Can’t complain about the access

I’m not sure what to make of this exactly.

Maybe it’s another sign that newspapers are losing money and that very few are willing or able to send reporters to cover games off the U.S. mainland. Maybe it’s a sign that even though the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament has a strong field, it still hasn’t built up its brand to the level of say, the Maui Invitational. Maybe it’s just a sign that there wasn’t a lot of notice about when coaches would be available for interviews today and no one even realizes these guys are here.

One way or the other, each coach has been available for 15 minutes before their respective practices at theĀ  Coliseo de San Juan since 9:55 a.m. , which I found out at about 9:50 this morning when I was told I was in the process of missing Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy’s availability. When I showed up around noon, I was told I was the first media member to arrive. Two more guys have arrived since I got here, and one of them is from the Carribbean Sports Network, and, I believe, lives on the island.

Regardless, instead of sitting in for the press conferences I was expecting to have all day, I have one-on-ones. I don’t have a lot of them, because I missed Ole Miss (trying to contact their SID to get a mulligan on that) and George Mason, Villanova bailed, Indiana and Boston are later and Georgia Tech isn’t coming. I do have Q&A’s with Dayton’s Brian Gregory and Kansas State’s Frank Martin, which I hope you find somewhat interesting.

Brian Gregory, Dayton

Q:A lot of people are looking at this tournament as a chance for your team to make a name for itself. How do you view it?

A: That’s sort of on the outside, but internally it’s just an opportunity at this point in the season. We’re going to kind of evaluate where we’re at. At this point in time, you’re looking at, at this current time, maybe five of the top 30 preseason-ranked teams in the country, and then obviously a tradition-rich program in Indiana that’s been great for so long, and now with Tom there is doing an unbelievable job. So you just look at it as maybe more of an evaluation tool at this particular point. I think we have a chance to be pretty good. We’re not good right now. I think we will be and how we respond this weekend is going to be more important than the outcome of the games.

Q: How do you think this team is coming along so far? You obviously already have a big win against Creighton?

A: Like I said, I think we’re good, but we don’t always play well. That’s kind of what November and December is for. I like the pieces, but we’re still tinkering quite a bit. Every team is different, even though we only lost one player from last year’s team, every team has to create its own identity, and that’s only done at this early part of the year. When you get opportunities like we have playing in this tournament, going later on to New Mexico and playing in a tough environment there, those are the games that can help you gain some national attention and some momentum going into league play.

Q: How much do you think a tournament like this shows what you can do in a postseason tournament?

A: I think it does give you kind of an insight into how your team will respond in those type of situations, either back-to-back or with a one-day prep. I think we’ve done fairly well in situations like that. The guys really have to embrace that challenge. There’s a lot of distractions at these tournaments. They’re in exotic places, and although we want our guys when it’s time to have a good time to relax and have a good time, they are here to accomplish some things as well. It can speak volumes for the maturity of your particular team.

Q: What do you know about your first-round opponent, Georgia Tech?

A: I know they’re very, very talented. Even though you look at the record last year (12-19), you look at the losses that they had, so many close games and so forth. They were relatively young. They got a lot of guys back. Obviously you add (highly recruited center Derrick) Favors, and you have potentially three lottery picks in the starting lineup. They’re talented, they’re deep, they play extremely hard, and they’re a program that is (five) years removed from playing in the Final Four as well. Looking at it, I’d be hard-pressed not to see them challenge in the ACC. They’re definitely a team that can make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament as well.

Q: Not talking specific plays or anything, but what’s your overall strategy for this one? How do you want this game to go?

A: If we’re going to evaluate where we’re at, we want to make sure we do the things that have set the foundation for our success. That means we don’t back down from anybody. We’re going to try to push the ball, try to play an uptempo game, try to pressure the ball. Obviously, I think a big game for us for any game is going to be rebounding.

Q: How do teams from the Atlantic-10 view tournaments like this? For mid-majors they’re extremely important, but for BCS conference schools they’re sort of just like any other game. Your conference is sort of in-between.

A: You’ve gotta view it as an opportunity. We have a tough time scheduling a lot of BCS schools. I understand it. I completely understand. So it gives us an opportunity to play on a neutral court. You open up with Georgia Tech and then you play two other really good teams as well. As a league, we understand you’ve gotta play well in these games. It doesn’t make or break your season, but it is important that you play well. As a whole, it’s important for the league for teams when they get these opportunities to do well. As I sit here this morning, I’m bummed out that Temple lost by one to Georgetown, that St. Bonaventure lost by two to St. John’s. I’m happy for Duquesne beating Iowa. You pull for each other during this time of year. We’re a multiple-bid league year in and year out, but still, we gain momentum and we gain recognition because of what our teams do in their non-conference. We’re not at the point yet as a league where us winning at Duquesne or us winning at Rhode Island is seen as a great win. We’re just not there yet. Whereas, if Indiana wins at Michigan. That’s a big win.

Frank Martin, Kansas State

Q: You have two players (senior guard Denis Clemente and senior center Luis Colon) from Puerto Rico. What has it been like to give those two players a chance to come home?

A: When we signed Luis Colon, he was the first guy we signed when we got hired at K-State. We signed him, and shortly after we signed the contract to come play here for his senior year. Little did we know a year later, Denny Clemente was going to end up transferring to us (from Miami, Fla) but it’s been a great opportunity to come back to Puerto Rico and bring those two kids home and allow them to play in front of their friends and family.

Q: What are you hoping to get out of this tournament?

A: I think us just like every other team at this stage of this season, we’re trying to define who we are. We’re searching for consistency and for the new players to kind of blend in with the experienced players. The sooner you can do that, the quicker you can move forward as a basketball team. Playing in events like this against the competition that’s here, it helps you grow up, makes you become a better basketball team. We’re excited to be here. It will be a hard tournament. Hard three games, but I know Sunday when we get on that plane, we’re going to be a better basketball team for it.

Q: How much integrating do you need to do?

A: We return four starters, our three perimeter guys and our starting center, but our starting center, Colon, has been hurt. Once you get past that, we have six first-year guys that we’re trying to integrate into what we’re doing and trying to make them learn and grow to match that understanding that the other guys already have. At times we do things pretty well, and at times we look pretty darn bad. We’re trying to kind of fast forward the process as best we can to try to be half-way decent this season.

Q: Denis Clemente put himself on the map last year (he was named Big 12 Newcomer of the year, averaging 15.0 points per game and scoring 44 points in a win over Texas). How has he progressed?

A: He’s been great. Denny wants to win. The players that want to win usually end up excelling. That’s his No. 1 prerogative is winning. He’s a beautiful kid. Has an unbelievable work ethic. Works and trains, just, it’s unbelievable. I wish everybody would have that work ethic. It would make our lives a log simpler. He’s been great. He’s grown so much as a player. He’s become a very good defender where he used to be a liability defensively, but that’s who he is. He challenges himself, he listens, and he’s become a tremendous team leader. He spends almost as much time as me trying to get those first year guys on the same page.

3 comments

  1. When it hasn’t been raining, it’s been like 90, and I’m never one to complain about heat, so that’s been spectacular. But when it rains on a tropical island, it’s pretty biblical. Again, not that I can complain. I’ll take 85 and pouring over 40 and drizzling any day.

Comments are closed.