La Salle coach John Giannini: 'You have to build a culture'

Courtesy of ASAP Sports, here's a transcript of La Salle's press conference ahead of Wednesday night's NCAA tournament first round game against Boise State in Dayton.

THE MODERATOR: We're ready to be joined by the La Salle student‑athletes, Sam Mills, Tyreek Duren, and Ramon Galloway.

Q. Ramon, I'll start with you. Can you just talk about knowing that you're not going to have Zack for these games this week, how much is that affecting what you guys are doing? How worried are you about the rebounding with him not out there?

RAMON GALLOWAY: It means a lot not having Zack on the court. That means that Jerrell has to play more minutes. It's good that he plays more minutes because he's a good player.

We've just got to bounce back and box out, and the guards got to pick up from where Zack left off. 

Q. For any of you guys, what have you seen from Boise State as you prepare for them? Is their style sort of similar to yours?

TYREEK DUREN: We know that they play four guards sometimes, maybe five, just like us, and pretty much they shoot a lot of 3s. That's all we've been really talking about is it's probably going to come down to one‑on‑one battles. 

Q. This is being kind of billed as an offensive game, but, Sam, you've kind of been a defensive stopper. Talk about that, your role this year, and kind of how you enjoy that role.

SAM MILLS: Each game you always want to come out with a defensive presence because, as I'm bringing a defensive presence, that kind of like backfires for our team as a whole.

I think, as long as I bring that presence for our team, then our whole team will bring the same. 

Q. Can you guys address what this appearance means for not just your program but the people who have supported your program in this two‑decade‑long drought from the NCAA Tournament.

RAMON GALLOWAY: It means a lot. I think it's 21 years since we made an NCAA appearance, but as far as us, we've been working for a year, and we worked hard. Since summertime, we've been in the gym working out.

It's a blessing that we have great fans and we have good alumni that support us. We just ‑ getting to the NCAA shows our support back to our school and our fans. 

Q. (Question off microphone)?

TYREEK DUREN: I think it's a big thing also especially because it's been so long since we've been to the tournament. Our biggest thing is to focus on this year. We didn't want to look at the history of it, just focus on this year, especially since we came up short last year. We just want to make sure we didn't come up short of our goal this year.

As far as the La Salle community, I think it's very big for them since they finally get to see La Salle back in the tournament. 

Q. Last year you had a good season, went to the NIT. Why are you guys better this year?

SAM MILLS: I think this year, because the last year we weren't like pleased with‑‑ like we weren't pleased with the NIT, but the main goal was to get into the NCAA Tournament, and I think this year we worked even harder, and we had to go since summer.

Day in, day out, we've been working at it towards that goal. For my teammates overall, we've been putting in hard work each day, day in, day out. So I think that was the main thing. 

Q. Is there something you guys are doing this year that you didn't do last year? Are you better at certain things?

SAM MILLS: This year we're even hungrier on the defensive side. I think offense is going to go in, and it's going to be off and on. So our defense, as long as it stays consistent, I think we'll be fine. 

Q. Tyreek, Sunday was kind of tense. You guys had to wait until the end. You all seemed pretty relieved. What's it been like since Sunday for you guys? What was the reaction on campus, reaction for friends and family? What was it like?

TYREEK DUREN: It was a good reaction from everybody, especially when I walked in class, they gave me a standing ovation. My teacher was happy. Every class I went to they were saying how excited they were to finally have La Salle back in the tournament.

As far as our team, I think we celebrated on Sunday, then Monday it was right back to work. Coach was going over the scouting report and preparing us very well.

I think we've got to come out Wednesday ready to play and continue to make a run at the tournament.

 Q. What was the class?

TYREEK DUREN: I had a business, finance class.

Q. Ramon, we just heard Tyreek talk about kind of getting the celebration out of the way. What has you convinced this team is not just going to be satisfied with getting into the tournament, after all that anxiety and all that angst, and be able to focus on doing what needs to be done against Boise State?

RAMON GALLOWAY: The hunger. Like Sam said, last year we made it to the NIT, and after that, we've been hungry to make a step forward. Making this appearance in the NCAA Tournament is a big step.

So just pushing ourselves. We're different from last year because we worked harder. We have more confidence. Knowing that we went to the NIT and we can play with teams that's being named in the country as big programs, and you have us, La Salle, we're just trying to make a name for ourself. We grind hard, and we came from the bottom.

So just our work ethic. 

Q. Ramon, can you talk about what the guards have to do to help out without Zack? Is John asking you guys to maybe hang around the rim a little bit more to help with the rebound?

RAMON GALLOWAY: Of course, but that's been Coach G's goal for the whole season. He's always been telling us we had to gain the rebound.

Being without Zack, we just have to gain the rebound even more. He just put emphasis on that. We don't have our 7‑footer in the paint anymore. Ramon, you got to get six rebounds. Tyreek, you probably got to get five. Sam, we just got to get in there and bang. 

Q. Tyreek, two questions. One, were you even alive the last time La Salle made the NCAA Tournament?

TYREEK DUREN: No. I think that was the year I was born actually.

Q. Also, you said you guys didn't try to focus on the history of it and stuff like that, but maybe since you got that bid, have you been able to reflect on it or have people tell you how long it had been and what it means to some of the people around you?

TYREEK DUREN: To be honest, people have been telling us how long it's been for a while. I didn't really want to focus on it. Like I said, we wanted to take it one game at a time. We didn't really want to look back at the history.

Just the fact it was so long ago, you've got to feel good about that. You're finally getting the program back to that stage, back to a spot where they haven't been in so long.

Q. Ramon, what are you seeing from Derrick Marks in your scouting reports, a guy that can sort of take over games in the second half?

RAMON GALLOWAY: I don't know his name. What number is he?

Q. 2.

RAMON GALLOWAY: I think that's the guard. We just know that he drives and three of the shooters. All the guys shoot the ball well, but the kid from Australia can really shoot the ball. And No. 2 drives the ball a lot. He's such a strong guard.

Q. How difficult is it to play is such a short turnaround, in terms of the scouting report?

RAMON GALLOWAY: Coach G don't really focus on the scouting report. As long as we focus on the game and stay true to ourselves, it should be good.

It falls into our hands with the quick turnaround because they play just like us. It's not like we've got to play a Princeton that runs 30 plays. It's going to be a game, like Tyreek said, of individual battles and kind of like running them off the 3.

Q. Tyreek, I don't know ‑ you look at Marks, No. 2, and his last game against San Diego State certainly wasn't the best. When you know a guy can score and you look at their last game which maybe wasn't the best, do you become more aware of a guy in thinking they're going to get back to that level?

TYREEK DUREN: I think you've got to prepare as if he can go off at any given moment. You don't tend to focus on his bad games. You try to look at his good games to find out what he can do, what he likes to do.

So we're not really paying attention to the bad games. The game that he scores 30 is the game we're going to pay attention to so we can see his whole arsenal, what he can do, if he likes to shoot, if he can go to the basket. That's what we're going to focus on. We know that he can score, and we're just going to try to shut that down.

THE MODERATOR: Sam, Tyreek, and Ramon, thank you for your time. Right now we're being joined by the head coach of the La Salle Explorers, Dr. John Giannini. Coach, we'll start with an opening statement.

COACH GIANNINI: We're thrilled to be here. This is one of the greatest events in all of sports. It's the goal of every team and player and coach to have a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. So we're thrilled with that.

Our opponent is not only outstanding, but they're very similar to ourselves. I can't remember another game I've coached in where I was surprised at the high level of similarity. They play four guards. They can all dribble, pass, and shoot. They're big guys but are tough and play down low and set screens. It's the way we play.

So I think you'll see two evenly matched teams, and it should be a great game. Whoever does things better that night should get the win.

Q. John, when you're preparing for a team that's sort of similar to you, is that a benefit, or can it sometimes be detrimental because you're looking at a mirror image?

COACH GIANNINI: I think it's easier because you definitely are comfortable with what you're seeing because you've gone against it in practice all the time. So I think it's easier.

Time will tell, in hindsight after the game, whether it was harder or not to win the game. But the preparation, I think, is easier.

Q. John, what concerns you the most about Boise State? What do you guys have to do?

COACH GIANNINI: Just I'm sure they feel the same way about us, their guards. They have multiple guards. They have four guys out there that can shoot the 3. And the thing about 3‑point shooting is it can change the game dramatically.

For example, we're playing Butler in our last game and it's a 6‑point game, and we're at the free‑throw line shooting 1 and 1 feeling good because we're a good free‑throw shooting team. We're saying, okay, it's a 4‑point game with 5:30 left. Sure enough, we miss the front end of the 1 and 1, and they go down and shoot a 3, and all of a sudden it's a 9‑point game.

That 3‑point shot is a difference maker. I just watched one of their tapes. They played UNLV in a great game on the road, and they made thirteen 3s and had a great chance to win at the end. So when you're playing teams that are perimeter oriented and guard oriented, of course you're worried about their shooting.

Q. You guys have sort of spread your scoring out this year, four guys averaging 10 points a game. How important is that disparity when one guy has an off night?

COACH GIANNINI: I think it should minimize that factor because you do have a number of scorers. I mean, Ramon didn't have a good game in the last game, and simply because he tried too hard. But we don't feel like we rely on any one person to score. We never talk about scoring. We talk about sharing the ball. We talk about taking what the defense gives us.

So we don't worry about one person scoring or not scoring for us.

Q. John, you guys haven't had Zack for a couple of games now. Are you guys‑‑ do you feel like they're starting to acclimate to not having him around? How does it change the way you rotate your players without him?

COACH GIANNINI: We're less‑‑ obviously, we're smaller, and we're less deep without him. But the good news is that we already had one of the top big men in the Atlantic 10 before Steve got hurt. We were already deep before Steve got hurt.

So we can still put a talented lineup out there. It just means that Jerrell Wright has to play more, which frankly, if I was an opposing coach, I might be more concerned about because Jerrell's really good.

So it affects our depth. If Jerrell gets a couple of fouls, we'll probably leave him in there. Jerrell Wright just has to play more. We'll be fine as long as we can get the minutes we need out of Jerrell.

Q. Coach, you mentioned the styles of the teams are very similar. If you look at the individuals, are there similarities between some of your guys and some of the Boise State guys?

COACH GIANNINI: Absolutely. Again, they're guards. Guards will have subtle differences, for example. We talk about numbers more than we talk about names. It's easier to look at the guy's number out there than worry about pronouncing his name correctly. 2 is a little more physical than some of our guys. 3 is obviously at 6' 6" a little bit bigger.

But at the end of the day, you're talking about guys that can dribble, pass, and shoot, and you've got to defend those guys the same way. You can't say that, okay, 2 posts up, but don't worry about his 3‑point shot, because he can shoot it. And he can go by you. He's a complete player. And so is 3 and so are their other guards. But so are our guys.

Like I said, I've been really fortunate. I've coached in a lot of basketball games. I only know this because my SID pointed out this year that I think our Bucknell game was my 700th game, so now that's on my mind. Wow, that's a lot. Through that span, I don't remember a team being as similar to mine as this one is.

Q. You mentioned Steve being out, the effect it has on your rebounding. I know some of the guys talked about team rebounding being such a key for you this year. How much of an effect does him not being there have on that aspect of your game?

COACH GIANNINI: We either play with two bigs or one big. And against bigger teams, we play Steve and Jerrell together. I like our team much better with Steve, and we're certainly a better rebounding game when we have two guys out there.

But we play with four guards a lot. We played our whole last season with four guards and one big guy. In some ways it's almost more comfortable to us.

Here's the thing. You could probably count on three fingers or less the number of teams that are good at everything. Maybe no fingers. Okay, we're not a super rebounding team, but we force turnovers. We're high in assists. We shoot the ball well. We make our free throws.

So there's a lot of positives. It's just hard to be good at everything. It's hard to be big, skilled, pass, shoot. St. Louis might be a little bit like that actually right now, but not many teams are.

We know we're not a great rebounding team. We know we're a little small. But we'll scrap. We'll fight. I think everything else this team does is at a high level.

Q. Just want to go back to when you took over the program. It was obviously a really difficult time for the university, dealing with a scandal, trying to piece the team back together. What was it like for you? How difficult was it? What were the challenges? Was there ever a period where you thought maybe this is tougher than I thought?

COACH GIANNINI: My first thought at the University of Maine was a rebuilding thing too, and it was unbelievably good preparation for me. So I'd been through it before.

I think building a program is underestimated wherever you are. I don't know Boise State's recent history, but I'm sure that they had to build it up. It's hard to tell people, to sell them on a vision that you could be good because they can't see it. It's easier to say we are good.

For example, right now in recruiting we could tell people, hey, if you come here, we're one of the best teams in the A‑10. We're as good as anyone in Philadelphia. You can come here. We play through our guards. People can see what you're talking about.

But when you don't have that advantage, it's hard. You got to make‑‑ you got to get players. You've got to make a lot of good decisions. You have to build a culture. You have to eventually start to win against good teams.

So what I'm getting at is, yes, it's hard, but I'm not sure it's harder than it was anywhere else where they have to build.

Q. John, as it relates to Ramon, is there a delicate balance between telling him don't do too much and harnessing his aggressiveness?

COACH GIANNINI: Absolutely, yeah. That's a great point. And what we're telling him right now is you don't have to carry us. You don't have to win the game. We have to win the game. You don't have to do it alone. You have to do what you normally do, and let's just look at what Ramon normally does.

His normal game puts him as a First Team All‑Atlantic 10 player. His normal game puts him as a potential NBA prospect. His normal game fills up the stat sheet. So we don't need him to have the game of his life. We just need him to do what he normally does, which is awfully good.

But it's natural when you're highly motivated and you're a senior. You want to play your best. And that could lead to a little bit of pressure and a little bit of forcing. And we just need Ramon to play the way he normally does, which is awfully good.