THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and get started with questions for the student athletes of Miami.
Q. If all four of you wouldn't mind just answering, it's really kind of the first time big NCAA tournament, what has it been like so far? I know it's been only a little amount of time. But what's it been like so far?
KENNY KADJI: It's been great. We have been surrounded with a lot of people. It's been fun. Everybody's talking about it. We can make a big run here we think. It's just been nice and a good experience for us so far.
Julian Gamble: It's been a lot of excitement. Especially for our university, as a whole, being back into the NCAA tournament and having the chance to really represent our university and our entire city of Miami in a positive manner. So it's been a lot of excitement and really excited to play our first game.
Shane Larkin: It's been really exciting.
Q. How about specifics? Anything specific that's happened?
SHANE LARKIN: Well, like the send off when we left to go to come up here from the university, there was a lot of people out there. A lot of media, just asking us questions. And that was fun. So it's been real fun. Hopefully we can just keep it up and keep playing more and more games to the championship.
Durand Scott: Couldn't agree with these guys any more. It's been an exciting time. Just a great experience with my teammates and basically just living in the moment.
Just being on the bus with these type of guys and just to see the smiles on their faces. The excitement going around the room, I'm pretty sure there's some butterflies because this is our first time here, but I think we're ready for the moment. We're well prepared. So we're enjoying the process.
Q. What's the new haircut?
JULIAN GAMBLE: I got a little mohawk going with a little bit of Chris Anderson with what my teammates been saying about the Miami Heat. So just trying to increase the intimidation factor on the court.
Q. Durand, all your teammates call you the heart and soul of this team, how does that make you feel?
DURAND SCOTT: I can't let them down. I know that at any given moment I have to step up. Have to be there for them in any given way, whichever way they need it. Mentally, physically, just go down for a loose ball, making a shot, making a key defensive stop.
But that wouldn't happen without these guys. They helped me to become the player I am today. So I'm very thankful to have players like these two right here at the podium with me.
Q. Kenny, what was your reaction when you found out that Florida was kind of in the same pod here, being that you started your career with the Gators?
KENNY KADJI: I was excited. I get to see all my old teammates and old coaching staff and everything. I don't have anything but respect for them. I just saw them coming in here and everybody was happy to see me, happy to see them. It was a great time, a great two years at the University of Florida. And I couldn't be more happy that I had the opportunity to experience that.
Q. Billy mentioned earlier this season that he felt like maybe just you needed a change of scenery, a fresh start and that the talent was always there. Just what was your mindset leaving and how have things kind of materialized for you at Miami?
KENNY KADJI: I wanted to start anew. And Miami was recruiting me out of high school, so I went there. And my brother was going to school there, so that sealed the deal for me. So, yeah, just a fresh start for me.
Q. Durand and Julian, talk about the impact coach has made since he's been here. Obviously pretty successful two seasons so far with him.
JULIAN GAMBLE: The impact has been tremendous. It's almost hard to put in words how he's really changed the culture of our entire team. And just around the university as a whole.
He's really gotten us back to worrying about the fundamentals of the game and doing little things well. If you think about good teams, that he's what good teams do, they're very disciplined, they do the little things well.
And they're going to go out and give you a consistent, hard effort. It's something that you're going to remember after you play them. So with that being said just the amount of poise that he brings to the sidelines and to every practice and at the same time he wants us to have a lot of fun. So just him being around it's been really good for us.
DURAND SCOTT: I couldn't agree with him more. He's a guy who came with the right mindset to get things done and, thus far, he's been doing exactly what he has said. We know this is a guy that came in and has brought in a group of guys together and formed a tremendous team. And just embraced it and just did great with the community and the fans and things like that. So it all started with him and we just want to go out there and just make his word come true.
Q. For Shane and Julian, can you talk about what it's like being in the favorite role here, like Pacific was in here before. And how does it feel going against a team like Pacific where they're just talking about how they're hoping to have some kind of chance against the big time Miami team and you guys have always been kind of the underdog for a long time. How does it feel to be in this position?
SHANE LARKIN: It's good feeling knowing that they respect us that much. But they made the tournament just like we did. They won their conference tournament. We did too. So they're a great team. We have the higher seed so that's kind of what makes us the favorite, but they're a great team.
We have watched film on them, they have great players, they're very talented. So we've got to come out with a lot of intensity and focus and really lock in on the defensive side of the ball. I think if we do that, we'll have a great success in the game.
JULIAN GAMBLE: Being the favorite is, it's a respect thing. You like having that amount of respect coming from a different team.
But at the same time you have to go out and play the game. It can't be a situation where you look at the amount of credit and respect another team has given you and thinking that they're going to go out and lay down for you and let them win. They want to win just as bad as we do.
And they have an equal chance of winning this game and a national championship as anybody else, in my opinion, because you have to go out there and play the game. I think that now in college basketball seeds mean a lot less because you see these Mid Major teams beating these high major teams on a more consistent basis. So we still have to go out there and play the game.
Q. Shane, what have you learned specifically from Durand? What are some of the lessons that you learned as a guard?
SHANE LARKIN: Just to be a leader. Basically. He's very experienced, he's been successful all four years here. He started every game. So just to be very poised on the court. He never gets too high. He's an emotional player, he shows his emotions on the court.
When a big play happens, he shows his emotions for his teammates. And he's always there to encourage you when bad things happen. So just to be a leader and always have support for your teammates out on the court and watching him play with the intensity he does, it motivates me to go out there and play with the same amount of intensity that he does. So that's probably what I've learned the most from him.
Q. It probably seems like 20 years ago now from when we saw you play. But talk about how your game has evolved and what you worked on to bring yourself to this point. And for the other players can you talk about what Kenny means to this team. Not just on the floor as well as over the court.
KENNY KADJI: I've been able to do more things here at Miami, you know. Just playing my game, shoot the ball more, put the ball on the floor, and get on the post. I think that at Florida my role was a little bit different. I had to be more of a defensive guy. And I was playing more in the post. Here I just expanded my game and I put the ball on the floor, try to make plays and try to score the ball more.
JULIAN GAMBLE: He's brought a completely new dimension to our team. His impact has been unquestionable, the impact that he's made on some of these games. He's an all conference player. So it's always good when you can add an all conference player to your roster. Him being the fact that he has been on both the offensive and defensive end has really helped us in some of these big time games. He's come up big for us.
SHANE LARKIN: His impact is incredible. You know when he is not on the court because the defense can shrink in. But with him as a stretch four, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense, because you can't leave him open at the 3 point line.
And it opens a lot of driving lanes for me and the other guards. So his impact is definitely huge and on the defensive side he's a great shot blocker. So he intimidates people at the rim. So everything he does on the court is great for us. Off the court he's a funny guy, he has a great spirit.
DURAND SCOTT: Yeah, Kenny's great. It's a tremendous help to our team, because he's so versatile. He's like a big guard who is able to put the ball on the floor, who is always able to shoot, dribble, things like that. So he helps the other four players on the court because he's so great with what he does. So I'm very thankful to have Kenny and we want to keep rolling with him.
Q. Coming fresh off of your ACC regular season winning and the winning the tournament, any added pressure right now just to prove yourselves that being a two seed rather than a one seed really proving to people that you do belong in this tournament and you are a force to be reckoned with.
JULIAN GAMBLE: I think team-wide there is no added pressure. I think we play at our best when have a chip on our shoulder. So whether we're a two seed in the East region are or a one seed overall I think we're going to go out and continue to play with that chip.
That's when we're at our best when we're really in attack mode and being aggressive for 40 minutes.
Q. Shane, I read where you asked your dad to take all the NBA draft calls that are starting to come in. All the attention. How big a help is that for you to have a guy in the same house that has been through basically what you've been through, he's been a star and knows how to handle all the attention.
SHANE LARKIN: He's huge. I can just go to him with confidence and ask him anything that I'm feeling. I don't have to hide anything from him because he's been through it like you said.
So with all the questions that have come in, I can just go to him and ask him what he thinks about it. All those good things.
But right now I'm really just focused on the tournament. He's really helped me with that. Because he hasn't put any pressure on me on which decision I should make. He's just really been supportive and he's going to be here today. I'll see him later on, but he just really wants me to focus on this NCAA tournament and try to go out there and win these games with me teammates, because that's the most important thing right now.
Q. For you three seniors, but Shane, if you would like to weigh in as well. Obviously it's a first time Miami's been in the tournament in a while, but you guys have a very veteran roster coming in. How much does that help you and how much do you draw do you feel like that's an advantage for you having that kind of experience with such a veteran nucleus this season?
KENNY KADJI: I think we have been through all the games. We have seen all kinds of situations. With a guy like our coach who took a team already to the Final Four and an experienced guy like Coach Reid, I mean I think that we can play any type of game, fast game, slow game, it doesn't matter. And executing, we're very good at, a very good team at doing that.
Q. For Kenny, can you talk a little bit about the back issue that you had at Florida, and then talk about how much weight you have lost and how much that's helped you stay healthy and avoid back issues at Miami?
KENNY KADJI: I had a herniated disk and I had to get surgery. It kind of ended my season. So they wanted me to lose like 20, 25 pounds, just to move better and don't put that much stress on my back and I think I did that. It's been great for me. I haven't had a problem since. And I've been able to play and be successful at playing basketball and being a contributor on this team.
Q. What have you guys learned about Pacific this week and what is the coaching staff kind of gone over what you guys need to do to get the win?
JULIAN GAMBLE: We have done a lot of study on them. We do our personnel, we look at their offensive and defensive schemes.
Defensively they're very aggressive, they have a style where they kind of choose a player, whether it be a guard or big man, to really full out denial, where his man has no help responsibility.
They have a very aggressive guard, and a lot of seniors as well, but they have bigs that can shoot shots. So we have to really be able to guard the three and rebound and get out and run in transition.
THE MODERATOR: All right, thank you, gentlemen, we're going to let you go. We'll start with an opening statement from coach.
COACH LARRANAGA: Well, first of all, we're very excited to be here. We're a little bit surprised about the traffic problems you guys have in Austin. We got here, but we got we had a tremendous escort, the police did a fantastic job of getting us here.
Now we're very excited to prepare for our big game tomorrow against the University of Pacific. We have got the utmost respect for Coach Thomason and his club. And our players, this is the first time any of them will have played in the NCAA tournament, so they're very excited as well.
THE MODERATOR: Take questions for coach.
Q. I read where you were telling trustees back before the season that you expected things to be good. Talk about the confidence you had in this team back then even before it started and the satisfaction you have now to be here.
COACH LARRANAGA: Last spring when we met with the team, we asked the guys what kind of season they hoped for, and would they be willing to really sacrifice and work towards that. But we saw the ingredients that we had and we felt like if everybody made the necessary sacrifices that we could have a great season. And all the guys did.
They stayed all summer long. We had a couple of guys, Julian Gamble, who had had a bad knee injury the year before and had to redshirt, he rehabbed that knee, he lost 20 pounds. Kenny Kadji lost 20 pounds. The guys got in a lot better shape. And as I could see things unfolding coming into the practice season, in the fall, I could see this team could be very, very special.
So when I made those comments to the board of trustees, it was with the belief that if we could stay healthy and continue to make the sacrifices that the guys were making then, and to continue to work at the level they were working at, that this could be a very special year. Maybe the best in school history.
Q. I know that you've told the players that you want to be the coach that has the most fun at this tournament and you want them to be the team that has the most fun. Can you talk about that and are you really having fun even though there's a tremendous amount of pressure now, you're one of the top seeds and everything. Are you having fun and can you just talk about that whole fun factor?
COACH LARRANAGA: Well, the very first thing is, yes, I'm having a heck of a lot of fun. Last year we didn't get to play in this tournament, you know. We were bummed that we didn't. And all the players were frustrated that we didn't. So now that we're in the tournament and we have earned our way in through the regular season performance and then also to be the tournament champion, which means the automatic qualifier to get into the tournament, that's very special. That's a goal that we had before the season that we were able to accomplish.
But when you come into a tournament like this, everybody is 0 0, nobody's won a game well there are few teams now that have won some in the NCAA tournament. But we haven't played yet, so us and Pacific, we're 0 0. And you start brand new. And I want the players to enjoy this. For especially our seniors, this is the one and only time that they will get to experience this.
What I told them fun is, though, is not fooling around, it's not being too serious. Really what fun is, is playing well, being with your teammates, and practicing well, playing well, performing well. Because basically these kids have devoted their life to the game of basketball. They spent countless hours working on their craft. And to have fun means execute and play really, really well.
Q. One, your thoughts on Pacific. What have you kind of learned this week and how does it kind of fit into what you guys need to do to win. Then your thoughts on coaching against Coach Thomason in his final year.
COACH LARRANAGA: Well, Coach Thomason is basically a legend. Anybody that can coach at the same school for 25 years like he has done deserves the utmost respect. And he has mine and our team's. He has a very specific way of coaching. Their team is very well disciplined. They run a lot of set plays. They execute those set plays to perfection. They play several different defenses and change those defenses constantly, giving you a different look from time to time throughout the contest.
We have prepared our team for all those eventualities. And we're going to need to play very, very well and execute our offensive and defensive game plan if we expect to move on.
Q. I know it's early and we haven't even played a game in this tournament, but is there any way to put into comparison to what you were able to do at George Mason and going to the Final Four and getting this team to where it is?
COACH LARRANAGA: The first thing that is a little bit striking is we had great senior leadership, older guys, actually guys who had redshirted, a guy who went to prep school. We had three seniors in our starting lineup back then and two sophomores.
This Miami team has four seniors in the starting lineup and one sophomore. And I think that combination of youthful enthusiasm and optimism with experience and size and toughness, those teams are similar.
But there's also a lot of differences. That George Mason team was not even supposed to make the NCAA tournament, according to the experts. This Miami team won the, not only the regular season, but the ACC tournament and has got a high seed.
But as I said, the seeding is not really an issue. Because once you get into the tournament, everybody's good and you really need to play well to move on. And that's what we told our George Mason team and that's what we're telling our Miami team, to advance you got to play well.
Q. You touched on it a little bit there, I was going to ask you about having so many seniors and in an era when so many teams are built around freshmen who leave after a year. How much of an advantage do you feel that gives you with this kind of experience in this era of college basketball?
COACH LARRANAGA: Well, I thought it gave us a quite an advantage during the ACC race, because a lot of the teams in the ACC are very, very young, start two, three freshmen.
That's not true tomorrow. The University of Pacific has a veteran team as well. I think they're as old as we are. That means there's really no advantage for either one of us in that regard.
Q. Talk about Kenny. You mentioned earlier that he had lost the weight. I covered him at Florida when he had back problems and struggled. Wondered if you could talk about his transformation and how he has become the kid he is now, the player he is now, sorry.
COACH LARRANAGA: Well, when I first, my staff and I first arrived at the University of Miami, we spent a lot of time trying to get to know the players. And Kenny's got a unique personality and he gets along very, very well with my assistant coaches. I've kind of been the guy who lays the law down.
But one thing Kenny is a basketball fanatic. He follows the game. He watches tapes. He knows everything about every college team and NBA team and that makes him a little bit different than a lot of guys.
When we told him to lose weight he told me he wanted to gain weight to get bigger. And I said no, you got to lose weight because the game is running. And you got to get stronger, but stronger is not weight, stronger is muscle. And you got to live in the weight room, you got to lose the weight.
And he did. He really dedicated himself. We already knew he was a great 3 point shooter. One of the finest stretch fours in the country and has the ability to make deep threes. But he's also 6 11 and has a long reach and great athletic ability in and around the basket.
So we have tried to take advantage of all of his skills, his inside scoring ability, as well as his 3 point shooting. I think he's made a great transition to this coaching staff and has helped us enjoy the success that we have had.
Q. Shane was already asked in the opening press conference about the NBA things that are, that he's now turning over to his dad, questions from people who have NBA questions and all that. How do you keep he's only a sophomore and you have so much at stake now. How do you keep him from getting distracted from that kind of talk at this point?
COACH LARRANAGA: That kind of talk is really the media talking and it's not him or his family or the coaches or anybody. There's an appropriate time to discuss things like that. Now is not the appropriate time. He's got a game to play tomorrow and his focus is on playing as well as he can and helping his team go as far as it can.
Q. You mentioned having fun and kind of that being the theme for you guys. Being a No. 2 seed, there's obviously kind of a pressure that comes with that. Have you guys talked about that at all and how that kind of fits into what you guys need to do and how to handle it?
COACH LARRANAGA: You know, again, I think if you start talking about how much pressure someone is feeling, they start to dwell on that. If you talk about how much fun you want to have, the players focus on that.
So I don't talk about pressure at all. We talk about enjoying themselves and playing the game they love and playing in the venue that they have wanted to play in. Kind of make dreams come true.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, coach.
Locker Room Quotes
Miami G Rion Brown
On the pressure of having such high expectations: We don’t really feel the pressure. It’s our first time here so we’re just excited to be here. We just want to play hard and come out and get some wins and go home feeling good about ourselves.
On the break between the ACC tournament and NCAA tournament: It’s fine, we got some time to rest after playing three games in a row in the ACC tournament. We had two days to prepare for Pacific and we watched film on our day off. We feel well prepared and rested. It was good for us.
On how the team prepared for Pacific: We just watched a lot of film and got familiar with their personnel. We’ve played teams pretty similar to them. I’d say even North Carolina, our last game, was pretty similar to them. They play four guards and they all can shoot one through five. We’ve played teams like that before so we’ll be good.
On what coach Jim Larrañaga brings to the team: I would say poise and a little swagger. We have a lot of confidence in him and he puts that confidence in us. He shows us that he has confidence in us and when you have a coach that does that, it’s going to be hard to beat a team like that.
On how this being the team’s second season under coach Jim Larrañaga helps the team: He has a lot of tournament experience and he’s even taken a team to the final four. Even though we haven’t been here before, he has. We just expect to pick up his mentality and we know he’ll guide us and he won’t steer us wrong.
Miami G Trey McKinney Jones
On how the adversity the team went through this season will affect them in the tournament: I think the adversity has helped us. There’s been a few times where the losses have really brought us together. I think the losses we had late in the season really brought us together. We had to go back to the basics and not get too far ahead of ourselves. We just need to play one game at a time and that’s going to help us.
On getting excited to play Pacific: No one on our team has been here before so I think that’s enough to get us all amped up. I think one of our players was here his redshirt year but he didn’t get to play. For everybody else, this is their first time in the NCAA tournament. I think that’s enough to get everybody amped up. Our first game we lost to Florida Gulf Coast so, because of that, we know we can’t take any team for granted. We have to come play 100 percent every game.
On wanting to prove themselves: That’s what it’s all about. A lot of people still don’t believe in us as much as we do. We just have to go out and prove everyone else wrong, but at the same time just play our game and not worry about that too much.
Miami G Steve Sorenson
On being back in his home state for his first tournament: It’s amazing. Honestly I hadn’t really looked at the bracket that much and the regions and where we could end up. So we were in the hotel room in Greensboro watching the selection show and I saw that we got the two seed and I looked down at the subscript and I saw Austin, Texas and I couldn’t have been more ecstatic, obviously. I lived here for six years before I lived in Dallas. I haven’t been here in a long time and it feels great to come back especially since I have a lot of connections at UT. It’s great to come home since I’ve been away for so long.
On going to the tournament his freshman year: It’s actually funny because as a freshman, I literally couldn’t have had more of an amazing season. I have been blessed to be a part of this team and having such a special year. They’ll joke a lot of times and say that they’ve been through the struggles and had the tough years. For them, it’s a great experience in that regard. For me I’m enjoying it and I obviously think it’s a great experience. But it’s definitely different because I haven’t necessarily gone through the years that they have. I’m definitely loving every minute of it but it’s definitely different for them. We kind of bond over it like that but I don't necessarily understand the fulfillment that this has for them.