On Monday afternoon, Florida State's Leonard Hamilton and Virginia's Dave Leitao participated in their weekly teleconference. The two coaches talked about their upcoming match-up on Tuesday evening in Tallahassee, the play of Solomon Alabi, and much more.
Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton
"I kind of sound like a broken record I guess but once again we got down this past weekend against Clemson and we fought our way back and we were able to pull victory out at the end of the game. Similar to what we did the week before. Our team seems to be growing up. We have not started games as well as we would like to lately but we seem to be finishing real strong. I thought Saturday's game was a significant step for our kids because we are dealing with so many freshmen. During the second half (of the ACC season), we just have to find a way to avoid getting off to these slow starts. I feel like our team has improved with each week and hopefully we will start peaking at the right time."
Q: With so many young guys on the team, how important has Toney Douglas's experience and poise been out there to help calm everybody else down?
Hamilton: No doubt about that. Toney has been very calm and very patient with our youngsters in his approach to communicating with them. He is not very emotional in terms of when it comes to giving them instructions. They seem to appreciate that. Whenever there is an emotional moment he seems to be the voice of reason. He is leading by example. He, along with Uche Echefu, during those moments, those stressful moments. They always find a way to say things that kind of settle the youngsters down.
Q: How has Douglas evolved as a player in his four years with you?
Hamilton: One thing he has done is he has really become probably one of the most well conditioned athletes I have ever been around. He is tireless and he has done that through diet, water, stretching, and he has committed himself to wanting to be more of a complete player. That means that he admitted to me when he came that he wasn't a guy who had concentrated very much on defense but once he got into the ACC he realized that if he did not step it up defensively he would get exposed. His pride and competitive spirit has caused him to work hard where he is probably one of the better defensive guards I have ever coached. He is sound fundamentally, when he is not reaching and putting himself in a bad position he is as good defensively on the ball as anybody I have been around in my coaching career. I would say that the thing that he has changed is that he has worked hard on wanting to become more of a complete player. I think he has really made great strides in those areas.
Q: What about his shooting and his offense, has he always been what you wanted there?
Hamilton: I think what he has done is his skills ? dribbling, passing, and shooting ? have always been there. I think what he has done is become more of a student of the game. He is always asking for tape of his opponents. He is always evaluating himself and wanting to become more and more of a student of the game so he makes better decisions. I think that is where he has probably made his biggest improvement. He was a scorer in high school. He has always been fairly consistent with his shooting. We always tweaked a little bit of his shooting form but he was always able to score. I think what he has is a mentality, a level of confidence, that he believes in himself and his team. Because he has played so unselfishly his teammates really believe in him as well.
Q: With the way your team has been able to come back in games, how much confidence does that give you all in those situations?
Hamilton: Well I think early in the year we didn't have maybe the right combination of players on the floor at the beginning of games. Each game kind of takes on a different personality for one reason or another. I thought we were very tentative in the Clemson game. Part of that is because our guys are very unselfish and they are all trying to play within themselves. I think in their attempt to play within themselves, sometimes you can overpass the ball, or not be nearly as aggressive offensively as you need to be when you are learning and growing. The times we have gotten behind it seems as though we have developed the mentality of taking what the defense gives us. They seem to perform a lot better. I think this is obviously about time and maturity that we will get to the point where we will be more consistent throughout the games. Now that the games are taking on more added importance, I think sometimes young players have a tendency to sometimes create excessive anxiety. But hopefully the win on the road against a very good Clemson team will give us a little more confidence.
Q: In order to have as good of a second half to the ACC schedule as you did the first half, what are the keys there?
Hamilton: I think we have to become more consistent with our mental and emotional approach. I think we have a tendency sometimes to be up and down in those areas. I think when you have as many new players as we have that mindset, one of our coaches call it that magic, that magic level that you have to be at a consistent basis with each game, a lot of the time is determined by your approach to practice and how consistent you are with your effort in practice. It is a level of confidence that you bring when you are shooting by yourself, when you are practicing you defense, trying to be consistent with your rebounding. I think we have to practice with maybe a little more focus and that gives you confidence. We need to go into games with a clear understanding of what it takes to compete at an ACC level. Sometimes it is hard to describe that in words with as many newcomers, young players that dominate our team now, but I think they have now a better idea of what it really takes.
Q: Coming off a big win, how do you make sure your guys don't lose focus on your next opponent?
Hamilton: Well we try to be just frank, honest, and direct. Even when we falter we don't try to brow beat them or intimidate them or be over aggressive, we try to be honest in our approach. That is the way we will approach the mindset we need to be in for the Virginia game. We want them to develop that consistency. There have been a lot of situations throughout the year that we can point to where teams have not performed well after getting a certain level of recognition. We will point those out, we have already started, and I don't believe we have that much of an issue because we are still in some ways considered the underdogs. We are still trying to earn a certain level of respect not only within our conference but on a national basis. So we don't room right now to take any bows, we realize that not many people have made it to the NCAA Tournament winning five games (in their conference). We have to continue to keep winning, because we know there won't be any opportunities at the end of the season (if we don't). We are very much aware of that.
Q: Every freshman hits something of a wall at some point during their freshman season, how do you deal with that having so many freshmen?
Hamilton: Well hopefully, maybe fortunate for us, some of our players kind of hit that early on in the season where the pace of practice, the pace of the games, or our schedules, playing away from home and playing some pretty good people on neutral courts, I think gave us an early snapshot of what we would be dealing with. I thought going to Vegas and playing against Cincinnati and California was good for us. We played against a team that was probably a lot more emotional ready and executed very well in Northwestern. That was a very difficult game for us that time of year because those who play against Northwestern know they run a very disciplined offense with their Princeton system and defensively they ran a zone that frustrated us a little bit. They were so consistent with it for the entire 40 minutes and at that time we were still trying to find ourselves. So we have had some disappointments. We have been fortunate enough to win games when we were not playing as well early, I think our kids have gotten over any type of situation that might be categorized as hitting the wall.
Q: Any thoughts on Florida State possibly moving into the Top 25 today?
Hamilton: That is probably something I have not given absolutely any thought to at all today until you brought it up. It doesn't really matter because it is obvious that the people who vote for the Top 25 have been incorrect because so many of the people that were preseason picks are not anywhere near where they were and some of them that in the preseason, all summer and fall, they are not even in the Top 25. I have always had the idea it's not how you start, it's how you finish. So hopefully wherever we end we earned that place and right now it is not as important as it will be three weeks from now. If we just take it one game at a time and not get all hyped up about anything particular other than realizing in the ACC, when you look around and see how many close games there are, if you are focusing on anything else other than your next opponent then something bad could happen. We are trying to educate our kids to keep prospective and everything else will take care of itself if we just continue to keep doing what we are doing.
Q: When you were recruiting Solomon Alabi, how much of a role did Uche Echefu play in that due to having a countrymen on your team?
Hamilton: I am sure it was probably a factor to some degree. We never really used it to any great substance, but we just tried to present to (Solomon) the opportunity that we had available. I think he recognized that. He was comfortable with it. We feel very fortunate. I am sure it had a little something to do with it but the big picture was that Solomon was going to make the decision based on things he thought was important and we were very fortunate to pull that off.
Q: Echefu was a major recruit when you signed him, how is he in his senior year and Alabi in his first full season with you, how are they progressing?
Hamilton: Well obviously they have a tremendous relationship. To be very honest with you, all of our players, this is an unusual bunch, they all get along great. There is great chemistry among themselves. Echefu kind of got off to a slow start because he had the minor surgery in the summer that kind of slowed his progress. He didn't get to do anything in the summer and the fall. He only practiced two days before our first game so he was still with the soreness, the swelling, and the rehab. He went through that for a long period of time so he wasn't able to be out on the practice floor competing and kind of creating that competitive spirit that we like from him, that he is doing now. I think that kind of affected Solomon a little bit because we didn't have that leadership out there every day in practice. But I also think last yea when Solomon was dealing with his stress fracture that Echefu was very confident to him. I think that was when he really needed Echefu because he was very positive with him and just telling him to stay patient and everything was going to work out. I thought that was probably what Solomon needed more than anything else because he was very down and disappointed that he couldn't help his team last year with the season that we had.
Virginia head coach Dave Leitao
"As we prepare to leave Charlottesville and get down to Tallahassee I look at tomorrow night as well as the remaining schedule for the week with Clemson coming up on Sunday as continued challenges for our young group and how we will respond to those. Having played Florida State more recently, we are working on specifics and adjustments and things that we need to do better regardless of who we are playing and things we need to do better from the last time we played them."
Q: What is it like preparing for Alabi defensively and what he does for them – how do you attack him and the way he patrols the paint?
Leitao: Well obviously when you have a guy who is one, 7-1, and his reach is about 7-18, just by size alone he becomes a defensive presence. That is one of the reasons they are so good defensively. I think anybody, especially when you are young and developing like that, you have to continue to intelligently challenge. You can't go in there and take a normal lay-up because his size will intimidate you and force you to change your shot ultimately. Usually against a shot blocker you have to go at their body, and that is one of the things you have to talk about. As I said yesterday in our staff meeting when talking about him, every day that he wakes up he becomes a whole lot better. He continues to emerge as a guy who has a number of things that he is learning to do well and a guy with some tremendous potential.
Q: With the lineup you played in the second half against Boston College and again started the other day, it seems like you were setting a tone with that lineup. Is that a lineup you can use long term?
Leitao: Time will tell with that. Obviously it has given us thus far, one of the initial things that we were seeking, which was some more energy and attention to detail and things like that. On the other hand, it doesn't give us certain things. We have to continue to manage and see how. I think with where we are at now and one of the reasons for the change is that you can't worry about some of the aftermath things that we are trying to get which is better defense, trying to score the ball better, and those kind of things until you get consistency in how you play the game.
Q: With as big of a frontcourt as Florida State has, does it make it difficult to put Solomon Tat in at the four?
Leitao: No, not really because there is no bigger or better, maybe taller but not bigger or better frontcourt than we just faced (with UNC). Obviously we didn't win and didn't play as well as we wanted to but at the same point in time I don't think (Solomon) being in there to start the game or at different points is a big time deal. I think sometimes size matter when the size of your intensity and all those things matter too. We have enjoyed the energy and spirit for the game, the position that he is in that is needed for us. Obviously there are some structure things. Anyways, with Echefu and Florida State he is not nearly as much a post-up guy as a face-up guy.
Q: You were talking earlier about Florida State's defense, specifically Solomon Alabi, is there something you can do adjustment wise to counter act or to take advantage of that aggressiveness?
Leitao: Well just looking at it, reviewing the film, it is similar to the North Carolina game and we looked at specifically what they did to us with their transition and what had happened and what we didn't do. We looked at it in terms of the Florida State game and there were a number of cases where they played really good defense. I think defensively they are structured great because at the top of it they have a fifth year guy who is a tremendous defender on the ball and off the ball and he anticipates very well. Then on the back line, which is another key part of it, on defense they are very long and active with Alibi, Echefu, and others. They have good structure, at the same point in time, there were as many, probably more instances where we had a lot of correctable issues offensively - waiting for a screen, setting a screen, timing of things, working better and more together as a five-man unit. If we clean a lot of those things up in our adjustment then we obviously stand a better chance to right what was wronged. That is kind of how we are looking at it and how we are preparing for the game tomorrow night.