March 30, 2009
National Invitation Tournament Press Conference
Marriott Marquis — New York, N.Y.
March 30, 2009
Fran Fraschilla: I want to thank everyone for being here. My name is Fran Fraschilla from ESPN. This has become a nice annual tradition to be at the Marriot Marquis for our press conference. And at this time I am going to introduce CM Newton who is the chair for the NIT Selection committee.
CM Newton: Thank you and my remarks are going to be brief. I want to first congratulate each of the head coaches and their teams for earning their way to the National Championships semifinals and finals of the National Invitation Tournament. I underscore earn your way because that is what they had to do. They had to play three tough games to get here. Some of them have traveled across country to do it. We are just delighted and thrilled to have these great universities and outstanding basketball teams here to play for, what I think, historically is what one of the more prestigious national championships in all of basketball. In basketball today we are so blessed because we have the NCAA championship, which determines the collegiate championship going on this weekend in Detroit. And here in Madison Square Garden, the mecca of college basketball, we have another championship, the NIT championship going. You guys have played all those other people, you have competed against them. In many instances you have beaten some of them. We are going to have a tremendous, tremendous tournament here. I also want to thank the committee. Carroll (Williams) Les (Robinson), Jack (Powers) Don (DeVoe) and Rudy (Davalos) and that are not here (Gene Keady, Reggie Minton). This committee is a group of old coaches who have no dog in the hunt that made a commitment some three or four years ago to making this truly a basketball environment and a real basketball championship. Making it as fair for each team as possible. I am really just thrilled what the committee has done and what we have been able to do, to have the fun we are going to have this week with this championship. The other folks that I just want to quickly thank would be our television partner, ESPN. Of course Ron (Franklin) is here and we have Fran (Fraschilla), one of our old coaches. I told, well I better not tell you what I told Ron and Fran, every time I turn on the TV I see them somewhere so they have certainly been around. But also for all of other corporate sponsors and those people who make this a truly great championship, we appreciate you. And thank you media for being here too.
Fran Fraschilla: Thanks CM. One of the things you will notice in the last couple of years, with the NCAA now running the NIT tournament, is what an unbelievable job they have done seeding the teams. The thing, as a former coach, I always appreciate about the teams that get to New York, in many cases and almost every case, the bitter disappointment of the end of the regular season, it is not always easy to get your team to play at a high level after that. As always that is the case when we come to New York, we have that today…four teams that are really playing outstanding basketball and are going to play in April. A couple of these teams are going to play in April for the first time in the history of their programs. Let’s start off with the opening game. San Diego State has now I believe a school record of 26 wins. Steve Fisher has done an unbelievable job in 10 years. Has been to the post season numerous times. He took a program over that has very rarely been to the postseason and now has established a very, very good basketball program out of the Mountain West. The night we were out there for the St. Mary’s game, in my opinion, was the absolute best atmosphere I have been a part at ESPN at least for the last couple of years. Talk about a team and their fans that were really excited about getting to New York, was San Diego State. Coach Fisher, can you come up here and say a couple of words?
Steve Fisher: Thank you Fran. I think I am up here in no small part because of Fran. In 1999, he turned the San Diego State job down and I was privileged enough to get it. I have been here before. In 1984 as an assistant, 1997 as the head coach and back again. I am old enough, yet young enough to know the history, prestige, power of this event. I grew up with it. We are tremendously excited to be a part of it. I think if you are a coach, it goes and goes and goes. I saw Don DeVoe and I said Don `Remember when you were at Wyoming ready to go to Tennessee and I had Craig Hodges, a young guy you were recruiting” and Mike Brey was the assistant at Duke and Scott Drew, I remember him as a little guy. Running around chasing balls with his dad, Homer. He sure did more than chase balls with his dad. Ed (DeChellis) was an assistant at Penn State when I was back in the Midwest. We are tremendously excited to be here. We are playing very good basketball. I told Ron Franklin, how much we appreciated the way they conveyed to a national audience, the atmosphere and environment in Cox Arena, our building, when they covered our game with St. Mary’s. I also have been in a lot of other places, in a lot of big games, and have never been a part of a more exciting event is what we have when we played St. Mary’s. It was electric and we played great basketball. We are going to need to do that. Scott has his team playing terrific. To go on the road to Blacksburg, Virginia and beat Virginia Tech and then go on the road to Auburn, Alabama and do what they did. To play in the Big 12 tournament and beat Nebraska, Kansas, Texas and have Oklahoma to the nub. We know we are going to have our hands full. They are senior dominated. They have veteran guys. They have sprinkled in youth. They are a very good team. We are going to have play really good basketball. I think we are going to represent ourselves, our program and conference well. We will play hard and hopefully we will make some baskets. We are going to have to do that against a very good team. We want everybody to know how honored we are to be a part of the Final Four of the NIT. The most important tournament going is this one because that is the one we are in. That is how all of us view it, feel about it and will treat it.
Fran Fraschilla: I know make my home in Dallas, TX. I have Texas driver’s license and you have to live in Texas to know what Baylor University means to the state of Texas. It is a great Baptist school about 90 miles south of Dallas. Six years ago they were hit with one of the worst NCAA recruiting scandals in college basketball history. It seemed like an impossible job at the time. I have know Scott Drew and his dad a long, long time and when he took the job my first thought was he is absolutely off his rocker. Six years later, coming off a NCAA appearance a year ago and now back in the NIT. I don’t say this causally, it has to be one of the greatest recruiting, excuse me rebuilding jobs, in the history of college basketball. What Scott has done, is really miraculous. Even more miraculous than the shot his brother (Bryce Drew) hit to beat Mississippi back in 1998 on that play in the NCAA tournament. He has a quality group of young men who hit a rough patch in the early part of the Big 12 season and at the end of the year in the Big 12 tournament got to the championship game and are playing their best basketball and got into the NIT. They beat Georgetown at home and then had to go on the road to win at Virginia Tech and Auburn to get to New York. They are here, Scott come up and say a few words.
Scott Drew: Fran, I must admit to begin with, when we knew we were coming to the Final Four he said what a great experience it would be. It has been better already than what you said. I know our players have been in awe. We arrived, it is 1:30 at night, we are walking in the hotel and we thought it was 4:30 in the afternoon, there were so many people walking around. We are excited to be here. As far as the other coaches, they can tell you, this tournament means a tremendous amount to us and our programs and our teams from the standpoint, you look at our last senior game, we played Nebraska, lost and didn’t play as well as we liked. And then we turn around and we get a home game against Georgetown and our seniors will always remember that home game. When we played Georgetown it was the loudest I have ever heard the Ferrell Center. If it wasn’t for this tournament, our players and fans wouldn’t have this opportunity and we thank you very much for that. I know Coach Brey and I go way back because of our roots. He really did a great deal of service to our team because when we were s struggling and they were struggling, they ended up beating Louisville by 33 I believe it was and I called him and said `Hey Coach, you have to help me out here. What did you do? What did you tell your team now?” I think he gave me great advice but he didn’t give me everything because we beat (Texas) A&M but it wasn’t by 33 points. Anyway, I know the Coaches up here are very proud of their teams and what they are able to accomplish. I couldn’t be more proud of our senior group. Again, it is the winningest senior group to ever step on the Baylor campus and they have done it in three and a half seasons because their first season they were only given a half of season. Again, we are excited to be here and really excited to step foot in Madison Square Garden. We have two of our players play there in the Jordan game and they told us everything we need to know about it…great shooting rim, great atmosphere. I know John Warner covered some of the old time people, the last time Baylor played in the championship in ’48, and the only difference he said was that it was so filled smoked filled from the cigarette smoke you couldn’t really see the ceiling. Things have changed, times have changed. We are very excited to be here again. Thank you for making this a special event for our players, our fans and everybody. And thank you committee for allowing us to be a part of it.
Fran Fraschilla: In the second game Penn State will take on Notre Dame. Penn State has been ably coached by a guy who has been an assistant coach there for many years. He took his first head coaching job at the Division I, I believe at East Tennessee State and got a chance to return to a place I know he is very fond of. He has obviously done an unbelievable job. I think it is a school record for wins if I am not mistaken. This is a team, even I thought at the end of the year, was headed to the NCAA Tournament. Once again the lemons of the end of the year have been turned into lemonade. This is a team watching in the middle of the Big 10 season, throttled and really controlled Michigan State in East Lansing from start to finish. It was only close at the end because of missed free-throws. This is a quality team with a good mixture of upper classmen. Jamelle Cornley, one of the best undersized power forwards in college basketball and a youngster named Taylor Battle who I got to see as a freshman. He is from Albany, NY by the way right up the road for some of you local media and is one of the outstanding young guards in college basketball. Eddie (DeChellis) has done a fabulous job of resurrecting Penn State Nittany Lion basketball and they will play Notre Dame in the nightcap. Eddie?
Ed DeChellis: Thank you Fran. Excuse my attire but we are heading to practice at 1:30pm, as soon as we depart. It is truly a pleasure to be here and be part of the NIT tournament. When that Selection Sunday came and we weren’t selected for the NCAA tournament we had some disappointed guys but at 9 o’clock when we found out we had been invited and selected to play in the NIT, our players were very, very excited about that. Our battle cry to them was that we had an opportunity to win the championship of a National Tournament and they bought into that very, very quickly. We were fortunate enough to play a couple of games at home and win some big games and go on the road and win a very exciting game at the University of Florida. We arrived last night, I think our kids have enjoyed New York so far. We are excited about being here, excited about playing and having an opportunity to play a great University like Notre Dame, the BIG EAST. I know we have several, several bus loads of fans on their way here from State College. I think we have 10 or 12 bus loads here plus all of the alumni we have in the New York and New Jersey area so we should have good group of fans and alumni here. They are all excited. At the end of March, beginning of April, we are one of the eight teams playing and we are very excited about that. We are happy to be here and look forward to our game against Notre Dame tomorrow evening. Thank you very much.
Fran Fraschilla: The fourth team in the field, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish coached by Mike Brey. Mike had the Irish in postseason in every single year he has been in South Bend. This year, most people who follow college basketball closely would have to say they played, if not the toughest conference schedules in the history of college basketball, certainly one of the toughest. Not only in conference, Notre Dame played six times against the four #1 seeds in the NCAA tournament which is absolutely unheard of. Like Baylor, they got off to a hot start, hit a rocky spot during the BIG EAST and rallied at the end and finished strong. They are in New York with not only one of the best insides scorers in college basketball in Luke Harangody who is a prolific double-double guy. He may not catch Austin Carr, because Austin is in a class by himself, but he is certainly moving up the Note Dame scoring charts. And also led by Kyle McAlarney from Staten Island. I love guys that sound like me. When Kyle opens his mouth I feel like I am in Brooklyn. Kyle comes home to finish a stellar career at Notre Dame. One of the great three-point shooters in college basketball. This will be a fun match-up tomorrow night between the BIG EAST and the Big Ten. Coach Brey.
Mike Brey: I had a flashback coming in here last night because in 1972, if you grow up in Rockfield, Maryland, you grow up a Maryland fan. My dad and I went over to College Park, got on a bus, and came up here to watch Maryland beat Niagara. I certainly have been plugged into the NIT. I think the thing that is so powerful about it is to my left you have such a wealth of basketball knowledge. All guys who I have crossed paths with. CM Newton pretty much got me my first job at the University of Delaware so I am in debt to him. We are honored to be here. It was about 2 weeks ago in the locker room in the Garden, after West Virginia beat us, I talked 2 minutes about the West Virginia game and 10 minutes about the NIT. I said lets see if we can get back to New York City and our seniors have done a great job energizing us. We have a lot of fun playing. The Kentucky game and the atmosphere in our building was great. It was the last game in the old Joyce Center so I am glad we could close that place down with an exciting win and we are honored to be here. We play a heck of a team in Penn State. Great guards, well coached, a confident team. To win at Michigan State, to win at Florida. We have our work cut out for us. I know Ed said they have bus loads coming. The only thing that will stop it is if something in spring football is going on in South Bend or State College, no one will care about the game. We are thrilled to be here in the NIT and be back in New York City. Thank you.
Fran Fraschilla: Mike, back in 1972 I was a 14 year old kid from Brooklyn, I took the subway up to see that Maryland-Niagara game. It is amazing how time flies. I think you can tell, we have four great, different stories up here. Four different, great stories to tell. I think a lot of good stuff happening here. Again, a credit to the NIT Committee for putting together four great regional champions that are here in New York.
— ND —