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Video & Transcript: Fran McCaffery Press Conference 1-21-20

January 21, 2020

Written by Rob Howe

Hawkeye Nation

Rutgers leads the conference in scoring defense. What makes them effective defensively?
FRAN McCAFFERY: It’s a lot of things when you look at those kind of numbers. They play really hard. They’re physical. They have depth. Not a lot of dropoff when they go to the bench at all. They have size.

They’re contesting you at the rim as well as putting pressure on the ball.

Q. You think the fact that some of their players came in here and won last year has any bearing on mental, or is that overrated?
FRAN McCAFFERY: I think they have proven they’re a mentally tough group and they’re used to playing in this league now, been in the league for a while. I don’t think that’s much of a factor.

Q. What does Geo Baker give them now that he is back?
FRAN McCAFFERY: He’s a veteran guy who has some versatility. He can affect the game on the defensive end and he can score. He has 3-point range. He’s really good off the dribble, and he’s had success in this league for a long time.

Q. What’s been the secret to Steve Pikiell’s success at Rutgers?
FRAN McCAFFERY: I don’t think there is anything secret. He’s a really good coach. He’s been doing this for a long time and knows what he’s doing. I think he came in with a plan and wanted to build it the right way. Wasn’t trying to do it very quickly. He got the guys he wanted to play the way he wants to play, and he’s got a group that’s buying into what he’s teaching.

It has been impressive what they’ve done, but keep in mind they were kind of bounced around as a program. They were in the Atlantic 10, the Big East, and back to the old Eastern 8 or whatever it was back in those days.

I think they found a home now in terms of being able to recruit to a Big Ten program. A little bit unique being back east for that, but they’ve got a great home court advantage. Nice facility. They upgraded. Their athletic director has done a great job raising money and getting some facility upgrades for them, so it’s all happening together.

Q. You played CJ all 20 minutes in the second half the other night. What does that say about the faith you have in him as a freshman?
FRAN McCAFFERY: Yeah, a couple times he was tired and we were able to use the media timeouts to get him recovered. He recovers pretty quickly. He’s just a guy that I think you feel like in a game like that he’s got to be on the floor as much as possible.

Like to have gotten as least a minute or two, but just didn’t work out that way.

Q. What do you like about CJ when he’s on the floor?
FRAN McCAFFERY: Pretty much everything. Does it at both end. With the ball, without the ball. He’s not a mistake guy.

Q. Does that surprise you as much as he sat out last year?
FRAN McCAFFERY: No, not at all. He practiced every day last year so you saw him every day working on his game. He’s in the weight room, he’s getting shots up, he’s going against the guys we had last year, performing at a very high level.

If he’s sitting out and not practicing and he’s not performing at a high level in practice, well that’s going to be a problem because maybe he’s not good enough.

Clearly you knew he was going to be a major factor this year if you were around last year.

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Q. Get a sense of his moxie or his confidence to take big shots in big moments?
FRAN McCAFFERY: You can always look at the stats, look at numbers — I’ve seen him in enough situations to know that’s who he is. So then you’re not surprised when a guy does it because he’s always done it.

Q. Does he play like his uncle?
FRAN McCAFFERY: His uncle made a number of game winners for us. Beat Indiana, I remember and beat LaSalle when they had Lionel Simmons and LaSalle was in the top 10.

Not everybody makes game winners, but he was a guy you wanted to shoot the ball as well.

Q. If you were to have played CJ last year and he could’ve played…
FRAN McCAFFERY: He would’ve played a lot, yeah.

Q. Bakari has been playing with a lot more confidence lately. What stood out to you over the last couple of games?
FRAN McCAFFERY: I think for him, you’re getting a lot of benefit from the fact that he’s a veteran, but he was also new so it took him a little bit, especially with Bohannon there. There wasn’t as many minutes to go around.

But he performed well when we asked him to, and the more minutes he’s got, the better he’s gotten in terms of production. I think that would probably be true for a lot of people. You leave a guy out there and let him settle down and play through his mistakes and he’s a good player to start with, which Bakari is, then you’re going to get something special. That’s what we’ve had.

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Q. Is this one of the more mentally-tough teams you have coached?
FRAN McCAFFERY: They don’t seem to get too up or too down. They recognize the level of competition that was before them. They could look at the schedule before the season and see that, but it’s a group that’s performed well on the road for the most part. Not perfect. Don’t expect it to be.

But after we’ve struggled at times they didn’t blame anybody, each other, the coaches. It was just back to work and we’ll get it figured out.

Q. Have you given any thought to starting Bakari?
FRAN McCAFFERY: You give thought to a lot of different things. I think I’m comfortable with what we’ve got going on right now.

Q. Joe Toussaint has had some ups-and-downs this year as a freshman. How do you keep his confidence high?
FRAN McCAFFERY: The first thing is you can say whatever you want say to him, but you keep him in the starting lineup and tell him you have confidence in him and watch film and point things out that he needs to do better. He’s accepted it and trying to get better. He practiced really well.

The thing about him, he’s always going to play defense. So even if his offense is not what it would be in one game to another, his defense is always really consistent. He competes. He’s going to push the ball and he’s going to get in the lane and he’s going to find people.

He’s just got to cut back on few of his turnovers, and I have no doubt he’ll get that done.

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Q. He doesn’t seem to hang his head —
FRAN McCAFFERY: You’re right, he doesn’t hang his head, but he’s not happy if he makes a mistake. He’s a competitor, and he recognizes that he’s capable of maybe doing something better in that case. He’s just got to be able to get to the next play, and he’s doing a pretty good job of that.

Q. How did you get Joe (Toussiant) out of New York?
FRAN McCAFFERY: Well, I think there is always a lot of factors that enter into recruiting, not the least of which is you have somebody like him whose recruitment sort of continued to get more and more involved, the more opportunities he had to play in front of people. He’s on a very high profile AAU team at high profile events. I mean, you’re playing in Peach Jam, that’s a big deal.

So everybody is there looking at you. More and more people recognize, Hey, this guy is really good. You can see that with his success he had on his high school team, which was also a very high level.

But I think when it was all said and done, we were really trying to find somebody in that position that would complement the other pieces that we had. We really felt like he was the perfect fit for that, so we made that known to him. Coach Francis had a prior relationship, as I did, with his AAU people. The coach in particular. Terrific guy. Rock solid high school program and really good coach. Just good people.

They were looking for the right situation. I think he wanted to play at the highest level, felt like he could, and little by little, more high level programs got involved.

When he came out here and visited, he really fell in love with it. He essentially committed on his visit.

Q. Joe plays with tremendous pace. How has he adjusted to the speed of the game and the pace you want to play?
FRAN McCAFFERY: You know, it’s more the speed he plays at. He has always been able to just go faster and solve any problem, but he’s got to just understand how to change gears a little bit more, stay on the floor. Couple of his turnovers have been he leaves the floor, which you can kind of get away with in high school.

At this level, guys are going to slide in front and read where you’re going to go, and then a couple passes are getting deflected. A little bit harder to get all the way to the rim with some of the size that in this league. He’ll get that figured out.

But I want him to continue to attack. That’s what he does best. Break the defense down and get in the lane and create shot opportunities for other people, and at the same time for himself.

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