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Transcript: Chris Mack at Louisville basketball media day

Louisville v Notre Dame Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Plenty of interesting tidbits here. If you want to see the video, here’s the link.

(On the progress he’s seen so far)

Like most preseasons, you have your good days, you have your bad days, you have ups and downs. Things that look good on Monday, and need to be corrected after Tuesday. I like where we’re at. We’ve got a long ways to go. I’m sure our players, after practicing against each other for a couple of weeks, they want to play against different bodies. But we’ve got a lot of things that we’ve got to tackle before we get to that point. We haven’t even begun to talk about zone offense. There’s just so many things that you have to implement in the preseason, but I think our group has togetherness for having eight newcomers. Guys that weren’t part of a program a year ago are learning each other for the very first time, but that part’s been good. I think we’ve got to develop a little bit more of a toughness that I want to see out of our team, and so this week and next week are big. Then we’ll get our first test against somebody different, and then we’ll have a lot of things to fix, or talk about, when that time comes next Friday

(On if the good has outweighed the bad during practice)

It’s always a good day when you’re on the practice floor. Even when you make mistakes, even when there’s things as a coach that frustrates you, or aren’t where they need to be. It becomes a learning process for your players, whether it’s film, whether it’s one-on-one meetings, whether it’s a team meeting. You have to you have to have some bad moments in order to grow. It’s not fun going through it, but I think it’s necessary for growth, it’s necessary to to get better. Like I said, I like where our team is at, but we’ve got to continue - especially over these next couple of weeks before we play Kentucky State. Then we’ll have more of an opportunity once that game ends to figure out where we go from there.

(On the balance between Ross McMains’ offensive philosophies, and his own)

He’s been a great addition. I don’t think anybody in the program, if you asked them, would say otherwise. That’s something that Ross and I talked a lot about in the hiring process, and in the days when he first got here. How do we marry what has been mostly successful during my time as a head coach, and what he brings to the table from an international standpoint. We’re gonna be a team, like we’ve talked about, that pushes the basketball and plays with pace. That pace has to be seen more with guys running the floor. I think when you think of pace, you think how quick the shot goes, and that’s just a small percentage of times. We’ve got to be able to commit to running the floor. I think as a coach you’re always growing, you’re always learning. It’s been exciting for me to be with somebody who’s as detailed and as knowledgeable as Ross. When it comes to international basketball, and just how we want to play with that pace in that space on the floor. It’s been a learning process for our guys. Some days we look closer to mastering it, and other days we look like it just got introduced that day - especially with the turnovers that are bound to happen at certain times in practice. But it’s been great. I think he’s done a terrific job.

(On if Ross is Louisville’s ‘offensive coordinator’ of sorts)

I knew that when I hired him, I was hoping I had enough humility where I want to do things different. I think that would give our team the best chance of being successful. But at the same time, I am the head coach. So, there’s gonna be things that I feel from the college game, that he is yet to learn. I think he would agree with that wholeheartedly. It’s different. A lot of times, Ross has been used to coaching men, 28- to 30-year-old guys that have played six, seven years professionally. There’s an adjustment. Some of the players that we first get don’t know how to be on their strong foot pivoting. There’s a lot of fundamental teaching in what we have to do at the college level, that I’m not saying isn’t done at the pro level, but that’s sort of assuming that’s where they just weed you out. Again, Ross has brought a ton of experience and a ton of knowledge in the way that we want to play, but this is collaborative. Not just me, this is our entire coaching staff. Mike Pegues has been with me 10 years, I wouldn’t have promoted Kahil (Fennell) if he wasn’t a big part of that. This is collaborative. So to say that Ross is an offensive coordinator wouldn’t be totally accurate. Also, simply because I expect him to understand our defense. If you see something on the defensive end that isn’t going well, or in a breakdown, he needs to coach. He needs to be able to address that. I think he takes a backseat a little bit, because he hasn’t been with me for as long as Mike has on the defensive end. There’s all different ways to skin a cat, as you know. Ross is learning how we want to defend, but he’s sharp as a tack, and I expect him to know both ends.

(On the defensive changes, and making them work together between him and Ross McMains)

You’re always discussing things, There are trends that you see in the game that - again, college is different from maybe some other places that he’s coached. Ball screen coverage is a huge deal: college, international, NBA. It’s a big deal. In the NBA, you’re starting to see just so much switching, and the ability to have a very versatile roster. That’s something that we can do at times, but there’s there’s 1000 different ways to play ball screens - depending on where it’s at on the floor, how high up, right side, left side, all that stuff is discussion points in the coaching offices before we go on the floor. He certainly brings up really good points. Some of those are implemented, others we sort of stick to what we’ve done in certain areas, because we feel like it’s successful.

(On the balance between playing faster and substitution patterns)

That’s gonna be a byproduct of playing faster, we’ve gotta play more guys. We have 14 guys on scholarship, obviously Mike James can’t play this year, but we definitely want to play more guys than we played in the past, and we’re gonna have to. There’s no way, if we’re giving maximum effort and the way that we want to play on both ends of floor, that guys can be on the floor more than four or five, six minutes at a time

(On if he feels like that pace will cause him to play less than ideal lineups)

No. The cumulative effect, Ross really sold that, and really talked about that in the interview process. It’s real. If we are a team that believes in that identity, and plays for 40 minutes that way, then how we play is just as important as who we play. But, the better players on our team are going to play the majority of minutes.

(On what he didn’t like about the pace last season)

First of all, we didn’t have a deep team. All of our guards were hurt. We’ve always wanted to play fast, but we didn’t want to be recess. Just playing fast is - there’s more to it than that. Playing with space on the floor, and having organization to playing fast. We do not want to be a chaotic, bad shot-taking team. So throw that out the window, that’s not who we’re going to be. But we’ve always wanted to play that way. I think historically, if you look at my teams, sure, some of them played slower than others. Sometimes there’s reasons for that, sometimes you have an ass kicker in the post, and you want to be able to get him the ball. Matt Stainbrook several years ago, it would have been tough for him to play in the system, but he was a terrific player for us. Best low post player in the Big East. You have to sort of play to your personnel, and I think our personnel fits it. We have a multitude of scholarship players, and I think going forward, it’s going to be a style that - when guys leave Louisville to go on to play professionally, it really helps in their development. If I put it in a foreign language perspective, it’s Spanish one to Spanish two. I don’t want to teach them a different language. Ross’s background allows that bridge to be bridged a lot easier

(On if anyone has taken the lead spot at point guard)

I thought Jarrod (West) didn’t play particularly great on Saturday, but he has been awesome for us. He is a coach’s son, run the team point guard, get in the lane, he’s a dogged defender. He’s going to be a guy that when that ball is being handed to a player on the other team by the referee full court, he’s going to pick them up, He’s one of the best defensive point guards I’ve ever coached. He can blow up ball screens all on his own. He’s got a voice, he was voted captain for a reason. His message yesterday after practice was awesome, man. It’s everything you want as a coach. You can step back, and you can watch him coach his teammates. They have a total respect for him again. He didn’t play very well on Saturday, in terms of how he’s been playing, but he’s been our best point guard in the preseason. There are things that El (Ellis) can do that he can’t, but there’s things that El hasn’t done that Jarrod is doing every single day since he’s been here. It’s a good mix, and we just got Mason (Faulkner) back full time yesterday, and Mason brings a lot to the table. He’s really talented and can play either either guard position.

(On what assistant coach Mike Pegues means to the team)

I’ve known Mike for 10 years, and I trust him with anything. He’s loyal, he’s smart, he’s passionate. He’s a head coach in waiting, wherever that opportunity presents itself. It’s gonna present itself November 9, and he’ll do a terrific job. He knows our system, he’s been in all the same staff meetings, on court practices and post practice meetings. He has a great feel for our offense as well. Ross is obviously an expert at it, but Mike will do a great job in my absence, I have no doubt.

(On if it creates any more urgency from him, knowing that he will be suspended for the first six games of the season)

You have to be urgent every day. It’s gonna put me on pins and needles November 9, not being there, but I think when you’re coaching the preseason, you look at it so much differently than a player does. A player just goes out there, and they’re practicing against their buddies every day. You got a six week chart, what do you have to get in, where you’re constantly assessing where you feel like you’re at, and what areas of the game the team has to get better in. You always feel that pressure. I don’t think I feel any additional pressure for November 9, then I wouldn’t feel on any other year.

(On what he can do during his suspension, and what it will be like)

I don’t know what it’ll be like, I’ve never experienced it. I have no idea what it’s going to be like. I don’t think I can do a whole lot. You can’t do anything. I’ll take my kids to school, and sit and wait till I pick them up.

(On the importance of having a healthy Malik Williams)

He’s extremely important to our team. We’re doing everything that we can to ensure that he can play the entire season. He looks great. He’s moving great. We’ve done the ole load management, which I never thought would come into college basketball, but when you got a guy that had a severe high ankle sprain, and had to rehab it during the pandemic when no rehab centers were open back home. He had surgery on his foot twice. so we want to be extra cautious. We want to make sure he can get through this, and he looks great. He practiced on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and we want to hold him off on Thursday. He doesn’t want to be held off, but we’re doing that for his benefit, and it benefits our team in the long run. He means a lot to our team. He’s got great respect around the league, as he was voted a Second Team All-conference guy, and he hasn’t played in a year. Tremendous defensive player, he’s an everyday guy. His voice, his leadership. I tell him all the time, the smarts that he has on the defensive end, with what we’re doing offensively - not just the pace part, but what we do in that half court. He’s an initiator of a lot of the things that we’re doing.

(On his message to Samuell Williamson, and how he has responded)

Sam’s always been a worker. I don’t think there’s ever been a time that he hasn’t put the time in. I think the confidence in his shot, sometimes takes too much of his mind space. He thinks about that too often. There’s so many different ways, as a basketball player, that you can affect the game, the outcome of the game. Whether it’s rebounding, setting a screen, sprinting in transition, communicating on defense - there’s so many things that you can get lost in the game, that affect your team in a very positive way. If you’re thinking about, “Is my shot too flat? Why won’t it go in?”, you’re not fully immersed in that other stuff that I just talked about. You hurt your team. That’s been my main message to him. You’ve put in the time, that’s a small fraction of the game, but let’s be great at the other stuff. I think he’d tell you he struggles with that at times. But when his mind’s on the other stuff, he can be as good as he wants to be. One of the best small forward rebounders in our conference. That’s what we’re hoping we get from this coming year,

(On how Samuell Williamson has adjusted to the new offensive system)

Like a lot of guys on our team, there’s good days and bad days. Again, concentrate on the little things, not the big things. Your setup cuts, being in the right spot - in our what we call dual-actions, recognizing what can put you in a good situation, versus one that it’s neutralized. But he’s getting that. When he’s been really focused on the right things, and letting those things become really important, he’s dominated practice - as he did last week on Thursday and Friday. Conversely, if he starts to think about other things, then he’ll have a day like he did on Saturday, where I don’t think he was at his best.

(On how hard it was to sell the new system to the players)

The great part about it, is it’s pretty simple. It requires a lot of effort and a lot of discipline to stay in a corner, when some action is transpiring. Sounds really simple, but guys are so conditioned over the course of their careers - grade school, high school, to come to the ball and to want to meet the ball. That just sort of kills your spacing. So, that part of it is difficult, but it’s not chess versus checkers. Quite honestly, it’s disciplined checkers. Wow, that’s pretty cool. Philosophizing. Ross is gonna be crying when I call his stuff disciplined checkers.

(On if they are ahead in their offense or defense right now)

We have a lot more things to put in. We’re going to be a team that when the referee blows the whistle, you’re going to run out here and we’re going to run set play. I don’t know another team, many teams in college basketball, that don’t do that. The defense is back, they’re set, there’s no point in just wildly pushing the ball up the floor, and look at you. We got to put in a lot of that stuff, but our guys know our base offense. They recognize spacing as we come up the floor, is the five ahead of the ball or is he behind the ball. Our perimeter players, are we a cleared side, are we in a four-out and one-in, or five-out as we come down the floor. We recognize that. We understand how to flow from that. Now, our decision making isn’t always where it needs to be, but we’re getting better at that. That’s what we’re using the preseason for. We used the summer to introduce all this stuff, so it’s not a lack of understanding, but it’s more of a lack of execution. Being able to do it, possession after possession after possession when we get tired, but we’re getting there. It’s exciting when we have those days where it’s like, “man, we took a big step forward”. It’s really exciting, and I just envision that whenever that time comes where that becomes who we are every day, every game, that I think it’s gonna be fun to watch. I know it’s gonna be fun to coach, but we’re not there yet.

(On what are the team needs to work on, on both ends of the floor)

I probably had one or two things until the scrimmage. I would say on the offensive end, it’s just keeping things simpler. Guys want to make home run play sometimes. Rather than that long skip pass across the floor, just throw the closer one, and he’ll get the ball over there, and the same thing can be accomplished. Just making simpler plays so we can take care of the ball. On the defensive end, we have to get tougher. That’s shown in lack of physicality on block outs, that’s shown in ball screen defense, being able to get over the screen and not just be dependent on our big guy. Just a little bit more physical toughness on the defensive ends, is where we need to grow.

(On where they are defensively)

Not where we want to be. We have older guys returning guys that understand our system, so we feel like we have more than the four coaches on the floor. A guy like Malik (Williams), and Dre Davis, and Sam (Williamson. We’re getting there, we have to. We have to get some of the newer guys and younger guys to play with more consistency, and a bigger voice, and again, match the physicality they’re going to see in the college game.

(On Sydney Curry)

Sydney had a good day on Saturday. He didn’t necessarily play a ton, part of that is he needs to get his conditioning up. He came in the end of August, guys were going home for the summer and he was coming in. He walked in to the Keuber Center at 300 pounds. Although Scott Satterfield would have appreciated that, I didn’t. We got to get him at 270, He’s about 277 now. It’ll allow him to run faster, longer, he’s not going to lose one bit of strength. I thought he played very aggressive and confident, he should be a guy that doesn’t get moved off his spot on either end of the floor. He’s a really good finisher around the basket. He’s behind with his understanding, because for two months, he wasn’t in practice. But he’s catching up, and the more he catches up, the more you start to see his talent level, and athleticism, and size. I thought he had a good day on Saturday, and followed that up with a really good practice yesterday. So we’re gonna keep trying to take those positive steps with Syd.

(On the difference in JJ Traynor between now and last year)

JJ has been up and down. He got sick when he went out of town over the summer, lost 12 pounds. That really set him back, because he’s a guy that can’t afford to lose weight. He can play either the four or the five for us, but if he’s playing the five, he can’t get moved off his spot. If he’s playing the four, he’s got to move his feet defensively and guard somebody. Offensively, he’s gifted. We short roll him, or you throw a lob on a pick and roll. He does things a few of our big guys aren’t up where he is, but he’s got to do those other things. This isn’t baseball where they, I think they still have a designated hitter. I don’t really watch baseball anymore, especially with the Reds where they shouldn’t be. We need him to play both ends the floor, and be assertive, be aggressive. He’s been up and down, if I want to be honest,

(On if they will handle the exhibitions differently in preparation for Mack’s suspension)

The only difference that we’ll do as a staff, is we’ll prepare harder for those games with our players - a scouting report personnel, we may not have done that in past years. Sometimes we would do one game, but not the other. For us, that’s probably more to help Ross understand how we do a scouting report, how we present to the players - both personnel and the actions the other team runs, and the sort of the rhythm that we have so that he can see that with me being there. Whether it’s pregame timing, two days leading up, warm up, all that stuff, we’ll try to replicate as best we can so that he understands sort of the rhythm that we’re in. Then we’ll chop it all up, and I don’t coach the next first game.

(On how many ball handlers he will trust)

You got to trust them all. We have, in my opinion, four natural ball handlers and decision makers on the perimeter with El (Ellis), Jarrod (West), Noah (Locke) and Mason (Faulkner). Those guys will spend the bulk of the minutes at the one and two, and all of them are going to play, and all of them are going to be entrusted to run our show.

(On if there will be any lineups they want to try and avoid given the pace they want to play at)

No, I don’t think there’ll be any combinations that specifically we’ll avoid. There are some lineups that we can run a few tweaks with our offense, because maybe our five with that lineup is capable of shooting the ball from the perimeter. So we can move him around a little bit, and substitute maybe his position for another position. I think there’s some exciting things that we can do. Malik can really stretch the floor, Gabe (Wiznitzer) is a much better shooter than people even realized - I don’t think he’s gained confidence yet from three, but he can really really shoot the ball. There’s a few ways that we can play with those guys and the five, where they’re not necessarily tied to that eight foot chain under the basket. That can make our team really difficult to defend.

(On what Jae’Lyn Withers’ ceiling can be)

Jae’Lyn can be as good as he wants to be. He’s our most talented player, by far, it’s probably not close. He’s playing almost exclusively on the perimeter, in what we do - except in the post in the mismatches. If Jae’Lyn becomes the competitor that I’ve coached, and some other guys throughout my coaching career, the sky’s the limit. He can be here six more months. He doesn’t get it, and just has those inconsistent moments, and doesn’t gnash his teeth and play like a warrior, then he could be here three more years, and never get where he wants to go. That’s the truth, and I’d tell that to Jae’Lyn if he was sitting right here. There’s not anything that he can’t do. He can guard a big guy, he can guard a perimeter guy. He can bring the ball up the floor, he can post up. He can shoot the three. It’s interesting, we had a weird team meeting the other day, and I said to him, “the NBA, just so you know, they look at everything you do in your life. They look at everything you do on the court, and there’s gonna be a red flag if you have through six games: one dunks, two dunks. Why don’t you dunk? Why don’t you dunk the ball? Because you’re more than capable”. You’re not just playing for a pull up, you’re playing the game soft. We need that metal eater around the basket all the time. He has those moments when he does, where he completely dominates practice. He’s got to figure out, I got to figure out, how he can figure out who to be that guy

(On how you coach toughness into Withers)

It’s hard to instill. You just have to show him the value that that holds, both for him individually and our team, and scream at his ass.

(On if they could see more defensive pressing from this team)

You could. It’s not my M.O. as a coach, I think you guys know that. But, Jarrod, like I said, is a guy that can give other point guards fits. Doesn’t mean he’ll get seven steals a game, but he can tire our teams out. We’ve got to be able to, at times, show that, and we will .We’re not going to be UNLV in the 90s, or Loyola Marymount, but we’re going to extend our defense a little bit.

(On the NCAA case hanging over the program)

I’m not gonna talk about NCAA stuff. I made my comment at the ACC tournament, some people didn’t like it, and I’m just gonna leave it at that. I’ll worry about our team, and coach our guys. At some point, I’d love to be able to talk about it for a long time. A very long time.

(On Noah Locke, and utilizing his efforts as a combo guard)

It’s what he did in high school. Obviously, there’s a big jump from high school to college. You also know that he’s in his fourth year now, so maybe he wasn’t quite ready to have those responsibilities early in his career. He played his role, and he did a terrific job. He had three great years at Florida, but as a senior, he should be able to do a little bit more. He should understand what puts him in really successful positions, how he can help the team. We felt like, again, that experience level that he brings, his IQ for the game, that he could be a little bit more on the ball than he’s been in years past.

(On Matt Cross)

Matt’s a tough kid. He’s a no-nonsense kid, he plays hard. I think he’s way more on offense than a shooter. He’s got to use that toughness on the defensive end a little bit more. He can’t be a liability on the perimeter for us. Like Sydney, Matt came late. He did wasn’t here until July, but he’s had a really good few weeks here lately, and he’s gonna be a big part of our team. It was really good to see him not shoot well, and still impact the game, like I talked about with Sam, because I think that’s bothered Matt in the past. It didn’t bother him on Saturday, he had a terrific game. We know he’s going to be able to have moments where he just changes the course of the game without the shooting.

(On Jarrod West’s leadership ability)

Day one, he just had a pop about him. Coach’s son, picks up things really quick. Once he picks it up, he’s distributing it to his teammates. We built this thing in stages, so he was stage-by-stage, teaching his teammates, rallying his teammates, same energy every single day.

(On if Jarrod West reminds him of previous graduate transfer point guards)

I think he’s his own guy. He’s the best leader (between Carlik Jones, Fresh Kimble, CC). I love each one of those guys, and I don’t think he’s as talented as some of them, but Jarrod made be one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around. I thought he’d be a special kid, just in talking to him on FaceTime, the time we spend on the phone recruiting him. But a lot of guys will say good things on the phone, and then we get here, and the reality is a little bit different. He’s been all of that. He runs his team. and so he’s one of a kind.

(On if Cardinal Reece Gaines is on his staff)

I think he’s applied for the Director of Player Personnel position that we’ve had. I think there’s some other candidates that applied too, but we’re just going through that process.

(On if there is any concern that players will have trouble adjusting to the new system during Mack’s suspension)

No. I think that the offensive is in good hands. Ross was instrumental in making the change, so I don’t worry about that. If I see things on the floor that are sort of happening. I just gotta hope for a couple weeks they’re getting addressed.