Transcripts from the NCAA and ASAP Sports
Coach Pitino: In 1987 an improbable team went to the Final Four with Billy Donovan, and everybody always says looking back now, “Were those the two most fun years of your life?” I said, what I learned and took away from those moments is I learned to dream for the rest of my life, and I thought everything was possible. Anton and I had an interesting conversation the other day. I called him up, and I was working out, and I said, son, you’re mentally in a funk. It’s nothing you’re doing wrong because you’re playing behind Terry Rozier, who’s an unbelievable player. But in ’87 we had to beat Georgetown and Alabama, Alabama in the Sweet 16, Georgetown in the Elite Eight, and a young man named Darryl Wright was like the seventh, eighth man on the team, wasn’t playing particularly well, and he was in a little bit of a mental funk. He went out and give gave us an unbelievable lift and was the MVP of the region coming off the bench.
I said, “You’re going to get your opportunity, son.” Tonight I was going to put Shaqquan in, and I just thought about that, and he went in and basically won the game for us with his two big plays. I’m really happy for him when a guy doesn’t get his minutes and doesn’t get his playing time and still shows a great attitude. For him to have this moment, I’m thrilled. The guy sitting to my left, Montrezl Harrell, I can’t say enough about him because he’s the toughest guy I’ve ever coached, and he never lets me down.
Question: Anton, just following up on what Coach said there, can you just talk about your mentality? When you scored five points in a row there, the drive, the three-pointer and you had the 7 of 9 points, what caused to you take over the game there? And why did it happen at that moment and not before then?
Anton Gill: I just saw I had an opportunity. We had worked hard all season, and I didn’t want to go home. By whatever means I’ve got, I just want to try to make something happen.
Question: Anton, just curious, for you to do this against NC State on this stage, what does that mean to you?
Anton Gill: It’s kind of weird. I didn’t really realize we were playing NC State, my hometown team, until somebody asked me about it yesterday, because we’ve been so focused on what we need to do as a team. It’s funny how things work, and I’m just blessed to be in this opportunity.
Question: Anton, could you just go back to your recruitment process. How involved was NC State and how it played out?
Anton Gill: If I remember, they were one of my first offers. I had a really good relationship with Coach Gottfried and Coach Early. They were one of the schools I got down to, here, NC State, and a couple others. They were around.
Question: [No microphone].
Anton Gill: I didn’t know they took Trevor. I just committed here. I felt good with it. It was working out for me.
Question: Montrezl, how great has it been to see guys like first Q stepping up and now Anton and these young guys helping you guys get where you want to go?
Montrezl Harrell: It’s a great feeling. Being around these guys, I’ve learned so much about them over the season. We took our bumps and bruises throughout the season but we came together at the right time. Everything just gelled at the right time. I feel like, when Coach makes a substitution and he puts anybody on the court, I feel like they’re going to give it everything they’ve got. We worked so hard all season long and took the ups and downs during the season, and we don’t want to go home. Everybody has bought into the mentality that Coach wanted and everybody wants the same goal. So whoever Coach subs in at any point in time, I know they’re going to play 110% on the court.
Question: Montrezl, Terry Rozier had twice as many rebounds as you. Has he already told you about that? Do you think you’re going to be able to live this one down?
Montrezl Harrell: It actually plays great for me. It helps out a lot when your guard can come down and come up with 14 rebounds. There’s plenty of times when I’ve been the leading rebounder. But Terry came in and switched it up tonight. He wasn’t just attacking the basket and scoring. He switched it up and was helping with the rebounds. He knows that with this team, if they shoot a lot of three-pointers and there were going to be long rebounds. So we need to rebound from the guard spot. When the game first tipped off, with the first three rebounds, he mixed it up tonight. That’s what we needed. If he’s ever going to let me live it down, I doubt it.
Question: For either of you guys, Mark Gottfried was saying how Cat Barber was violently ill last night. You guys saw him earlier this year. What did you notice about his game tonight? Was he maybe a little flat or hampered by that?
Montrezl Harrell: We didn’t know anything about him being ill, but we know yesterday he was telling the press that, if he was on our team, that he wouldn’t press him. So obviously he was feeling good. We weren’t worried about that. We were worried about things in between the lines and things we can control. If it he was out there on the floor, he was good enough to play the game. If he was out there on the floor, we made sure we gave him everything we could handle. So we just wanted to stick to our game plan and made sure we came out with a win.
Question: Rick, you mentioned that Providence team. It’s 28 years later, what is it about coaching that keeps you motivated at this stage? You could have gone away a long time ago, been with your horses, relaxed. What is it that you still love about it?
Coach Pitino: I think, because of the horses, I have to work until 80. You know what, I think it’s this time of year, John. I just love the pageantry, the passion of this time of year. The stories like Anton Gill and Darryl Wright that I told. Terry Rozier was very sick. He had a terrible cold. He was spraying Afrin to try and breathe. I always listen to Hubie Brown because I was like a kid in a candy shop when I was a Knicks assistant. I said, “This guy Fat Lever is the best rebounder on the Denver Nuggets.” He said, “Kid, if you can ever find a guard that can rebound, you’ve got a valuable asset.”
All season long, Rozier has been a great rebounder, and tonight he’s got 14. So the surprise of March Madness, I look so forward to this time of year. Watch every game. Everything is so exciting. And it’s built. Every year I’ve been in the business it has gotten bigger and bigger and bigger because it’s been more publicized. I don’t really know what I would do without it. I really don’t. I see so many coaches tell me, “Don’t leave. Don’t think about leaving. Especially you. You’ll miss it so much.” And I keep listening to people when they say that.
Question: Do Hubie and guys like that tell you?
Coach Pitino: Hubie just keeps telling me — I was with him — I really learned a lot from Jim Boeheim my two years here because I knew nothing about zones, attacking zones as well as playing zones. And then with Hubie, I felt every single night I came away with two or three different things I’ve learned. I have two regrets in my life from a coaching standpoint: That I only spent two years with him and I only spent two years in Providence. Hubie told me, I went to him in Providence, and I said, “Hubie, I watched Providence play. They lost by 30 in Georgetown. Since the inception of the Big East, they’ve been in dead last place. So tied with Seton Hall. So I’m not going to go.” Dick McGuire and Fuzzy Levane told me not to go. He told me, two weeks later, “Kid, can you still get the Providence job?” I said, “Why?” “Bernard just had an ACL. We’re not going to win anymore. Take the Providence job, kid, and protect your family.” I’ll never forget that, and sure enough, they won 23, 24 games, and I left and came back as a Knicks coach.
Question: You said you chose to put Anton in there over Shaqquan. Can you expand on what made you make that decision and when you did? Also, Coach Gottfried said you’re better without Chris Jones. Do you agree with him?
Coach Pitino: I don’t want to comment on that, but I’ll comment on the first one. We’re different with Quentin. The kid played 37 minutes without a turnover, which is kind of unbelievable. We had 15 assists and 5 turnovers. Regarding — the first question was?
Coach Pitino: Shaqquan. Anton doesn’t play three much in practice. The other day, when we had that talk together, some guys will just give you lip service, he said, “I got you, Coach, and I’ll be ready.” Most kids don’t react that way. So when it was time, his reaction to my story was the reason I went with him at the three.
Question: Rick, you mentioned that ’87 Providence team, I think partly to tell a story about Anton and Darryl Wright. But does this team start to feel a little bit like ’87?
Coach Pitino: No, because this is a very — this is a talented team. I don’t mean to say it wasn’t a talented team. That was just the biggest surprise of my life because that team — we win at the buzzer at home against Georgetown, and John Thompson gets really upset at me. And I stood there at half-court at his navel ready to go at it with him because we made a shot at the buzzer. I was so afraid to shake his hand, and he said, “Listen, I’m sorry for inciting all that. My team was flat, and I just needed to get my team going.” He put his arm around me and said, “We’re going to kick the ‘S’ out of you when you go to Georgetown.” We lost by 30, then in the Big East Tournament 32. Who do we have to face in Louisville, Kentucky, to go to the Final Four? Georgetown. So that was just a magical group of guys that I haven’t seen the likes of in my lifetime. Like I said earlier, it just taught me how to dream. When I left Providence, I thought anything was possible because of that basketball team.
Question: Coach, first of all, congratulations. Earlier this season at ACC media days, you talked about the group of freshmen that you had, and I guess the immaturity that they had and how they needed to get stronger in the weight room to contribute to this team, specifically with Quentin Snider. What’s been the biggest difference between October and November where he was part of a group of freshmen that I guess weren’t ready to contribute to your team and right now?
Coach Pitino: He wasn’t contributing that much because I didn’t use him because of Chris Jones. We felt he was getting beat defensively every day. We felt like, if he could take off six or eight pounds, it would really help his game. He lost about seven or eight pounds — actually, almost ten pounds. He was like 182, and now he’s like 173, and it really helped his quickness. He just got an opportunity, and to play 37 minutes without a turnover tonight against them and to be sick and have 14 rebounds. So the freshmen, this is a very good class. They’re just weak physically. Anas is going to be a terrific player. Jaylen Johnson is going to be great, in my opinion. Mathiang is going to be terrific. Shaqquan, too. They’ve just got to mature physically.
Question: Rick, what was the turning point tonight in the game?
Coach Pitino: Anton Gill making that shot was big, and I think we made some great plays down the stretch. And what we just kept talking about is being aggressive offensively. We kept reminding them of the LSU game when they were down 12 and would come back. I said, just stay aggressive. We shot — and we kept talking about we were playing great defense, execute on offense, but we kept giving up the three. Let’s face it, they’re a great three-point shooting team because they’re deep. They can make challenged ones. I said, “Look, guys, do not fall into the trap and try to match them from the three-point line. Paint touch, low post deliver. Do not try to become something you’re not,” and they executed beautifully.
Question: You’ve been in this building before. Is this a different atmosphere to play in, especially now it’s at a neutral site, not a Syracuse heavy crowd?
Coach Pitino: It’s a lot easier to play in Syracuse now. If you can win, domes are a great experience for you. What we’re learning right now, ever since we went to paint touches and low post offense and ball movement, we’re going to be a very good offensive basketball team. In the beginning, we were trying to prove people wrong that we were an outstanding shooting team. Let’s face it, we know we’re not. We know we can score by doing the things that will get us good shots. So we stopped taking challenged shots, created more paint touches. We went to Montrezl Harrell; he’s a willing passer. And Montrezl threw a great pass to Mangok back door. So we’re executing better because we’re not trying to prove people wrong, we’re just trying to do what we think is right.