After winning the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship over the Kentucky Wildcats 60-54 on Monday night, UConn Huskies head coach Kevin Ollie along with Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels met with the media.
Here’s what they had to say:
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by head coach Kevin Ollie and student‑athletes Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, and DeAndre Daniels. We’ll start with an opening statement from coach and then take questions for the student‑athletes.
COACH OLLIE: It feels great, four national championships and do this championship with these students, these student‑athletes is amazing. They have been amazing and resilient the whole year. But I keep telling you, it started 18 months ago when they kept believing and they stayed loyal to the program.
It’s just a wonderful feeling to hold that trophy up and do it the right way. I think we did it the right way for 18 months and we did it the right way in this NCAA tournament.
THE MODERATOR: Take questions for the student‑athletes.
Q. Shabazz, you stood on national television and told the country, This is what happens when you ban us. I’m curious what message you were trying to send there.
SHABAZZ NAPIER: We hungry. When you stop, when you prevent us from trying to go to the post‑season, and it wasn’t our fault, we worked since that day on. Coach Ollie told us, this is going to be a two‑year plan, and since that day on we believed.
Like I said, man, I just wanted to grab everybody’s attention and introduce the Hungry Huskies, because it’s been two years. It’s quite funny because I was laying down and I was thinking of something to say, because I knew we were going to win.
I’m being real humble and not trying to be cocky, when you believe something so much, you understand what may happen in certain situations. I told myself, if I was on that podium I was going to say that.
I’m just so happy that I was in that position, because, man, these guys worked so hard, the coaches, the managers, our trainers, and last, but not least, the players. We worked so hard for this. We didn’t want to lose it. We worked so hard.
So here we go, celebrating.
Q. Shabazz, can you describe for us the pain or anguish or what’s been sitting with your team for the last 13 months?
SHABAZZ NAPIER: We didn’t come out here to get any revenge or anything like that. We came out here to play. When you have the greatest fans to back you up, you’re going to play for them. That’s what we did out that first year under Coach Ollie.
And the second year we did the same thing, but we understood we had a chance to get to the promised land. And when you have the great fans that the University of Connecticut has, along with these great coaches, great trainers, and great managers, these players, something good’s going to happen.
You got to continue to believe. We had faith in each other, and we are here. We won the whole thing. We didn’t listen to any doubters. We just went out there and did what we had to do.
Q. Ryan and Shabazz, despite a decided height advantage in the back court, it seems as though the game plan was to aggressively go right to the rim on the taller Kentucky inside players. Can you speak to that strategy and that aggressive style of play from you two.
RYAN BOATRIGHT: Me and Shabazz got a lot of heart and we’re tough. We’re tough‑minded and tough physically. When you try to get physical with us, we get physical right back at you. We’re not going to back down to nobody. To get to the rim, you got to get past us. So just because you’re big, you got to be quick and you got to get low. We moved our feet and stayed in front of them.
SHABAZZ NAPIER: We have been playing against tall people in our entire life. But we’re both short. We kind of understand how to maneuver our bodies in certain ways that we can create fouls or get to the basket.
Like he just said, you got so much heart, you got so much passion for the game, you’re going to give everything you got. Even if you mess up, and there was times where me and him butted heads in the game, I told him I was going to get the rebound, I’m going to throw it to him, and he jumped with me. But we went on to the next play. We just so passionate about it and it happens. I’m just so happy we won.
Q. DeAndre, talk about the back court, but not in the front court, you had three fouls late in the game, Amida four, Phil four and they were really trying to attack the rim. How were you guys able to hold them off, because they kept fighting and fighting you, but they never took the lead even with you guys having all the foul trouble with 10 minutes to go?
DeANDRE DANIELS: We had guys in foul trouble and we had guys come in and step up and do the little things and boxing out and then rebounding. But everybody just kept fighting.
And our guards was tremendous today. They kept us in the game. These are the two best guards in the back court in the nation. And throughout the season, guys kept saying, these two right here are not good, they don’t play good together, they’re not friends, and here they are.
Q. It was clear that one of the big assets for you guys was your quickness. For all three of the players, talk about what you perceived, the way they were reacting and trying to react to your quickness and the benefit that was to your team.
RYAN BOATRIGHT: We can give all the credit to Coach Ollie and our trainer. We call him Coach Travis. We preseason was extremely tough. We really hated it, like the running was crazy and KO pushed us to do it. Coach Ollie didn’t let us out of it. I remember him saying when I did not want to do those sprints, he was like, If you do it, at the end of the year when everybody else is tired, you’re all going to be good and y’all are going to run them out of the gym. And it happened.
We were getting up and down the floor and they were gassed and they were bent over and we were still standing straight up and ready to go.
So I give all the credit to KO and Coach Ollie.
SHABAZZ NAPIER: Yeah, he nailed it on the head. We worked so hard, you prepare yourself for these moments, and we continued to push each other and continued to work as hard as we possibly can until we’re tired so that when we get in the games, we’re not as winded as our opponent.
Today was just up and down, up and down. And like Bo said, them guys got a little winded and we just kind of took advantage of it.
Q. Ryan, first off, what does it mean to be at this point after all you’ve been through? Also how long have you kind of enjoyed this before you address your future?
RYAN BOATRIGHT: I’m going to enjoy this as much as I can. I’m not thinking about my future right now. I’m enjoying the present. And we’re going to celebrate with my team and my family. And I’m just blessed to be here in this situation. It’s an honor to be a national champion and to play for this university.
My future, I worry about that later. But I’m just going to enjoy the moment right now.
Q. For Ryan, at the nine‑minute mark when you turned your ankle, what did you do during that timeout and were you worried you may not be able to continue in the game? Also earlier when you guys were struggling to score, during a timeout you and Shabazz sort of were talking to each other. It looked like a pretty aggressive conversation. Is that normal for you guys to have that sort of back and forth during a game?
RYAN BOATRIGHT: Yeah, during the game, when you’re in the moment, you are naturally aggressive. We understand that. We ain’t trying to get at each other or nothing like that. We just listen to each other and just try to understand what each other is saying.
At the end of the day, we both just want to win. And we probably wasn’t even arguing. We were probably just talking loud because it was so loud in there.
But, yeah, it was just loud in there. A lot of people was getting mixed up. We’re so aggressive naturally, we just be yelling and having a conversation, they think we’re fighting. So we wasn’t fighting today.
My ankle? It was hurting, but we worked too hard and we put in too much work. I wasn’t going to let a little ankle sprain with nine minutes to go left in the National Championship keep me from being out there to fight with my brothers.
Q. Shabazz, was there a moment or a meeting or anything where you guys talked as a team about what you were going to do to kind of get through everything or was it just sort of understood that you were going to do it?
SHABAZZ NAPIER: I think it was kind of understood. From the beginning, Coach Ollie told us that we have a chance to be on the top if we worked hard. He always told us that. We always knew that the words were ‘if we work hard.’ We wanted to be on top. We wanted to feel like we were the champions. And there were times when we were down and guys were picking us up.
I remember telling these guys after we lost against Louisville at home our first game, I remember telling these guys, I said, Everybody pick your head up. At the end of the day, I said, We’re going to be the team that’s going to be holding up that trophy. I promise you that.
And it’s so surreal that it actually happened. I told them, we were in the podium and I told everybody, Look at me. I said, What did I tell y’all when we lost against Louisville at home?
And everyone was, like, Man, you said we were going to hold that trophy.
And I was like, Man, we’re the best team in the country. It’s not the Shabazz show. No, I don’t need to get recognized. They understand that. It’s the University of Connecticut Huskies. We went out there and proved it.
Q. For Shabazz, with about five minutes to go in the first half with these two guys on the bench with two fouls each, they went zone. Was that something you guys kind of prepared for yesterday? Also even with them on the bench, that seemed like a sign of your quickness was getting to them a little bit.
SHABAZZ NAPIER: Yeah, we kind of understand that we slow it down a little bit when we’re playing against zone and we have been getting a lot better. But with DeAndre out and Boatright out, it’s even tougher because them two guys are superior threats on that zone, especially with DeAndre getting in the middle.
When they put the zone in, everybody filled in. I felt like Niels stepped up, Terrence, Phil. Phil could have had 12 points if he didn’t get it blocked all the time.
But everybody filled in though. It was amazing. When these two great players were on the bench because they have two fouls or whatever, everybody fills in. That’s what a team is. I’ve been saying that from the beginning. This team is so well‑rounded that if one guy falls down, another guy picks it up. Coach Ollie’s been stressing that since the beginning. One guy falls down in practice, he wants everybody to go pick them up.
That’s just the showing that no matter what’s going on, the next guy got to step up.
THE MODERATOR: All right. We’ll excuse you to the locker room and take questions for coach.
Q. Take a step back, if you could, I know it’s hard right now. What’s going through your heart and mind right now? You have won the top prize in college basketball, the top prize for your profession, you’ve done it.
COACH OLLIE: Yeah, it’s a great feeling. It’s unbelievable. It’s unbelievable because those guys, my players, stayed with the program. I’m the first one to deflect all the attention. Those players that was up here, they should get all the attention, because if it wasn’t for them, this program wouldn’t be here.
They believed in a vision before anybody seen it. They stuck with it through the down times, when we were losing. When we were winning, they stayed together and they believed it was possible. I think that’s the beautiful thing about this championship for me when I reflect on it, those guys toughness, but also their togetherness.
Q. A lot of teams, a lot of great teams are great at free‑throw shooting, a lot of great teams aren’t great at free‑throw shooting, so how did you guys get so good at free‑throw shooting?
COACH OLLIE: We just worked on it tirelessly in practice. It’s competitive every time we do it. You got winners and losers. Of course the losers got to run sprints. They get real competitive with it. I think that’s what we tried to create, that competitiveness in them, especially taking free throws.
It’s also getting the right people at the free‑throw line. Getting the right people with the ball at the end of the game so they can get fouled and they can knock down the shots.
But our guys are so composed. And in pressure, they are confident and we just worked. My coaching staff does a great job with our bigs, getting them extra free throws after practice and Coach Hobbs and Coach Miller and Coach Freeman and Coach Moore, they are outstanding. They always pride themselves on getting extra work. And then our student‑athletes just fall in line.
Q. You had a couple of tender moments with two of the most important women in your life after that game. Go into a little bit of detail, away from the basketball court, how those two have given you strength, and maybe likewise, you’ve returned that. But just over the past couple of years, and specifically since November, how powerful that connection has been in your home?
COACH OLLIE: Yeah, spending time with my mother, she just had surgery and she has breast cancer and I know she’s fighting. She kept fighting through chemo for four months. Just to see her make this trip and us win the National Championship and just see her smile is just real special to me.
My wife gives me an opportunity to work and do what I do on a day‑to‑day basis and take care of home and take care of my mother. For her strength, she lost her father four months ago.
So it’s been a tough year for us, in 2013 was tough. A lot of people didn’t know it, but behind the scenes, we were just holding each other up. And without my wife, I couldn’t be here doing this job. And for her to lose her father, the man in her life and to lose it and just keep lifting me up, keep providing for our family.
Then take my mother on when she is driving her to the hospital, to appointment after appointment, it’s just a courageous woman. I’m glad she chose me and that’s my No. 1 recruit right there.
Q. Niels missed a couple shots early in the first half and then it looked like he got kind of hesitant out there, but then he hit those two big threes in the second half. Did you say anything to him at halftime?
COACH OLLIE: We just tell him to keep confident. Believe in yourself. You’ve been doing it the whole year. He’s been shooting over 50 percent the whole year from three. So I know it was just a matter of time that he relaxed his shoulders, hold his follow through, just what he’s been doing the whole year. He’s been rock solid.
Even when he had shooting slumps like he did in a couple games, he got 11 rebounds one game. Still got 11 points another game. So he does so much other things on our team, it’s just not the shooting.
But he’s had a great year. I think it started in the summer when he played for the German National Team and got a chance to play against Tony Parker and held his own. He came in with a renewed confidence and I seen it right away in practice.
Q. From the outside this felt like one of the more improbable national titles in a while. I’m curious, from the inside, why don’t you guys think this was improbable? Why didn’t you during the season?
COACH OLLIE: Yeah, somebody told me we were Cinderellas. And I was like, No, we’re UConn. I mean, this is what we do. We are born for this. We bred it to cut down nets. We’re not chasing championships, championships are chasing us.
We got four now, and Coach Calhoun started a tradition, and my whole coaching staff is from UConn. We are all been through the same things. And we love this university. We put this university first. It’s always family first with us and they kept believing.
I told you, a lot of people was picking against us and doubting us, but I told you the last would be the first. We are first now. Last year we were last. We couldn’t get in the tournament, but they kept believing. That’s what it’s all about.
You believe. I have a strong faith in God, and God is always going to make a way out of no way. And he made this way. And he gets all the glory.
Q. You’re apart of a very elite group of coaches now. African American head coaches to win the National Championship. Had a chance to visit with Coach Richardson and Coach Thompson last night and they couldn’t stop talking about the job that you have done. Can you talk about being a member of that elite fraternity at this time.
COACH OLLIE: It is an honor. I had an interview with John, Coach Thompson after the game and I watched them growing up and just the way they handled themselves, how they conducted themselves on the day‑to‑day basis. I watched how their kids conducted themselves on and off the basketball court. I know they had a great impact.
I just wanted to come in and do this job and nobody look at my color, just look at what I’m doing. X’s and O’s. But most importantly the impact I’m having on young kids lives. And that’s all I want to do. I just want to coach. I want to coach for the greatest university. And I have this job and we’re national champions. And those guys paved the way for me.
I wouldn’t be here if they wasn’t resilient and fighters. I thank them so much. It’s great to see Nolan finally getting inducted into the Hall of Fame. What a special, special human being, and that’s a great honor, too. I love them and we’re going to have a chance and hopefully they accept me in that group and it’s just going to be fun.
Q. How soon after the game was over did your thoughts turn to Coach Calhoun and what were those thoughts?
COACH OLLIE: Oh, when the seconds was ticking off the clock I was looking at coach. My thought is this: He paved the way. He’s my second father. If he didn’t believe in me, I don’t think I would have this job. I really believe that.
From day one he wanted me to come back to the University of Connecticut and sit in his seat when it was time for him to move on. He taught me so much, not only on the basketball court, how to be a great husband, how to keep your family involved while you are still doing your day‑to‑day jobs as a coach, I learned that from him.
He’s right there beside me. I told you I’m not filling his shoes. I can’t fill his shoes. But man, he’s just a great resource for me, to have a Hall of Famer right there and a person that loves me and believes in me when a lot of people didn’t, when a lot of people was questioning me for this job, he never did.
I thank him to death for giving me this opportunity to be up here and hoisting up a National Championship, a fourth National Championship and it feels great.
Q. How do you think you’ll remember Shabazz Napier?
COACH OLLIE: As a leader, sacrifice, toughness, just whatever you want as a point guard, winner. If we needed him to lead us in rebounds, he did that. I mean, if we needed him to score, he did that. He’s just a remarkable young man from Roxbury, came from a single‑parent home and just his struggle.
But I keep telling Shabazz, I keep telling all of them, With struggle is progress. You can’t have progress if you don’t struggle. And just to keep fighting.
It was a wonderful job and he’s a wonderful young man and I wish him the best of luck. He’s always going to have a home here. He got two National Championships, can’t nobody say that in our history. Niels Giffey, Tyler Olander got two national championships. Can’t nobody say that in our history.
And just another sideline before I go, I want to thank Coach Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats, what a great job that they did all year. And Coach Cal is a wonderful, wonderful coach. He’s one of my great friends and I just wish him the best of luck.
I know that he’s going to get another great recruiting class and he’s going to be right there back here. But what an amazing job he did this year getting those freshmen to buy in. That’s hard. He’s a wonderful man and I wish him all the best of luck in the offseason.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, coach.
Here are Kentucky’s postgame quotes.
quotes courtesy of asap sports
photo credit: richard messina – hartford courant