CF’s coverage of the Big 12’s basketball media day in Kansas City is brought to you by MJ Properties in Ankeny.
HOIBERG: Great to be back. Always fun for us to come down to Kansas City. It’s been an interesting couple weeks of practice. We’ve got a lot of production that we need to replace, losing over 52 points and 17 rebounds and 12 assists and over 280 of our 346 threes from a season ago.
So it’s been a lot of fun for us to see how hard our guys have come in and competed for all the minutes available, especially in the guard court.
We’ve got two great players coming back in our front court in George Niang and Melvin Ejim. Both have added elements to their game, which I think will make them a difficult duo to guard, especially when you can pull other teams big players away from the basket. I think that’s a great luxury to have on the offensive end of the floor when you have two versatile players like we do in our front court.
Back court minutes, we’re still trying to figure out who will deserve them. I’ve loved how competitive our practices have been though to see who will get those spots. DeAndre Kane was a very important addition for us, kind of a combo guard is what he will be for us. He’s a very versatile player again, which fits how we play. 6’4", 210 pounds. You can use him in a lot of different ways. You can post him up against smaller defenders where he’s a very good play maker. Averaged seven assists a season ago, and he’s one of two players in the nation to average 15 points in his first three seasons in college basketball.
Our two freshmen are really starting to come along. Matt Thomas is shooting the heck out of the ball right now, and Monte Morris has been very steady and will play for us at some back‑up point. Assist‑to‑turnover ratio has been excellent in all the things that we have done statistically‑wise early on in practice.
Junior college players are starting to come along as well. The great thing about them is their bodies are Big 12 ready. They’ve given us some experience and played in good programs and been coached. We’re just trying to put it all together and trying to figure out what to do with the lineup on opening day.
Q: If you could just expand a little more on what you’re going to do at point guard. I know Kane can play there, but is that the optimum situation for you?
HOIBERG: He’s been really good in that area for us so far. He’s making simple plays, which is something we really stress with our guys. Something Korie Lucious, I thought, came a long way last year when he was trying to hit home runs and had some turnover trouble early in the year. Again, DeAndre’s assist‑to‑turnover ratio has been very good. In fact, that’s an area I think we’re a little ahead with this year’s team than we were in the past.
Monte Morris is a pure point guard. That is something that we really haven’t had much of in the past. Korie was really a scoring guard. Still did a good job getting us into an offense and making plays. But Monte’s first thought is to go out and get everybody else involved. So I think he’s got that point guard mentality.
Then the other thing we’ve done in the past is we’ve used multiple ball handlers. Not only can DeAndre handle it in that first group, but George and Melvin can also get us into an offense. That’s a great luxury to have and it makes you tough to guard.
Q: How have the new rules affected your team, but in particular Melvin and George?
HOIBERG: I think everybody will go through an adjustment period with the rules. We’ve had a couple scrimmages where we’ve brought in Big 12 officials inner squad, and it’s a difference. It’s going to be called. It’s going to be enforced. We’ve been told that by Curtis Shaw.
So I think it will be good for the game. I went through it in the NBA as a player where you can hand check guys, and then it went to an arm bar rule and you couldn’t touch anybody. It was pretty ugly at first. I remember some of the games would take over three hours just because of all the fouls that were called. But eventually the players adjust to it and the officials will adjust to it. I think scores, I don’t know if they’ll go up this year, but I think the next step is to lower the shot clock a little bit, and then you’ll see the scores starting to up.
But I like the freedom of movement idea, and I think it will be great for the game.
Q: What’s it been like for you to see where the expectations were for your program when you took over to where they are now where you’re picked fourth in the league and most people probably have you going to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in a row?
HOIBERG: I don’t know about that. The one guy I showed our team is the guy from USA Today that ranked us 10th. That is the one ranking I showed our guys. That is the thing that I like being picked low, and then you try to go out to prove people wrong.
Again, I’m still trying to figure out what exactly we are as a group. What will our identity be? Just because we have so many new people on this roster, so many new faces. But I like what I’ve seen. I think our guys feel a little bit of respect with being picked in the top half of our league. Will we live up to that? I don’t know yet. Hopefully we’ll continue to evolve and come together. We’ve been getting better every week, and hopefully we’ll continue on that trend.
Q: You referenced USA Today. The coaches poll came out and Big 12 only had two teams in the top 25. Is this conference being undersold a little bit?
HOIBERG: I think so. Obviously Kansas and Oklahoma State are very talented. Throw Baylor in there as well. There is so much length and talent on those three teams. Then I think there are so many unknowns with the rest of us. I think we all lost quite a bit. There are quite a lot of newcomers and transfers that have come in.
So I think you could ask any of the ten coaches and I think they’d all tell you, those rankings really don’t mean much. Some could use them as motivation, others can say, all right, if you’re picked in the top 5, this is what the expectations are we have to live up to. I think that’s probably what you’d see as far as what preseason rankings are all about.
We’ll see here soon. We’ll see in a couple of weeks who was slighted and who was picked where they should be.
Q: Can you talk about how you’ve seen George grow? As the team’s third leading scorer last year, can you talk about do you think he’s ready to be that number one option if he has to in some games?
HOIBERG: I don’t know if I’ve seen George grow. I’ve seen him shrink a little bit with his body. That is the biggest thing you’ll notice in George is he’s a lot tighter than he was a year ago. Came in with some baby fat. Wasn’t able to play for long stretches like we would have needed him to or we’d have liked him to play. When George gets tired, that’s when he’ll commit a foul that he shouldn’t do because he gets a little mentally fatigued as well out there. He’s in much better shape right now than he was a year ago.
Still does everything he did a year ago. When you come into the league and shooting 40% from three and the numbers go up as the competition gets better, that shows the type of player and the type of ‑‑ you know, George has always played with a chip on his shoulder. I think he felt he was undervalued as a high school player. Was never really ranked in the Top 100, but knew how productive of a player he was. So we’ll play through George a lot.
The other guy, Melvin, is a guy who can play through. He’s really improved in the two years, the two summers when he’s had a chance to play in two different federations, Nigerian two years ago and the Canadian National Team this past year. And he’s really added to his game. Shooting the heck out of the ball right now and making plays off the dribble.
Q: I wanted to go back to the rules and your NBA experience. I remember with the Phoenix Suns and the teams that took advantage of it then. What kind of teams can take advantage of this situation?
HOIBERG: I think you can see a couple different types of teams. One thing we’re trying to incorporate more is driving the ball to create some hand checks and get into the bonus faster where you can get three points at the free‑throw line. Then, I think the fast teams, the teams that really get up and down, will also be able to score better.
The pressuring teams that hold you and grab you, it’s going to be an adjustment for those types of teams on how they’re going to play and what their style of play will be. But hopefully we can take advantage of it. We’re not going to deviate too far from what we’ve done here in the past because we’ve had success scoring the ball. But one area we can is trying to get to the free‑throw line a little more.