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Final Four coaches face the press

Teleconference covers range of issues, including praise for Roy Williams, Oregon's rebounding and Mark Few's commitment to Gonzaga

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: KIRBY LEE - Oregon Ducks coach Dana Altman says North Carolina will be a huge challenge in rebounding, among other things, in Saturday's NCAA Final Four game at Glendale, Arizona.North Carolina coach Roy Williams downplays the advantage his Tar Heels might gain from their Final Four experience.

Oregon coach Dana Altman begs to differ. During a conference call with Final Four coaches on Monday, Altman said he has reached out to other coaches to ask about the Final Four experience.

Altman's Ducks face Williams' Tar Heels in the second semifinal game on Saturday at Glendale, Arizona. This is the first Final Four for Oregon since winning the first NCAA Tournament championship in 1939. It is the 20th trip to the Final Four for North Carolina, which lost by three points to Villanova in last season's championship game.

The core of this UNC team played in last year's national championship game. And Williams is the only of these coaches with previous Final Four experience. That has to be an advantage, right?

"I think so. I think it does" give North Carolina an advantage," Altman said. "Their players are experienced. They went to the final game last year. Coach Williams has been there, done that. This is a new experience for our players, for our coaching staff.

"I was on the phone with (Oklahoma coach) Lon Kruger last night trying to get some advice, and (former Stanford and California coach) Mike Montgomery this morning, two coaches been to the Final Four, just trying to get some thoughts on what to avoid and what to embrace."

Williams on the advantage of that experience:

"Well, if I had had all these guys all nine times I'd tell you I would call them veterans. But this year we've got some guys that haven't been there before. And I think it helps a little bit in your preparation in telling them what's going to be there and how much and how big it is. But then when the kids get there, they take care of themselves. Kids nowadays are so much more experienced. They're so much more worldly, that they've been through so many things. And all the teams have high-profile players who have been very successful and were recruited really hard for several schools. And so people can play it up if they choose to. But once you get there, you've got to play the game. And, yes, I think it helps for me and some of our guys that were there last year to know the hoopla and everything around it. But each coach is good enough to get their guys to focus on the games, and that's what's important."

Gonzaga coach Mark Few said North Carolina's Final Four experience will help in dealing with the distractions and the hype, but won't be a big factor in the games:

"I think it gives them some (help), but at the end of the day, you know, when we get out there and the buzzer goes off for warm-ups and the ball goes up, these guys, all four of these teams have shown they're ferocious competitors. And they have the ability to really, really focus in on a task at hand to get themselves through the regular season and in the tournament."

One of the keys to the Ducks reaching the national semifinals has been the team embracing rebounding. Despite the loss of Chris Boucher, Oregon has outrebounded each of its four opponents in the tournament.

"When Chris was out of the lineup, obviously Jordan (Bell has) picked up his numbers dramatically. And I think our guards have done a better job. At halftime the other day, I think Tyler Dorsey didn't have any. And I got on him and Dylan Ennis a little bit to rebound, and Tyler had five the second half," Altman said.

"So I think our guys are more conscious of it because Chris isn't with us. But we will have our work cut out for us on Saturday. North Carolina is probably the best rebounding team that we faced all year. And their offensive rebounding gives them an opportunity to score. They score pretty good on the first shot, but offensively their offensive rebounding numbers are off the charts. So we'll have to do a great job on the boards Saturday."

  • The questions ranged from the significance of having two West Coast teams in the Final Four to whether Las Vegas is a good site for conference tournaments (a question asked because the NFL on Monday approved the Raiders move to Vegas. Altman and Gonzaga's Few each said moving their conference tournament to Vegas has been wonderful for fans and the teams).

    Below are a few highlights from the conference, during which Altman, Williams, Few and South Carolina coach Frank Martin each answered questions for 20 minutes.

    Many of the questions focused on the relationships among the Final Four coaches. Altman coached against Williams in the Big Eight when Altman was at Kansas State and Williams at Kansas. The two traveled together to several conference meetings and have spent time together at Coaches vs. Cancer and Nike coaching events.

    Altman ,on what he most admires about Williams:

    "His consistency year in, year out, first of all, the longevity. I mean, he's been there and done that for a long time at Kansas. Now at North Carolina. Outstanding teams year in, year out. And the consistency with how hard his teams play game in, game out. So not only are they consistent from year to year, but game in, game out, they just perform. And obviously his relationship with his players and relationships with other coaches, he's very well respected in the coaching ranks."

    Williams, on Altman:

    "We've been together on the road. We see each other. We talk to each other. So I've known him. Have a great deal of respect for him and genuinely like him."

    Williams said he considers Altman and South Carolina coach Martin friends, and is especially close with Gonzaga'd Few.

    Williams, on Few:

    "Mark Few is one of the guys that I consider one of my best friends in coaching. We've played poker together, we've shot craps together, we've traveled together, spent time talking about our teams. And he just called me on one of his son's birthdays, I think, to ask about some card game we used to play, make sure he had the rules right.

    "I'm happy for all of them. Probably really more stressed about Mark because he's had such great teams and came so close. And I think that it was just so satisfying for Gonzaga to get there. But I love them all."

    Few, on his relationship with Williams:

    "I'll always remember when I was just kind of a young head coach getting started and you get invited on these really cool, exclusive Nike head coaches basketball trips. And here are some of the iconic figures in the game. He and Wanda welcome Marcy and myself in and just treated us like we were just as important as anybody. And he's always been like that to me. And he's always been like that even with my assistant coaches. And I've got to know him really well over the years and had good times with him actually. So I enjoy our friendship and at the same time I still hold him in the highest regard as somebody a coach would want to emulate."

    Few, on why he's stayed at Gonzaga:

    "It fits for Mark Few and Marcy Few and our family. And Gonzaga's been amazing in how they've treated us. And most importantly, they've continued to grow. Because if we didn't feel that they shared the same vision of us of making it into a national program and continuing to build it, then I'm sure we probably would have left. So I think there's a lot of different pieces to it. And I always kind of cringe when anybody tries to say they're going to do it somewhere else. I'm rooting for them, but it's just unique.

    "And the last piece of it is having it here in Spokane. Spokane's a great city. And we're the Lakers or the Yankees of this region, you know? And there's a lot of loyal, good, hard-working people here that just come out and support the program. And having a home fan base like that makes it special not only when you're building your program but also when your players are playing in a home game or coming home from a road trip or just walking around town. They see how much they're appreciated."

    Asked if finally reaching the Final Four makes his career a success, Few offered this:

    "I don't view my life a success solely based on basketball. You know, there's bigger things -- my faith, my family, those things. Obviously the biggest thing for me to be successful professionally is, you know, how my players, once they're done here, do they feel like we delivered on everything we talked to them about when we were bringing them in here? And do they feel like they've grown and that they've been developed and appreciated and loved and coached? And I judge things more on those aspects than I do Final Fours and wins and things like that."

    South Carolina coach Martin, on the challenge posed by Gonzaga:

    "I'll be honest with you, I have not -- I got home at midnight last night -- I've not started to study Gonzaga. I've seen them play a couple of times. I think they're a very mature team. They're very old. Mark Few is one of the great guys in our business, not just who he is as a human being, but how he coaches. They're going to be very disciplined. And it's going to be an unbelievable challenge for us. It's going to be an unbelievable opportunity."

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