Coach Donovan, Lee Humphrey, and Chris Richard talk about the upcoming game vs. UCLA.
THE MODERATOR: Joined by Lee Humphrey and Chris Richard. Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. When you looked ahead in the season, you knew there would be a target factor for you guys. Did it play out the way you thought it might have would? How tough was it being the Target Team this year?
LEE HUMPHREY: I think going into the year we knew we were going to get team’s best shots just from the success we had last season. I think for the most part this year, uhm, we did get everybody’s best shot.
Teams played really well against us. We went through some tough stretches. But I think for the most part we’ve done a good job this year.
CHRIS RICHARD: Yeah, I mean, it’s been like that for us every year since we’ve been here. Every team always bring their A game when they play Florida I guess because—I don’t know why a lot of teams are like that. But it was a lot different this year with us winning the national championship last year and all.
We didn’t really focus on that a whole lot this year because we had a completely different team this year. Things are a lot different for us. A lot of teams played us a lot of different ways because we are a lot better than we were last year. We just focused on that and tried to win all of the games we could.
Q. Given everybody coming back, would this year have been a failure if y’all hadn’t gotten back here?
LEE HUMPHREY: I don’t think this year would have been a failure if we didn’t get back to the Final Four. We’ve accomplished a lot this season. Once you get into the NCAA tournament anything can happen. You just have to lose one game.
We kind of approached this year with the mindset of let’s just become the best team we can become. If that gets us back to the Final Four, wins us the national championship, whatever, but let’s just focus on being the best team we can become, and that’s all we can control.
CHRIS RICHARD: Yeah, I don’t think it would have been a failure as long as we went out and did our best every night and had fun while we were playing.
Luckily we made it back here. We had a lot of fun on the way here. I don’t think it would have been a failure if we wouldn’t have made it. Maybe to a lot of people, the media, fans. But we don’t really get caught up in all of that during the season.
Q. Could you talk about Corey Brewer’s dad, what that situation meant to you?
CHRIS RICHARD: Corey is close to his father. I don’t know if the situation with his father this year motivated him to play a lot harder, kind of make his outcome better when he leave here.
All of us know the situation. We don’t really know a whole lot about it. We know what he tells us. He loves his father. He helped us out a lot. When he help us it boost everybody, all of us play a little bit better.
LEE HUMPHREY: Yeah, I mean, Corey, he brings a lot to our team. With his dad being sick and stuff like that, it’s tough on him. I know he’s made a couple trips home this year where he got to see his father after some games where we were close. I’m sure that meant a lot to him, that he could go back and see his father during the season.
Q. In the immediate aftermath of winning last year, whether an hour or week later, would you have believed that the other three guys would come back?
CHRIS RICHARD: Yeah, I personally think that I would believe if somebody would have told me. They unselfish. We don’t have any selfish players on our team. For them the ultimate goal was to win another national championship. They knew if they came back it would contribute to us as a team and help us go and win another one.
They came back, and it’s not all about money with them. They love the team. We love each other. Them coming back, it was great for us.
LEE HUMPHREY: Yeah, throughout the course of the year, even when we were making our run in the tournament last year, even when we were making our run in the tournament last year, I never even got a hint that those guys were thinking about the NBA.
Of course, they were really focused on what we were doing at that point in time. But even after the season, just being around those guys, knowing how much they enjoy playing with each other, enjoyed college, the experience, it didn’t really surprise me at all that they all decided to come back.
Q. The UCLA players have talked about what a sense of personal disappointment they felt last year losing that game. Can you appreciate how they feel? How much do you think their emotion is going to play into at least the first few minutes of the game?
CHRIS RICHARD: I don’t know, I think it’s like that for anybody that loses a game. I really can’t say how it would feel because, I mean, we didn’t feel like it.
I understand why they would, to get so far and to lose the last game, the one that matters the most. I can see them coming out, playing a lot harder than they ever played before because it’s big. Not only are they in the Final Four, but they’re playing against a team that beat him in the championship game.
I think they will come ready to play. If we come ready to play like we can and should, think we’ll be okay.
LEE HUMPHREY: Yeah, I mean, that it would be tough. Fortunately we were able to win last year’s game so we didn’t have to experience that. I’m sure that it would be tough to be so close and then to lose that last game.
But I’m sure they’re excited about the chance they’ve got, excited that they made it back to a Final Four, have a chance to win two games, win a national championship.
Q. Lee, how different is UCLA this year with Collison kind of running the show versus Jordan Farmar?
LEE HUMPHREY: Collison is a good point guard. We have a lot of respect—as a point guard he’s done a good job of running their team. I don’t think he looks to score quite as much as Farmar did. Looks like he applies a lot more pressure on the perimeter. Uses his quickness, athletic ability to get out, try to cause some havoc on the defensive end.
Q. Lee, I saw where you’re the scholar athlete of the year in the SEC. Your team has a hundred percent graduation rate. Any sense of pride in that, what you guys do academically?
LEE HUMPHREY: Yeah, I think our guys do a good job of taking care of their schoolwork. We have class check every day. Coaching staff really makes sure that guys are going to class. We do take a lot of pride in doing the right things with school. I think it shows. I think all our guys do a pretty good job of studying and trying to do their best.
Q. Lee, would you talk about the guy next to you, the role that Chris sort of plays on this team, giving you strong inside presence, what he contributes.
LEE HUMPHREY: Yeah, Chris, I mean, he contributes a lot to our team. I mean, I’m excited that Chris and I were just in the same class. Got a lot of good memories freshman year living with C Rich. We were all connected in the same little complex (smiling).
Rich brings a lot to our team. He comes off the bench. We don’t have any drop-off whenever we sub out for Al or Joe. Chris comes in, brings energy off the bench. He can score. He’s big and strong. He can rebound. That’s another dimension to our team that makes us tough to defend.
Q. What makes this team so unique? We see teams come up all the time, rise to greatness, win championships, go their separate ways. What makes this team so special that everyone stayed together and stayed committed to be a part of this and try to go for this again?
CHRIS RICHARD: I think it’s because everybody care about each other. Nobody really get caught up in them self a whole lot. We like to make sure everybody is happy. If everybody is happy, you have a great outcome.
Nobody ever get jealous of anybody. We don’t have no star on the team. Everybody’s a star. As long as everybody’s happy, we all one in unison. I think that’s what’s helping us with our success.
LEE HUMPHREY: That’s the thing that makes us special the most, how much we care about each other. Maybe another thing, too, would be that each one of us can bring something different that the other guy can’t. All our guys bring a little bit something different.
Like Rich comes off the bench and he’s big and strong inside. You look at like Corey on the other wing, he can do stuff that I can’t do. You bring Walter in, and Walter is faster than any of us, can really get out in transition.
I think our guys really fit well together just ‘cause we can all bring something a little different.
Q. With so many of the key players on both these teams coming back, having been in the Final Four last year, do you expect a really high-end, well-played, incredible basketball game that people will be talking about for a long time?
CHRIS RICHARD: I kind of think it was like that last year. Everybody came and gave their all. It might be a better game this year because both teams have a little bit of a feel for each other. Maybe last year might kind of ignite the game a little bit more, make everybody play a little bit harder.
It’s possible for this game to be a lot more exciting than last year.
LEE HUMPHREY: Yeah, I think it’s tough to go into a game and just expect it to be a game that people talk about for a long time ‘cause I guess there’s so many unknowns. You don’t really know going in if it’s going to be a well-played game in a sense that both teams don’t turn the ball over that much.
You never know, one team could really cause another team trouble. There could be a lot of turnovers. It might not be a pretty game.
It’s really tough going into a game to really know if it’s going to be that kind of game or not.
Q. You’ve obviously heard the rumors about Coach Donovan and Kentucky. Is it a concern to the players? Has he addressed it with you guys?
CHRIS RICHARD: No, I don’t think it’s a concern. This year is this year. We still have a few games left, we hope we have a few games left to play. We try to focus in on this and try to keep all of the outside stuff outside, try to take care of everything we have going.
It hasn’t been a concern. He really haven’t addressed it to us because we don’t think it’s a concern. If it came down to it, he probably talk about it after the season is over. We don’t really see that happening.
LEE HUMPHREY: Yeah, I don’t think any of our guys have been concerned with it. I mean, we like Coach Donovan as our coach. He hasn’t shown anything why we should be concerned.
Coach, he’s always talking to us about living in the moment, being in the present. I think he does as good a job as anybody as that. We have a lot of confidence in coach.
Q. Obviously champions are crowned every year, but back-to-backs are so rare. Coach Howland was talking about you guys really as maybe ranking among the best teams in history. Do y’all have any sense of legacy being at stake in this Final Four?
CHRIS RICHARD: I don’t think we really ever think about all that kind of stuff because I think all of us are so caught up into the games we getting ready to play. We don’t really think about looking into the future and legacies and all that stuff because I think all of us is so competitive. We worried about one game, and that only game, and try to win it first.
If it happens, it would be great for all of us. But I don’t think we really think about it a lot.
LEE HUMPHREY: Yeah, I think, I mean, one of the things we talked about going into the SEC tournament, right before the SEC tournament, was—I mean, last year’s championship was last year’s championship, and nobody can ever take that from us. We’ve got an opportunity this year to go out and try to win another one.
We’re just really trying to focus on this year’s games, whoever we’re playing next. Right now it’s UCLA. So we’re trying to really focus on taking it one game at a time. If it happens, that would be awesome.
Q. UCLA players talked about they’re obviously glad to have another shot at you. Does it matter to you who you’re playing each step along the way?
LEE HUMPHREY: I don’t think it really matters too much. I mean, we’re just excited to be in the Final Four and have an opportunity to play for another championship. I mean, this is kind of the pinnacle of college basketball. Once you get here, you’re just going to compete as hard as you can whoever you’re playing against.
CHRIS RICHARD: Like he said, I mean, once you get this far into the tournament, everybody’s a great basketball team and everybody want to win it just as much as the next team.
So it don’t really matter who you play against because you going to get 110% from everybody.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you and good luck. Joined now by Coach Donovan. We’ll ask Coach Donovan to make an opening statement.
COACH DONOVAN: Very excited to be here in Atlanta for the Final Four. I think for all four teams it’s a great accomplishment, but it’s also probably the toughest field I think we can all remember in a long time. When you look at the field being all 1 and 2 seeds. So the committee I think really did a great job seeding people to get to this point.
But we’re playing against a basketball team in UCLA, in my opinion, that is as good as anybody out there. They’ve had a terrific year. They are a very, very physical team. They do a great job defensively. They’ve got obviously a lot of scorers, both on the perimeter and around the basket.
So there’s a lot to get prepared for. I don’t know if at this time of year there’s one thing you have to do to put yourself in the best position to win. I think teams have gotten to this point because they’re able to do multiple and different things. We’ll certainly have to do a lot of different things tomorrow night.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Donovan.
Q. A lot of people will look at the big-men matchups, see how accomplished your guys are and wonder why you can’t sort of just dominate this game in the paint. Could you talk about that a little bit.
COACH DONOVAN: Well, before the ball ever gets to the paint, size doesn’t really make a difference. And they do a terrific job dislodging you, pushing you off the block. A lot of times size and throwing the ball inside is not the easiest thing to do.
For instance, a team like Butler I thought did a terrific job, you know, trying to get to us early. They’ve got good front court players. Aboya, Mata, Luc Richard, all those guys are strong, physical guys up front. A lot of times before big guys catch the ball, size has nothing to do with it. Size gives you an advantage when you catch the ball at a point where you can turn and shoot over somebody.
So there will be a lot of jockeying and battling for position by both teams both on their offense and our offense, on our defense and their defense. I don’t think that size plays any factor at all. I think with the way they play defense, our guys are going to have to handle a lot of the physicality.
Q. What is it that makes UCLA’s defense so effective, and how much does their ability to create turnovers concern you?
COACH DONOVAN: You always get concerned with turnovers. They’re a very, very good defensive team because they’re a very good rotating team. Defense is always predicated on how much help you can provide, how much help gets there quick enough, then your ability to rotate out of a help.
I think what gives them a unique advantage is their bigs. People talk about our bigs being light on their feet. Their bigs move their feet about as well as anybody I’ve seen. They also have size that they can get out there and bang people and body people. They also have the quick feet that they can get out there and show on guards.
Really I think when you look at their defense, it’s all about rotating. It’s all about the rotations and how quickly you can get there. They do a terrific job rotating.
Q. Corey Brewer, what he’s meant to you, especially his situation with his dad being so ill, how has that affected him and the team?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, the one thing that’s nice about his family is they’re great people. They’re people that have worked very, very hard. They’ve worked very hard to try to raise Corey in a way about getting his degree, going to school, being a good person, being a good role model.
The one thing that was nice was when Corey maybe had a decision a year ago to leave or come back, they supported and told him to choose happiness. There was never any pressure from them. They’re great people.
I feel bad. His dad’s obviously had some illnesses he’s been battling. His mom’s a school teacher, a great lady. But they really have given Corey a lot of love, a lot of affection, a lot of attention during his childhood, really molded and shaped him into the man he is right now.
Q. How tough is it to try to repeat, and have you thought what it would mean if you could pull it off?
COACH DONOVAN: It’s a completely unique challenge. Never mind the repeating; just getting back to this point when you’re dealing with the expectations that our team had to deal with. I don’t know if people truly understand how hard it is, but also how rewarding it is and how much maybe you appreciate where you’re at right now.
There’s so much stuff going on in terms of preparation, practices, getting our guys, you know, ready, that the most important thing is people want to talk about the repeating part of it. But you’ve got to get to Monday first. So to me I don’t even really think about the repeating as much as I really think about trying to play the best game we can to the very best of our ability against a terrific UCLA team. That’s the most important thing right now.
Then if you have an opportunity to win, you know, then you’re talking about the next game would be about repeating. But this game’s not about repeating. This game’s just about playing UCLA to get the opportunity to play for it all.
Q. There’s been an awful lot going on this year distraction-wise. Can you talk about how you’ve dealt with it? What percentage of your effort do you think you’ve put into making these guys understand how to deal with distractions?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, you hope it’s helped. I think the first thing you have to do is you have to have guys that are coachable. And probably the greatest compliment I can give our guys is they’re as coachable today as they were a year ago. I’ve had to coach them differently.
There’s been different things I’ve had to address and bring up with them to try to make them aware of the challenges they’re going to have that are going to try to take their focus off of our team.
The biggest thing is time, you spending more time in areas of your life maybe you didn’t have to a year ago, outside influences, people trying to talk to them about things that have no bearing on our team.
But they’ve been very, very receptive. I’ve spent a lot of time once last season ended, we got to the beginning of May, latter part of April, trying to work on a distraction list, so to speak. What were the distractions, what could they be, and what were the human elements of having a season like we did a year ago? What are going to be the challenges that can get in the way of preventing us from being the best we can be?
That’s ultimately what it comes down to: us as a team being the best team we can be. Here are the things that can take away from us being the best we can be.
Q. If someone had a year ago today said to you there would be a team that would win and that their big front court players with a chance to leave would not leave, would you have believed it?
COACH DONOVAN: No, no. I think in today’s day and age, it’s very, very rare. I’m hopeful some of our guys have maybe carved out a path. I’m not sitting there saying that guys leaving early to the NBA is the wrong decision. I think when guys leaving early is the wrong decision is when they don’t want to but feel pressured or forced into.
The one thing I respect and admire about all these kids’ families is they were supportive of what’s going to make you happy. What do you really want to do? What’s going to make you happy? They chose to come back.
Now, if they would have chosen to leave, I don’t really ever feel there was any pressure in terms of me, I shouldn’t say me, but their families, friends, outside influences, telling them to go.
In today’s day and age, there’s a situation where a lot of times these young kids feel pressure to get to that next level, to make money, to do those things, that they lose out on the joy and the happiness of playing in college.
I don’t know how much of a factor this plays, but I really believe Al Horford’s dad, Joakim’s dad, Taurean’s dad, because they were professional athletes, because they understood what all that means, what all that entails, they probably had a different perspective on being a professional than maybe most kids did at that age because of their parents’ background. I think that played a factor in it, as well.
Q. Joakim said in the locker room that you had a conversation with him and the rest of the team that you didn’t think that the best team won the tournament last year. I was wondering if you said that to heed a warning, show anything is possible? This year, do you think you are the best team?
COACH DONOVAN: I don’t know. And I still hold true to what I said a year ago. I think if you would start this tournament all over again there would maybe be four different teams sitting up here right now. That’s not taking away from what anybody’s done up to this point in time.
You know what, let’s be honest, we all have had some close calls to get to this point. We’ve all had close calls, a bounce of a ball, a missed free-throw, a last-second shot. We’ve all been vulnerable where it could have gone a different way.
I don’t necessarily think the NCAA tournament—it’s the greatest college and maybe sports event in this country because of the uncertainty of what’s going to happen. I don’t know if it crowns the best team. In order to find out who the best team is, you almost have to have a series of several games to really get a feel who’s better.
My point in saying that is, there were 65 teams in this NCAA tournament, 65. There’s going to be one standing. The winner standing will have played six games. That’s 59 teams that you never see, have to scout, evaluate, and you don’t know. I don’t know how our basketball team would have done against some of these other opponents. All I know is what we did against these opponents.
I don’t know who the best team is in college basketball. But that’s what makes this tournament so great, is the uncertainty. You don’t know what’s going to happen.
Q. Have you or anybody in your circle, athletic director, agent, family, been contacted by Kentucky or any other school? You deal with so many players who have to make decisions when the season ends. Could you maybe talk about the way you advise them? Do you take any of that same advice in your life on a year-to-year basis when you decide what you want to do?
COACH DONOVAN: I haven’t even thought about any of that stuff. My total focus is really on UCLA. That’s the most important thing. I haven’t been—I don’t even have my phone. I don’t talk to anybody.
The minute I get on the road, I give my phone to my secretary. I’ve talked to nobody. All I’ve done, to be honest with you, is got a lot of bloodshot eyes right now from watching a lot of tape. That’s all I do.
I’m so excited about what our team’s been able to accomplish. My main objective is for us to be the best team we can be tomorrow night. That’s really all it comes down to for me.
Q. With all you’ve done at Florida, what this team has a chance to do, do you get annoyed or insulted that people are trying to make it about Kentucky and not Florida?
COACH DONOVAN: I don’t know. To me I love the University of Florida. I love my experiences. I love everything about it. I love coaching my team. I love our administration. It’s been great. I mean, I’m very, very happy here right now.
However people want to view different programs, different players, different things, I think everybody’s entitled to their opinion.
My feeling is that we have a terrific program that’s been supported very strongly by our administration. It’s been a great place to work. It’s been a great opportunity for me, you know, just building this thing, and trying to build it.
But it’s not just me building it. So many people have sacrificed and worked hard.
Hopefully our play does speak on the court of the point and the level of our program is at. We’ve been fortunate over the last seven years to get to this point for the third time. It takes a lot of hard work. It’s very, very difficult to get here.
But I think people have respect for our program and what we’ve been able to do. I don’t get the sense that people don’t have respect for us.
Q. Most teams who have gotten to the championship stage have done it with one player leading the way. You don’t really have a guy who when there’s 20 seconds to go and the score is tied that everyone knows is going to get the ball. What does that say about your team? Is that a compliment or a curse?
COACH DONOVAN: I view it as a compliment because defensively you can set up something to try to take the best player out of a situation. You can do some things to eliminate that player. Probably one of the most difficult things to go into if you’re in a timeout or a last-second situation where you’re having to defend, maybe one of the greatest uncertainties as a coach is, Who are they going to? What are they going to do?
I’ve been a big believer that you got to basically get the best available shot or play. I don’t sit there and say, This guy is our go-to guy. I would rather have Al Horford shoot a wide-open three-point shot than I would for Lee Humphrey to take a terribly bad one. You may sit there and say that’s crazy.
You know what, Al Horford has proven his range. I’d rather have him shoot wide open than Lee have one that really has no chance of going in.
It’s all about, to me, for our team, getting the best available shot. That’s all we’ve done over the last two years, is been unselfish, moved and passed the basketball, tried to hit the open man, tried to make it simple on offense. Run some schemes, run some things to try to move around the defense, then have whoever’s available to make a play try to make a play.
I think instead of using the word “making a last-second shot,” I think it’s maybe more about making a play. We have guys that can make a play. Corey Brewer can make a play, Taurean Green can make a play, Noah can make a play, Horford can make a play.
Sometimes the play requires to score and sometimes the play requires to pass.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you and good luck.
COACH DONOVAN: Thank you very much.