New Mexico State press conference transcript

Also, the New Mexico State press conference transcript.


Q.  You’ve been here before.  How does that experience help you guys as you head into this game with Indiana?
WENDELL McKINES:  It helps us as far as preparation and what to expect in the game and just the whole overall process of just being here.  It can get kind of overwhelming if you let it get to you, especially if it’s like your first time here.  But after being here, you more so look forward to the game, which I am.

Q.  You guys had some lulls in the season.  Describe how the whole season’s gone, and are you at a peak and do you think you guys can really make a run and surprise a lot of people in this tournament?
HERNST LAROCHE:  It’s been a roller coaster.  We won some big games and then we lost some.  But I think we’re playing good right now.  The losses from the beginning helped us play good right now.  From the experience I think we’re going to make some big runs.

Q.  Can you both talk about the swagger that this team seems to have.  And Wendell, obviously, I think you have a big part to play in that particular confidence.
WENDELL McKINES:  I don’t have a swagger, I have an aura about me, you can just feel the energy.  So “swagger,” I wouldn’t necessarily use that word.  Just the aura in my presence, and you can feel like something special is about to happen.  That’s a better word for it, “aura.”

Q.  What challenges does this team pose on the boards that maybe other teams that you’ve played haven’t?
HERNST LAROCHE:  Wendell is a big rebounder, so I know he’s going to step up.  We’re ready for the big stage.  It’s going to be a challenge with Cody Zeller, but I think we’ve got that.
WENDELL McKINES:  Also, the coaching staff has us well prepared to attack their strength, as well.  And our strength is rebounding, and they’re going to try to counter our strength as well.  So that means we have to go even harder.  They’re pretty good in transition.  And Zeller, he runs the floor like a deer, so our centers have to be prepared to run the floor.  The three‑point line, as well.
That all starts with our offense taking good shots and offensively rebounding the ball, and ball pressure on defense.  We’ll be fine.

Q.  When we talked to Indiana players and coaches, the coach talked about the team as a whole being very strong for New Mexico State.  But many of the players seemed to focus in on Wendell.  What does that make you feel as a player, a guy with 20 double doubles this year and this and that.  And you’re not going to fly under the radar with them.  They know who you are.  How does that feel for you and how does that go in your mindset?
WENDELL McKINES:  I’m a middle child, so I enjoy the tension.  That just means I have to get ‑‑ that gives my teammates an opportunity to get involved early.  As long as they play at a high level, I’ll feed off their energy if they want to put that much attention on me.  Once I get involved, they’ll know why I got 20 rebounds.

Q.  Having that year off, what did you learn during that time and do you feel like you, Hernst and the other senior have a chip on your shoulder trying to make a run during the tournament?
WENDELL McKINES:  I appreciate the game much more.  It gave me a drive to perfect my craft and be a student of the game and just come back strong with this team.
Yeah, me, Hernst and Hamidu, the other senior you were pertaining to, we have a great chemistry on and off the floor.  Once we got back and start clicking and gelling, once we found our identity as a team, things started rolling for us and got us to this point.

Q.  For both of you, Indiana, that’s college basketball, that’s the name, Hoosiers, the movie, everything.  Is there any intimidation factor or does it get you guys more fired up to play a name like this?
HERNST LAROCHE:  It’s basketball.  We’ve got great players.  They’ve got great players.  It’s going to come down to 40 minutes.  We’re not worried about the name on their jerseys, we’re just going to play hard.
WENDELL McKINES:  Teams that are intimidated and infatuated by playing bigger name schools, those are the teams that lose by 40.

Q.  You talked about maybe letting your teammates get going and then getting into the flow of the game.  But in the WAC title game you came out very aggressive from the start and made a point to carry the scoring early.  Was that a situation you felt like you needed to be that way or does it carry over into this game?
WENDELL McKINES:  That was just the flow of the game.  I was able to crash the glass early.  Tyrone Watson was finding me in positions where I could be successful.  But Louisiana Tech, they played me man to man and gave me room to operate.
But as you said, it sounds like Indiana is going to focus on me.  So that means my teammates are going to have a whole lot of opportunity to be successful in this game.  And once they’re successful, if Indiana, if they make adjustments, then I’ll be free again.  So it’s just a team effort.  I’m pretty sure I won’t see any defenses I haven’t seen.  I know how to go about being successful.

Q.  A lot of people, the Indiana coaches and players, both named Draymond Green from Michigan State when asked to compare a guy to you.  You played against him in the tournament a few years ago.  Is that a fair comparison to you?
WENDELL McKINES:  As far as ‑‑ it depends on where you look at it.  From rebounding and scoring and from it means a lot to the team perspective, yeah.  But I don’t really like to compare myself to nobody.  I’m special.

Q.  Wendell mentioned how Cody Zeller runs like a deer.  Is there anyone you’ve played against like Zeller, and how important is it for your big guys to get back, especially in transition?
COACH MENZIES:  I can’t think of anybody off the top of my head that we’ve gone up against this year that has Cody’s height that runs as well as he does.  It will definitely be a key for us, defensive transition, stopping their quick buckets.  They pull the trigger, they have a lot of offensive freedom within their system.  Tom does a good job of his offensive transition.
So very specific in lanes, quick ball screens and so forth after.  So they’ve got some deep weapons in their arsenal there, so we’ve got to do a good job there.

Q.  Your guys seemed really loose up here.  They don’t seem like there’s any kind of intimidation factor.  Are they as comfortable as they looked right here?
COACH MENZIES:  I hope so.  These guys have been through it before.  Particularly Hernst and Wendell have not just been to the tournament, but participated and helped us play a very good game against Michigan State just a couple of years ago.
We talk a lot about their leadership and their confidence.  But it has to kind of shine down on the younger guys.  We need a complete group.  Because we’ve only got the three seniors.  We can’t win with three guys, we’re going to have to have those underclassmen, the juniors, sophomores and freshmen contribute, as well.  I think what you saw was probably pretty accurate.

Q.  Can you elaborate a little bit more on that, that these three seniors have tournament experience, and tournament experience where it came down to the wire against Michigan State.  They’ve reiterated they can win.  Can you talk about how important that kind of tournament experience is, especially for seniors?
COACH MENZIES:  Well, you know, most mid‑major programs are going to compete based on the personnel.  But the dangerous ones are the ones that have the experience.
When I was assistant coach at high major universities in Louisville and USC, UNLV, San Diego State, we always struggled with the quote, unquote, low majors and the mid‑major minuses that have senior‑laden teams.  And that’s kind of who we are.  We’re not a high major university, but we’ve got some guys that we’ve kept through our retention and our original paradigm that we set up when I took over the job five years ago.
We’ve developed some great young men and great players.  And so now is our time.  I think it will be important for us to rely on those guys.  And I think it’s necessary if you’re going to be successful as a mid‑major.
You reference VCU and their run, having experienced guys, and Butler with their upperclassmen.  I don’t think either one of those teams makes it as far as they do without having some guys that know how to get after it and have been doing it for awhile.

Q.  Have you noticed anything different with Indiana, the way they handle pressure, handle the ball with the loss of Jones?
COACH MENZIES:  They only had the one game that we’ve been able to view that Jones wasn’t there.  I’d have to say no, not off the top of my head.
He was a true floor general.  Great facilitator, great defender.  We watch all the other games where he was obviously a big part of what they were doing.  You saw the intangibles that he brought to the table.
So I don’t know how that will affect them going forward.  This is a whole new season.  They’ve got talent.  They’ve got talent beyond the top five guys.  And they’ve got some depth and guys that come off the bench and shoot the ball and defend.  How much it affects them, I don’t know.  I guess that’s to be seen.

Q.  Have you reached out to Coach Pitino, are you planning on seeing them play?  Have you seen them in person since you played them your first year?
COACH MENZIES:  Yeah, we had a chance to visit already.  I don’t want to get into too much detail on that.  We had a chance to visit some already and shared some laughter and keeping everything nice and even keel.  We’re more focused on ‑‑ obviously he’s focused on getting those Cards ready to play and we’ll do the same thing with the Aggies.

Q.  How much does Wendell’s personality drive this team?  He seems like a guys that’s not intimidated by anything.
COACH MENZIES:  He’s not.  I think that personality has been good for us.  He’s a very tough kid.  He’s very passionate about the game.  So obviously something like that, attributes like that and virtues like that in the game of basketball will rub off on the younger players, and they’ve done that.
So right now we’re more than one entity right now, which is great.  We’ve had games where early on ‑‑ every season you go through your ups and downs.  And I think all of our guys have learned a lot of lessons this particular season and it seems to all be coming together at the right time, Wendell included.
With that being said, without him we’re a totally different team.  You lose Hernst, we’re a totally different team.  There’s a few guys like that that we need everybody healthy and focused and tuned into the scouting report and what they need to do to get it done.

Q.  Wendell was pretty much in here cracking up everybody more or less.  Is that more or less typical?
COACH MENZIES:  Loves life, man.  He loves life.  Wendell is a special person and player, obviously you guys got a chance to visit with him for a few moments.  Imagine spending five years with him.  I’ve had a lot of laughs with that kid.  He’s my first recruit.  And he was the first player that I signed as a head coach.  We’ve got a very special bond.  I’m going to miss him a lot.  So I’m hoping to keep him around a few more days and weeks, hopefully.
He’s a great kid.  He’s just really grown up since he came to University.  I don’t think he wanted to say boo and just kind of, dang, I have to talk to the media.  He went all the way from there to, when is the next interview?
It’s been a lot here just this past few days, though.  I do think now he wants to just play ball and get out on the floor and get everything started.