Baylor Coach Tara Kim Mulkey: 2010 NCAA Final Four Media Teleconference
March 31, 2010
COACH MULKEY: I’m doing my best to sell tickets. Being in the state of Texas, we certainly want the people from Texas to show up. And San Antonio is a great city of entertainment, and we’re excited to be there. We’re young, and we are a team that has had ups and downs throughout the course of the year, with injury and suspensions. But we have everybody back and healthy. And we’re just excited.
Q. There’s been so much press, particularly lately, on Brittney and what people think she will be, and people sort of placing already some sort of historical comparisons on her. Can you give me a sense of how the coaching staff has managed expectations, in particular expectations that sort of are being thrown around externally, outside of your program?
COACH MULKEY: Well, I’m not sure, unless you give me specifics of what expectations you’re referring to. If you’re talking about the great player and playing above the rim and all that, I can comment on that.
Q. I think people are just in terms of people sort of saying that she’s a chance to be the best player of all time, people comparing her to sort of like having Bill Russell like impact. There’s sort of the building of her reputation, at least outside of your program, is really growing, in particular over the last couple of weeks.
COACH MULKEY: Well, I would agree with all of that, because, guys, I’ve been around this business since I was 14 years old. I’ve played international ball. Olympic ball. A little bit of all of it.
I’ve played with some of the greatest players ever. And against some of the greatest players ever. I’ve played with big playersâ€¦.all these great big players who are in Hall of Fames, but I’ve never been around a player like Brittney Griner that plays above the rim and can effortlessly dunk it with either hand. She can goaltend, and I think that she can be the greatest ever. But the thing that I will tell you quickly about Brittney Griner is she’s never won a championship. The other night against Duke was the first time the young lady’s ever had an opportunity to cut a net down.
She will tell you she came to Baylor not to become the greatest basketball player ever, she came to help win a championship. Because there’s no greater feeling. While she understands with her size and her ability come much recognition, welcomed recognition, much attention, but Brittney is the same kid today that she was before she started the season, that she was in high school. She’s like a sponge. She wants to win. She wants to get better. She doesn’t want to disappoint people. And she’s just got that hunger and that presence about her that I’m not sure sometimes if she really realizes how much attention she’s garnering right now. I think she’s just always been a kid that’s tall and can do some other things that other kids can’t do, and she just comes to play.
Q. In a couple of press conferences you’ve called her a sweet child. And I wonder if you can give us a story or two that just sort of amplifies her sweetness.
COACH MULKEY: She’s a hugger. She’s a hugger. As athletes, sometimes we do the high fives and we do the handshakes and we do the chest butting, but Brittney, when you greet her and you meet her and she knows you, she just has a smile on her face and she wraps these long arms all around you, and she’s a hugger.
And then when you talk to her it’s yes, ma’am and no, ma’am, and then when you watch her spend countless hours of her own time doing autographs with little kids and putting them in her lap and holding them up. She doesn’t have to do those things.
But she enjoys doing them. And she understands that, you know, that’s what mannerly people do. And she’s not any different in that she has a competitive fire about her. But her mannerisms don’t fit her body. Her mannerisms, if you watch her play, even just watching her play, she has like a little sweet softness about how she runs down the floor.
I watched her so many times in high school, just take those arms and just wrap them around her teammates in a huddle. And so she has a gentle side to her that I think people just don’t really realize that don’t know her. They see this big body, and she’s just really gentle.
Q. When we were in Memphis, you said you’d worry about Connecticut tomorrow. Well, tomorrow’s coming closer. I’m sure you probably watched last night. Just your impressions of what your task is going to be on Sunday night?
COACH MULKEY: Well, actually I didn’t watch the game because, as you well know, my family comes first. And my daughter had a softball game at that time, and I knew that I could watch that game later and tape it. And that’s what I did. So I didn’t see it live. I went to my daughter’s softball game.
What can I tell you that 37 other teams haven’t already told you? We are up against, I guess you’d say what is it? David versus Goliath. And I have so much respect for what Connecticut has done. And I don’t think there’s anything but positive to be written about that program.
And we understand the challenge. We understand that we’re not supposed to win. We understand 37 other teams haven’t won. We understand the win streak. But we still have to play. And so we’ll go out there and do like those other teams did and just play hard and do the best that we can.
Q. Just in terms of just some nuts and bolts, when you look at that team, you talked about how you’ve been around the game since you were 14, can you put this team in some kind of context with its talent?
COACH MULKEY: Well, I listened to what Geno says because I don’t pretend to know his team like he does. But from what he’s said, he said this is not his most talented team. I know this: This particular team is pretty darn good. And nobody else has been able to beat them. And they’re just darn good.
And you try to think, well, maybe we can do this against them, and then they expose this. Or maybe we can play this defense against them, and then they expose you here. They’re good individually. They’re great collectively. And when you add a team that is number one in the country in field goal percentage defense, that has my attention more than anything they do on the offensive end.
I think the story of them being number one in field goal percentage defense and Baylor being number two in field goal percentage defense sends a strong message to recruits across the country.
While we’re going to help you make All American teams and get to Final Fours, when you come to these two programs, you’re going to have to guard people.
Q. One thing and I don’t know if you’ve seen enough of Connecticut, but watching the game last night, some of the commentators were mentioning the fact that they can be up 20, 30 points and they’re playing like they’re down 10. And is that one of the things that maybe is more maybe in the fact that they haven’t been challenged in a game, but it doesn’t really matter what the score is, they just seem to play at a high level no matter what the score is?
COACH MULKEY: Well, that starts with your coaching staff. I’m sure Geno doesn’t allow them to look at the scoreboard. You go play. And when you’re good, you don’t have to look at a scoreboard. You just go play. And I think a lot of it is the competitor in you. A lot of it is they understand the attention that they have received because of the win streak. And at this point in the season, it’s not about the win streak. Those kids are trying to win a national championship.
Q. How difficult or will it be difficult for you to convince your players that we can win this game?
COACH MULKEY: No. You don’t even you go into a film room at this stage and you’re breaking down individual tendencies of players and the team and then you go in and say here’s what we’re going to try to do, here’s what we’re going to do. You don’t at this point of the season need to do a bunch of rah rah stuff and say you can do it, it’s David versus Goliath. These are grown women in a lot of respects in that they’ve played enough games to be beyond the motivational talks. And you’ve got to be in that film room and you’ve got to study the strengths and weaknesses of who you’re guarding and what we’re trying to do and then just leave it on that floor, just leave everything you have on that floor, and that’s what we’ll do.
Q. One other thing, just obviously Oklahoma is there. Two Big 12 teams. Again, what does that say about the Big 12 conference? I know it’s all been said before, but the fact that getting half the Final Four in San Antonio, how big a deal and how special is that?
COACH MULKEY: Well, it’s very special. For those of us coaches in the Big 12 you’re always proud to see your conference do well, because while we recruit against each other, and we compete against each other in the league, we’re still a conference that can sell the league. And I think that to have two from the same conference playing in San Antonio, particularly that both schools and their fans are within driving distance of San Antonio, I would hope that Oklahoma and Baylor would have the most fans there and appreciate that we’re hosting in a region or an area that they can come see them.
Q. First, could you talk about how Brittney it seems to me she blocks shots in a very intelligent way. She’s not trying to swat them into the third row. She’s trying to keep the ball in play, which is a smarter way to do it and she gets you more possessions that way. If you could sort of talk about that philosophy, how she blocks shots. And then also about how your other freshmen in particular have grown and how they’re able to play with her in terms of really relying on that force inside but also how well their defense has improved during the course of the season?
COACH MULKEY: I don’t think any coach can teach a player of Brittney’s length and height to block shots. She does that naturally. And the amazing thing is Brittney doesn’t get in foul trouble very much from blocking shots.
And she’s able to time it. She doesn’t leave the floor until she sees the opportunity to just go up and get it. And then also she’s able to defend differently than most because when most mess up defensively, they’re playing catch up. Brittney can play catch up and still block a shot. So her blocked shot, the way she’s blocking shots is really Brittney’s just athleticism and timing. I think that other players around her, when a shot is blocked, have learned to don’t stand still, because that’s like a turnover. Go get that blocked shot off the floor like a loose ball and let’s go and transition and try to make something happen.
If I remember the second part of your question, you may have to remind me of what you said, but if it was about the other freshmen around her. A lot of their progress has to be attributed to Melissa Jones’ injury. We didn’t have Melissa Jones for the Big 12 conference except for maybe one and a half of a game, and they were thrown into the mix. Not by choice, but because they had to play.
And now at the end of the year with Melissa Jones back in the lineup, I don’t hesitate to play them.
Q. You mentioned this isn’t the time you do a lot of rah rah speeches, this is really a lot of X and Os and basic film work, but it still strikes me that part of facing UConn is not to succumb to the, oh, wow it’s UConn and they can’t be beaten. That’s really kind of the essence of your personality. Could you talk about how you impart some of that or if you do in the course of preparation?
COACH MULKEY: That may be the case with some programs, is just the name UConn is intimidating before you ever hit the floor. I really want to give UConn more credit than that. Just the fact that they’re so dang talented and good is what’s beating people.
I just having been a player myself and going through an era at Louisiana Tech that was the UConn of the ’80s, and you had Tennessee after that and Old Dominion before that, the players I played against weren’t intimidated by Louisiana Tech any more than we were intimidated by other teams. I just think that there’s it’s just the fact that they’re good. It’s not that that streak or UConn, the name, bothers you; they’re just darn good.
Q. I know you maybe touched on this a little bit already. But if I can ask you to draw upon all your experience once again, have you ever been in a tournament or seen a tournament where a team like UConn was so dominant and was so favored to run away with this?
COACH MULKEY: I don’t know. Gosh, man, I feel like I’m old having gone through so many eras of good basketball. I guess not, because they hold the record for most consecutive wins, and nobody’s really come close to them. I was looking at their scores of the teams that have come closest to them. When you can do that for that period of time, you’re pretty dominant.
And when you’re winning and you’re good and you know you’re good, man, that snowballs into making you feel like you’re even greater than you are. But the thing that you gotta remember, guys, I don’t care how good UConn is, one day they will lose, just like Louisiana Tech lost when we held that 50 something game win streak. Tennessee, all those teams. It’s inevitable.
But I know this: They have my utmost respect. And, gosh, we’re up to a monumental challenge, and I just hope that we can keep it close.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Morghan Medlock’s journey to this point and could you talk about the courage that she’s shown since she’s been with you?
COACH MULKEY: Morghan Medlock came on a visit, wanted to transfer from USC. And like I do with all transfers, I sit down and we have lengthy conversations. And I basically try to scare them away, because with transfers you must understand they’re all transferring for a reason.
And if you’re going to come into this program, you must understand what’s tolerated and what’s not tolerated. And after having that conversation with Morghan Medlock and her honesty of why she wanted to come here, it convinced me that this is where she needed to be. And then when her mother was murdered last year, without question Morghan Medlock was where she needed to be. And she has matured so much off the floor, not just because she’s older now, but because she understands life, and she understands basketball is just a very small part of it. And it’s been fun to watch her finish her senior year experiencing something that she never got to experience, and that’s a Final Four. And being the only senior, it has to be a little more special for her.
Q. If I could take you in a different direction. A couple seconds ago you sort of in passing talked about the winning streak that you had at Louisiana Tech and you mentioned Old Dominion and Tennessee and programs like that. Do you have a fear that the history of this sport is kind of getting lost?
COACH MULKEY: No, I don’t. Not any more than my great grandchildren won’t know who Michael Jordan is. That’s what life’s all about. It’s change. It’s different eras. You just move on. And those that grew up during the Louisiana Tech era will talk about it for a long time. Those that were there in Old Dominion, the Immaculata era will share that with generations. But I really don’t. I just think that with time comes change, and it’s just Connecticut’s time and it’s their era.
Q. Could you break down the matchup, what you expect to see between Brittney and Tina Charles?
COACH MULKEY: No, I really can’t break it down because, honestly, I’m still studying films. But I can probably before we play them. I’ve spent so much time just looking at the team itself, to break that matchup down it would be more generic of you’re dealing with, what, two big girls that are presence in the paint. They’re both great defensively. They block a lot of shots. And I would imagine it’s going to be a battle down there and very physical.
Q. You said earlier in the teleconference you don’t expect to win this game. What did you mean by that and why? You said you didn’t expect to win this game. \
COACH MULKEY: No, I didn’t say we didn’t expect it. I said why would the expectations be any different than the other 37. Nobody expects us to win this game. We’re going to go in and we’re going to fight and we’re going to do the best we can and do our work and do just play as hard as we can and see what happens. But you can’t go into a game with a defeatist attitude. Who would want to play for a coach who had that kind of attitude? You go in, you present things to your team that you think will help you or will help put you in a position to win. But, no, I don’t have a defeatist attitude.
Q. UConn obviously in so many of their games, even against top opponents, they seem to get on huge runs where not only do they take a huge lead but the opponent seems to lose a little heart, a little belief that they can play with these folks. Is that going to be a point of emphasis for you guys just to, A, stay out of that sort of position but also just not to lose heart if things start to go south?
COACH MULKEY: Well, I hope I can have some timeouts left and help them there. I hope we can just keep using as many timeouts as we can. In fact, I’m going to ask Geno before the game if I can have his five timeouts, and if he’ll give me those, then I’ll take ’em.
But I don’t know, guys, that I’m going to talk about the negatives. See, to me that’s a negative. Talk about the positive. Talk about what we do well. Here’s what they do well. Here’s what you gotta do, in our opinion, to slow them down and try to keep it close, and who knows what will happen.
Q. Can you just talk about what attributes Brittney has that you think can make her the best player ever? Other than the fact that she plays above the rim better than anybody ever has, what other things does she do well on the court?
COACH MULKEY: This may be the best thing I could say: When you go into a film room and you’re scouting your opponent, we all go, here’s what we have to do, look at her on film. Man, she’s an impact here. Brittney Griner alters your thinking and sometimes makes you completely change your style of play.
And that probably sends a message as to why a lot of people think that she will be one of the greatest to ever play the game, because she takes away some of, if not a lot of, most team’s strength.
I’ve seen post players shoot the 3 ball the whole night and not post because that’s their strategy of how to get Brittney away from the goal. And not many times are coaches willing to change what they do so good on the offensive end because of one player. But, yet, I think a lot of coaches do that.
Q. One other question, what do you appreciate about the way UConn plays defense? You obviously play great defense because you’re No. 2 in the country. What do you appreciate about how they play the game defensively?
COACH MULKEY: I said it earlier. It’s not written about enough. I think one of the big stories needs to be that they are the number one team in the country in field goal percentage defense and Baylor is the No. 2 team in the country. If I was just a fan and didn’t know anything about Connecticut and didn’t know anything about Baylor and I saw that stat, a true basketball fan would say: I like those two coaches because they make those kids play both ends of the floor.
Q. But is there anything in particular they do well defensively?
COACH MULKEY: Well, they’re active. They’re very active. They’re very big. You know, they have great help side. They have a post in there that blocks shots. They get in passing lanes. They create a lot of their offense from turnovers.