KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Michigan will face Clemson in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday (March 19). The team answered questions from the media this afternoon before its open practice at the Sprint Center.
Michigan Head Coach John Beilein
Opening statement... "We're thrilled to be here. We're looking forward to shooting in a few minutes out on the court -- we've been fired up obviously since the announcement Sunday night. But we do know we're playing a very, very good Clemson team, and it's going to be a great game."
On keeping the players from being caught up the in hoopla of the tournament... "We tried to get the media done back in Ann Arbor early and really shelter the kids until right now from hoopla. You don't want to go in and say this is just like any other game. No, you worked hard for this, enjoy it and embrace it. But once that ball goes up, it's the same old thing. Like I said, that ball goes up and you see that Clemson offense and defense; they'll understand right away what this thing is all about, and hopefully, we adjust very quickly to their length, their outstanding athleticism, their game plan."
On feeling the sense of relief in the community for getting back into the tournament for the first time in 11 years... "There was a lot of relief in Crisler Arena on Sunday night when the block M came up on the board. I've only had a couple conversations with recruits since we were in, but I think that's probably been with us, and would always be, until we got into the NCAA Tournament. Can Michigan, will Michigan win again The fact we got in certainly helps. It doesn't say, 'okay, you're going to be able to get any player in the country' but I think, at the same time, it's another step in the right direction to get involved with the right players."
On the keys to turning a program around... "Establishing the culture that this is how we do it and now you have proof this is what we've done. In our last years at West Virginia, as we recruited, it wasn't hard to sell kids on that idea. Now, you have Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, knowing that hard work paid off. Once you can establish that, I think you can get some consistency. I talk a lot about right up the road at Michigan State and at Wisconsin. Those guys don't know what it's like not to go to the tournament, that's the culture you're trying to establish and certainly you have to be persistent and stay with what you're doing."
Senior guard C.J. Lee
On handling the NCAA Tournament experience for the first time... "It starts with our leader, Coach Beilein. He's been here before and talking about it all week. Staying focused, simplifying everything and worry about the game, worry what you can do. Obviously it's a big stage, but nothing has changed in terms of like the game and stuff. Just do what we've always done."
On the reaction he has gotten from fans about getting back to the tournament... "I think we have a sense of what this means to people, they're obviously very excited about where we are and potential of where we could go. This is a stepping stone for our program in terms of the players that are here, the coaches that are here, but we definitely try to stay away from what the fans are saying. We realize we have to play the game, but it's great, trying to put Michigan back in the national picture. So that's gratifying."
Senior guard David Merritt
On the program making strides to make the NCAA Tournament... "I don't think you really put into words how big a step this has been. Not making the tournament the last 10 or 11 years, we all set a goal this year to get us back. Coming off a 10-22 season last year, these guys came to the school to turn around a program, and that's been the focus this year. Coach Beilein has done a great job building a culture where we come into the gym and work as hard as we can to reach that goal. This is great for the University and the Ann Arbor community."