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John Pelphrey Press Conference – Basketball Practice Begins on Friday

BY ANDRES FOCIL
John Pelphrey Press Conference – Basketball Practice Begins on Friday

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The Arkansas basketball team begins practice for the regular season on Friday. Head coach John Pelphrey met with the media on Tuesday. Following is a partial transcript of his press conference.

“Friday we’ll have an open practice. The building (Bud Walton Arena) will open at 7:30. The players will be available for autographs until around 9. The first 5,000 fans will get a free (schedule) poster. We’ll have an abbreviated practice. That may be too strong, but we’ll do a few things team-wise, and then there will be a limited scrimmage. More than anything else, this is to make ourselves available to the community. To have a little fun before the season starts is always good. This is Arkansas and there’s always a lot of interest in what is going on, and I think that’s very, very positive.”

Status of Sonny Weems with broken left hand:

“We anticipate Sonny being able to practice full speed. Things are going well with his hand. I don’t see any problems at all. A week or so ago he did some things where there was no contact. He’s done nothing with a basketball with us since he hurt it. I’m not sure how much (conditioning) he’s been doing, but Sonny keeps telling me that’s not an issue.”

Practice schedule:

“For a while we’ll go double-sessions on both Saturdays and Sundays. Up until games start, traditionally I like to take days off during the week so the guys can focus on academics. They always appreciate that when I do that for them.”

Overall conditioning of the team:

“I think we’re okay right now. We have quite a bit of time before we play our first game. I don’t expect them to be in game shape at this moment in time. They don’t need to be awful, and they’re not. We had a workout (Monday) and they’re where they need to be.”

Differences in conditioning:

“I don’t know if it’s any different from what it’s been in the past. I’ve had a chance to sit down with Don Decker and Kelly Lambert, the strength and conditioning guys, and given them an idea of what I want. I’ve been very, very impressed with those two individuals. I have a lot of trust and confidence in them. Specifically, I don’t know if it’s different now, but I think they do have a feel for me and they may have tweaked it a little bit. We have put more of an emphasis this summer on conditioning partially because the style of play has changed. That’s also because we had the Cancun trip and we needed to be in a little different shape at the start of school than normal because you usually don’t practice and you don’t play (over Labor Day weekend). They’ve been doing some different things, I would say, from the middle of the second summer session on.”

Benefit of 10 August practices leading up to Cancun trip:

“I think we’ll be able to start on level footing. It’s not going to be like it was the first couple of days of practice for Cancun where we’re still trying to learn new drills. There’s still a lot of learning and fine-tuning of parts of what we want to get done, but we were able to introduce them to a lot in those 10 days. We’ve been able to introduce them to some different things in our individual workouts in our two hours a week we’re allowed to have with them after school starts.”

Developing guard depth:

“That’s going to be a big key to the team. Gary (Ervin) is obviously tremendously talented and very experienced. We need a level of consistency from him. All these guys need to understand it’s great to be great, it’s not so good to be bad, but if we can be consistently good, that’s better than the highs and lows. Everybody has done well in terms of trying to please and do some of the things the coaching staff finds important, but we’re still nowhere where we need to be. We don’t need to mistake a couple of good plays in practice or individual workouts for knowing exactly what is going to take place over a 40-minute period in a game. Stefan, if he can be our most improved player, is going to help our team. I don’t want to put pressure on him thinking he has to make ‘x’ number of shots or score ‘x’ number of points. That’s not what I’m talking about in terms of being able to go in at a couple of different positions and be effective. More than anything, he’s going to have to be able to give us minutes at the point guard spot. I’ve been pleased. He’s doing what I’m telling him to do and that excites me as a coach. That’s a big deal. I never really talk to these guys about you have to make this many shots or score this many points. That is sometimes fickle – the ball going through the hole. You can get all your practice in and be wide open, and sometimes the thing just doesn’t go in, but what we can control is being organized, being in the right place on time, going at a certain speed and having an understanding of what I want in getting it to the guys. Obviously Patrick (Beverley) and Sonny have proven themselves. We have to find somebody, when those guys aren’t on the floor, to give us some minutes.”

Marcus Britt:

“Marcus has been doing well of late. He struggled there for a few days in our early practices getting ready for Cancun. The thing about Marcus I really liked and I’m excited for the future with him is he wants it really bad. I’m not saying he wants it like Patrick Beverley. We all know Patrick’s heart and desire may be his greatest assets. Marcus Britt is in the same neighborhood. He’s going to be okay for us.”

Strengths and weaknesses:

“First and foremost, can we play hard in this style of play? Do we have an understanding of what that means and can we do that every single possession? You’re talking about starting at the very basic of existence in terms of being a good basketball team and not looking at our whole season. That’s playing hard on this play and this play, and being able to string those things together for a 40-minute period, for a half, for a game or for a season. I think that is critical. The next thing behind that, if it’s not first, is what type of team are we going to choose to be? Are we going to be close-knit, are we going to get each other’s back and I’m I going to be willing to do less so the team can do more? We’ve got to serve each other. If we can’t get those things done, it’s not going to matter what else happens. I do think that guard depth is an issue for us. Consistent point guard play is important for all basketball teams. It’s like the quarterback in football. If he’s up and down, your team is going to be up and down. We’ve got to get some consistent play there. We’ve got to have some leadership there. He’s got to be able to take what the coaches say, get it to the guys and not get raddled, whether it’s what’s being said to him, a bad call, the crowd or the time to score. That’s got to happen for us. I think perimeter shooting is something I’m interested in seeing how it turns out. Maybe we can become better as we grow and understand what each of us need to do and where we all need to shoot the ball from. From the defensive side of it, we have a couple of strengths in terms of front-court depth. We should be able to cause some problems around the basket and be able to rebound the ball. I’m interested to see how much, how often and how well we’re going to be able to extend the floor defensively, and get up there and play in the full court.”

Levon Patsatsia adjusting to the United States:

“He’s adjusting; I wouldn’t say he’s adjusted. He’s still a work in progress. He’s gained some weight. Physically he looks terrific. He’s had some good moments where he’s made some shots. Like most freshmen, he still has a lot to figure out. He gives us tremendous effort and has good size. He has potential to be somebody who will contribute for us.”

Playing time for front-court players:

“I don’t decide playing time, they do. As a coach, we have luxury there with quality as well as quantity. I’m not real sure how often we’ll play big and put one of those guys at the small forward spot. If we do that, it would be less than 10 minutes a game. We need Patrick and Sonny at the wing spots, and Gary needs to perform well for us (at point guard). I like Charles Thomas a lot at the power forward spot, and (Darian) Townes and Steven Hill obviously are proven, and Michael Washington, Michael Sanchez and Vincent Hunter are all going to be there for us to maneuver around and make us stronger up front.”

Requirements for extending the floor:

“Extending the floor defensively requires a lot of energy, so you need depth. That’s not a problem for us in the front-court, but in the back-court, foul trouble and fatigue could be a problem for us. I’m interested to see how that will work out. Does our depth come along so we can make up for foul trouble when we put guys in at the end and our level of play not come down? Or does it put us in harms way in terms of those things where we’re over-exposing ourselves to foul trouble and fatigue to where it forces us to take some of our better players off the court? We’ll have to wait and see. If we play big, can we get that done with three front-court players out there? I don’t know if that puts us in a situation to be successful. With the press and extending the floor, you want to be disruptive and you want to take it away, but there are a lot of levels to that. You want to bring fatigue into the game where they don’t play as well and little things become an issue as time goes on – catching the ball, a travel call, missing free throws, silly fouls that you force upon your opponent by simply introducing fatigue into the game. You can do some other things – take the ball out of a ball-handler’s hands or reduce the shot clock. There are different ways to do it.”

Buying into the system:

“I think we’ve made progress with that. Those guys have to believe what we’re telling them. They have to get both feet in the circle. That’s part of the chemistry. If that doesn’t happen, then it’s not going to work. We are making strides. I like the effort and some of the cohesiveness we saw in some of our practices and that we’ve seen lately, but that’s something that has to continue to grow. Games help with this. It’s not something that just shows up overnight. Everybody talks about wanting to run and press and being fast and all this energy and the excitement that it brings, but it’s work. It’s nothing more than running as fast as you can go and pushing yourself beyond limits and trying to fatigue your opponent physically. In order to do that, you have to be willing to make plays under fatigue; when you’re belly starts burning. When you can’t draw another breath, can you dribble a basketball, can you get down and stop somebody, will you be willing to rotate down and mix it up with the front-court guys on a block-out, can you step up there when it’s important, even though you’re exhausted and you’ve laid everything on the line, and make a free throw? Those are all things that sometimes you like to create in practice, but it may take some games to get done. Then, whether it’s a positive or negative, have the response to that, now you’ll find out are we fragmented, are we all truly together, who has doubt? We’ll be able to see those types of things. I do think we’ve made some progress. Are we there, no, but we are putting some bricks in the wall.”

Vincent Hunter:

“He’s a great kid. I think Vincent loves Arkansas and has both feet in the circle, but like everybody else is trying to figure out what his role might be and where he can fit in and contribute. He’s been a guy we’ve flipped around to different spots on the floor. I like what I’ve seen lately out of him. He’s made open three-point shots and he’s tried to be a factor on the offensive glass. I think he’s coachable. I’m not in any means saying he’s played perfect because nobody has, but he has listened and tried to go out there and perform. He’s been a good teammate, too. He’s done very well encouraging his teammates.”

Being at Arkansas:

“I’m excited. In all coaching, there are pressures and expectations from a school or community, but as an individual we have pressure and expectations we put on ourselves. It’s our team and our program, so we understand. There’s a sense of urgency on a daily basis to make sure we have things done and that we’re ready to go. We can’t control everything, but that’s what we try to do. It’s different from the standpoint that I’m in a league that can put multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament. We’re at a school where we have a chance to compete for Western Division championships and we all know if you can do that in the SEC, you have a chance to compete nationally. Those are things right now that, no matter how good we were at South Alabama, weren’t going to take place for us. When you get away from everything else, the bank of microphones and all the lights, and make no mistake that’s what makes Arkansas special, we still have to go out and coach our team. We have to go out and get prepared. Whether it’s here or somewhere else, that’s the same. We have to make sure we remain focused and don’t get caught up in some outside distractions. It’s about being organized and playing together as a unit. You heard me say this about six months ago – this is a dream job opportunity for me. I understand that. I’m tremendously respectful of the past, and who’s coached here and who’s played here. I don’t want to be those guys and our players don’t want to be any of those guys from the past, but we would love nothing more than to have some repeat success of those that came before us. We understand what we do on a day-to-day basis is important to the state of Arkansas.”

Talent level:

“I think the talent level is good. I think it’s good enough to win a lot of games and get into the post-season. How many teams across the country can make those claims, probably quite a few. What is important for us is how close can we get and all those intangible things. Will we be coached, am I going to be okay without my name up on the marquee all the time? If we can get over that and let it go and not be worried about what our boys are saying to us or what mom and dad think, all that doesn’t matter. If we can let it go and be a team, I think there’s a talent level here where we can have a chance to win every single night. That’s unique. At a lot of places, they know on certain nights they are not going to win. Here, if we can get the fundamental things down, if we can get on the same page with these core values; maybe I sound repetitive and it may sound too simplistic, but I really believe if you can’t do the fundamental things and all get along, we all have problems doing that, it’s not just with basketball teams, but that’s really what it is; then we’re not going to be able to get to the complex things. No matter what, we won’t be successful if we don’t do those things. I like the talent level. I don’t know if we have any guys that will have their names called in the top 13 picks of the draft, I don’t know that, but I anticipate we have some guys who have a chance to play at the next level. I also know there have been a lot of teams with very high talent levels who didn’t make it. Running, jumping, size and speed are all very important talents to have, but I think the coaching, the character of an individual who can be selfless, to me, those are talents, too. Can I talk to you at a timeout on the road where it’s loud and things haven’t gone our way and then we get out to the court and do it? That’s a talent. From a physical standpoint, we do have some things.”

Michael Washington:

“Michael Washington is good. He’s been very good so far. I think he was a little apprehensive in the beginning with what is going on. I think the change was traumatic on all of them, but I think it hit Mike pretty hard. Why, I don’t know. You could just see it on his face in the first few workouts. He looks to me like he’s very comfortable. He competes. He sometimes get revved up a little too much, but you never say ‘come on Mike, let’s get after it a little bit more.’ I like him a lot.”

Playing on the road:

“I think the more disciplined you are, the harder you play, the closer as a unit you are, it gives you the confidence you need. A lot of times on the road, you’ll see teams play well for a period of time and two or three mistakes kick the whole night. I’m not talking about somebody making a spectacular move or a spectacular talent play, we’re talking about cohesively understanding where to play and how to get that done. More than anything, it’s a discipline and a mindset, and you can’t turn it over more than your opponent.”

Nate Rakestraw and Michael Sanchez:

“Nate has done some very good things with his body. When I got here, he outweighed Vincent Hunter, which is not a good thing for a two-guard. Nate is around 205 or a little less. Nate had a philosophy that one diet wasn’t enough. He needed two because he couldn’t get enough food. We changed his thinking about that. He’s made great strides. When you see a young man make that much progress, you know he cares and that it’s important to him. Nate can really shoot the ball. As time goes on, he’s going to get comfortable out there and find ways where he can be effective for our team. Sanchez, I love. He’s got a bright, bright future for us. He’s got some freshman things like everybody else. He has surprised me with how fast he is up and down the floor. I knew he was a very good ball-handler for a guy his size and a really good passer. Those are unique qualities at that size and strength. He’s going to be a special player for us.”



Sports Category : Basketball (M)