Shaka Smart spoke with the media Tuesday about the difficult losses suffered in Portland to Duke and Gonzaga and what the team learned from those tournament like games ahead of tonight’s match up with Florida A&M.
Opening statement: Learned a great deal about our team in Portland. Obviously we had some really interesting games and some games where there were some lessons we can take a lot from. Our number one emphasis as a team coming out of Portland is just learning how to win big games through a commitment to our cultural and offensive and defensive principles. I think one of the things we demonstrated is that, certainly, for stretches of games we can be really, really effective against some of the best teams in the country. So the next step, our challenge right now, is getting to the point to where we can be equally effective for the entire game against some of the best teams in the country. That’s really what we’re focusing on coming into this week. We play tomorrow against Florida A&M, and we want to make sure that the standard we have for our self is based on what we can be and what we’re moving toward as opposed to what we currently are.
On how he felt the team reacted after both PK80 losses: The team was really, really upset after the Duke game. I think, obviously, any time you’re playing the number one team in the country there’s an added level of incentive from a player’s standpoint. As a coach, you’re like ‘every game counts the same and every game is a huge deal.’ But as a player, you have a chance to beat the number one team in the country and you’re up 16 points with 10, 11 minutes left, and they come back and force overtime and win, that’s really, really tough. They were really upset. There were some tears, but I think they also felt like ‘hey, there was some really good things we did and we didn’t necessarily play an A-game for us.’ It’s not like we put everything out there on the table. Matt Coleman was 1-for-12 in that game. Mo (Bamba), certainly, was far from his best. Dylan (Osetkowski) was 0-for-6 from three, and we know we can make some of those shots. Those are just examples. Coming off of Gonzaga, that was a strange game just because there was four really, really different parts of the game. The last one being overtime and they outplayed us in the overtime. I think by the end of that game, to be honest at this point in the year, our guys were pretty spent emotionally just from having put a lot into the preparation for the trip, the trip itself, the Butler game, the Duke game, the day in between when we practiced and watched a decent amount of tape, and then the Gonzaga game.
On perimeter shooting problems negatively affecting the offense: No question. It changes the way that people guard you. A lot of teams, if they don’t think you can make a shot, they’re going to dare you to shoot. They’re going to pack it in. That affects the post when the ball goes into those guys. It impacts your pick and roll offense just because you’re guarding it differently. For instance, they go under most of (Roach’s) pick and rolls. You can’t go under on a guy that’s a big, big threat to make the shot. That’s something that we’ve got to counteract by shooting the ball better. I think we’ve got quite a few guys on our team, starting with Dylan, that can shoot a lot better than they have shot so far. If the proof is in the pudding, it’s all about going and playing and making shots. I think we need to slow down a little bit on some of those shots. Guys really, really want to make them. When you hold on super tight and you really want to make it, then sometimes you need to let go a little bit. The good thing is we’re getting close to that point in the year when the academic calendar winds down and we can spend a ton of time on skill. We’re not there yet. We’re still with another week, week and a half left in school, but we’re definitely putting an emphasis on just getting in the gym and getting a lot of shots up.
On percentage of half-court possessions team is getting into offensive concepts: It’s a fine line. It’s interesting. You play a team like Duke and they’ve got such great talent. They run a lot less stuff than maybe a team like Gonzaga, and Gonzaga has got really good players, too. But you saw Duke is mostly running Grayson Allen off a screen, or isos for Bagley at the elbow. It’s a fine line based on your personnel. Our guys would probably like to play more like Duke, but what we’ve preached to them is playing more like how we talk as coaches. Our four core values on offense, you’ve seen them in our practice gym, more passing, less dribbling, hard cutting, great spacing. When you watch possessions when we do those things, that usually leads us to really, really good shots. That doesn’t necessarily mean we make it. We might get a really good shot and not make it. From an execution standpoint, that’s a good possession, but from a points standpoint you didn’t score. I don’t know if there’s an exact percentage to answer your question, but we want to first and foremost play faster. Our guys are not running enough. We need to run harder, we need to run faster, we need to get down the floor faster, we need to throw the ball ahead more. I talked to Mark Few after our game. He said the most dangerous things about your guards are when they’re in transition. He said I didn’t think that they attacked us enough in transition. That’s good feedback. That’s something that we see as well. The more we get the multiple concepts, I think we had the percentages before we went to Portland, but every single time where we’ve gotten to what we call multiple concepts, which is doing one thing on one side and another thing on another side, we scored every time. That was against lesser competition for those first few games, but still that’s the mindset that we want to take.
On not putting James Banks in the Duke game after Jericho Sims fouled out and team’s mental toughness: At that point, I didn’t want to put in anyone that we hadn’t played. Didn’t think that would have been fair to them at that time. Certainly a judgement call. We’re still figuring out lineups, combinations, that stuff. It’s interesting because I thought playing more guys in the Gonzaga game helped us come back, but there’s also the thought of, against a team like Duke or Gonzaga, do you need to have a guy like Kerwin Roach in the game almost all the time to guard a Grayson Allen or one of your top one or two big guys in there all the time to counteract a Bagley or a Carter. In terms of mental toughness I think our guys are making progress with that. I really do. I think the cultural emphasis that we’ve had is starting to show in the games, but I think we’re a long way from being that team that is so mentally tough that no matter what happens you always respond the exact right way. That’s what I meant at the beginning when I talked about learning how to win. When you understand the importance of all the small battles that you have to win to beat the number one team in the country that gives you more of an ability to go do those things. Some of these guys, literally in that game, were in their fourth or fifth game of their college career. It’s a lot to ask Jericho Sims to fully understand that, but hey, you’re in the game at that time in that tournament against Duke. That’s what you’ve got to do.
On Bamba’s adjustment to the college game: Same thing Jarrett (Allen) dealt with. It’s very, very similar. I looked back and looked up Tim Duncan’s first five games. Just thought ‘let me see what this guy did’ because he became a dominant player. But I remember when he was young, he didn’t necessarily set the world on fire, especially from a scoring standpoint. His freshman year, he averaged nine points and nine rebounds. His first five games, he averaged about seven points, ten rebounds. His first game, he didn’t score. Times were different then. There weren’t so many one-and-dones. You talk about a guy that developed over the course of his career into one of the most dominant college bigs we’ve seen in a long time. I think for whether you’re talking about him, you’re talking about Mo, or you’re talking about Jarrett, when these guys come in from high school, and I’ve told Mo this a thousand times and now he’s finally living it, things are harder than you think they’re going to be. It’s really three things for bigs specifically that are a major adjustment, and he’s dealing with all three. One, the pace of the game. Everything’s just going faster, so a lot of those fouls he’s a step behind. Some of them are just silly fouls where he’s reaching and he fouls a guy and the guy gets an and-1. Might as well just let him go if you’re going to do that, so I told Mo if you’re going to foul, he can’t score. It’s one or the other. The first is the pace of the game, and the second is the physicality of the game. Him being a long, lanky guy, he’s stronger than he looks but he’s not as strong as a guy that weighs 250 pounds. He’s not as strong as Dylan. The third one, and this is really an underrated adjustment in terms of how challenging it is. This really impacted Jarrett early and it’s impacted Mo. That is when you’re a young, big kid coming into college, defenders get their hands on the basketball when you’re trying to make a move way more than in high school. It almost never happens when you’re a great player in high school. In college, you’re trying to make a post move and come back to the middle, people get their hands on the ball. Jarrett did a great job going from this point last year over the next five, six, seven weeks going into conference play adjusting in all three of those areas, and that’s what Mo is going to need to do.
On the challenge of bringing in players like Coleman and Bamba: There’s just not a lot of guys that can make an adjustment to college that quickly, and even with those guys, they’re dealing with challenges that are implicit and part of being a freshman. Most guys are more of the variety of having a ton of ups and downs early on as freshmen. What’s challenging about recruiting those guys is everybody wants them. With Matt, it was down to us and Duke. With Mo, it was down to us and Kentucky and Duke. Usually tough to beat those programs. Recruiting is very much a hierarchy, and two of the schools I mentioned are at the top. You’ve just got to do the best job you can trying to attract those guys and build relationships, and then more importantly, do a good job with them when you get them.
On getting Bamba double digit shot attempts: I would like for him to be there. I would like for him to be there, but he has to be more assertive. Double digit shot attempts for him is not just on everyone else around him. That’s also on him. You talk about Matt, that’s one of Matt’s jobs is to get him the ball. When we throw Mo the ball, he’s got to go get it. One of the challenges going from high school to college, in high school especially when you’re that big you can just stand there with one arm up. That doesn’t work in college. He is learning. We have four core for our bigs. One of the core is ceiling. That is getting position on your man, getting low, getting what we call your goalposts up, getting them to post up nice and wide, and that’s an adjustment for him. As he gets better at that, he’ll get the ball more. As he gets the ball more, he’ll get more shots. He’s just got to be more assertive and aggressive. The other way to get shots is on the glass. Go get offensive rebounds.
On late game situations: To be honest, in (the Duke) game, it was more failing to finish off some possessions that were pretty good or promising at least, started off in a promising way. We run a pick and roll, Jericho’s open on the roll and we throw it up to him. Instead of coming down with it and powering it up, he kind of flipped it up there to try to lob it in. that was pretty good execution until he didn’t come down with it. We found Dylan close to the basket and instead of trying to score he tried to lob it to Mo, which wasn’t really there. I would take that two on one situation again. We got a dunk for Dylan that he just flat out missed. We missed some free throws at the end. I do think there’s a fine line that we’ve got to get better and learn. You don’t want to play with avoidance when you have a lead down the stretch. You don’t want to play a prevent, I know in football you call it a prevent defense. You don’t want to play not to lose. We’ve got to maintain a level of aggressiveness. I thought Duke really ramped up their aggressiveness in the last 10-12 minutes, and they gained some momentum from that.
On Bamba’s form on the defensive end and avoiding foul calls: It’s the age old thing you work with big guys; put your hands through the ceiling instead of going here. He’s had a couple like that. He’s had more where he’s reached to get his hand on the ball. We show him, we watch every foul. Darrin Horn has a really good way of breaking them up. There’s the category of fouls that are just silly fouls that are avoidable, there’s some where you’re put in a tough position. Maybe coming out of the back end of the press, that’s tough. We’ve just got to try to jump straight up, but there’s some technique fouls too where it’s just a matter of instead of reaching down, going up. As talented and as good a player as he is, he’s still a freshman from the standpoint of learning those things. We’re going to keep working with him. I really think he’ll get better because he’s a smart kid.
On seeing the diamond press more after success: I love playing that way, man. You know that. That’s exciting. We have depth to play that way. We have a good amount of athleticism, but it requires an extreme commitment. I mean extreme on the level of guys to get outside of their normal comfort zone and it also, to be honest, requires you to spend more energy on defense than maybe you would otherwise. I think I’ve told you this before, I went and watched Iman Shumpert. He plays for the Cavs now. His high school team, they turned the team over something like 30-something times. I asked the coach why they were so good in the press. He said because the guys wanted to be. It’s coming up with a way to be that way consistently. Obviously when you’re down late in the game, you don’t have a choice. There’s that motivation. To answer your question, the simple answer is I’d love to do that more. It’s a way to play some more guys. It’s a way, when you have certain lineups in the game, to extend the floor and be aggressive.
On if the team played not to lose in the late stages against Duke: I thought there was some avoidance there. I mean, that’s a big time place to be in. Our guys, they did such a good job. Our guys say STP, something to prove, and they did such a good job of playing that way for three quarters of the game. Duke, like I said, you’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They ramped up their aggressiveness. Some calls went their way, and there was a situation where we’re up 13, they miss a free throw, they get the free throw rebound, they get it to Grayson Allen in the corner, bang he hits a three, it’s down to 10, and you can sense a real momentum. I think on the part of our players, particularly our young guys and really all of our guys, just not having necessarily been in that situation against a team of that caliber yet, that probably did affect us. We tried to calm them down during timeouts and focus on the next thing. I really do think that’s going to help us moving forward from the standpoint of just going through that experience and being able to say ‘hey, we’ve been in this place before. Let’s do X, Y, and Z a little bit differently.’
On Osetkowski will dictate how good this team can be: He’s as important as anybody on our team. The thing about him in that game, and hopefully if he hears this he won’t take it the wrong way, but he didn’t even play an A-game in that game. I say that in a good way of saying he’s capable of being even better. I think he was 9-for-20 from the field in that game. That’s the other thing about Mo’s shots. Dylan’s just more assertive and more aggressive right now. When you combine their shots, you want them both together to shoot a good amount. You want those guys to get a lot of attempts. Right now, Mo needs to ramp his aggressiveness up to go get some of those. To your point about Dylan, he’s extremely important for us. The way he passed the ball in that game, the way he’s capable of moving the ball around is really, really big. They went zone. He’s extremely effective against the zone. Against when teams press us, which we’ll see coming up here, he’s going to be very, very important to that as well.
On speaking with other coaches about the press: I played in the 90s. Players are different now. Not in a bad way. They’re better, but I talk to coaches about it all the time. I came from a background where a lot of the guys I worked for liked to play that way and liked to be aggressive. I think the thing that all coaches agree on is that it’s really dependent on your personnel. When I say personnel, not just their physical attributes, but also just the mentality. What we’re trying to do with our team and our program is incrementally build a mentality of aggressiveness and the culture we want to have, the level of pride in who we are. That happens incrementally, and maybe at the end of it, you have a situation where you’re not really having to wonder or even think about guy’s motivation to play a certain style of play. We’re just not at that point yet. Part of that is just because a lot of these guys haven’t played together yet. A lot of them haven’t played for Texas yet until we started this season. I think we’re making a lot of progress. We mentioned Dylan, he’s a huge key. He’s, of our starters, probably the worst athlete. He’s a huge key for us defensively because when he brings an edge to him, it really spearheads everything that we’re trying to do. We’ve had games or practices where he didn’t necessarily have that edge, and we’re nowhere near as aggressive. Because he’s in his fourth year compared to some of the other guys that are in their first or second year, he’s just more of a man. He’s more grown. He can assert himself and that has an impact on guys around him. That can go a long way into how we play on defense.
On lineups and guys fighting for playing time: Definitely. The guards, it’s not very clear cut. Snoop has been terrific. The impact he’s had on our team defensively has been really, really good. It’s been as good of anyone I’ve coached just through six games. Andrew (Jones) is leading us in scoring. He’s done the best job of anyone on our team of putting the ball in the basket, which is a big deal. Matt has done a nice job at times of getting our team organized and playing with more of a semblance of what we’re trying to do on offense. He needs to do that more consistently. From there, I really liked the way that Jase (Febres) played when he came in the game against Gonzaga. He didn’t make shots yet, but that’s coming from him. He, with the way he played in that game, he deserves more time. He’s a freshman so he doesn’t have a body of work yet. Eric (Davis) is struggling. He was doing great as of a couple weeks ago. He had tweaked his groin in practice, he missed a little time, but that’s not an excuse. We’ve got to get him back to an aggressive, attacking mentality. Jacob (Young) has done pretty well. What Jacob needs to continue to learn to do better is be in exactly the right spot on defense and make the right decision on both ends of the floor.