Oct. 25, 2012
THE MODERATOR: Joining us now is Ohio State coach Thad Matta. He enters this year here, he returns two all Big Ten selections including Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Craft. We will go ahead with an opening statement.
THAD MATTA: Obviously glad to be here, this means basketball is on! I think with this basketball team, with what you lost last year, I have been pleased with what the guys have done in the offseason and the effort they have given us thus far. I think they're very aware of the challenges that lie ahead, and like I said, I like their demeanor to this point.
I've always said this: I don't start thinking about the Big Ten really until late December, trying to keep my sanity, knowing how good this league is going to be this year. It will be another great challenge for this team and the guys are ready to go.
Q. Hey, Coach, last year Deshaun transformed himself, was very athletic, what areas of improvement has he made in the last six months?
THAD MATTA: I think first and foremost, Deshaun has made the progress that you make from your freshman to your sophomore year. He changed his body, he's kind of changed it again, he's a lot thinner this year than he was last year. I think the light is on for him in terms of what he has to do to be a fully effective player.
The biggest thing that I have seen is he now has such a better understanding of the game of basketball and knowing that there is a lot of different ways that he can affect the game with his rebounding and defense. I've been pleased with what he's done defensively in practice thus far. The other thing is the overall mind set; he understands his teammates, he understands the system that we're trying to implement better and how he fits in. It's been amazing to see his attitude, just his leadership that he has provided for these guys.
Q. Thad, you've got a lot back but you lost a pretty big guy. Size up your team and what you're expecting, what people should expect from the Buckeyes?
THAD MATTA: I think anytime you lose two players of the caliber that we lost, the third all time leading scorer in Ohio State history in William [Buford] who won 120 games in his four years and then there you lose a first team All American in Jared [Sullinger]. Jared is definitely one of the greatest players I've ever coached and you see that now with what he is doing in the NBA with the Celtics.
Those guys, you can't replace them, and I think that's one of the challenges you have with your guys is saying, look, I don't need you to be Jared or William, I need you to be yourselves and the best you can be. In terms of assessing our team, I've seen all of our guys get better individually, which obviously makes us better collectively. I think from that standpoint we're going to have more depth this year and probably more interchangeable pieces, guys that can do different things. We've got speed, athleticism and hopefully we can continue to play as fast as we possibly can.
Q. Thad, obviously a number of freshmen have come in the past few years and had a big impact. What's the key for a freshman to be ready to not just play in the Big Ten, but to contend?
THAD MATTA: I think they have to have it physically. They've got to have a good body, and I think in the years that I've coached in college probably the most college ready player I've ever had come in was Aaron Craft. What he did with his body before he even got to college was incredible.
The next thing is the mind, they have to be able to think quickly, make quick decisions. They have to understand it's a different basketball game than it was in high school, than it was in their AAU careers. I think that's probably the biggest thing, you try to get freshmen to understand the thinking component of the game of basketball, and not just going out there and playing and the freshmen that come in that have a great impact and appear to understand the game maybe a little bit better than others.
Q. I know you've only been going for 10, 12 days so far, but the two spots you do lose somebody, the wing and the center position, who are the guys that have stepped up, not necessarily naming a starter but out of that group of guys that we talked about on media day who are the guys that have really shown you something here in the first couple of weeks?
THAD MATTA: You know, I'll be honest, I've been pleased with how everybody has played. Like I said, I've seen improvement in each guy's game, you know, from Amir Williams making tremendous strides, Evan Ravenel being our only senior, we face the season with only one senior like we did last year. Trey McDonald has come leaps and bounds in understanding the skill set. LaQuinton Ross is getting the meat and the potatoes of putting the system together, which he didn't have that luxury last year. Sam Thompson has surprised us with his overall play; Amedeo being the only freshman, you talk about a freshman being ready, he understands the game as well as anybody I've ever seen. He can knock down shots as well.
So I don't know if I can pinpoint just one guy because like I said, I like what I've seen from everybody in terms of improvement.
Q. We know that you've lost a lot of the scoring from last season. Going into this year, is there a particular player that you think is going to need to step up to shoulder that burden or is it more of a scoring by committee approach?
THAD MATTA: I think scoring by committee. I've always said the best teams I've ever had you never knew going into a game who was going to be the leading scorer. It kind of emerged throughout the course of the game, and I view this team as that's what is probably going to have to happen for us.
Q. Thad, I think you are the fourth or fifth coach to come through and say this is a great league this year. What is the difference? You guys have been fairly constant since you took over, fairly near the top of the league but what is the difference that's brought the league to the level that it is now? It's not that long you guys were eighth in conference RPI as a league.
THAD MATTA: I think the Big Ten told us we had to say that I'm kidding you! What I've seen over time in the Big Ten is that you have great coaches, you have great programs. I've always said winning on the road in the Big Ten may be the most daunting task in college basketball, night in, night out because of the environments that you go into.
One of the biggest things I've seen in my time is the level of play has really increased, and you couple all of that with the guys that are coaching, I think that's what makes it a great league. I don't think any of us can walk up there and say I looked at their schedule and I know we're going to win this game. I think that's why I don't look at it until December because I don't want to think in terms of that. It seems like everybody is at their best, you know, a lot of times as Ohio State did for a long time, up down, up down, and everybody appears to be on the upward swing right now.
Q. Coach, John Groce is a guy who has worked for you before, what can the rest of the league expect to see from him as he progresses with that program over at Illinois.
THAD MATTA: We were together for eight years, I think it was, and he's a guy that number one, has the passion to teach and coach the game of basketball. He has energy, he understands the game and he's proven in terms of what he's done at Ohio University. The other thing, in just with talking with John, he has great passion for the University of Illinois, which I think makes a huge impact from day one. I know that he feels the need to do his best there and it's obviously year in, year out, a traditional powerhouse. He's accepting that challenge and I think Illinois fans will be happy with him.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach, good luck this year.
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