Georgia Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner and TCU coach Jamie Dixon spoke with the media on Wednesday to preview the Jackets and Horned Frogs showdown in the NIT Championship game on Thursday night in Madison Square Garden.
GEORGIA TECH COACH JOSH PASTNER
COACH PASTNER: Yeah, well, we were fortunate to win yesterday against a really good Cal State Bakersfield team. Very well coached. They play hard, have great energy and they compete. For us to only have seven turnovers, I was really proud of our guys for that, because that's hard to do against a team like Bakersfield. So a really good Bakersfield team.And then tomorrow, it doesn't get any easier obviously as we're playing TCU. Coach Dixon, one of the best coaches in the game; obviously his run at Pittsburgh was amazing, and he's doing the same thing at TCU.We're going to have to be really, really good if we're going to have a chance to win the game. They are excellent and they are probably just -- probably like us. They will probably be playing the best basketball of their season at this time of the year.
Q. TCU has a real big guy in the middle. What kind of difficulty does he create for you that maybe you've not seen before?
COACH PASTNER: Well, the big kid in the middle is really good. I mean, you talk about -- he's fundamentally sound. He just knows how to play the right way. He's just a high-level basketball player. He looks like he has a high IQ of the game and really knows -- just makes the right reads. His footwork is at a high level. He's just sound at everything he does. He's a really good basketball player.You know, and their team is good. Their team, they don't beat themselves. I mean, if you're going to want to beat TCU, you're going to have to earn the victory. There's no doubt about it.
Q. Can you talk about the kind of defensive run you guys have been on through this tournament, just outstanding effort and intensity for the last four games.
COACH PASTNER: Yeah, we've been an elite defensive team all year long. We obviously have had, if you look at our offensive numbers -- and we are playing our best offense we have had all year long in the NIT. But we have been offensively challenged throughout the season. We have been an elite defensive team and that's what we did, and if you look at our numbers, we're in the top, I think five now in Ken Pom ratings in defensive efficiency. We've led the ACC in dribble percentage defense, and to be able to do that, you've got to be an elite defensive team.
TCU COACH JAMIE DIXON
COACH DIXON: Excited obviously about the win. We had a lot of fans here from Fort Worth and around the city and expecting a lot more coming in for Thursday. An exciting time for our team and our program and our school. Obviously Georgia Tech is a very good team. Very familiar with them from my ACC days and we're looking forward to the challenge.But was really excited for our team last night, just kind of how we did it, came back and down early. Because they were making shots, playing well, and we withstood their run and got back in it, and cut down a 10-point deficit to tie it up and obviously win in the second half. It was a team effort. Our seniors came off the bench and did a great job and gave us what we needed. And we did what we wanted to do against a defense that's guarded the three well and we kept the ball away from Fall inside. All in all, we stuck to our game plan and did a pretty good job of it.
Q. I was wondering if by any chance when you took the job, did you have a chance to sit down or even talk on the phone with Trent Johnson, or in part of that transition, did that conversation never occur?
COACH DIXON: Oh, yeah, Trent and I are long-time friends. We've known each other; I have great respect for him. I know he's won everywhere he's been. I mean, what he did at Nevada, with building that program, and obviously Stanford, winning there, and then obviously at LSU.Known him for a long time, and yeah, definitely reached out to him after I took the job and talked to him about it. And we're also members of the NABC. We were assistants on the road years back. Yeah, talked to him about TCU and about his career, and then when he thought of -- what he thinks he can do.So yeah, we've had a lot of discussion. I think I talked about it last night on TV. I mean, he's coached these guys hard, and they had a lot of challenges: Whether it be the injuries, whether it be facilities, whether it be a new conference; all kinds of challenges that our seniors have been through.You know, I think we're kind of reaping the rewards of his hard work and discipline for these four seniors. So yeah, he's a great coach and we're fortunate to follow a good man.
Q. In terms of giving a guy -- obviously he came into a difficult situation, you just mentioned facilities, conference, etc. Can you really quantify how much credit a guy like that should get in light of the fact that you've done very, very well in this first season with a handful of his players, including Vlad and Kenrich?
COACH DIXON: Well, I mean, I think after they went through the year last year, they recognized what we needed and what they needed. I think we had Jaylen was obviously -- and Alex; the point guard is so critical in any program.I felt last year that we needed to improve that by watching film; that position had to improve for everybody to get better. We were fortunate to solve that with a little bit of guard play. Obviously getting Kenrich healthy was huge for us, and development of the next guys.I've always been a guy -- I've come into these situations before, whether it be at Northern Arizona, Hawaii, Pitt. Some coaches go with the: You're not very good, we have bad players, it's going to take time.I obviously have gone the exact opposite and saying that we have good players and this is not a rebuild. And you know, I have great respect for Coach Johnson. I know the challenges that he faced, and I knew before I got here and I recognized even more so once I did get to TCU. I think he had some tough challenges -- we all have things happen. You're at a place long enough and you're in this business long enough; injuries or things just come up you can't -- you're sometimes not equipped for, and that can happen at any place.
Q. I wanted to ask, talk about how you have two first-year coaches and your success and what that can do for both programs, especially your program.
COACH DIXON: Yeah, you look back at the history, and we did that the other day of teams that have won the NIT. We were actually looking at the CBI, teams that have won that. But more so the NIT, and what it's led to, and I think we saw Joe Lunardi speaking on that yesterday when I was watching the Bakersfield game against Georgia Tech.You know, it's different with every team. With us, we're so young; it probably can resonate a little bit stronger. Georgia Tech is an older team and got some experienced guys. With us, this will be a great experience going forward.But I think for both teams, it's just playing for a championship, playing in a tournament-like situation, where it's one and done, and if you don't win, you go home. It's a different atmosphere and I think it's great preparation for us going forward.We had a nice run of that in the Big 12, which I think has helped us in this, as well. So you know, our players needed to be in the situation like that with higher stakes, win or lose, go home, national TV games, two days to prepare for opponents. This has been good for us in so many ways going forward.
Q. And if I could ask one question, talk about the difference in playing against UCF, as far as like you said, guarding their three-pointers, and when you're playing Georgia Tech, the way they like to cut a lot.
COACH DIXON: Right. Yeah, the offenses, I think they are different. But defensively, both having a game-changing shot-blocker inside defensively, in Fall obviously, and then Lammers, as well.And Georgia Tech, Coach Herrion, my assistant, was at Georgia Tech had told me how good this kid was. We had recruited him. Looked at him down when he was in Texas back when I was at Pitt.Obviously he's playing behind some really good players last year, big guys, because they had good big guys. But he is an unbelievable defensive player and he rebounds at the same time. So he does some really good things and he's unique. He's got size, long arms, good timing and a good feel. We have to go at him like we went at Fall last night.
Q. As far as Georgia Tech, you talk about some familiarity from last year. Also got a pretty nice freshman, Okogie. What strikes you about him? He caught my eye last night.
COACH DIXON: Yeah, obviously his numbers are tremendous for a freshman, especially in the ACC. I mean, it's hard to put up numbers like as a freshman. Obviously Jaylen and Desmond, we have two really good freshman do some really great things.But this is a guy, I'm very familiar with him, too. We saw him play a bunch. He played with the CP3 team in the EYBL, so watched him play. Better shooter maybe than I thought he was going to be, watching him in high school in the AU, but played hard. And I think everybody saw him play, so he's probably surprised some people, better than most as far as being able to put those kind of numbers.But he got the opportunity. They have a lot of experienced guys Georgia Tech planned to play with, but they needed a guy who could put the ball in the basket and he kind of fit that bill, and it's almost like a perfect situation for him to step into.But unbelievable athlete and plays very hard. Gets to the basket and is always trying to get fouled, get to the free throw line. So we'll try to do that, keep him off the line, make him take jumpshots and keep him off the offensive boards.