Transcript: Fran McCaffery Wednesday Teleconference
Let’s start with the Jordan Bohannon question. How is he coming along and have you talked about a timeframe for when he might be able to play in a game?
Fran McCaffery: I think he’ll play some on Monday (in an exhibition against Lindsey Wilson College). He had a good practice (Tuesday). He’s getting back into it. We’ll see how it goes. He’s not where he wants to be. He’s not where he could be. But I’ve been really impressed with his determination to get back to where he’s one of the best players in our league. So, we’ll take it one day at a time here with practice and the exhibition game. We’ll see if he can play through it. If not, we’ll shut him down.
What has impressed you the most about him right now and the way he’s been able to come back like this?
FM: He did everything he was supposed to in the beginning. That was important. And then he was very methodical in his approach, a little bit on the bike and then a little bit of jogging and then a little bit of shooting, spot shooting, then he was running and cutting. Before he did anything that might have involved contact, he was up to speed. Then he went back out and started playing. He’s had some really good days. He’s had some bad days, which was to be expected. He’s been very professional with how he’s handled that. We’ll see where it goes from here.
Beyond Jordan, have you found any more clarity in your backcourt in terms of who you’re going to play at the one and the two? Do you know who you’re going to start on Monday? Do you know how you’re going to divide those minutes up?
FM: All of those guys are going to play. We’ll see. I’m getting closer to where I’m thinking about who the starters are going to be. But all four of those other guys are all playing really well. They played well on Sunday (in a scrimmage against Illinois State). They all bring different things to the table. So, I’m really excited about this group. We have depth back there, and we have versatility back there. And that’s what’s critical.
Fran, can you give us an update on Cordell Pemsl and where he’s at?
FM: Cordell is playing pretty well. He’s back on the court. I thought he played well on Sunday. He’s practiced well. He’s playing as you would have expected him to play, kind of as a veteran. He’s been solid with his skill set and he knows what we’re doing, that kind of stuff. So, I’ve been pleased with him.
How have Joe Toussaint and Patrick McCaffery done so far in just getting used to the college game?
FM: The thing that benefitted them and has benefitted guys in recent years is the fact that they could be here in the summer time. They get here in June. It’s a little different for Patrick because he grew up here, but he was never on a college campus. He never went to college classes; get your way around, find out how you manage your time, all that kind of stuff. As we’re practicing in the summer, we’re up early with our lifts and then we’re mixing in our open gyms. And then you’re also developing a bond. They’re roommates. They’re buddies. And then practice starts in the fall, school starts, a little bit different. Summer is a little more laid back. You have a more intense academic schedule and a more intense athletic schedule. So, you’re kind of building up to that. But I think that’s really benefitted both of them.
Both are playing really well. They bring to the table things that we need. Joe is obviously really quick, but he finds people. He moves the ball. He knows where our shooters are. He feeds the post. He defends. Patrick is obviously a wing scorer, who can give you some versatility. He can play inside if he needs to, but he’s making threes. They play really well together, those two guys. And I expect big things from both of them.
With CJ Fredrick and Jack Nunge coming off redshirts and going into the exhibition, is it more so breaking off the rust of coming off a redshirt year, how did those guys perform and were you surprised by anything?
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FM: Those two guys have really played well. Jack is a little different because he played a year and then red shirted vs. CJ, who red shirted his first year. CJ hasn’t really played in a game yet here until we scrimmaged on Sunday. That was important for him. Jack got a lot stronger. He’s really playing with a tremendous amount of confidence. He’s really been impressive, most importantly from a consistency standpoint. A lot of guys play well some days, but he’s been every day consistently performing at a very high level as a scorer, as a rebounder. CJ I would say the same. He took advantage of the redshirt year. He knows what we’re doing. He makes plays off the dribble. He makes shots. He’s probably been our best defensive perimeter player so far.
We hear about these secret scrimmages and everybody seems to do a real good job of keeping secrets, but can you at least talk about what the format is, what you get out of them, just what’s done in those scrimmages?
FM: That’s a good question. People ask me all the time. It depends on what your approach is of what you want to get out of it. Some people like to play it like a game. I don’t like to do it that way. Our format was we did five possessions for them, five possessions for us, five possessions for them, five possessions for us and I did different lineups. Then we did a 20-minute scrimmage and we zero the score every time. Then we do a 10, 10, and then we did a 10 for our young guys and our backup guys. That way everybody gets an equal amount of playing time.
In the course of the day, what we’re going to do is work on different things. In a game, let’s say we go zone, and they hit two or three threes in a row, you’re getting out of the zone. You’re going back man-to-man. But if we’re working on our zone (in the scrimmage), we might stay in it and try to figure it out. OK, we didn’t make the necessary slides. Let’s call timeout and make sure. So, you’re concerned about the score but you’re not as concerned about the score. You’re concerned about getting enough guys playing time, making sure they know what’s expected of them, and when we’re making changes, whether we’re running sets, if we’re changing defenses, if we’re pressing. We’re trying to get better in those areas.
We haven’t seen a team in a very long time. We’ve gone against each other since June. I was really impressed with Illinois State. They played really hard. They were physical. They competed. They ran good stuff. Dan (Muller) is a tremendous coach. We’ve done this before with them for this reason. We both kind of come into it with the same idea. We’re trying to get better. They’re trying to get better. Yeah, there’s a competitive aspect to it, but it’s more important that we spend quality time with trying different lineups. We tried players at different positions. We want to see, OK, how do these two guys play together or these three guys play together. What if we went small? What if we went big? And all those kinds of things. That’s why I think they’re incredibly beneficial and I think it was a really good day for us.
Something you mentioned about CJ Fredrick piqued my interest. You said he was your best backcourt defender. What does he do that makes him that way? Also, what have you learned about your defense several weeks into camp?
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FM: As far as CJ is concerned, it starts with his work ethic and intensity level. He stays in his stance and he’s always where he’s supposed to be. He anticipates well. He gets deflections. He gets steals. He fights through screens. A lot of times when you’re playing the off-guard position, you’re getting screened. You’re getting screened a lot. And how you handle those screens determines your ability to be able to close out into a defender’s space, see the ball screens coming, see the down screens coming. He’s consistently performed at an incredibly high rate in terms of deflections and steals, but also slides his feet really well.
Defensively, we’ve been good in a lot of different areas. Our transition defense is better. Our zone defense has been really good. Our press has been solid and has gotten better over the last week and a half or so. Our man-to-man has been good. The thing that I like is that we have a number of different players that we can play, so you keep fresh players on the floor, which raises the intensity level on a consistent basis. But our size also enables us to rebound the ball in a way that limits the other team’s second-shot opportunities, which are usually high-percentage shots. So, so far, it’s been pretty good.
In Joe Wieskamp, have you seen a different leadership quality in him here in the last few weeks?
FM: The thing about Joe that everybody understands is that he’s not a big talker. But he has performed very well, as you would expect, but from a competitive standpoint, in terms of playing hard on every possession and really understanding now because he’s a sophomore, not a freshman, what we want done. He’s not a mistake guy. He’s just not. So, from that standpoint, it gives him credibility to speak up. So, he has spoken up in ways that are effective. And that’s the critical step that you’re referring to as a leader. It’s not that all of a sudden you’re going to dominate the conversation. It’s what do you say, when do you say it and how do you say it? How is your message delivered? But most importantly, are you taking care of your business? Because otherwise, you don’t have any credibility. And he does a great job of taking care of his business.
Just to clarify on Cordell, is he eligible to play in your exhibition game and your season-opener or is there more there for him?
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FM: He will not play in the next two games. So the exhibition and the first game and he’ll be good to go after that.
I’m wondering what you can tell us about Lindsey Wilson (College) and how this game came about, how it is you’re playing this team?
FM: Keith Adkins is the coach there. I’ve known him for years. He’s a really good coach. He does a great job. He’s been a head coach at three different places and been very successful. We’ve talked probably for the last 15 years or so about playing them, even before I got here, obviously. So, I felt like he had a good team this year. I thought it’d be a good time to do it.
Fran, I wanted to ask you about Bakari (Evelyn) and what he’s presented for you guys? Has he given you the veteran you were hoping for as a grad transfer?
FM: Absolutely. And that’s the best way to describe him. He plays the game with a level of confidence that’s really important. He understands where to be defensively. He completely knows and understands how to play more than one position. You can give him the ball. You can move him off the ball. He can guard a guy that’s bigger than him. He can guard a guy who’s smaller than him. He shoots it well. Again, another guy who’s not a mistake guy. He’s not turning the ball over. He’s a really good passer, a really good post feeder, recognizes that we have guys that can score in the post, throws in there. I’ve been really pleased with him.
This is kind of projection season. Outsiders look at teams’ strengths and weaknesses and try to project where teams are going to end up. What’s something about this team that you feel like maybe the outside doesn’t know about your team or maybe just will surprise people?
FM: It’s how good we are top to bottom. A lot of people look at who’s your first five. We have a lot of really good players. We have a lot of really good shooters. We’ve got post guys who can score. We’ve got wing guys who can score. We’ve got guard who can score. But the most important thing is how we share it and move the ball. You can have a lot of good players, but if there’s any level of selfishness, you’re not going to be any good. And this team is a very unselfish group. I’ve been really impressed and pleased by that.
Just in general, this thing is coming up fast, but to me what’s coming up fast is you’ve got like DePaul on the very near horizon. Does this feel like there’s a little more urgency maybe than in a typical year?
FM: It’s the trend. It’s changed. For many years, you tried to play 10 or 12 easy games and work your way up to where you’re ready to go for the conference season, which is typically after Christmas. That’s why the challenge games came into play. We have two of them this year, Big East and ACC. That’s why you’ve seen the growth of the MTEs (multi-team events) and the quality of teams you play in those. We’re always going to play Iowa State, but we’ve chosen to add Cincinnati in the United Center. This is a game before Christmas. We play two league games in December. All of those are by design to create more interest in college basketball in the months of November and December, but also to put ourselves into better position on Selection Sunday when the committee looks and says, OK, did they go play people? They had a pretty good team coming back. Did they challenge the team with a schedule that really prepares them to compete in a very difficult Big Ten season and also the NCAA Tournament. So, now while it may look like it’s a little different, it’s the new normal, I guess.