was won at Kansas City's famous old Municipal Auditorium. Just a few blocks away sits the modern, glittering Sprint Center. That's where the Explorers will face Kansas State on Friday.

Courtesy of ASAP Sports, here's a transcript of La Salle's press conference ahead of that game.

Q. What have the last 18 to 20 hours been like?

TYREEK DUREN: For us, I think it's been very exciting just because a lot of people doubted us and didn't think we were going to make it this far.

I think we started off proving people wrong, proving to a lot of people how good we really are.

I think we have to take care of Kansas State next and show people what we can really do.

TYRONE GARLAND: It was great. We had to turn right back around on the plane to get here. I didn't really get that much sleep.

It's just a great feeling to be here. I think we got to go in this game with the same mindset as last game and I think we can do a good job and get the win.

RAMON GALLOWAY: I think they covered it all. I know for me and the team and the coaching staff, we're extremely happy to be here because we haven't been here in a long time.

Like Tyreek said, we've been doubted. We're going in with the mindset of playing confident and freely. 

Q. Is anyone tired?

RAMON GALLOWAY: No. At this point in time you don't have no time to be tired, sore. You can't have any negative energy. It's all positive from the players and the coaches.

Q. Ramon, could you talk about how much this whole run and winning a game means to the program, the La Salle community.

RAMON GALLOWAY: It means a lot because Coach G been coaching for a long time. For him to have success right now, it's very important because La Salle has been off the map for a long time.

You know, as I transferred here, and Ty transferred here, Tyreek was already here, we all wanted to get La Salle back to being a basketball program, being mentioned with the top teams in the country because we absolutely can play with anybody in the country. 

Q. What do you really know about Kansas State? How difficult is it to prepare for a game with this little notice?

TYRONE GARLAND: I actually played against Kansas State my freshman year at Virginia Tech. I just know they're a very tough team, and they gonna try to bully you on offense and defense.

We got to come in and be ready for that. I think we will.

TYREEK DUREN: As far as right now, we know they're a real physical team. Coach G told us we got to get on the glass, be physical right with them, out‑tough them. If we out‑tough them, we'll be in pretty good shape.

Q. Tyrone, your play and hair created quite a buzz on social media. Did you get to catch any of that? Do you follow any of that stuff?

TYRONE GARLAND: It's been going basically since elementary school. Don't really get to me. Wish it was done. I didn't have enough time to get it done before I left.

Q. How would you do it if it was done?

RAMON GALLOWAY: He's had his hair like that since he was, like, two. He would do it the same way (laughter).

TYRONE GARLAND: The same way (smiling).

Q. With Steve Zack out, being hurt. Jerrell has to stay out of foul trouble. How he's done with that, playing more minutes.

RAMON GALLOWAY: It's important that we need Zack. Knowing we can't have him back right now, we have to step up. The guards have to help the bigs rebound.

Like you said, Jerrell is playing more minutes. He's playing better. We have confidence in Garvin Hunt coming off the bench and helping us out tremendously. We will need his presence for Kansas State. Like Tyrone said, they're very physical.

If Jerrell get in trouble, we have confidence in Garvin Hunt to come up and back him up. Us as guards, we have to help the bigs rebound.

TYREEK DUREN: It puts more pressure on us to rebound and help Jerrell so he won't be on the island by himself trying to rebound.

We miss Zack, wish we could have him back. There's no time for that. We have to move on and adjust without him.

If the guards rebound, get Jerrell a little bit of help, I think we'll be okay moving on.

THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Best of luck tomorrow. We're joined by La Salle head coach John Giannini. We'll ask the coach to open up with a statement and then we'll go to questions.

COACH GIANNINI: Well, we played very well yesterday against a very good team. Be happy to talk about that if anyone has any questions.

But having played last night and flying out at 1:30 in the morning, landing at 4:30 a.m., expending a lot of energy against Boise State, having an early afternoon game tomorrow, this is going to be the most boring open practice ever. We've already walked through in our hotel lobby what Kansas State is going to do, but there will be no dunking or running around. We need to save our energy and emotion for Kansas State.

It's a great opportunity. We know they're a great team, but we've worked hard to get here. You don't have an opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament, be in a Sweet 16 in three days very often. So we're going to give it everything we have and we're going to try to save our energy today in the arena.

THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. You got off to such a quick start last night. You controlled things from the beginning. Do you feel that's going to be a key in this game? Will it be difficult because of the fact maybe you're going to be a little tired?

COACH GIANNINI: If we take it easy today, we won't be tired. If we go out and run around and dunk the ball for 40 minutes after getting in at 4:30 in the morning, having a killer game, going hard for three days in a row, yeah, we'll be tired. But we won't be because we'll save our energy here.

As far as getting off to a fast start, the beautiful thing about basketball, everything is different. No two games are the same. Some people have big leads, the other team comes back and wins. You never know what's going to happen.

Yesterday we played great, and we pretty much were pretty consistent through the whole 40 minutes. That's what you got to love about it.

Then again, we made shots. We did all the right things. We shared the ball. We were aggressive. We defended hard. But you always look good when the ball goes in.

Q. Your guys were up here before, seemed really loose. They've been through a lot logistically. How do they seem to be handling it?

COACH GIANNINI: We feel blessed. We feel like we're on top of the world. We're not feel sorry for ourselves at all. We just have to be careful with our energy levels being that no one else had to play last night. And these teams also didn't have the travel, we did. We're going to take it very easy today.

But, yeah, we're in a good place. Every team at this point in the season, if you've made it this far, you've learnt to handle two things: you've learnt to handle adversity, losses and failure, because you can't lose four, five, six in a row and get here. If you lose a game, you have to bounce right back.

And you also have to handle success. You have to be able to put a big win behind you. We beat Villanova, turned around and played real well against Hartford. We beat Butler, played well against VCU. Hopefully, we do that again. We played well against Boise, but you put that behind you and hopefully play very well against Kansas State.

You have to handle both adversity and success to get here. I think our guys have proven that they can do that.

Q. Can you talk about how your team has become the story. Seems like everybody is kind of behind what you guys are doing.

COACH GIANNINI: Well, again, I think we've been better than people realize. Four of the last six years we've been in the top half of the A‑10. People would be surprised to hear that, but that's a fact.

Temple has been very consistent going to the NCAA tournament. Villanova has been very consistent going to the NCAA tournament. Wasn't that long ago that Saint Joe's was ranked No.1 in the country. People like underdogs.

We have good kids. People know that we work hard, we have a great school. A lot of people in Philadelphia have ties with La Salle. A lot of people in Philadelphia remember not only Lionel Simmons, but the teams before him. I think people are excited to see La Salle back and they're excited to see a team and a program and a school rewarded for its perseverance and hard work.

Q. I know you're obviously busy with your own stuff, but does it add anything to the experience that Villanova is also here?

COACH GIANNINI: It does. With Temple over there. Someone mentioned that the state of Texas had zero NCAA teams and the City of Philadelphia had three. I'm a Chicago native, but there's no person who appreciates the big five more than I do. I think we should play them all in the Palestra. I think we should emphasize it. We have five Final Four teams in our history. No other city has more than two. It's a totally unique thing.

The coaches like each other. The players like each other. We respect each other. We're proud of Philadelphia basketball.

Again, no other city has what we have in college basketball.

Q. Jerrell has had more minutes since Steve got hurt. How do you balance that, not get him in foul trouble, but be aggressive and play his game?

COACH GIANNINI: It's interesting, he hasn't had foul trouble lately. I think he's maturing as a player, being more comfortable out there on the court.

Like I said, I'd love to have Steve. He helps us so much. Right now we have to play with four guards and one big, whereas you know when we had Steve, we would alternate between four guards and three guards, have Jerrell and Steve out there together.

There's a lot of opposing coaches that don't like the idea of Jerrell Wright playing more. It's a drawback to our size not having Steve. If the solution is to play Jerrell Wright more, that ain't a bad solution.

Q. Could you sort of put the last 18, 20 hours into perspective.

COACH GIANNINI: You know what, it's great. I will appreciate it when the season's over. Again, we're really trying to look ahead. It's fantastic. I know it is. But this isn't the time to think about it.

We know it's fantastic.

Q. I mean getting on the airplane, et cetera.

COACH GIANNINI: It's all great, all whirlwind, but we have to be completely focused on Kansas State.

Q. You mentioned Kansas State. What challenges do the Wildcats pose for your team?

COACH GIANNINI: Their records speaks for itself. They're really tough. They're physical. They have good perimeter play. They're strong inside. They're a good team.

I wouldn't say they're like a lot of teams. There's not one particular thing that they're off the charts on. They're not the best three‑point shooting team. They're not the biggest team. They're not the best defensive team you've ever seen. But they're a good at everything.

They're a good defensive team, good shooting team, good passing team. I think they're veteran, strong, battle‑tested. If you're looking for one or two things that makes them special, you can't do that. I would say what makes them special is their completeness. You know what, there's very few teams that combine their level of toughness with their level of execution.

You have some execution teams, and frankly sometimes those teams aren't as gritty. They spend a lot of time on offense, shooting, working on their sets, and they're not super tough on the defensive end. And vice versa, sometimes you have these gritty defensive teams that are ugly on offense.

They're very balanced, terrific on both ends of the floor. The thing that stands out to me is that combination. You don't very often see a team that's really gritty, tough and physical on defense, and runs the number of sets and executes the way they do offensively. That's a heck of a combination. It's really good coaching. It's hard to play against.

Q. Maybe people aren't aware of the tradition of La Salle. There's a lot of college basketball in Kansas City. People have an appreciation for the history of college basketball here. Talk about La Salle and what you would tell people about your program.

COACH GIANNINI: The national championship was won here in Kansas City, correct? Perfect. Perfect. '54 national championships. Another Final Four, an NIT championship from the '50s through the '90s, regularly in the NCAA, NIT. Three national players of the year, second only to Duke and Ohio State. 22 NBA players. So the tradition's unbelievable.

It's great to bring a program with that kind of tradition and that kind of passion back to the national stage.

Jonathan Tannenwald Sports Producer
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.

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