Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville was rocking Friday night as Arkansas, North Carolina, Duke and South Carolina advanced to the 2nd round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament where the Razorbacks will play the Tar Heels. and Blue Devils will take on the Gamecocks.
Players met with the media Saturday and answered questions about everything from the incredible environment to which team they were fans of growing up. Here are some of the best quotes from today’s press conferences.
North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks, Joel Berry and Coach Roy Williams:
The 1 seed is, like, 111-17 in second rounds, so obviously pretty good winning percentage. How do you all approach that because there’s been a few upsets but not many? As a No. 1 seed how do you approach that?
JOEL BERRY II: We don’t pay attention to those stats. I mean, I guess those stats are for you guys, but for us we’ve just gotta continue to play. And we can’t look at that and try to say that that will help us win.
But, I mean, we’ve just gotta continue to do what we do, and we gotta go into each and every game and just be ready to play. And this one is going to be a physical and aggressive game. And we just gotta be ready for that.
KENNEDY MEEKS: I think we want to go into the game all the time thinking we’re going to win and we’re going to be happy at the end result. So, like I said, our main focus is not to worry about what seed we are, what seed they are because they’re a great team, they’re here for a reason. We can’t overlook them at all, and come out with the right mindset and focus on our scouting report and put everything we have into it.
What are your memories of those days when the Gamecocks were just a big a rival as anybody else in the ACC?
COACH WILLIAMS: In those days big rivalries meant there was a lot more going on than everybody knew about. Now with social media, if they had things going on back then, there would have been guys that weren’t playing for years or years or years or coaching for years or years.
It was a fierce rivalry. A very heated rivalry. There was a lot of things openly said between the two teams and yet you had Frank McGuire and Dean Smith who had a great deal of respect for each other.
But I was in school at that time. Some of the big-time games, some of the very violent games, things that went on during those games. I still remember one of the North Carolina players, and I know who he is, yelled “Contact, contact!”
And everybody stopped — and I remember the South Carolina player, and I know who he is, but if you want to find out you’ve gotta do your homework — going out in the middle of the court and stomping his feet trying to smash the contact.
I mean, that wasn’t looked upon as that unusual, that kind of thing. So it was a big-time rivalry in those days. But Frank Martin has really done a fantastic job down there. And this place has a chance to be rocking for him tomorrow night, but they got their hands full.
Q. Arkansas loves to play fast. They press. Does that work in your favor, just because of all the athletes, and you guys obviously thrive in the open court as well?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, I don’t know if I’d say we thrive because of all those athletes we have. We’re good in a fast pace, which is the way we always play. The difference is if you play at a fast pace and you turn it over, it’s not good. If we get the shot that we all want and go up and down the court, that is familiarity for us.
We do want a fast pace. Arkansas wants a fast pace. They really guard the Dickens out of you in full court. And we try to guard you in half-court situation. It’s a different philosophy there. But we’ve got to make sure we’re not careless, we’re not casual, we’re not cool. Those three C words I don’t like at all. If you’re careless, casual or cool when you’re playing with them, you’re going back home.
South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell, Justin McKie and Coach Frank Martin:
Q. Sindarius, just in terms of playing in your home state, obviously it was a big thing for the program to get a tournament win last night. But for you personally, being from South Carolina, being close by and now getting a chance to get a second win at home with a big crowd, what does that mean to you? And PJ, too, you guys are two key players both from South Carolina.
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: It means a lot, not just for me and PJ but for Justin, too. We’re all from South Carolina, born and raised, grew up. And for us just to be able to put our state on the map and represent our state just means a lot for us.
When we first got here the program wasn’t in this situation, but now it is. Just shows that our work is paying off, and that after tomorrow’s game hopefully we can be in a situation where we’re celebrating and we won the game.
Q. Sin and Justin, last night you guys said it was the best game you played all year. Any takeaways from your performance that you think is going to help you guys perform even better on Sunday against Duke?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: Just how aggressive everybody was, the confidence that everybody played with, starting with PJ, Maik, Justin, Ra, myself — everybody that played last night played with a level of confidence that we need from everybody just to make a run and compete with everybody.
And I feel like if everybody brings that same confidence and that same attitude to tomorrow’s game we’ll be able to compete with Duke.
Q. Duke is one of those polarizing programs everybody loves or hates. When you guys were coming up, how did you view Duke? Did you have favorite players did you follow them at all?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: I was North Carolina. You know how I feel.
JUSTIN MCKIE: I liked Duke when I was younger, but as I got older it was kind of whatever.
Q. It was a year ago that the SEC hired Mike Tranghese as a consultant to help prop up basketball. Now you’ve got five teams in the tournament. Four of them are still going and two of you have a chance to make some noise against the ACC tomorrow. Do you see your games here in particular as a real opportunity?
COACH MARTIN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, all of us in the SEC understand that we’re carrying a banner that’s a little bigger than just our own schools. We know we’ve got a real good league. It’s unfortunate that there’s been a message put out there — I’m not saying our league’s better than anybody’s. I’ve been in other leagues. I comprehend how every league is. But we don’t take a back seat to anybody.
And that’s the one good thing that — I can’t speak for the other SEC schools, I know they feel this way but I don’t want to speak for them — our guys are battle tested because of the games that we’ve had to play in our conference. Playing Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas, all them teams, our guys have been prepared for this moment. And we collectively, the coaches, we’re taking pride in trying to change this whole message about the SEC being inferior to other leagues.
Q. I was just talking to a couple of players in the locker room. They said what makes this team very unique is the chemistry, the amount of belief they have in each other. They said it started in Costa Rica. How did that trip help and how do you think it’s paying dividends right now, especially as you get on bigger stages and as the lights get a little bit brighter?
COACH MARTIN: There’s a reason why I didn’t coach in practice or games when we went down to Costa Rica, because I knew we had a lot of new parts, and we had some guys that needed to put their thumbprint on the program. They needed to become the new voice.
Michael Carrera was so emotional and so loud with everything he did that he dominated the personality of the team. I knew that other people needed to kind of become that voice, that passion. So, I purposely, I didn’t do it. Not because — some people said, oh, you run your players too much. They hear your voice; it gets old. I think that’s the biggest bunch — I’ve never gotten old of listening to my mother talk to me. I’ve never understood the whole thought process that you coach your players too much.
I needed to observe them, so I could see who was signing up for what jobs and who wanted nothing to do with certain things. I wanted to see how they co-existed with each other. And when I watched those practices, the first thing I took away from it is how good a coach Matt Figger is. And the second thing I took away from it was these guys really want to win, the way they helped each other, the way they competed with one another, the way the older guys looked out for the first-year guys.
The first-year guys didn’t show up with the answers. On the contrary; they were listening to the older guys as to how do we do this. And I saw that, and that’s when I said, you know what? We’ve got a chance. We’ve got a chance and it’s never stopped.
It’s continued to happen and that’s a tight-knit group in there, tight, tight knit group. And that’s why we’re here. We’re not here because we’ve got a good player; we’re here because we’ve got a team and they’re fun to be around.
Duke’s Grayson Allen, Frank Jackson and Coach Mike Krzyzewski:
Q. Grayson, you said you guys have been in tougher environments all year, so tomorrow night’s not going to faze you. But is it different in a NCAA Tournament, a win-or-go-home game to be a road team, do you think?
GRAYSON ALLEN: Well, just thinking about recently for us, we were playing in the ACC Tournament where we were playing a game and not only are the opposing fans there but Carolina’s fans are also there waiting to boo us too. So we’ve played in games that are supposed to be neutral where it felt like an away game. There’s not much difference.
With it being a tournament game, there’s always going to be a lot of pressure on the game for both teams. So both teams just gotta play and win.
Q. Frank, how do you — obviously you hear the boos Grayson gets every time he touches the ball from a lot of places. How do you think he handles it? And do you think you could handle it if it were happening to you? That seems like a lot to put on somebody’s shoulders.
FRANK JACKSON: It is. And G’s a tough kid. And I think with the support from his teammates and from the coaching staff, you know, he’s been able to fight through all that stuff. He’s not worried about it. We’re worried about what goes on in our locker room.
No one knows what we go through day in, day out. But you know, I know that if that happened to me, I have a group of guys who care and love about me, and that’s all that matters to us, is what happens inside of our locker room.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Coach, an opening statement.
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: We’re good, health-wise, except for Marques. For about three days now, he’s just had flu-like symptoms. We didn’t even bring him over here today. Give him IVs and medication and see what happens with him. But the other guys are in good shape and — ready to play an outstanding team.
And one of the best — the best, unheralded, great player in the United States in Thornwell. But they’re not a one-man team. They’re obviously very, very well coached. They’re men and they’re coached by a man. And so we’re going to have to be men tomorrow night in order to beat them.
Q. Dorn Parnell (phonetic), sent me a good example from the Jacksonville paper about Grayson and his friend Savannah. It traces their relationship, the fact that she died a couple of days before the Elon game. And at that time you said, trying to keep — coaches trying to keep everything in the family — and you said you guys don’t know half of what’s really going on. So —
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Actually, more than that. More than half.
Q. 90 percent. Right. So I don’t want you to comment on this particular case, but as an example of something that the public might not have known at a time when —
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I think, Art, you hit on a point for all these kids, in that, again, we live in this quick-judgment, shallow-analysis world really because of Twitter and all of this stuff to get something out. And we don’t have to document anything. We don’t have to investigate. We can hear something and we put it out. And then we’re not held accountable for whether it was true or not. And it can take on a life of its own. And that’s for any player.
And we’re dealing with college kids who are growing up, and they’re not professionals. And as educators, we’re supposed to preserve and educate the kids that we have the honor to coach, and not to appease a quick-judgment, shallow-analysis type of judgment on things. And so that’s all. And we’re going to continue to do that. And we’ll bear the praise or the criticism of what happens in that regard.
Q. Grayson said that the story didn’t get circulated very much because he didn’t want it circulated. Was the story written —
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: That’s a shallow analysis. In other words, if somebody wanted to look deeper, it wouldn’t ruin their story. A lot of people don’t want their story ruined. They want to create a story. And by more in-depth analysis a lot of times the story would go away. And then you wouldn’t have a chance to tweet it or have surveys or judgments or all these things that people have right now. And, again, so be it. But we can’t live in that world, in the world — I can’t live in that world.
Q. It seemed that would have been a good story for the public to know, to balance it. But he said they wrote it just for Savannah’s family and that’s all he wanted.
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: God bless them for doing that. And there’s a lot of things all these kids do on all teams that go unnoticed that coaches do and whatever. But it’s called using your platform the right way, and not just for bringing attention to yourself, but bringing maybe comfort, some help to people and not everyone needs to know it.
There doesn’t have to be a TV camera or a Snapchat or a tweet of it or Instagram or anything. A lot of times that ruins it. That ruins it. And so, again, we’re not the only — look, there are a lot of these kids who do things like that. And he did that and he’s done more. But we’re not going to say, well, now it’s okay that he tripped. We’re not — like he did that. That was wrong. But there’s a lot more into it than that.
Arkansas vs North Carolina will tip off at 6:10pm, with Duke vs South Carolina tentatively scheduled right afterward at 8:40.