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SAN ANTONIO, Texas — A transcript from Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg’s press conference on Thursday at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. The Cyclones will face NC-Central in the 3-14 matchup on Friday night at approximatley 9 p.m. in the NCAA Tournament’s second-round.
Q. Coach, in terms of confidence from the Big 12 tournament, how much have you seen the carry‑over into this week’s practice and just the travel down here?
COACH HOIBERG:I think the number one thing is you have to get your team re-focused, and our guys have done an excellent job of that this week. They know what’s at stake after a great run to a Big 12 conference tournament championship. You’re always a little worried after an emotional week like that how your guys will bounce back. Our guys have done a tremendous job all year after a heartbreaking loss, after big, emotional wins of finding a way to get back to focus, and there’s been no exceptions to that this week.
The first day back after the tournament went a little bit lighter with them to let them get their legs back, three games in three days. I’m glad we play on Friday to give us an extra day of preparation for this team that runs a lot of different actions, but our guys are ready.
They’re itching to get back out there on the floor, and get a great opportunity to see some games today. We’ve had several players that have played in this tournament, and we’ve got some others being their first time.
But after cutting down those nets in Kansas City and realizing how special a feeling that was, these guys want that opportunity to do that again. So we’re excited about tomorrow night, and hopefully we’ll come out and play well.
Q. Coach, given DeAndre’s circumstances at Marshall, what kind of process did you go through to kind of assess that, yeah, I think he’s going to be a good fit here? And just the season he’s had and what he’s meant to your team this year?
COACH HOIBERG:Yeah, well, like we do with anybody that goes through that process, number one, you talk to the kid and you talk to him about the situation, if they had some issues at their previous school, what happened? Did they take accountability for it? DeAndre did that. Then you talk to as many people involved in their life as possible. Very similar to what you do when you go through the NBA draft and working in that front office and doing background work on the kid.
When he came in, we talked about the fit. We talked about our system, and most importantly we talked about fitting in and helping us build chemistry to where we’re competing for a championship. He did all those things. He came in, and he was very gracious. He fit in well with our guys. He met with people in our administration, and it seemed like it was going to be a good fit for him.
He’s had an unbelievable year, obviously. He’s put up numbers that you just haven’t seen very often at any level. To go out there and be as versatile as DeAndre is, first of all, it makes it difficult to prepare for a kid like that because it can hurt you from all over the floor, especially when he’s knocking down shots which he’s been shooting at an extremely high clip lately. The way he gets others involved, the way he can rebound the ball and start the fast break without an outlet pass, he just does so many things. He always takes the challenge of a lot of times guarding the other team’s best offensive player, and he’s really been good at that. We put him on Chery at the end of the game at Baylor, and he completely shut him down.
So just his overall ability with what he’s done and the biggest thing is he’s played unselfish and really meshed well with our guys.
Q. Another question about another player, but Ejim, in doing the research, he would seem like a dream player to coach with the emphasis on academics and accountable and he’s produced at a high level. So just talk about him and his contribution this year?
COACH HOIBERG:The biggest thing about Melvin is it blows me away that Melvin is a senior. This is the last stretch of basketball he’ll play in an Iowa State uniform. It was very emotional on senior night, not only for Melvin, but for all of us that have had the opportunity to be around him as much as we have. He’s got his priorities straight. The minute he stepped on campus he had that. It was all about academics for him, and you credit his mother for that for raising him the right way. You’re right. He’s been a dream to coach. He comes to work every day. To see him come in as a raw, wide‑eyed freshman to where he is now as Big 12 Player of the Year, which I believe was the best league in the nation this year, scored 48 points in a game. He’s just done so many things that make all of Iowa State University proud to say that Melvin Ejim’s going to walk out of there as alum.
He’s excited about this tournament. He’s played in two of them already, and we want to go further. Melvin’s going to be a key to that if we have that opportunity.
Q. You’ve got bigger things to worry about, but he isn’t projected to get drafted in most of the assessments I’ve seen. Given your experience in the NBA, do you disagree with the stock that he has, I guess?
COACH HOIBERG: Yeah, I do. I think Melvin’s got an excellent chance to play at the next level. Big thing for Melvin is after this season that whole process is going to be very important for him, starting with the combine and then going through individual workouts. He’ll knock the interview process out of the park, obviously, because of his intelligence and his IQ.
But I think he’ll have a good chance at the end of the day because he’ll go into those workouts and shoot the ball well. He’ll really compete and he’ll defend, and he’ll do a lot of things to put himself on the NBA radar. Whether that gets him drafted or not, who knows? But I definitely think he belongs in that league.
Q. Fred, I know that Creighton’s not in your bracket. But given the history with you and Ames, and the McDermotts, does it make you happy that you guys are both here at the same time?
COACH HOIBERG: Well, we were excited to be in the same bracket ‑‑ I’m sorry, the same region as Creighton, or same site as Creighton is the proper term. The McDermotts are very good friends of ours. I got to know Greg very well when he was coaching at Iowa State and I was working in the NBA. Doug couldn’t be more proud of another Ames High alum to see what he’s doing and the numbers he’s put up and to see him become a top three scorer of all time in Division I has just been unbelievable for him to do that.
So, yeah, it’s been great to see those guys. I obviously hope for a big run. I think Greg’s a tremendous coach. We scrimmaged those guys earlier in the year, and we talked today a little bit and said would you ever envision that the two of us would be calling ourselves 3 seeds after that debacle. So we had a little laugh over that.
Q. North Carolina Central is here after just their third year in full Division I status. They dominated their league. What do you see in their team, in their program, and in their arc in getting here?
COACH HOIBERG: I’ve seen an excellent basketball team that is as well‑coached as any team that we’ll face all year. LeVelle does such a good job of getting those guys to play and put them in spots on the floor where they can be successful. He’s got a senior‑laden team. They’re, I think, the fifth oldest team in Division I. And they’ve got some transfers that started out in high majors. They’re having a tremendous impact on that program. It’s going to be a tough game. It’s going to be a very, very tough game. They run a lot of different sets and a lot of different actions, and they really try to control tempo. When teams do that, it’s going to be a battle out there.
So I’ve been very impressed. He’s won 20 in a row, the fourth longest winning streak in the country. When I saw that match‑up, I got a little worried. But, again, we go out there and play with the same confidence and do what we did in the Big 12 tournament. We’re confident we can beat any team in this tournament.
Q. I’ll just follow that with do you feel like your players are of the right mind to have that same sort of respect that you do? Because these are some guys that have been here and they’re looking at a program that hasn’t.
COACH HOIBERG: There is no doubt our players respect these guys. We’ve watched enough film on them. If we overlook this game, we’re not going to make it to the next round. I can promise you that.