March 14, 2012
THE MODERATOR: I'd like to welcome the Murray State athletes to the podium. We'll get started with questions for our student athletes here. We've got Donte Poole, Ivan Aska, and Jewuan Long. We'll go ahead and get started with Murray State.
Q. Donte, I just wanted to talk to you about what it's like going up against the school you originally signed with.
DONTE POOLE: It will be a great environment, a great challenge. I got a great respect for the coaching staff over there and the team. So it will just be going out there and trying to get a win for my team.
Q. Just a quick followup. When you watch them on film, is their style of play somewhat similar to yours, or is it a lot different?
DONTE POOLE: It's similar. They run a lot of dribble handoff offense, a lot of things with ball screens as well, and they like to penetrate a lot and find open shooters. They're a very good three point shooting team like us.
So it will be a little interesting to see how we guard and how they guard us because our styles are the same.
Q. Donte, can you just tell that story about your time at Colorado State and what led you here.
DONTE POOLE: Out of high school, I was originally I committed to sign there. I needed a half credit, a math course. So instead of going to a junior college, I went to a prep school.
I happened to be down there for a summer, so I saw the facilities. I was around the players and the coaches. So it was a good time while I was down there.
Q. Ivan, can could you talk about what was the reaction of the players when Coach Kennedy left and how much involved were you all in trying to talk the administration into hiring Coach Prohm, and how do you feel that's worked out for the best?
IVAN ASKA: It worked out very good. I remember they were telling me Coach Kennedy was leaving, and I was down back home in Florida working out, and they were calling my phone saying he left.
I thought, man, this is my senior year. What am I going to do? Everybody thought I was going to transfer. I thought about it, but I was like, no, this is my last year. Murray State is a good place to play.
Knowing that Coach Prohm was one of the assistant coaches, I had talked to him, and he said he's going to do his best to get the head job. He did his very best knowing that he knew me, Donte, and Jewuan for all our years we've been there.
Coach Prohm, he's a tremendous coach. He's a players' coach also. I'm glad he's the head coach for us.
Q. Ivan, just wanted to ask you about just Isaiah and that final possession against Butler and how hard did you kind of take that? Did you guys have to talk to him or kind of console him after the game?
IVAN ASKA: That game was tough on him, knowing that he had the ball in his hand and knowing that he should have put up a shot, and he lost the ball. He took it very hard.
Knowing that we're back here again, he's going to learn from his mistakes and stuff like that, and he's going to do his best to just keep the ball in his hand and trying to not keep the game so close. Isaiah, he'll be all right. He's a good player. He's like a brother to me. Like I said, he'll be doing a good job.
Q. Guys, what can you take away from your experience in the tournament two years ago and apply it to this one?
JEWUAN LONG: We could just take away from the excitement. We got experience from it now. So we won't be excited and tense going into the first game and stuff like that.
We understand that it's going to be if we lose, that's it for us. So we want to stretch it as long as possible and leave everything out there on the court.
IVAN ASKA: Just like Jewuan said, we've just got to treat every game like it's our last, knowing that we're seniors and also leaders.
We're going to do everything we can to listen to our coaching staff, execute every play, and just go out there and play tough.
Q. Just for any of the players, what's it mean to be playing this close to home for you, knowing that you're probably going to be kind of a crowd favorite out there since you're not playing against Kentucky?
DONTE POOLE: That means a lot. It's close to us. We wanted to get a close site where we can have a lot of fan support. I won't say it's an advantage in this type of NCAA Tournament, but just an advantage being closer, have some more fans rooting for us.
It's not too bad on our legs with traveling. So it will play a good role a little bit. But you've still got to go out there and play and execute.
Q. Guys, as a favorite this time, how do you combat that knowing that Colorado State is very ready for an upset?
JEWUAN LONG: We did go back to the year that we were underdogs, and we just got to play like we're still underdogs. We can't take them for granted, can't look past them. We've got to play with energy the underdogs play with.
If we do that, hopefully we'll come out successful.
Q. Donte, do you guys feel like given the record you've had this season, that you should have been seeded higher?
DONTE POOLE: Maybe. You can go down the line and pick out certain games or look at situations where we could have been seeded higher. But like I said, it comes down to we just want to be in the tournament. So now that we're here, like I said, it's all about who executes, who has the least amount of turnovers, who's more focused.
So since we're here, we can't really debate or get mad about the seeding that we have. We've just got to come out there and prove to everybody that we can still play.
Q. What emotions are you guys feeling? Are you nervous? Are you excited? Are you having fun? What's going on?
IVAN ASKA: Not too much nervous, just happy, ready to play. First time I been here, I was kind of nervous. But like I said, being a year and all, I'm ready for it, ready to take on the challenge and ready to play and have fun.
Q. Donte, do you think you guys put Murray on the map?
DONTE POOLE: I think Murray's always been on the map. They have a great winning tradition. The program is well known around the nation.
But I just think with this year that it just opened up some more eyes. More people kind of went out of their way to kind of see where Murray State was, who these guys were, what are they doing, how do they represent themselves. So I think it was just a matter of us doing a little bit extra to do a little bit more for the program and for the team.
Q. You guys had the long winning streak, and you had the loss late in the season. Did you take anything away from the loss? Did you learn anything from the loss, or was it something that it happens, you move on?
DONTE POOLE: I think it was just reality. Everybody got so caught up in us winning, but I think everybody thought we weren't going to lose, or if we lost, that the world was going to end.
But the reality, everyone was out to get us, and we did some things in the game that led us to that. So we just got to be smarter, be more focused down the lane. Towards the end of the game, limit our turnovers, make free throws and do things like that so we don't have to put ourselves in that situation again.
IVAN ASKA: Just echo what Donte is saying. We've got to just execute and just worry about us and not put pressure on ourselves even though we've got targets on our backs. We've had it for the whole season.
So we've got to do everything that we've got to do and execute, listen to our coaching staffs, and just go out there and play tough.
JEWUAN LONG: I believe when you win so many games and you overlook your mistakes and your weaknesses, and once you finally lose a game, you pay attention to it more. You actually want to get better, and you just do anything you can to not lose the same way again.
So definitely, when we lost a game, we tried to work on not turning the ball over as much. And offensive rebounds have been killing us all year. So we're still trying to get better every day.
Q. Donte, just what does Isaiah mean to your team? Obviously, he's not out here right now, but what has he meant to this team this year?
DONTE POOLE: He means a lot. He brings a lot to the table. Of course, everyone sees the scoring aspect of it, but there's things he does off the court as well.
In practice, he's only a junior, but he brings leadership to the table as well. He's just that guy. Everyone has a role on this team, so he knows what his role is, and he sticks to it very well. I think without that, this team wouldn't be where we are right now.
Q. Jewuan, you've guarded bigger players all year. It looks like you may have to do that again tomorrow. How do you approach that? You've been very successful at it.
JEWUAN LONG: What I do, especially with bigger players, I try to press them a little bit more. I know, if they're bigger than me, probably most of the time I will be quicker than them. So I try to press them a little bit more than smaller players and just get into them.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, guys.
THE MODERATOR: Please welcome Murray State basketball Coach Steve Prohm. He'd like to start out with an opening comment here.
COACH PROHM: First off, I just want to say how excited our team, our program, and our university are to be here. Really excited to be a part of this tradition, this tournament, and really excited to be here in Louisville at the Yum Center for a great weekend of basketball.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach. We'll open it up to the media for questions.
Q. I just wanted to ask you a little bit about what Donte Poole has meant to your team. He originally signed with Colorado State, and now he's playing against them here in the NCAA Tournament.
COACH PROHM: When I left out of Race Arena on Sunday night, and I found out we were playing Colorado State, I just looked at Donte and kind of smiled and said kind of ironic we would end up playing Colorado State his senior year.
Donte is he epitomizes what our program is about. Fourth year senior, took a redshirt his freshman year to start the season. Jewuan Long tore his ACL. We took him off redshirt. He sacrificed, after not playing the first several games. A couple weeks later, he breaks his collar bone. So basically, he didn't play much of the freshman year at all, freshman season at all.
Sophomore and junior year, plays 10, 15, 17 minutes a game, averages a couple points. Last year, averaged four or five points a game. But his attitude, his character, his accountability over the last several years has been invaluable for what our program's about.
And he's had his opportunity this year, and he stepped up from Toronto in the summer until now, and I cannot what he's meant to this program, especially his senior year, has been unbelievable. To have him, as a first year head coach, his leadership, I can't thank him enough.
Q. You mentioned coming here to the Yum Center here in Louisville. What was your reaction? What do you think about the pod here in Louisville playing in your home state?
COACH PROHM: We were here, we practiced here on our road trip. We played at Morehead State, and the way our league works, sometimes we go Wednesday, Saturday, Thursday, Saturday. We played at Morehead on a Wednesday, and then we had to be in St. Louis, in the Edwardsville area on a Saturday. So we didn't want to go back home with the travel and back up to Illinois.
So we stayed in Louisville for two days and practiced here. Unbelievable facility. And they were gracious enough to let us practice here. We were hoping to be in Louisville or Nashville. We got the draw in Louisville. We're really excited to be here.
Kentucky, obviously, with the state, with how passionate they are for basketball, we think we'll have a lot of support tomorrow.
Q. Coach, Tim Miles jokingly called Isaiah Canaan a pain in the butt. What have other coaches said to you, maybe just privately talking about him, and what's the reaction that you get from opposing coaches when they have to prepare for him?
COACH PROHM: I haven't really talked to many coaches about Isaiah. I know I saw on Twitter you were hyping up Coach Miles and how great he did in the press conference. I've got to come with it, you said, on Twitter.
But Isaiah's had a special year. He's been tremendous. But Isaiah brings so much more to our team than just scoring. To be a point guard at this level, it's just not about scoring. You have to have great leadership. You have to have so many intangibles. You've got to be able to make players better. You've got to be able to have great decision making skills. You've got to have great character. He's done everything to make our team better this year.
When he's had to make big shots, he's made big shots. When he's had to make the extra pass, he's made the extra pass. In the Tennessee State game, I talk about in the championship game, he's got double teamed. He gave the assist to tie the game and the assist to make the winning basket.
Coaches, when they talk about Isaiah, they talk about his talent level. What people don't know is how unselfish he is and how efficient he is and just how great of a kid he is. That's why I love coaching him.
Q. Coach, not specific to any one opponent, but what's your philosophy on defending the three point shot, defending teams that like to shoot it a lot?
COACH PROHM: If you've seen us play, we really like to get after it and pressure. We defended the three point line well all season long, 27 percent, 28 percent from the three point line, defensive field goal percentage. We want to be athletic on the perimeter. We want to have great ball pressure. We want to get out in the passing lanes, really deny wings.
But we want to take people off the three point line and make them make plays off the dribble. But we don't want to just let people catch and shoot and square up and make rhythm shots. So I think you've got to have great ball pressure. You've got to make people make plays against pressure, make plays in traffic.
We've been able to do that all season long.
Q. Coach, being with the team two years ago, how do you compare this atmosphere and the energy from the team, knowing they're a favorite this year, versus being an underdog two years ago?
COACH PROHM: It's a little bit different. The whole setup's different. This season has just been different. We just came out of the gates with the 23 game winning streak. Then we lost, and everybody wanted to see how we would respond to the loss. Then we won 5 out of 7 away from home.
Then we got to six seed, and everybody was interested in what seed we would get. Now we're playing close to home. So everybody wants to see how that's going to be.
Two years ago, we went out to San Jose, and we were playing Vanderbilt, two teams that were right in the same region. It's a little bit different makeup. But this is a great opportunity for our program.
Whether you're a favorite, an underdog, you throw everything out in March. It's a neutral floor. Both teams are extremely hungry. Colorado State is coming out of an extremely competitive league. Half their league is in the NCAA Tournament. When you bring half your league to the NCAA Tournament, you're coming out of a very, very good league.
Q. How fortunate do you feel as a first year head coach to have inherited the situation that you did? I talked to Billy Kennedy yesterday. He said you all are in touch. He comes up here he's coming tomorrow night. Talk about how your relationship has been. What it means for you for him to be here tomorrow night.
COACH PROHM: First off, I've been extremely blessed. The one thing that as a coach and just in life in general, you want to surround yourself with good people in any line of business. When you surround yourself with good people, it gives you an opportunity to be successful.
Twelve of my 13 years as an assistant, I worked for Coach Kennedy, and we were fortunate enough to win four championships together, go to the NCAA Tournament two times together, win four conference championships. So we did some special things and formed a very, very special relationship.
He's my one mentor in the business. So to have him here tomorrow night and to watch me coach in my first NCAA Tournament appearance and to watch his former players play in the NCAA Tournament tomorrow, it will be a special moment.
He did a great job in the last five years establishing a great culture at Murray State, a program that's been good for 50, 60 years, a program that's done unbelievable things. The tradition of Murray State, it's one of the elite programs in the country.
But it will be an exciting night tomorrow. My career's kind of gone from kind of went up the line now. So it will be a special moment for me to have him here. But we talk all the time. We text a lot more than talk just because we're both very hectic. But we'll talk once a week. We text all the time, try to help each other out and lean on each other.
I've been able to grow so much under him, not just as a coach, but most importantly, as a person and as a leader and as a man to help these players grow.
Q. Not necessarily an approach that might be different, but do you sense a mindset that might be different from a couple of years ago, being a higher seeded team, trying to pull off a couple of upsets, versus this year, a lower seeded team wanting to make a run and trying to win the whole thing? Do you sense a different mindset in the players?
COACH PROHM: The mindset is different. There's no question about the mindset being different. Our kids believed going into that Vanderbilt game now. I won't take anything away from that. We believed, and we played with the mentality because even going into the last couple of seconds in the Vanderbilt game, if we didn't win that game, I was going to be sick because I thought we outplayed them in that game and put ourselves in position to win that game.
Our kids played that year with an edge. We won 30, 31 games that year and even had a chance to beat Butler to go to the Sweet 16. But our guys have a sense of pride about themselves, that they have, hey, we're here to win games.
Colorado State is very good. We've got an unbelievable amount of respect for them and their program, and we're going to have to play extremely well to win. But we are here to win and advance and do something extremely special for our program and our community.
Q. Coach Miles has said a key offensively for them is getting to the free throw line, and he also mentioned you guys get there a lot too. Knowing that, how do you make sure they don't kill you from the line because they get a high percentage when they do.
COACH PROHM: They're one of the best shooting teams from the line in the country. We've talked to our team all week about no bad fouls, trying to keep them out of the bonus until under the five minute mark. That's something we've stressed with our team all season long. No bad fouls, no bonus till under the five minute mark in both halves.
We want to make them score over us in the half court. We don't want to give them free points from the free throw line, especially at the percentage they shoot it from from all five positions.
That will be a big key. We can't just let them get dribble penetration, get cheap reach in fouls. Not poor off the ball fouls, poor fouls away from the ball, just poor reach in fouls. If we're going to foul, it's got to be a contested layup, to not give up a free basket.
It can't be just a bad foul. That's the biggest key. But free throw line is huge. It's going to be a big stat. We've done a great job on the flip side, like he said, we've done a great job this season getting to the free throw line, and that will be a big stat.
Q. You guys, you said that you are having your competitive attitude coming in, but what is the emotions like around the locker room and for you, and how are you guys keeping your eyes up for this game?
COACH PROHM: I think our guys are totally focused. I think our guys are locked in. I'm excited. We've been blessed. This has been a blessed season. So our guys are we haven't played in a week and a half. We've had great practices. Our energy's been really good.
The locker room is very positive. Our eyes are totally up. We're totally locked in. Once we found out the best thing about Sunday is just knowing who we're playing so we can get even more locked in and focused. The last three days have been in preparing for a very good basketball team.
Q. Can you give us any hint what Ed Daniel's hairstyle might be tomorrow.
COACH PROHM: Ninety nine percent chance afro. He's got braids right now if you all haven't seen him. But there's a 99 percent chance he'll go with the headband and the afro.
Q. Coach, you talked about your career and this year and what's happened. Can you take us through the journey with you this year with getting the job. Ivan had mentioned that he was deciding between transferring or staying and trying to keep the team together, keeping the guys in place that you inherited while now you sit up here on the podium as a number six seed in the NCAA Tournament.
COACH PROHM: God's blessed me. God's blessed this program, this team. It's been an unbelievable journey, just from the whole onset.
The first couple weeks was just trying to see if I was going to Texas A&M. I was trying to figure out what recruits we need to recruit for Texas A&M. I was just trying to who we needed to recruit for Texas A&M. And then I was trying to make sure that the recruits were going to stay, and I was trying to make sure that Isaiah and I and all these guys are good. So I had three different things going. And everybody else had left.
Amir Abdur Rahim at Georgia Tech, Isaac Chew the staff was at Missouri. Coach was at Texas A&M, and our GA was at Fresno State, Nick Matson. So I was the only guy there. It wasn't a bam bam process. It wasn't a one , two day, hey, we know what we're doing. You got the job. It was a couple week process.
So I wasn't sure if it was going to happen or not. A couple of weeks later, May 23rd, I got the job. I talked to all the guys. The funniest thing, the best thing one of my best friends from college, Roy Rogers. He coached for the Pistons, and he was one of my buddies from Alabama. He called me, and we kind of went over my speech for the press conference. He says, man, first person you thank is Gary Williams, man. You thank Gary Williams. Don't thank nobody else but Gary Williams first, you know, from Maryland. I had to do that just to get my nerves out of the way for the press conference.
And then from there, I had to hire a staff. William Small, who I had worked with at Southeastern Louisiana, Coach had already hired him before he left for A&M. So I kept Coach small. And then I had to figure out the rest of the staff and then get camp ready to go.
Got camp going and then recruiting, and then we were going to Toronto. So I was a nervous wreck about coaching those games. But Toronto was great for our team, just for the chemistry. We did a thing, The Amazing Race, if you've ever seen that show on TV. He we did an Amazing Race around Toronto with our team, and the chemistry we built with our team in Toronto was amazing.
And then we came back, and our team just formed a great bond throughout the season, and we were able to win some tough games. At UAUB, we came back from a deficit and went out to Alaska and played well. We beat a good Dayton team and went out to Memphis and just kind of kept going and going and going.
Then we finally lost our first game, and everyone wanted to know how to respond. We responded extremely well. I just can't thank those three seniors enough for what they've done for us.
Q. Coach, with Isaiah and the play against Butler, how long did it take him to get over it? Did you have to say anything, you or Coach Kennedy, just to kind of get his spirits up? How much has he grown since that play?
COACH PROHM: He was crushed. He was obviously crushed. A couple of the coaches talked to him. All the guys were crushed. You're so close.
But the one thing I think about when I think about that play is I think about the Tennessee State game. I talk about that the last couple of weeks because he was double teamed in that game. Not the exact play but a similar play, and he made the right play. He made the right read. Two years later, he made the right decision.
So he's grown. He's grown so much from that game. He played an unbelievable game in that Butler game, but he was a freshman two years ago. So he'll be ready. He'll be ready tomorrow. Our whole group will be ready from an effort standpoint.
They're not going to make every every play is not going to be perfect. Every play hasn't been perfect this whole season. We've turned the ball over at times, trying to make a home run play. Our guards handle the ball an unbelievable amount. So they turn it over some.
But their effort has been awesome all season long. But Isaiah's growth this year on and off the floor, from a leadership role, from the respect from those players, from being great from growing on the defensive end, from being more efficient offensively, from shooting almost 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from the three, free throw percentage, leading the team in assists, scoring. He's an unbelievable student.
He represents the program. He's what's good about college basketball.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about the contributions Zay Jackson has made to the team this year?
COACH PROHM: Zay has been terrific. He's probably matured the most on our team from when he stepped on campus in July until now. He's a fireball.
He's just, he's great off the bench, just as a spark to ignite us on both ends of the floor. I thought in the conference semifinals, the second half, Jewuan Long got his third foul early. We put him in. He had to guard Kevin Murphy, an elite scorer in our league. Did a great job just shooting gaps and getting some steals.
He's really good in transition for us. He's great off ball screens. He can guard the best point guard on the other team, one of the best scorers on the other team. But he can put really great pressure.
He's an elite athlete. But I think he's got a tremendous upside, and I think he's going to end up being a really special player here at Murray State.
He's been terrific for us off the bench, and he's really his growth this year has been terrific. In a way, him and Isaiah, they're not the same type of player. Their games aren't the exact same, but their impact as freshmen and what they meant for our team are very, very similar.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you.
COACH PROHM: Thank you, guys.
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