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NCAA Sweet 16 Press Conference Transcript: Oklahoma (March 26, 2009)

Thursday, March 26, 2009 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 8:12 PM, under , ,

Athens, GA (Mar 26, 2009) -The Sweet 16 Teams are getting ready for their games over the next two days. Part of that preparation is sitting down with the media. Here is the transcript of the University of Oklahoma press conference, as provided by the NCAA.

THE MODERATOR: We've been joined by Oklahoma student athletes Blake
Griffin and Taylor Griffin. As we did before, if you do have I a
question, please raise your hand.

Q. For Blake and Taylor, your impressions of this much talked about
Syracuse two three zone. How do you think they'll do attacking it?

BLAKE GRIFFIN: I think they're very tough. They obviously know
exactly what they're supposed to do in the zone, and they do a great
job of it. We're going to have to be good and pick our spots and then
run our offense really well to get good looks.

TAYLOR GRIFFIN: Like Blake said, you know, that's what they do.
That's what they've been doing. So obviously, it's part of the reason
they've gotten this far.

You know, for us I think we're going to have to hit shots. We're
going to have to attack the caps.

You know, really try to penetrate, get in there and be ready to kick
out, be ready to kind of squeeze in open spots.

Q. The talk in Syracuse is pretty much how to stop Blake Griffin.
From your perspective, what's your impressions of Rick Jackson and
Arinze Onuaku?

BLAKE GRIFFIN: I think they're tough. I think they're really tough.
Both of them are better players than their numbers might show. They're
both big guys that are physical, and they do a good job inside. We're
going to have to do a good job and be physical and keep them off the
boards. And match their intensity.

Q. Do they compare to anybody you've seen Big 12 wise this year?

BLAKE GRIFFIN: I really don't think so. The closest we could compare
them to is maybe Texas A&M because they have two pretty big guys down
low.

I don't think anybody is as big and as strong as they are that we
faced.

Q. Taylor, when you look at what Blake's doing right now as a
ballplayer, is there a way for him to increase his game? Is there a
way for him to get even better this week?

TAYLOR GRIFFIN: You know, there's always an opportunity for any
player, you know, in the country to get better. I think the biggest
thing for him right now is making his teammates better.

You know, that's what great players do, and that's what we need him
to do. We feel that he's going to be pretty consistent about the kind
of production we get out of him.

You know, I think at this point in the season, it's making sure this
team gets to where it wants to go.

Q. What can he do to make his teammates better?

TAYLOR GRIFFIN: You know, just instilling confidence in the rest of
the guys. You know, being a strong leader. Being confident in himself.
Just doing what he does, playing hard.

You know, ultimately, helping us get a win.

Q. Can you talk about Austin's role on the team, and does Syracuse's
zone make his role even more important in this game?

TAYLOR GRIFFIN: Yeah. Austin's been a very good player for us. When
Austin plays really well, we play really well.

You know, he has incredible poise, just kind of has a calming factor
about him.

Yeah, in a game like this, you know, we're going to need him to play
well just like any of our other guards.

He's going to really have to get us into our offense, you know,
going against whatever they're running against us. And stepping up and
making big shots like he's done all year. And getting the ball into
the right people's hands.

Q. For both you guys, how does the intensity and the atmosphere
change this weekend from even last weekend?

BLAKE GRIFFIN: I think it's just even more of a do or die situation.
You know, you get to the Sweet 16, and obviously there's 16 teams
left, and everybody's fighting for those spots. Just everybody's focus
is a little more raised.

You know, everybody's intense, and everybody wants it a little more.


TAYLOR GRIFFIN: I'd have to agree. You know, this is last year was
you know, it's still you lose or you go home, but or last week. But,
you know, this week is the numbers have been cut down, you know, and
there's more coverage. There's more excitement about it. There's more
built up to this weekend.

You know, it's time to step it up to the highest level.

Q. Blake, Patrick Knight fairly famously called you the terminator.
What's your response? What was your response to that? Are you a fan of
that movie? Did you like being considered the terminator?

BLAKE GRIFFIN: You know, I thought it was his way of complimenting
me, I guess. I was appreciative of that. But I've never seen the
movie.

For all I know, it could be a bad thing.

Q. Can you guys talk about Willie Warren and what he's meant to this
team?

BLAKE GRIFFIN: Willie has added a lot to this team and not just
offensively but everything. He's done a great job of really maturing
this year as the year's gone on.

And just kind of understanding, and he's kept learning. You know,
any time a player of that caliber can do that, I mean, he's obviously
going to get better, and he has. He's played huge in a lot of big
games for us.

You know, we need him to do that this weekend.

TAYLOR GRIFFIN: You know, just to expand on that. You know, I think
Willie has improved a lot. I think he's a huge part of this team.
Everybody knows what he can do offensively.

I think, as the years go on, he's gotten a lot more efficient in
what he does. We need him to be playing at a really high level and
being very efficient and taking care of the ball and defending as well
as doing everything he can offensively.

Q. For Blake, with all this focus on trying to stop you from
Syracuse, do you look forward to seeing your teammates try and step up
in case they do focus most of their efforts on you?

BLAKE GRIFFIN: Definitely. That's going to be huge for us. You know,
in the Michigan game we had a lot of guys step up and play really
well.

You know, I feel like as a team we have more guys than people kind
of give us credit for.

Whether it's Juan Pattillo coming off the bench or Cade Davis coming
off the bench and hitting shots. At any given point, we have a guy on
the floor that can go for 20, I think. And we have this year.

I feel like that's going to be a key to our success this weekend is
everybody playing well and not necessarily everybody coming out and
scoring 20 but everybody doing their role and knowing what's important
to the team.

Q. Blake, do you have to put do you have to guard against putting
too much pressure on yourself, trying to put this team on your back
and winning it by yourself? Is that something you have to guard
against?

BLAKE GRIFFIN: Not at all. I don't put any pressure on myself. I
don't believe in that. My teammates I know my teammates have my back.
I know our coaching staff has my back.

So I don't have to worry about, you know, me doing anything by
myself. I haven't done anything by myself this whole year, and I never
will.

As long as I play, there's going to be teammates around me that are
capable. I think one of the biggest things is really trusting
everybody, that they're going to be there for me. All year they have.

Q. Taylor, would you do you agree that your brother is the best
player in America? If so even if you don't, what was your role as
brother developing him? You know, in the house, on the playground, in
the driveway, et cetera.

TAYLOR GRIFFIN: First of all, yes, I do think that he's the best
player in college basketball. You know, I really don't know what to
tell you. Besides, you know, growing up we were really competitive.

It's not like growing up I had in my mind I was training him to
become the greatest college player in America. But, you know, it was
just I think a lot has to do with our parents and my dad and his
athletic background, basketball background, being a coach.

You know, my mom as well. But I really don't know.

Q. But is it safe to say that at least at some point you would be
pounding on him? Being, you know, the older brother and so on.

TAYLOR GRIFFIN: Yeah, I mean, that's how older brothers are. Little
brothers, most of the time, are playing catch up until they catch up.
You know, that's how it was.

Q. Taylor, that being said, with the numbers he puts up or when he
dunks on Zack Novak like he did last weekend, is there ever a point
when you kind of step back and say, wow, how did he do that? Or how
does he do what he does?

TAYLOR GRIFFIN: Absolutely. It was crazy seeing him develop kind of
after I left and started playing for OU and coming back and seeing him
develop and how much he changed in high school and even when he got to
OU.

And just watching the different plays that he made, and he was
capable of making. But, you know, I feel like I've seen a lot of it
now. It's just kind of almost like another play.

Even though it may be the most spectacular play of the day or of the
week or whatever, it's a play, and that's what I'm used to seeing from
him.

Q. For both of you guys, Taylor, you mentioned your dad, do you have
an appreciation of what he did as a coach long before you guys ever
came around? Classen in the '70s and the John Marshall teams. Do you
have an appreciation for how good a coach he was before you guys ever
even got here?

TAYLOR GRIFFIN: Absolutely. I can't tell how many people we talk to
on a daily basis just, you know, they come in saying that how much my
dad's or our dad's meant to them as a coach, as a teacher.

And obviously, he's had a lot of success, you know, in the '70s,
'80s. And more recently. But, you know, he's touched a lot of lives.

As far as us, he's given us the background. That's what we believe
made us successful.

BLAKE GRIFFIN: I think I knew, like he said. People always come up
and talk to me about, you know, when he was at John Marshall, and when
he was coaching these guys. How much he means to them.

You know, like he said. And also, I think a lot of my dad or
hopefully a lot of my dad, or our dad, has rubbed off on us because he
I mean, he's one of those type of people. Even people that didn't play
for him that maybe was a student in his class, always want to come up
and talk about how nice he was and all the things he did for them.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, guys.

THE MODERATOR: We've been joined by Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel. Coach, if you'd like to start us off with just an opening statement, a few thoughts on coming to Memphis.

COACH JEFF CAPEL: We're excited to be in Memphis. It's a great city.
We're excited to still be playing. We're very fortunate and honor to
have an opportunity to continue our season and to play against a very
good Syracuse team.

It's a challenge, but we'll be ready for it. And we'll see what
happens. So excited to be here.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Capel.

Q. Coach, there's a lot of talk about the point guards in this
tournament, specifically for the other three teams. Where does Austin
rank among those guys? What has he meant for your squad this year
since he often gets overshadowed?

COACH JEFF CAPEL: I always felt the point guard's most important job
is to win. As a starting point guard for our basketball team, Austin
Johnson has led us to 29 wins against 5 losses.

So I think he's had a heck of a year. I think he's played well. I
think he's done winning things.

It may not show up to the average fan that he's good. I know it's
been a question mark about our team all year. But as a coach, I've
been satisfied with what he's done.

At times he's played really well. And that's when he's scoring the
basketball. But the majority of the time he's done winning things for
us.

How does he compare with the other guys? I don't know. I mean,
certainly, I think some of those guys are better pro prospects. You
know, certainly have gotten a lot more attention. Maybe rightfully so.
But he's been really good for us, and he's helped us win 29 games so
far.

Q. Coach, you've talked often this year how Willie has to be a
playmaker, not a role player. Where do you think that progression is
with him now?

COACH JEFF CAPEL: I think he's fine. I think he's done a good job
with that all year.

Sometimes we have to remind him of that. Sometimes I feel like
Willie tries to defer, and we don't want Willie to defer. We brought
him here to be a really good player for us, and he's done that for the
most part this year.

But at times he's deferred a little bit.

Q. It seems he often defers when Blake's there though. Do you have
to

COACH JEFF CAPEL: No, I don't think that's necessarily true. At
times when he's deferred, Blake has been there. When we were at
Arkansas, he didn't. When we were at Rice, he didn't. When we played
Davidson, he didn't. When we played Purdue, he didn't.

He's a guy that usually, the bigger the stage, the better he plays.
You know, I thought maybe he deferred a little bit when Blake came
back after being injured. And we had to remind him of that.

But I don't know if it was just that. I think maybe he had hit the
wall a little bit too. He had just played two games prior to that
where he played a lot of minutes where kind of everything revolved
around him.

And that's what a lot of these young guys don't understand. When
you're the focal point of someone's defense, that's a little bit more
challenging. And I think maybe Willie gained a little bit more respect
for Blake because Blake's been that for us all year and yet he
continues to put up the numbers that he does.

It's a little bit different when you become the focal point.

Q. Coach, Jim Boeheim said that with the balance on these two
rosters and ability to score, this could be maybe more of an offensive
game than people might expect. You look at their two three zone, do
you think there's going to be a chance to pick your points and score?

COACH JEFF CAPEL: Well, they're a really, really good offensive
team, if I'm not mistaken. I think they led the Big East in scoring,
and they're very efficient. They can hurt you in so many different
ways obviously.

I think they have one of, arguably, the best point guard in the
country in Flynn, and he's the orchestrator of everything. Then they
have guys that can shoot it in Devendorf and Rautins. Guys that are
very efficient down low in Jackson and Onuaku.

Then Paul Harris is kind of the wild card. He can do a lot of
different things and hurt you offensively in different ways. When our
offense is clicking, we feel like we can be that way too. When we're
making shots from the perimeter, that opens up things down low even
more for Blake.

We feel like we're a team that we can get in transition and make
some plays. So I mean, it could be. Their two three zone is really
good.

You know, you have to find different ways to attack it, and we've
worked on some different things. We've seen some zone this year. So
hopefully, we'll be good at attacking it tomorrow.

Q. Coach, could you go into a little more detail about what you like
about Jonny Flynn's game. Secondly, honestly Syracuse's two three zone
is famous. Is there any guarding against just that it's a
psychological battle when you're trying to get ready to play them?

COACH JEFF CAPEL: The first part of your question, Jonny Flynn,
first of all, is a winner. He does everything that I mean, he has an
incredible feel for the game. He has great pace. I mean, he can hurt
you without even scoring a basket.

But he's also a guy that he gets a great feel for how the game is
going. I mean, he could go 15 minutes without taking a shot, and all
of a sudden, you know, the next five minutes, he could score 20 points
in five minutes. He can drive it. He can shoot it with range. He can
get fouled. He can get the spots and pull up.

I mean, he just has such a great feel for the game and such a great
flare for the game also. It looks like he loves to play and he's a
great teammate.

As far as preparing for the two three zone, I don't think it's a
psychological thing. They're good at it. You know when you play
Syracuse, they're going to play zone. That's what they do. That's what
Coach Boeheim has done for a while.

It's not a psychological thing, they're just very good at it. They
defend the heck out of you, and they, because of their length and
athleticism, they're maybe able to cover some mistakes they may make
in the zone, but you can do that when you're long and athletic like
they are, especially on that back line.

Q. Your number two seed, 29 5. You're where you should be in terms
of seeding and all that. But do you feel like maybe you're still
proving yourself? Not you personally, your team.

COACH JEFF CAPEL: I don't know. We felt like we've had to do that
all year long. So that's probably more of a question that, you know,
for my guys than for me.

My focus has been on trying to beat Syracuse. I don't you know,
haven't been worried about what other people I don't really know what
other people are saying. I've been kind of in my little balloon and
just focused in on Syracuse and what we have to do to beat Syracuse.
So I don't know.

Q. Apart from the basketball players, the wins, the fans, what do
you like about being in Oklahoma?

COACH JEFF CAPEL: The people. I mean, that's it's really good people
there. It actually reminds me a little bit of North Carolina.

You know, people there love OU, especially where I live in Norman.
People are very friendly. They're just good people and people you
enjoy being around.

I work for a great athletic director and a great administration. So
that's really important to me.

I mean, I love my team. I love the guys that we have in our program
and the guys that we've recruited. But it's more so the people there
in Oklahoma.

Q. Coach, I guess with the attention that Blake gets, can you kind
of flip that around for me and your impressions of the Syracuse front
court and maybe the challenges that they present for you.

COACH JEFF CAPEL: They're good. They're very good. Onuaku and
Jackson are really high percentage players. They're big. They're
strong. They finish around the basket.

Because of the other weapons, you know, sometimes they maybe get
overshadowed a little bit. But they produce.

You bring Ongenaet off the bench who's an energy guy, great
offensive rebounder who plays off those guys, plays off the guards. It
definitely provides a challenge for us. They're big across the front
line, especially when they start with those two kids, Jackson and
Onuaku.

Probably the team that's comparable to them in our league as far as
size like that is Texas. Especially when they would go with Pittman,
Atchley and Damion James or Pittman, James, and Gary Johnson. They
could be really big like that also. So it provides us a challenge.

Q. I can remember you and Jerry Stackhouse hooking up on the
coliseum floor in the high school regional. Of course we remember the
Duke days and, you know, the VCU scare and the Wake Forest. Can you
talk about the journey you've had from Fayetteville, how much you
still hear from folks back that way. And then with your dad as the
coach and your brothers, how much interaction is there as you continue
to chart your path?

COACH JEFF CAPEL: Well, it's been an incredible journey. And it's
been an incredible blessing.

My career's been very abnormal. And I say that you know, I didn't
spend a lot of time as an assistant coach.

Growing up in North Carolina, I mean, everything around there
revolves around basketball. And I grew up with a coach at home. And I
mean, from the time I can remember, I've been around the game. I was
my dad's ball boy when he was a high school coach. And I was probably
the worst ball boy ever because all I wanted to do was shoot during
time outs or at halftime. I didn't worry about getting those guys
water or anything.

When my dad became an assistant coach at Wake Forest, I was a ball
boy, so I was under the basket, you know, when North Carolina came or
when Duke came. So I was there when all those great players, when Len
Bias came. I was there. I got to see those guys right live and in
person.

I got to play two on one every day before practice. My brother and I
with Mugsy Bogues. Then my dad and became a head college coach. I was
in ninth grade. From where I was back then, you didn't start high
school until tenth grade, so it was junior high. I would go and work
out with my dad's team, and I didn't know at the time I was playing
every day against a guy who just finished his 14th year in the NBA in
Darrell Armstrong.

Darrell lived with us for a while after he finished, before he made
the NBA.

Then I go with Duke. I like to describe my Duke experience as a real
world experience. You know, sometimes when you go to a Duke or a
Carolina or places like that, maybe OU in football, everything's like
a fairy tale. You know, everything you go to final fours or things
like that.

For me, we played for a Final Four championship my first year. My
second year, we were 2 14 in the ACC. My junior year, we were a little
bit better. But I was the guy that was blamed for the demise of Duke
basketball. My senior year, I get benched early in the year.

Probably one of my proudest moments as a player is my senior year.
We won the ACC regular season. I felt like I contributed to that.

And then after that, that's kind of what a journey veers on a
different path. I mean, everyone when they're young, all these players
want to play in the NBA. I was just like them, and I thought I was
right there. Getting ready for the second pre draft camp, I ruptured a
disk in my back, and I couldn't play from May until August. So no
draft, no summer league, no training camp. Things like that. Played in
the CBA. Had a really good year, have a chance to get signed by the
NBA that summer.

Lockout starts. I develop a stomach disease that basically I missed
that whole next year of playing. I thought I was dying. They couldn't
figure out what was wrong with me.

I went from 205 pounds, in two months I was 160 pounds. And came
back after I got healthy, coach created a position for me at Duke.
That's where I got to coach. I never wanted to coach.

When I was up to about 22 years old, this was the last thing I
wanted to do because I saw what my dad went through. And then coach
created the position for me at Duke just to kind of get me out of the
house, get me away from Virginia, get me away from home.

And I went back there, and I got to sit in on meetings, so I got to
see it from that side. And I came back and tried to play, had to have
back surgery. That ended my career. I was lucky enough to get on with
my dad as an assistant.

Knew it was going to be a tough year because my dad's job was in
jeopardy. He got fired at the end of that year. And then it was very
fort Coach Mack hired me at VCU as an assistant.

And then I didn't you know, I spent two years as an assistant. I
never went on the road and recruited. I was the third guy at both
places. My year at VCU, it was February. I'm conducting a study hall,
and the A.D. comes down and wants to talk to me. And is is asking me
how I like Richmond, how I like everything. And about 20 minutes later
he offers me the job as the head coach.

My career has just been really abnormal. It's been really strange.
You know, the way I've always looked at it, you know, I guess I was
destined for this. God chose me for this for some reason. And he's
guided me every step of the way.

That's been my journey. It continues. Again, I've been through so
much as a person, as a player, now as a coach. You know, as a father
now. But that's life man. You go through peaks and valleys, ups and
downs, and you learn from each one.

That's what I've tried to do.

Q. Jeff, can you talk about Blake. And often at this time of year
stars need to even elevate their game more to get their teams over
certain humps. Is there anything he can do? Is there a way for Blake
to elevate his game in this tournament?

COACH JEFF CAPEL: Well, I think he has if you look at what he's done
in the first two games. I think he's averaging something like 30 and
15. He's probably missed five shots in the whole tournament. So his
percentage is really high.

One of the things I talked to Blake about before this tournament
started was, you know, he's going to have to carry us and he's going
to have to be the example. I said, you know, you may have to put your
arms around these guys and carry them with you. You know, you may have
to push them, whatever it is you have to do.

This is where legends are made, this tournament, and this is where
legends continue to grow. I think Blake's a guy that will leave an
incredible legacy at the University of Oklahoma.

I don't think it will be appreciated as much until he's gone. That's
my opinion. I think people will appreciate it even more.

If you look at the numbers that he's put up this year and I know I'm
guilty of it because we're with him every day. I mean, I have a lot of
guys that have done that. And the other thing that you tend to forget
I mean, I played against a guy for four years who was I mean, he may
be the best power forward ever, Tim Duncan.

And Tim was putting up numbers maybe somewhat similar when he was a
senior. Blake's a sophomore doing this. And he's also doing it against
double and triple teams just about every night. And so that makes it
even more remarkable what he's done.

I've enjoyed every step of the way with him. When he committed to us
a month and a half after I got the job, I knew we had something
special. I knew we had the piece that we needed to get this thing
turned. And one of the things I vowed to myself is I was going to
enjoy every day of the journey because you don't get a guy like that
too often. Guys like him don't come around too often.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.


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