NCAA Tournament Press Conference :: New Mexico State

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<p><strong>Q. Ian, when the bids came out and you saw you were playing Kansas, kind of a
IAN BAKER: Didn't matter who we played, we were going to be ready for whoever they picked us to go against, so it really didn't matter.

Q. Daniel, how have you guys maybe scouted guarding a guy like Wayne Selden at 6-5 who could cause some match-up problems on the wing? How have you guys talked about guarding a guy like that?
DANIEL MULLINGS: It's going to be a total team effort, we play our zone. As far as us in the backcourt, the guards, we're going to look to speed 'em up a little bit, make them uncomfortable and then when we get into the frontcourt it's going to be a total team effort and it's going to take all five guys.

Q. Tshilidzi, sorry I can't pronounce your name, you can educate me on that as the weekend goes! This is a team that has struggled to shoot from the outside. How do you think that matches up with your zone defense?
TSHILIDZI NEPHAWE: I think it's good because we try to make guys come inside to the big guys, and I think that's good that they can shoot out there. It'd just be good for our zone because we're not trying to -- all we are trying to do -- we are not trying to give them any threes, so I think that's good for us.

Q. Pascal, you guys have had some injuries to some key players at various times. When you are at full strength, how good are you and how confident are you that you can play with anybody in the nation?
PASCAL SIAKAM: We don't really know how good we can be. You know what I'm saying? We had some guys where everybody didn't play good, some players played good. We don't really know how good we can be. I think the sky is the limit for our team. If we play confident, we can play anybody. So we are just loose, confident, and go out and we can compete with anybody.

Q. I got one for Pascal and Tshilidzi. You guys seem to have a rebounding advantage over most of the teams you played in the conference. What's your approach to get that and do you think that can continue against a bigger team like Kansas?
PASCAL SIAKAM: Definitely we can rebound the ball well. We just have to go every time, when the shot goes up, go every time. We think we can do that with anybody. I know Kansas, they have bigs that are kinda our size, too, so it's going to be even more difficult, but we know we can do it so we're just going to go every time.

TSHILIDZI NEPHAWE: For me I think I'm bigger and stronger than everybody, so I think I will have an advantage over them.

Q. Tshilidzi and Pascal, given your backgrounds, when did you first become aware of the NCAA Tournament? Growing up where you did? Was it watched? Was it followed? Or did you not learn about it until you came to America?
TSHILIDZI NEPHAWE: I didn't learn anything about college basketball until I came to America, which was 2008. That's pretty much when I started knowing about college basketball or even pretty much watch NBA or any type of organized basketball.

PASCAL SIAKAM: For me, I have brothers that play college basketball, and my brother plays at Vanderbilt and I have a brother that plays at Western Kentucky and that's how I kind of knew. From there I just started.

Q. Remi, you guys have defended the 3-point shot pretty well this year; that's been a focus for you guys. Is that a focus going into this one, too, against Kansas?
REMI BARRY: Yes, they have a lot of good shooters. We talked about it before practice, before we left. So we are ready for -- we are ready to guard the threes.

Q. Guys, I think there is no doubt, Tshilidzi, that you're the strongest one on the court. This is for the veterans there. Daniel, maybe we will start with you. Talk about this is your fourth year in the NCAA Tournament. Is there unfinished business to get that first Tournament victory?
DANIEL MULLINGS: I think there is, especially from last year, having that game go into overtime against San Diego State. We all feel like we could have got that, and now we're back and hopefully we can redeem ourselves this year.

REMI BARRY: I feel like it's a little frustrating, you know, three years in a row we lose in the first round. We have something to prove, and I feel like we're ready.

Q. Pascal, curious, could you tell the story how you came to play organized basketball? What year you came to the U.S. and how you ended up at God's Academy and just kind of the story of it.
PASCAL SIAKAM: It started in South Africa. I went to South Africa for a camp. And I went there and how my brothers helped me out, and we could find a school in God's Academy, and for me it was just a great opportunity coming to the United States and get my education and probably get a chance to play college basketball. And when I went to God's Academy, I didn't have a lot of offers, a lot of people didn't know about me. New Mexico State came, and it was a great opportunity. I thought it was a great fit for me, a lot of international students, and I just felt like it could be good for me. So I went there and took the chance, and now I'm here.

Q. How old were you when you first played the game and what year did you come to the U.S.?
PASCAL SIAKAM: I came here in 2012, and I think I have -- I can say -- I will say three years of basketball, actually, because before that it was just having fun and playing with friends and stuff like that. It wasn't nothing serious. It's when I got to God's Academy, I started playing a little bit, playing against prep schools around the country and that's, I think -- I will say 2012, that's when I really, really started playing basketball.

Q. Pascal, Kansas had a player from Cameroon last year in Joel Embiid. I wonder if you came across him or know of his game.
PASCAL SIAKAM: I don't know him personally, but we went to camp together in Cameroon, I think it was 2012, too, so I don't remember exactly. I don't know him personally, but we went to the same camp. That's kind of that, you know.

Q. Pascal, obviously he developed into the No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft even with an injury. How raw was he then? What do you remember about Embiid's game then and are you surprised that he got so good so quick?
PASCAL SIAKAM: I didn't really know him, to be honest. I don't think I really know -- he was big, he was tall and everybody knew it. That's how people knew him. But I don't really know him. I didn't know his game. I didn't know anything about him, I discovered here in the United States like you guys, too.

THE MODERATOR: Anything else for the student-athletes of New Mexico State? Thank you, gentlemen. Good luck. COACH MENZIES An interview with: NEW MEXICO STATE Coach Marvin Menzies Head Coach Menzies is with us. He will open up with a statement and then we will take questions.

COACH MENZIES: We can do it in 15 if you would like, there is no problem with that. (Laughs) Thanks, Joe. Well, first of all, obviously excited to be here. Feel very honored and blessed to be here with a great group of kids. I'm sure you had a chance to visit with some of them already and you know why I'm happy to run with this crew. I'm going to reflect on Selection Sunday, and there was a moment where they announced our game, and I saw Kansas on the board before they showed New Mexico State, and I thought, hmmm, that could be interesting. Bam! New Mexico State pops up, so it's very interesting! We have a team that will match up well. Obviously we're the underdogs, as we should be, but hopefully we can use that to our advantage in the way of being relaxed and having some experience and putting ourselves in a position where we play like we have nothing to lose because we don't from a perceptual standpoint at least. But we are eager and enthusiastic to go out and represent our university and our town Las Cruces in grand fashion. I still get asked every once in a while, they say, oh, you're the Lobos. No, we're not! And they see my expression. But hopefully we can make another dent in that. I get asked that less and less as the years go by, by the way, so we're making some strides in the right direction, so we're definitely looking forward to increasing our brand and moving the program forward, this year and years to come.

Q. Marvin, can you describe the challenges of having a team with so many international guys, so many different backgrounds from a language standpoint to a cultural standpoint?
COACH MENZIES: I would say there are more advantages than challenges. It's a really, really diverse group, as you know, but it's also very special for the guys on the team to be able to interact with guys from different countries and cultures and religions. They learn so much. It's like an opportunity to take a tour around the world right in your locker room with firsthand experiences. I think that adds to the overall locker room environment. Guys are learning things that they might not learn in another locker room. We have a different recruiting paradigm based on the guys that we want to play against, the guys that we want to compete against at a high level. Probably would lose out on some of those guys locally, and I'm being a little sarcastic there. Let's say the top-10 guys in the country, it's going to be tough for me to go head-to-head with Louisville and Duke and Kentucky and Kansas and folks like that. But I think there's a lot of hidden gems, Pascal Siakam, our freshman, who was the freshman player of the year was someone that I was the only one that I recruited. And I guarantee you if he had been born in the U.S. and raised in the U.S. and played in the U.S., it would've been very difficult for us to get him. So obviously I've gotta tweak what we do to try to compete at the highest level. It's been successful for us, and you know, it was probably a little different for the community at first. They had to figure out what they were going to do. We figured it out eventually.

Q. Marvin, what are the challenges? Can you describe a challenge or two?
COACH MENZIES: Making sure they speak English on a regular basis. We don't want to think anybody is gossiping around our backs. Actually, I say that in fun, but they do. In the locker rooms, they have to speak English. They want to call somebody or talk amongst themselves outside, that's fine, but French is something I am learning and picking up a little bit of French just by being around them.

Q. Coach, it seems like this is a match-up that could work for you guys. You like to play a lot of zone, they're not a particularly good 3-point shooting team. Talk about that as perhaps an advantage.
COACH MENZIES: Well, I might have watched some different games than you. I thought they could shoot pretty well in the ones I watched, but, again, I'm not sure -- when you look at scouting reports, games, footage, you see talent and you see their advantages, and then you try to figure out how to counter them. I do think we match up in the sense that one of the things that they haven't gone against a lot, just because there is not a lot in the Big 12, which is zone, so hopefully it will be an adjustment for them to attack our zone, but they have so much talent from multiple positions. They got guys that can bounce it, guys that can shoot it, guys that can do both, so those are always guys that are tough to guard. At the end of the day it's going to come down to individual talent.

Q. Wayne Selden has been on a really nice run through the Big 12 Tournament. Does your zone help keep him away from the basket? Talk about their ability to penetrate.
COACH MENZIES: We got to keep guys in front of him. He's one of them; Mason, a couple other guys, there are guys like that can really put it on the floor, and create shots for themselves and their teammates. We're hoping we can do a good job of that. That's the challenge; you gotta do that, but then you also gotta get out and stop shooters at the same time, so you don't want to get so extended that you're not in a position to make your slides and adjustments, so we will see how it works out for us.

Q. Coach, you have had a lot of success getting to the Tournament. Asked the players earlier, they called it frustrating for success in the tournament. Can you talk about that over the years?
COACH MENZIES: Well, I think the frustration will be -- it's mostly external. I mean, everybody, wow, they can't -- we had a headline once after we were in the NCAA Tournament and I won't say which newspaper it was from. It said, "one and done again." I'm thinking really? So we were there three times in a row or whatever it is and it's "one and done again" and we were the 13th seed? That's what's frustrating is that people don't understand. We already have arrived; we are already champions, we are winners, we are the WAC champions, regular season and tournament, we're successful! So the frustration is that sometimes people don't understand that and they look to, okay, if we don't get past Kansas, somebody will inevitably think, gosh, they gotta get past the first round. Okay, that's the profession. What are you going to do? I have great support system and great alignment from the president to the athletic director, all the way down and so I'm happy. I'm happy, and the kids will experience that a little bit more when they -- they hate losing, they keep hearing that, and it's frustrating, they keep hearing it a bunch, but we'll be fine.

Q. Kansas has faced some difficulty at times with full-court pressures. What do you hope to do with that and what kind of press do you have?
COACH MENZIES: We'll mix it up. We'll do some different things in the full-court set, but some of it we will just drop back and try to apply some pressure in the half-court. And we want to try to turn 'em over, if we can, but they're going to do the same thing to us, so it's going to be about taking care of the ball and being smart in our execution, for both teams offensively. Got to take good shot selections and things like that. Everything is relative, you know? And guys that have turned 'em over have been guys that are quick and long and athletic, and I think we have that. I'm hopeful that we can cause problems for them there, but I'm not sure that that will be a key. As the game unfolds, we will make adjustments accordingly. If they're attacking it and scoring off it, we might have to mix it up. We'll see where it goes.

Q. Going back several years, why did you ultimately decide to go so heavy into the international market to find players?
COACH MENZIES: It was a conscious decision when I took the job. I had several relationships in Europe, Africa. I hired -- my now associate head coach at the time was my director of operations, Paul Weir who is tied in big-time in Canada, and we just thought if it was something we were going to compete at a high level, we've got to think a little bit outside the box. You could look at teams, point to Saint Mary's with their Australian connection and Gonzaga, and those are mid-major programs that have sustained success because of their recruiting paradigm and we wanted to follow success in that realm. Also having those relationships already, I was able to hit the ground running with it.

Q. Going on with the international players. I asked a couple of the guys when they first became aware of the NCAA Tournament, and that's something that probably an American player is kind of just born watching CBS and the Tournament and knowing everything that goes on with that. When you recruit a player that doesn't have the familiarity either with American college basketball or even the NCAA Tournament, what is the education process about getting to this moment and how special it is?
COACH MENZIES: Well, I think it starts with the love of the game itself, regardless of the pomp and circumstances that is the NCAA. I think it's the competitiveness, the team work, the discipline, the time management, all the things that go into that. You're hopeful they are things that the student-athlete has when they get there, at least things that they are willing and ready to develop. I think that's really the key to the guys that I do go out and recruit. They've got to have components, I don't think if they're from America or Africa, they have to have a certain character. Following that, we have guys that come over and -- like Tshilidzi, Tshilidzi Nephawe, he didn't know much at all. He probably never watched a college game and now he's well versed on who is who and what conferences are doing well. So it is a process, but it happens naturally through -- with this day and age, the attention from a media standpoint but not just television but periodical and whatever else, it's so heavily covered nowadays it's easy to pick up and learn from. I didn't have to do anything particular on my end to do that.

Q. Marvin, offensive rebounding has been key for you guys all season long. Do you feel like you can sustain that against a big team like Kansas, maybe advantages down there?
COACH MENZIES: Offensive execution?

Q. Offensive rebounding.
COACH MENZIES: Rebounding, I'm sorry. Yeah, we'll do great! I don't know! When you match up with guys, different conferences, higher-level talent, it really is going to come down to game day, who is going to hit first, who is going to get to the proper places on the floor offensively when a shot goes up, are they going to get to the weak side? To the middle of the key? We had that same challenge when we played Michigan State. Izzo is notorious for a great rebounding team, so we made that an emphasis and talked to our guys about it, showed them how good they were at executing that. So we had to emphasize our blocking out and being aggressive, so forth. That was something we talked about. There are a few key points that we've hit with our guys, and that's one of them. Again, it's going to be about who goes out there and gets it done. We didn't have the same level of athleticism that we competed against in conference that we're going to go against tomorrow morning. Is that going to change? I don't know. Are our guys going to step up? We'll see.

Q. Coach, I think you were 10-10 at one point before this 13-game winning streak. What's changed about this team? Can you identify what's the difference in this streak as opposed to early in the season?
COACH MENZIES: It's all coaching! All coaching! No question! We were actually 3-9 or 4-9 at one point. Next question? (Laughter.) I'm just kidding. It was really just getting the guys back and getting our healthy seniors back on the floor. I think Daniel is undefeated since his return. That's probably not a coincidence, you know? I think that plus the progression of getting familiar with the system; some of the young guys; Pascal is playing really good basketball. Ian Baker only played a half season last year; Ian Baker, he's progressing in his development, so it's probably a combination of things. I keep pointing to the seniors, but we have some good, young guys, too, and we had some guys that held the fort for us when the seniors were out, Jalyn Pennie ended up having a double-double before he got injured, the game before he wasn't able to play anymore, so it's multiple things that attributed to it, but mostly and positively the return of Tshilidzi and Daniel. It's all about players, baby!

Q. Coach, looking at the stats for you guys, you've done a great job of preventing other teams from shooting threes. I wondered how you got that defensive philosophy and what played into it for you personally as a coach?
COACH MENZIES: We look at statistical trends throughout the seasons, from season to season, and Coach Patino was very specific about deflections and some of his things are very well noted as to certain statistics that he wants and shoots for. One of the statistics that we felt with this particular team and our particular competition and conference that would bode well for us would be defending the three. When you look at our conference, it's going to be tough for those guys to beat us up inside based on pure physicality that we're going against. So how can they beat us, well, they're going to try to beat us with 3-point shots. So okay, what are we going to do to tweak our system to be a little bit more efficient at defending the three? That was kind of the driving force behind it. I got to give Coach Paul Weir a lot of credit. He is my defensive coordinator. Keith Brown is offensive coordinator, and Eric Sanders is mostly personnel-driven stuff, so Paul has done a great job in identifying that stuff and identifying some of the tweaks we wanted to change. And then we sat and met on it, and I can just turn him loose now. We've been together for eight years, so our basketball meetings are about five minutes and he just goes and executes for me. I want to thank you will all of you for coming today.