NC A&T PRESS CONFERENCE
March 18, 2013Eastern Indiana Sports
Q. This is for anyone, but if you could go over just the last few hours, finding out where you were going to be playing, the trip to Dayton, how the ride's been so far for you? AUSTIN WITTER: It's been very exciting. After winning the championship game, we were excited to come here and play. We had our Selection Sunday. Our whole campus did a pep rally for us. We had the campus come out. We all had a big screen on us. There was cameras. News crew came out. The papers and everything. It was exciting. We're just looking forward to getting ready to play now.
Q. I just wondered, is it difficult for you guys?? you're in a basketball mad state with a lot of great teams that people know on a national basis, but you're kind of like in the shadows behind Carolina and Duke and everybody else. LAMONT MIDDLETON: Well, even though we're in the shadows, we still feel pretty good about our chances. We came to this tournament very confident. We had a good streak at the end of the season. We beat a couple good teams in the conference. So we feel very comfortable and very confident about our chances.
Q. Does it ever?? I mean, this is something you accept when you come to A&T that it's not Carolina, obviously, it's not NC State. But you kind of realize that how much is going to be made of these other guys but not you. ADRIAN POWELL: Could you repeat that?
Q. When you come to A&T, that's something you're going to accept, that you know you're not going to get the acclaim of Carolina or Duke. ADRIAN POWELL: A&T is still a great environment, the fans and alumni support us. Even though it's not a North Carolina or Duke, for me personally, I like the small school better than the big school. This put us on the map and shocked the world. If anything happens as far as us moving on, we say we were the team to do it, small school. So I don't look at it as that.
Q. I know you really just got here, but what's the experience been like so far? You flew here and getting into Dayton. How have you been treated so far? ADRIAN POWELL: It's been great, like I say. A little tired, but it's all worth it. I never thought we would make it this far honestly from when I first got here. The program's been turned around a lot. And everybody's been showing us love, the cameras, pictures, just a great experience. I've been dreaming this for a long time to play in the NCAA Tournament, and I finally got a chance to do it with these guys right here.
Q. You guys are playing a team that was 0?8 to start the season and was 10?20 at one point. They are in the same championship as you guys. Could you talk a little bit about what Liberty did and what you think of what they did. AUSTIN WITTER: We've talked a little bit about Liberty previously in our team meetings and seen the scouting report and everything. We've seen the teams?? they played a couple teams that we've played, and we've just got to approach them like we approach every team. We've got to play them hard and play them tough, and just play them to the best of our abilities and go out to get the win. THE MODERATOR: Austin, Adrian, Lamont, thank you for your time. Good luck tomorrow night. We're now joined by the head coach of North Carolina A&T, Cy Alexander. Coach, we'll let you start with an opening statement if you like. COACH ALEXANDER: First of all, we're certainly pleased to be playing in the NCAA Tournament. It's the first time since 1995 that NC A&T has participated in the tournament. I thought our young people came together in the MEAC Tournament. We hadn't won more than two games in a row all year. We won two games in a row about four times. But every time we got to that third one, we would find a way to blow it. Fortunately, the guys waited until the right time to win three plus one more. I think we're playing right now with a lot of confidence. If you look statistically, we're ranked among the top 20 defensive teams, field goal defensive teams in the country, holding teams to about 38 percent field goal. That's what we have to hang our hat on is our ability to play defense. We've been very inconsistent all year offensively, but we feel like, if we could do the job defensively, we'll have a chance to put ourselves in every contest. We recognize that the short turnaround?? that Liberty has two excellent guards in Davon Marshall and John Sanders. And they also have a very good small forward in a kid named Speaks. We've got to figure out a defensive game plan in this short period of time to contain those three young men and keep the bigs off the glass, guard the 3?point line, and don't get them many second shots. Offensively, for us to be successful, three guys have got to shoot the ball fairly well. Adrian Powell, who was the Mid?Eastern Athletic Conference MVP of the tournament, Lamont Middleton, who made All?Tournament team, and Jean Louisme, when those three guys are going offensively, you've got a good chance offensively to do well. If two out of three going good, it's going to be a close game. If one out of three are going, we're going to lose. That's just a fact. Austin Witter was named the Mid?Eastern Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He broke a school record this year with over 86 blocks in one season. He has a great ability to block shots. He's got great timing, and he's got great length. You've got a freshman who starts for us at center, Bruce Beckford, 6'7". Bruce is one of the best midrange shooters probably in our league. He's got a bright, bright future. Our role player, DaMetrius Upchurch, comes off the defense on the front court. And Jeremy Underwood, backup point guard, and we'll move Middleton over to the 2. So this is my first year, and this is my sixth tournament, NCAA Tournament appearance, first time with North Carolina A&T. I came here to the tournament five times as a head coach at South Carolina State University. So the thing that I was trying to sell to a program that hadn't won is we've got to do four things every day. We've got to play exceptionally hard. We've got to play really, really smart, play as a team, play together, and then play with confidence. To our young people's credit, they bought into this, and the results are that we're sitting here after 15 years of not having a winning record more any MEAC championships. We've got a winning record and the first championship since 1995.
Q. How have you presented this opportunity, or how will you present this opportunity to your team? Will there be mentioned of George Mason and VCU and Butler? How do you plan on selling this opportunity? COACH ALEXANDER: If we're fortunate enough to?? I think that comes in you get past this game. I think this game is about us continuing to do what we've done, and that's to play defense. We're 2?0 against Big South schools this year. We beat Radford, we beat Campbell. In talking to several coaches in the Big South, they felt like we?? our talent level is about the same, but that Liberty is playing really well right now. So the key is the two guards, Marshall and Sanders. We've got to do everything we can to disrupt them, take them out of their rhythm, and try to get?? keep them out of transition and allow no second?shot opportunities. Their bigs go to boards extremely well. If we can do that and just kind of get two out of three of those young men?? Louisme, Middleton, or Powell?? going offensively, I think we'll be right in there when it's all said and done.
Q. Is it?? you've been to the NCAA before. Is it a concern with your players? Are you worried at all that they might be a little wide eyed once they get into the game? COACH ALEXANDER: I'm very concerned about that. We're trying to keep things as normal as we would during the season as far as the road game is concerned, you know, film, practice for 45 minutes to an hour, team meal, film again tonight, walk through in the hotel, same routine, shootaround in the morning, and be as businesslike as we possibly can. I told them yesterday all the hoopla that we had on campus was great and it's a great national exposure for our university, and it's certainly going to help out our recruiting, but once we got out here, it's back to business. I told them to enjoy it, but I've been very hard on them all day since we've been here so they can understand it's now time to get ready to play a basketball game, whether it be the NCAA Tournament or just a regular season game or a MEAC Tournament. There's a way we approach things, and it's in a businesslike manner, and hopefully they will get that and transfer it onto the court tomorrow.
Q. A lot of people discount the First Four and they think the tournament really begins later in the week. If you were to win this game, what would it mean for NC A&T and your program? COACH ALEXANDER: It would be huge because it's counted as an NCAA Tournament win, and it gives us an opportunity to get ready to play probably the nation's number one team at this point. So it would be huge. It would be great for the program, and obviously we're looking forward to seeing if we can make that happen.
Q. Could you describe, if there is a typical MEAC or NC A&T recruit, what kind of guy do you get? Do you get kids that had ACC dreams or for whatever reason didn't get there? Do you get kids that always wanted to play there? What kind of kids come there? COACH ALEXANDER: We look for guys that can play in the A?10, Sunbelt, guys that are upper mid?major?type basketball players, who are good students. A&T is a very good school academically with engineering and science and technology, math. Being in North Carolina, stuck between Duke and North Carolina and North Carolina State, obviously, the ACC is a dream for every high school kid, but we have to really go out and look at that next line of guys that would be in the A?10 or the Colonial or some league like that, Ohio Valley, which I was in that league for five years, and sell them on the fact that you can come here and make an immediate mark. We had a heck of a recruiting year so far, and this is not getting here to the NCAA Tournament is not going to do anything but enhance it. So we look for kids with character, and then we recruit the lower level ACC guy that just in case he decides to go to North Carolina State or UNC, that if he doesn't make it there and he falls out of grace and wants to play more, then we're right down the road. So we recruit nationally. We've got commitments from several people all over the country?? again, we've had a tremendous recruiting year, and this opportunity being in the NCAA Tournament is just going to enhance it, and I think you're going to see NC A&T?? because back in the mid?'80s, A&T went to the NCAA Tournament out of the MEAC seven years in a row, from '82 to '88, which is phenomenal. And how the program dropped, I'm not quite sure. Well, they dropped, one, because I was the coach of South Carolina State, and we used to beat them all the time. But on a serious note, it's a great institution in a great city, about 11,000 students, got a great academic reputation. There's absolutely no reason why we can't become again one of the top mid?major programs in the country.
Q. You're playing a team that started the year 0?8 and was 10?20 at one point. When you looked at video of them, did you see them before this five?game winning streak and now, and what?? could you draw a comparison what they're doing right versus what they weren't doing right before, I guess? COACH ALEXANDER: I think the ball is going in the basket a lot more now, and that's a big key. I think they're playing with a lot of confidence. Maybe they weren't quite getting the system early on because they run a lot of ball screens. I think they were not allowing the system to help them. As they move forward, you look at them in December, and you look at them in the Big South Tournament, you see that they will now execute the system, and that's what scares me about them. They're executing their system very well, and what we have to do defensively is try to disrupt their rhythm. That's the best way we can to defend them. But the two guards are really shooting the ball. The kid Marshall shot 65 percent from the 3?point line in the Big South Tournament. So that's shooting at a pretty high pace. So they're letting the system help them and then making shots, and I think that's the biggest?? and they play, and they were playing hard even when they were losing, but now they're playing hard and making shots, and that's a big key. THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you for your time. Good luck tomorrow night.