Here is everything that Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell said during his press conference in Des Moines Wednesday.
Q. Steve, your players are just talking about how this has been a surreal moment for them getting here today and being able to take this in. What has the past few days been like for you coming from behind to win the Championship game, seen the Selection Show where you guys are drawn and getting yourself here?
STEVE PIKIELL: It’s been a crazy few days. I think we have been on a lot of radio shows and it was an unbelievable game first and foremost and the environment was like spectacular. Our community really has embraced this team, and we’re a great university, and people are very excited.
So it’s been a very busy few days, but they’ve soaked it in. They’re a good group and three seniors that have been through a lot, to get us here. It’s tough to get into this tournament and this was the group that did it. It’s been very rewarding.
Q. Coach, how dependent are you guys on Jameel? I’ve heard his game described as “old school.” I wonder how accurate that is?
STEVE PIKIELL: Old school, okay. We’re dependent on him, obviously. He is a terrific passer is what he does best. But we have all league players at other positions. Carson Puriefoy is arguably the best guard that we have ever had in the school. And Rayshaun McGrew is the second team all league player and an all-defensive player. Ahmad Walker is an all defensive player. Lucas Woodhouse is one of the best assist guys in the county and a point guard.
So we have other players and we have five guys off the bench that started games for us last year. We won 22 games last year. We’re one of the best assist teams in the country. We really share the ball, and Jameel is a big part of that. But he does a lot of things for us. He’s going to leave our school as all-time leading scorer and rebounder and blocked shots. But he’s top 5 in assists, steals. He does a lot of different things. He is a unique big guy and his wing span is 7-2. He’s 6-8, but he’s long and he’s a very good player.
Q. I read recently that you told Jameel prior to the Vermont game that he was going to have to shoot 20 times in order for you guys to win that game. Is the pregame talk prior to this game going to be similar to that?
STEVE PIKIELL: He’s going to have to take 40 in this game! You know, Jameel is a unique player and he’s seen every defense known to man. He’s a very good passer, and this wasn’t the game to be an assist guy he needed to score points and felt like we had an advantage there and our guys did a great job of getting him the ball. Vermont had a lot of different defenses to not allow him to get the ball. He got some shots off the rim, posted up and sealed. He did a real good job.
But we have a balanced scoring team. We have four guys averaging double figures and Lucas Woodhouse has been averaging double figures in the last five games too. We have other guys that can score too. Unfortunately, our best three-point shooter tore his ACL three weeks ago because he was a really good scorer, too. So we’re down one, but other guys can score, too.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about what it meant for you to have Jim Calhoun and Howie Dickenman in the stands last weekend?
STEVE PIKIELL: They recruited me. I was part of that first recruiting class Coach Calhoun had. They’ve been mentors. Won a lot of games and people I can call on. I was just honored that they both took the time, they’re busy, took to the game and Coach has always been there for me. He’s been a great example of a coach and a father and all those things.
I was really excited. I call him all the time. Not a lot of people can call a 3-time National Champion and won a zillion games and ask them questions about going through things and about their team. So he’s been a great mentor for me.
Q. I know that for Rayshaun it’s been a very difficult year personally. What is it about his make-up that’s allowed him to get through that?
STEVE PIKIELL: You know, tough. He’s a great kid, first of all. He leads our team in the locker room. He’s our vocal guy. He’s improved so much in three years, too. So I’m proud of his development.
You know, he had a tough year, I mean, he was back and forth to home during the season and he lost his mom, and, you know, it was a sad day the day he lost his mom. He might have played his best game, too, against Princeton, and we told him he didn’t have to play, and he said, I want to play, you know, type. So he’s been great. He’s in grad school now. He’s a mature kid. He likes to say he’s Chicago tough, and he’s shown that this season.
Q. Coach, the game at Vanderbilt and other games you’ve played this season, how much do you think it’s helped you guys not to be in awe of the situation tomorrow night?
STEVE PIKIELL: You know, since Tré has been here we’ve played at Indiana and Georgia and we went out to Washington last year when they were ranked and beat Washington, Notre Dame. We’ve played a lot of good teams. Our guys are very confident, sometimes too confident. But we’re playing, obviously, a great program and when they popped up on the board all our guys, why not, we’re going to play somebody good, why not the best?
I think they’ll play loose and I’m hoping — they’ve gotta play great. I understand that, and Coach John Calipari has an amazing program and a lot of good players and we have won a lot of games, not just this year. We have won a lot of games and we have won in postseason. These guys have been around a little bit and they’ve experienced some success.
Q. Steve, what has the past couple days been like just for the fact that you guys worked so hard to get here and now you’re here and this was the goal for so long, but then refocusing the team off of that high and just playing another game?
STEVE PIKIELL: You know, I do think when you see Kentucky on the board you get their focus pretty quickly. They know all the players and they know what the program means. They were very familiar with them obviously, you turn on Sports Center and you see Kentucky players. So we’ve had good practices. It has been exciting. We have had pep rallies. We’ve been on radio, TV. It’s been kind of a busy time but an exciting time, exciting for our university, too, which is a great university and exploding right now and always academically and new buildings being built.
So it’s really an incredible time for us and the guys are soaking it in and enjoying it, but when it’s time to watch film they’re pretty focused and Kentucky makes you be that way.
Q. Coach, how tough were the early years and did you have your doubts that you could ever get to this point where you are now?
STEVE PIKIELL: I had a pretty good confidence. We started off building a program and we didn’t have a lot of success or a lot of tradition. It was probation the first couple years, scholarship limitations, APR issues, I said we got the full makeover we kinda needed. I was very confident, though, in the program and if I could get my guy and the guys that were a little bit tougher and, you know, wanted to be at Stony Brook and we had such a great university, academically, off the charts, top-20 public school, near the water, every kid loves the beach and just a lot of good people, I knew that we could get it going.
We really have, we just hadn’t gotten to this point. We’ve won a lot of games and we’ve done it with, I think, class, great kids, we graduate kids. The three you just saw, two are in graduate school taking grad classes and we develop players. I think we do as good of a job as anybody, kids that came maybe under recruited and they got better and Jameel Warney got better and Carson Puriefoy got better and Rayshaun McGrew was not recruited by anybody and he got better. We’re real proud of that.
Got a great staff and when you hire a great staff and you work together good things can happen, but I knew the potential of the school was off the charts and it really has been. Our baseball team was in the College World Series. Both our La Crosse teams are in the top-20 ranks. We have a tight end from the Giants, Will Tye, who played in our football program. Joe Nathan, a baseball stadium is named after him, a heck of a pitcher. So we’ve got a lot of good things going at Stony Brook and it’s an exciting time for our young university.
Q. Your players talked about the importance of not letting Kentucky separate too much in the game tomorrow night. What concerns you about Kentucky and how they could create the separation?
STEVE PIKIELL: Their speed, you know, concerns me greatly at every position. They go on huge spurts. Jamal Murray gets on his runs and he’s a tough guy to guard, and Tyler Ulis is a one-man wrecking crew. There’s a lot of things that concern me about the game. We have to play smart. We have to take care of the basketball, and, you know, I know they’re going to pressure us.
We have pretty good ball handlers, though, which I kind of am thankful for. All three of our perimeter guys can handle the ball. All three of them can bring the ball up. Jameel is another passer, ball handler for a big guy. We gotta play confident. We’ve gotta play well, but there is a lot — their size, we don’t have size like that especially coming off the bench. We have a couple big guys, but certainly not like theirs. And a lot of things, he is a great coach, so, you know, we’ve gotta counter that, too, in some way.
Q. Steve, the players sat up there and talked about how it doesn’t matter if nobody else believes in them because they believe. Have you had that talk with them this week about self-belief and a serious chance of winning?
STEVE PIKIELL: You know, we’ve had belief in ourselves all year. We won 18 games in a row every game you had to win when we got that streak going. You know, they believed that they could win the league. We were picked first. The bullseye was on us from day one. We won the league and then we had to win it again in the conference tournament.
So they’ve had a lot of belief all year in themselves, which I think is pretty good. It’s a good thing and I think they are, too. They’re confident. They’ve been around, and Jameel thinks he can play anywhere and he probably can. And we have a good point guard and when you have a good big guy and if the other guys do their thing, you know, and we hang around in this game it could be exciting.