Once Northern Kentucky found out it was playing UK, it became all business

John Calipari talks to the Cats during Thursday’s open practice in Indianapolis. (Vicky Graff Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS — Northern Kentucky University players Cole Murray, Drew McDonald and Lavone Holland talked today about their upcoming game with Kentucky Friday night in the NCAA Tournament.

Q. Lavone, Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis both talked about playing against you when playing in AAU and in high school. What are your recollections of playing against them or with them in AAU?
LAVONE HOLLAND: I played with Dominique Hawkins at AAU. He’s a good player, fun to play with. Derek Willis is also good competition to play against.

Q. Drew, I wonder if playing Kentucky, is this something that’s like a — something you’ll be telling your grandkids about some time in the future?
DREW McDONALD: I think this whole experience in general will be something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Just growing up, watching the NCAA tournament, it just was a cool experience. Coming here and getting a chance to play in it, and then a big school like Kentucky, it’s just a great opportunity for us.

Q. For you guys, when did this week become about business? Obviously, you knew you earned a berth and you were waiting for Selection Sunday. Sunday night? When did you guys get into Kentucky, wanting to watch them or study them? When did that turn and what has this week been like in that regard?
DREW McDONALD: Really, after the selection show, we had a meeting with coach and our managers and players and everybody. That’s when it really started. I mean, we enjoyed the experience of Selection Sunday. Once we heard Kentucky and we had a meeting right after that, that’s when our business started.

We got into practice the next day, got in the game plan a little bit and got more in-depth as the week went on.

LAVONE HOLLAND: Really, it’s been about business for us the whole year. It really began for the NCAA tournament two days after we won the conference tournament, we were right back in the gym.

COLE MURRAY: Yeah, what they both just said. I mean, right after the selection show, like he said, we met and we put a game plan in. This whole week, we went after it and got prepared.

Q. Cole, how much of an awe factor might there be? It’s your first time in the tournament, and they’re the winningest program in college basketball?
COLE MURRAY: I mean, you can’t look at it that way. You’ve got to come in as if it’s a faceless opponent like we used the term all year. No matter who we play, we prepare as if we play anybody. This week is no different. It doesn’t matter what stage we play on, who we play, where we play. We go in playing like it’s anybody else.

Q. For all the players, in a normal week, if I’m a student on the NKU campus, how many U.K. shirts do I see? Are there more NKU shirts now?
DREW McDONALD: You’ll see a couple throughout campus. At the beginning of the year, you’ll see some. As basketball season got on, we got more students to the game. It dwindled down. I did read any student who had a free ticket to the game or won a ticket, they are not allowed to wear U.K. stuff. It dwindled down as we won games, and they’ve come to support us more.

LAVONE HOLLAND: I only take class on campus right now. I don’t get on campus much. When I do, I don’t see many U.K. shirts.

COLE MURRAY: A few years ago, I used to see a lot. This year, it’s toned down a lot. It’s been nice to see.

Q. Lavone, can you tell us about a kid from Ballard playing at Northern and now playing against U.K.?
LAVONE HOLLAND: One more time.

Q. You’re from Ballard High School, now going to play against U.K., what’s that’s like?
LAVONE HOLLAND: I think it’s an opportunity I’ve been blessed with. I wouldn’t say it was something that I, like, dreamed about, but it is something that I’ve always wanted to do.

Q. Cole, there have been some 15s to beat 2s in the last few years. I’m wondering how much you guys maybe take some, what, confidence that you can be another one?
COLE MURRAY: That’s something that you look at, and you know what craziness happens in the tournament. Obviously, anything can happen.

Like I said before, we just try to prepare for whoever we play. We don’t look at the seeding. We don’t look at the tradition of the other school or anything like that. We just come in every day and do it like we’ve been doing it. It’s helped us be successful this far.

Q. Just to kind of piggyback off that, how hard is it, when you look at rosters, their roster, kids who you played AAU with, you know your class rankings when you come out as high school kids. You know some of these guys will be in the NBA next year. Has that been hard at all to think about measuring up or how we’ll do against that type of guy, I guess? I think any of you can answer that.
DREW McDONALD: I think it’s kind of motivation, really. It’s a great opportunity for us. They’re on national TV all the time. They get all this exposure, and we’re more of a lower mid-major team, and we don’t get the exposure that they do. So being on a national stage like this gives us a chance to expose our talents and expose how we play as a team.

It’s some motivation just seeing the rankings coming out and seeing guys that you’re going to play in the NBA with. I played against several of them in the AAU. I know what they are. We played against them, beat some of the teams in AAUs. Like Cole says, it’s a faceless opponent.

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