Men's Basketball Weekly Conference Call Highlights - Feb. 24

Rick Pitino, Louisville
On the progress of Peyton Siva
"Peyton came in as a combo guard. I wasn't sure after last year how much of a point guard he was. We had long talks about what he had to do to be a point guard. He's made tremendous strides in that area. He's very fast in the open court. He uses the pick and roll extremely well. He has quick hands at the defensive end. Not only has be made great strides in becoming a better player but he is a point guard who really thinks the game. We're real proud of his advancement."
 
On the BIG EAST Player of the Year race
 "I'd have to give it really strong thought because Marshon Brooks probably is having the best year. He's an outstanding player. He's having the best year. But they're not winning. If it's value to a team then it certainly brings into play [Dwight] Hardy and Kemba [Walker]. There's probably a few other guys like [Austin] Freeman that you can throw in the mix as well. I'd have to give that some thought. Brooks certainly is the outstanding player. He's a tremendous basketball player. Probably someone who, I think, will be a very good pro. The pros are probably underrating his ability right now. I think he'll move up that ladder quickly once they see him work out."
 
On the evolution of the BIG EAST
"It was easier to understand back in 1987 when I was at Providence. It was easy to understand everybody. You had Lou [Carnesecca], you had Rollie [Massamino], you had John Thompson , you had [Jim] Boeheim. You could figure everybody out. Now it's just so difficult. It's so big. You just don't know where to turn. Everbody's styles are so different. It's a lot of fun. But navigating through it is just so difficult. These programs are all tenacious recruiters. They bring in the best from all the inner-cities. Then you take the opposite. There are some schools that play totally different, like a Notre Dame. They recruit differently. They play seniors, they have four seniors in their lineup. They're different. They're a little bit on an island the way they play. It's exciting the way they play. Every year they come up with 3 or 4 great shooters who understand how to play in close situations and they're a dangerous team because of that.
 
Rick Pitino, Louisville
 
Jay Wright, Villanova
On the BIG EAST Player of the Year race
"It definitely is a more wide open race than last year. Last year everyone had to choose between those two [Wes Johnson and Scottie Reynolds]. I really haven't thought about who I would vote for at this point. I think the strength of the BIG EAST this year is that every team has a great leader, but they're not one man teams. You can go through all the guys: Notre Dame, Georgetown. Pitt's the best team and you have to decide between the two guards [Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker]. Both of them are equally as valuable. I have no clue right now. I do [think a guy needs to be on a winning team]. But a guy like Marshon Brooks is having such a fabulous year that he might overcome that. All the other teams are so balanced and he is so extraordinary individually that he could overcome that issue."
 
On St. John's
"You can see that the players and Steve [Lavin] took some time to get to know each other. Early in the season they were a little disjointed. I think you can make the argument that at this point in the season they're as together and functioning as a unit as well as anyone in the country. I think it's a combination of Steve's patience with those guys. I think he's really good at handling people. He's obviously a really good coach. I think you have to give those seniors credit for accepting a new coach and buying in because the way they're playing right now you can see they've really bought in."  
 
Jay Wright, Villanova
 
Stan Heath, USF
On the team's play of late
"Generally we haven't been able to turn that corner all season long in winning close games or maybe improving in some areas that would allow us to be a little bit better. We battled most teams wire-to-wire but just come up a little bit short in the last 3 or 4 minutes of games. Turnovers have been a little bit of a problem for us. Our shooting has been a problem for us. We're still battling. One thing I like is our guys fortitude in terms of continuing to work and continuing to work to get better and putting themselves in position to win. It's a big game for us this Saturday at DePaul. Both teams are trying to stay out of that 16 seed and push ourselves up a little bit more before the BIG EAST Tournament."
 
On the BIG EAST Player of the Year race
 "It definitely is a wide open race. The early on favorite was Kemba Walker for sure and lately it's really tightened up. Rick Jackson is probably a guy who gets left out of the equation. The more that name pops up the more you think `That guy has been really consistent as well.' I think it is wide open. I'm not trying to be a politician. If you asked me two weeks ago I would have said Kemba Walker. Then I started looking at Ben Hansbrough and Steve [Lavin] makes a valid point about Dwight Hardy. So I think I'm going to wait and see how these last couple weeks finish out and see who finishes strong down the stretch. I tend to lean towards the guy who can put his team in position to win the conference championship or be somewhere around the top of that area. I'll just hold on until we get to that point in the season."
 
On DePaul's Cleveland Melvin
"I think he's having a terrific year. He's in a position where they need him to be productive as a freshman and he's delivering on that. He's very deceptive. You don't realize his length, especially with the length in his arms. He's got a nice touch from 15 to 17 feet in. He's so active, the way he moves around and flashes. He's going to be a very good player in this league. If his team, like ours, maybe had a few more wins then I think he would be discussed a lot more. He's a terrific player and he has a bright future in our league."
 
Stan Heath, USF
 
Mike Brey, Notre Dame
On game against Providence
"We are thrilled to have escaped from the Dunkin' Donuts Center with a win. That certainly is what it was. I was very proud of our group to find a way to win on the road. I was extremely impressed with the night Marshon Brooks had and how he played and the flow he was in. We tried a little bit of everything and we didn't have many answers. But the one answer I'll take is a road win and get out of town."
 
On Carleton Scott's injury
"He actually got off the plane better than I thought. He didn't need crutches. We'll really take a look at him Friday to see where he's at. I was more encouraged that he didn't need crutches to get off the plane and go to the bus last night."
 
On BIG EAST Player of the Year race
"Rick Jackson is a guy who's name has come up in our staff meetings. I tell you a guy I talk about a lot because right now he's got his team in position to win a regular-season championship and he's stirring the pot and that's [Brad] Wanamaker. I don't know if there's a more respected player in this league. I've been in this league a long time. What that guy does for his team and the level of consistency and to have them in position to win. My criteria is a guy who really is helping a team to win the league at this point. I've always really felt it should come from somebody that's really chasing [a title]. Now we had a guy here before I coached, Pat Garrity, who certainly wasn't on a winning team and was Player of the Year. But as far as for me and being in this game 25 years, I just have a lot of respect for a guy who's pushing his team in the top tier and maybe winning the regular-season title."
 
On the BIG EAST tournament
"It comes up every year about this time, `How do you invest? What do you do?' I think you have to try to find a balance point. I have not talked about the NCAA tournament with our team. I've stayed away from that. One of the things I've talked about at the end of last year, and we got close, and the beginning of this year was that our program, we've been in this league 15 years and I think we've got into a pretty good rhythm, but we've never played on Saturday night at the Garden in the BIG EAST tournament. We've been to Friday a couple times. We were a Tory Jackson 3 from going to Saturday last year. I've kept the focus on the league and the league tournament. I think that's how you have to invest. I think you have plenty of time on selection Sunday, after the bracket flashes up to recalibrate your psychology and then you have a couple days to tune-up. I know we want to be in position to make a run in New York. It's an amazing stage to play well on."
 
Mike Brey, Notre Dame
 
Mike Rice, Rutgers
On the BIG EAST Player of the Year race
 "I think it's completely wide open. You didn't mention anyone who's in first place in the BIG EAST. Whether it's Ashton [Gibbs] or Bradley Wanamaker, or whoever you have in there. It's amazing what Marshon [Brooks] is doing. [Ben] Hansbrough just continues to will his team and Kemba's [Walker] scoring exploits and what he's doing. [Dwight] Hardy has his team playing the best basketball in the BIG EAST. I'm going to hold my hand still and wait another week and a half to see how it ends up. I haven't looked at the numbers and all the things that go in, but that's going to be an interesting decision because I there are so many deserving individuals."
 
On finishing strong
"I think it's huge. Everything you've done and all the work you've put in. I've said [to the team], `Unfortunately you're proving everyone right with your record right now.' What we've done and we've improved. The improvement and the way you've done it and changed the mentality of this team. In years to come, people won't think of that. They won't remember how hard you fought and all the one-possession games you had against ranked teams. They just look at your record. I think in this league, you have to put Ws on the board and stop just getting close. It's vitally important that we get some of these down at the end here. I like our seniors' perseverance, through everything that has happened in their careers here. Hopefully they show a little bit more."
 
On the BIG EAST tournament
"I think it will be very interesting because there will be some head scratchers. There will be some teams from the bottom that will surprise some people. I hope it's us. With the parity in this league, anything can happen in the BIG EAST tournament. I think that's what's so exciting for the college basketball fan right now watching, even sometimes more than the NCAA tournament, the BIG EAST tournament because you can't predict what's going to happen especially this year."
 
Mike Rice, Rutgers
 
Oliver Purnell, DePaul
On Brandon Young
"I've been pleased with him. As a point guard, it's awfully difficult when you don't have other guys who know the system and can help you out. It's one thing if you're placed in that situation as a starting point guard and you've got veterans around you, it's a little easier. He's had to learn. He hasn't had a lot of help form his teammates because they're learning at the same time. He's getting great experience and that bodes well for his future in the league and in college basketball. There are a number of things that he has to work on and needs to work on and he's looking to work on. His outside shooting needs to improve. His on-ball defense needs to improve; a number of things. Having said that, you're talking about an awfully talented young man who, when he works on things, he gets better. But the number one thing he's gained out of this year is playing time and experience and that's going to really help him."
 
On the BIG EAST tournament
It's a great tournament obviously. The tournament consists of every team in the league from clearly the best basketball league in terms of teams and players and all of that this year. When you look at this Murderer's Row and you put them all in one building over a compressed period of time, I think you're going to get some great games. Hopefully you'll see some upsets because we might have a chance to be a part of that. I just think that you're going to see some high-level basketball and the country will be treated to that as well. I'm looking forward to my first tournament in Madison Square Garden. I've heard nothing but great things about it. I've viewed it from afar on television. I'm looking forward to feeling the atmosphere, our team playing well and hopefully getting a win or two. It has to be [the best tournament in the country]. You have the best league, you're playing at Madison Square Garden (the Mecca), you have huge crowds. It has to be."
 
Oliver Purnell, DePaul
 
Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
On game against Georgetown
"Obviously it was a big win for us last night. Georgetown was number one in our conference in RPI, I believe, going into last night. So it was a big win for our team. We played excellent defense and did a great job of taking some things away from Georgetown. We've got to continue to try to improve. We're playing pretty well right now. We're excited about the way we're playing. We've won three in a row heading into UConn on Sunday. They have a big game tonight against Marquette. Sunday is going to be a big one for us. There's a lot of teams in the middle of the pack, trying to fight to get a bye in the BIG EAST tournament. We need to continue to win games if we don't want to play on Tuesday. We'd like to be in a situation where we don't have to play Tuesday."
 
Difference on Cashmere Wright the second half of the season
"It was just confidence. He played sporadically last year coming off the ACL injury. Just knowing he's going to have the ball in his hands, he's going to play 30 minutes a game at the point guard position for us, and knowing what I expect from him as a player, and trying to figure out how to be a point guard and knowing when to score and when to pass. Every game he gains more experience and he improves. The responsibility of being the quarterback of a good team is something that has been a learning experience for him. He's really starting to be aggressive here lately."
 
On the BIG EAST Player of the Year race
"I haven't really thought about it. I'm trying to get Rashad Bishop publicity for Defensive Player of the Year, so there was my plug. [You didn't mention Ashton Gibbs either and I think you always have to look at the team in first place and look at their best player.] I know Brad Wanamaker has had a heck of a year, but I believe Ashton Gibbs is the best player on Pittsburgh's team and that's no disrespect to any of their other guys. I think other guys definitely merit consideration. If you look at scoring I think you go with Marshon Brooks or Kemba Walker. If you slate it toward production and winning in conference play I think you have to go towards [Ben] Hansbrough and Ashton Gibbs."
 
Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
 
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
On the BIG EAST Player of the Year race
"Usually coaches generally lean to a player from the winning team. I don't think it has to be. It's just Player of the Year, so I think it could be open to anybody. As far as I can see it's pretty wide open. I haven't decided yet. There's four of five guys that have played well. Certainly [Ben] Hansbrough, [Kemba] Walker and [Dwight] Hardy, [Marshon] Brooks, Rick Jackson been pretty good all year, [Austin] Freeman. There's been a bunch of different guys that have been good all year. It will be a pretty close call I think."
 
 
Key to winning
"The key for us is those four guys playing well [Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche, Kris Joseph and Rick Jackson]. If our four veteran guys play well then we have a chance. Then if the two big guys step-up a little bit or if Dion [Waiters] or CJ [Fair] step-up then that's all good too. But we need those four veteran guys to play well."
 
On the evolution of the BIG EAST
"It's just so hard. Every game down there is going to be difficult. It doesn't matter who you play. You used to maybe get an easy game in the BIG EAST tournament, there's just not anymore. The depth of the league is just incredible. Whoever you get is going to be difficult. The 9th or 10th place team in our league is going to be an NCAA tournament team. That means that team is going to play five games, or have the potential to play five games in New York, which is kind of ridiculous. This is the most good teams that we've had. We've always had six or seven good teams. This is the first time we've really had 11 teams that deserve to be NCAA teams.  Whether they will be, I don't know. But they certainly deserve to be. The league is just incredibly balanced this year. You're probably going to have to play three ranked teams to win. If you get the double-bye and you don't play until Thursday, you're probably going to play three ranked teams to win it. Chances are if you play four games you'll have to play four ranked teams to win it. It will be very difficult to win, no questions about it."
 
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse