Here is what Loyola-Chicago head coach Porter Moser had to say Monday about his team’s improbable surge to the Final Four in San Antonio.
Q. Porter, I know you hear so much talk about coaches trying to keep things normal and routine when you get on the big stage like this, but it is your first time, and I’m wondering if there’s any coaches that you have tapped into for any advice. Anything from your past, maybe working with Coach Majerus, that you can tap into to give you any semblance of maybe some things that might have to change or routines you can follow heading into the Final Four.
PORTER MOSER: Well, I’m definitely into that school of thought of trying to learn and get advice as much as I can from guys that I know and trust that have been there, so I’m in that process right now. I have done that.
I wish Coach Majerus was around. Obviously I was so close to him, and, ironically, it was 20 years ago almost to the date that he was in San Antonio with his Utah team. I wish I could tap into that.
I worked with Al Jensen, who’s now at the Utah Jazz, and we were texting each other and going to have a conversation, and we were talking about a couple things Coach Majerus was doing. But I definitely am in the school of thought, it is my first time, and if I can get any advice or anything, I’ll take it all in and then mix it to what we do.
I know this: It’s not going to be — we’re not going to do anything different out of our routine. I want these guys to experience this as normal as possible. We felt that way going to Dallas, and then when it got to the Sweet 16, we felt the same way. We’ve kind of been doing our normal routine. I can guarantee you it’s going to be somewhat normal for us, at least routine-wise.
Q. Anybody else in the coaching business that you would identify as people that maybe you would exchange a text or a call with?
PORTER MOSER: Yeah, there’s some people that I will be — that I’ve started exchanging texts that I’ll let you know in a little bit, but just not right now, that I’m going to let out. Just some close personal friends that have been there.
Q. Porter, I have two things if that’s okay. The first is do you have any history or crossed paths much with these other Final Four coaches?
PORTER MOSER: Yes. I mean, I know — I’ve known Bill for a long time. The thing I love about Bill Self was Bill seemed to be the same guy he was when he was at Oral Roberts. I remember I was an assistant coach at Texas A&M, a young guy, and I remember seeing Bill, it might have been Hutchinson, Kansas, and we were talking. And then you see him at Illinois, you see him at Kansas, and he still walks up to you, Hey, Porter.
So I’ve known Bill for many, many years liked and that’s one thing I’ve always like and admired about him, he’s been the same guy as he was to me and other guys in this profession as he was when he was at Oral Roberts, and I truly respect that.
Coach Beilein, I’ve gotten to know him over the years on the road. I remember visiting with him at the Final Four and on the road, and just what a high-class guy in terms of what he does with his program, how he runs his program. Just got a ton of respect for him.
I don’t know Jay personally. We’ve got a mutual friend, but you can’t help but sit here and look at him as one of the best in the profession in terms of what he’s done and how he’s done it. And just got an amazing amount of respect for him and watching him and what he’s done, followed him. We had a brief encounter way back when he was an assistant with Rollie Massimino, and I was with Tony Barone. We played each other, and two guys like Rollie Massimino and Tony Barone, of course, their staffs are going to go for a big Italian dinner. And Rollie had a huge spread in Vegas, we went there.
And then we went to College Station, and Tony tried to have as big as you possibly could have in College Station, Texas, but it paled in comparison to what Rollie had for us in Vegas. So I’ve crossed paths a little bit back then, but just admired and nothing but utmost respect for what he’s done at Villanova.
Q. On Cameron Krutwig, everybody knows what a great passer he is, but a freshman center who’s played all year and doesn’t get into foul trouble, how is that even possible? What’s he done to be so effective in that way?
PORTER MOSER: Well, sometimes bigs get in foul trouble because they’re trying to block so many shots. They go for shot fakes, they get up in the air, they rotate and draw fouls. You know, Coach Majerus had a great line: Know who you are. And Cam knows who he is. He’s not a shot blocker. He’s a through you to the rim guy. He’s got to rotate and be big, rotate through the rim. He’s got to take some charges.
And we have another thing, reach for the lights. When he comes over to rotate or he comes over to be through to the rim, reach for the lights, don’t get that verticality with those arms down trying to swat and block shots. I think that’s the one thing with Cam and with our coaching staff, we know who he is. We’re not asking him, Cam, dammit, come over and rotate and block that shot. That’s not who he is. He’s not a rim protector. He’s a through you to the rim guy, rotate over, take charges, be 6’9″, 270 on a good day, 275 on a couple extra snacks. But he’s got to be that kind of player. I think that’s helped him not get in foul trouble.
Q. You mentioned Tony, and I kind of wanted to take you back to your two times at A&M with him when you guys first got there. And a lot of us remember those days and it was kind of rough down there at College Station in a lot of ways, the first two years in the Big 12. What did you gain from your relationship with Tony? We’ve known a lot of your time with Rick, but early in your career as far as a coach, what was it like with Tony?
PORTER MOSER: Well, you know, he was my college coach, so I played for him four years, and just — you know, that family atmosphere of running a program, we were an unbelievably close-knit group, played for each other, and I’ve tried to emulate that with trying to build this.
You know, and you see there’s an incredible amount of love there, a player-coach relationship. When I got there, he took me along. I was the only person from Creighton that he took along. And I went with him, and so we inherited three years of probation back then. That first three years Tony took the job, we inherited a three-year probation, so that was just a rough go of turning that around. And then we did, and then he stayed, and then that’s when we went into the Big 12, and that was just a monster adjustment, jumping from back then, because there was no new facilities back then.
But what I take from Coach is just an amazing amount of passion for the game, knowledge of the game. How he ran the program in terms of outreach in the community to passion and energy, I thought he was an outstanding X’s and O’s guy. He’s unbelievably close to me. I said the other night, I’m very blessed to have two mentors who I think were great basketball guys that impacted my life and my career.
Q. Was that when — as a coach did you first start kind of putting together your either real notebook or the notebook in your head about how to go about becoming a head coach?
PORTER MOSER: 100 percent. I mean, I got the Arkansas-Little Rock job at age 31. I was the second youngest head coach in the country behind Thad Matta at the time. He got Butler at the time, he was a couple months younger than me. And that was a program that won four games the year before and we won 18, and just building a foundation and the type of program and what Coach does. And so I took a lot from him, and then I was able to get — I coached at Illinois State, and kind of reinventing myself with Coach Majerus. That was just another huge, huge part of my career.
But I wouldn’t be in this without Tony Barone being my college coach and giving me a chance. I remember he was a hot name coach when he went from Creighton to A&M, and for him to take — I was one year removed as a player, and he hired me as a restricted earnings coach back then. Back then you had two full-time assistants and one restricted earnings coach, so I was only one he brought to do that what. And we did at Creighton, that was a pretty special thing that he had enough trust and faith in our relationship to bring me along to start that journey, my coaching, at A&M with him.
Q. You’re the fourth No. 11 seed to reach the Final Four. No No. 11 has reached the championship game. What do you see in your team and the match-ups that enable you to be the team to break that string?
PORTER MOSER: Well, like anything, we’re not thinking about breaking the string. I’m not thinking about anything really in terms of that, except Michigan, and what are we going to do to score because their defense is one of the top defenses in the country. And their offense — both ends of the court, they’re outstanding.
The process of what our mindset and focus has been has been on Michigan, not the other 11 seeds or whether they’ve gotten to the next game or not. We felt that way, this whole process of getting into the tournament, being Loyola, getting into the Sweet 16, Elite 8. It hasn’t been as much about — sometime later on we’ll talk about the history of everything, but right now these guys, our coaching staff, everything is about the opponent in front of us, and that’s all we’ve got to focus on. Nothing else really matters. The only thing that really matters is the two hours we’re playing Michigan, executing, what are we going to do to score, what are we going to do to stop them.
Q. You mentioned a moment ago that it’s important for you guys to keep staying in your routine and keep things as normal as possible, but this is the Final Four, you’re on the River Walk, you’re in San Antonio, you’re with Kansas and Michigan and Villanova. In some ways I’m wondering if it’s going to be hard to keep your players from being star-struck, and how hard do you think it’s going to be to keep things normal?
PORTER MOSER: You know, I’ve been asked that question literally for like — for every step of this journey the last three weeks. Going into the conference tournament, I was asked about how we’re going to keep our guys grounded knowing that people were saying we had to win the tournament, and then we were able to focus in one game at a time. The whole week — we had a week off, Missouri Valley was done — a week off before Selection Sunday, and then another week. How are we keeping our guys focused with all that? Then after the two games, then the Sweet 16.
The thing about our guys is — I’ve not been one of those coaches where I’ve not tried to — I’ve let them enjoy this ride. How can I? I would have loved to have gone on this ride as a player. I want them to enjoy it. I want them to embrace it. And the reason why I feel like I can is because this group, every time we’ve had to lock in on practice, on film, on whatever it’s been, they’re all in. I’ve never sat there and had to coach focus or coach effort or coach being on top of things.
So I love that they’re enjoying this.
Now, with that said, times it by about 100 with the Final Four hoopla, and I get that. I’m going to let them enjoy the ride, and when we’re in film, when we’re in practice, when we’re in walk-throughs in the ball room, everything is going to be as normal, as focused and about what we do. These guys are mature enough to handle it, and that’s all I can do. I mean, you can’t simulate what’s about to happen. They’ve got to go through it, and I want them to go through it.
Q. I was wondering about your only player from Texas, Aundre Jackson, what it means for him to go to the Final Four in his home state and also the impact he’s made on your team, particularly in the tournament.
PORTER MOSER: Well, he’s made a huge impact for our team, and his unselfishness, there’s been a lot of talk about the unselfishness of our group, Aundre is at the top of the list with that because — he had a great year last year. He was, preseason — a lot of people haven’t talked about this — he preseason-picked First-Team All-League. And he came in — and Cameron Krutwig just gave us a different dynamic, and it just became clear he was a guy who was kind of starting and being in, so Aundre came off the bench again, and he’s had a wonderful year. He hasn’t had a First-Team All-League kind of year because of the minutes he’s sharing with Krutwig, but his unselfishness and buying into that role.
Here’s a crazy stat. He’s leading us in scoring in the tournament, and he’s playing less than 20 minutes a game. He’s an undersized — he’s 6’5″, he plays the 5, and with Krutwig doing so well, he gives us a totally different look. But here’s a guy that it’s all about the team. He’s never — sit there and complained about playing time or complained about this or that. He’s ready when called on. And I’ll tell you, the guys were so happy for him because when we got the Regional in Dallas, everybody was so hyped because his friends and family were there. That’s where he went to high school and junior college, and he had a great showing there and a great group of family that were there. Now to go to the Final Four in his home state, really happy for him as a person that he’s going to be able to share that with friends and family that are right there in his state.
Q. When you look at Michigan’s defense, obviously they’ve won a lot of games on defense, what do you think is the biggest challenge for your team to go up against Michigan?
PORTER MOSER: It’s a number of things. They’re so well — they’re very fundamental defensively in terms of the shell, their length. The scouting you can tell is involved with it. They’re really disciplined defensively. Their guards get after you. They’ve got size. And they take pride in it.
When you’re talking about all the defensive teams, I just think the defense at this level is so good, and they’re fourth in the country in defensive efficiency, and then they’re the No. 1 in this tournament. It’s — I know over the years, the schemes on offense have been so impressive about things they’ve done and how they’ve spaced you and shot the ball. But defensively what they’ve done now, I mean, that’s why I just think they’re so good is they’re on both ends.
But they’re really hard to score against.
Q. What do you think about this run that you’re on, and are you surprised by all the attention that you guys have gotten over the past few weeks?
PORTER MOSER: I love the run we’re on. I think it’s been great for our guys. And I’m not surprised about the attention because in this tournament, the more you win in it at every level, it increases.
I love — what I love is for our city of Chicago because it’s such a great sports town, and I’m from here, and it’s always been known. And it is a pro town. It’s not a pro town, it’s a sports town, and they love — they love winning teams. They love passionate, prideful, hard-working teams, and they’ve gotten behind us. And it’s been awesome to see the city — I mean, to see the picture of the skyline of Chicago lit up that said, Go Loyola was just amazing. Being a lifelong Cubs fan, to see during their World Series runs, it getting lit up and saying Go Cubs. For it to say Go Loyola, it was chilling. I’m happy for our University, I’m happy for our guys, I’m happy for the city that this kind of attention has happened for them.