Head Coach Tommy Amaker Comments from
Michigan Men's Basketball Media Day
Opening statement... "It's great to get started again with basketball. As you can probably imagine, this is a fun time of the year around the country with the start of practice and the start of the season. Kids are excited, freshman are anxious to get going to see how things are going to go for them out on the court and in an official practice. We're very excited, as you can imagine, for what we think we can possibly achieve this year.
"Right off the bat, it's no secret that the next step for us is making the NCAA Tournament. We're not looking at that like it's a monster thing for us right now, but we certainly realize that's the ultimate goal for our team. The main thing for us is to do things on a daily basis to get better to improve. I think that should hopefully help us achieve that final goal.
"I'm anxious for our kids to enjoy this season. We have a really good group of returning guys. Our seniors are going to play pivotal roles for us. For any success that we're going to have this year, our seniors are going to be right in the middle of it. If we can stay healthy with those guys and play up to their potential, I like our chances.
"I think that our schedule is very challenging, very tough; maybe one of the tougher ones in our conference. When you look at the opponents that we have to go against and the success that they've had in the past and true road games that we have to play, not just in tournaments, true road games going on someone else's home floor. We have a very tough and challenging schedule, but one that we are excited in participating. I'm looking forward to it.
"We have a group of guys that you are going to enjoy speaking with today and covering, hopefully, throughout the whole season. I'm excited for the enthusiasm and some of the things that our freshmen can bring to this team. It's always nice when you add some new pieces and some new faces. A lot of times it's the youth and the exuberance that they can bring. You never now what's going to happen if they get opportunities to get on the court, but you certainly like the enthusiasm that they can bring for your program. We're certainly looking forward to having that from the group that we have with us this season."
On if this is the deepest team he has had here... "It seems like the last few years we have said that - that we are very deep. So, I'm hesitant to even address that given what's happened in the past with us. We think we were going into something, we maybe have a deep team we can utilize and lo and behold, before you turn around, things change. That's going to happen this throughout this season with other teams, hopefully it won't be us. You're certainly going to see that, you're going to have some injuries, you're going to have something that's going to hit your team whether it is sickness or academics or some type of situations that you may not be as deep as you thought. Hopefully, that won't be for us. If we are able to side step some of those things, we have an opportunity to have a team that could show a lot of different combinations. We're anxious to see what players can emerge to earn some playing time."
On if there is any health issues right now... "No issues as of this point."
On if there is something from last year that he would like to improve... "I haven't given last year a lot of thought to be very honest. Thinking back right now, I thought we had a very good start. If we could duplicate that this season, I think that would bode well for this team. Certainly the thing that we weren't able to do for a variety of different reasons was we didn't finish well. We didn't finish strong. Looking back, if we could try to see if we could be better finishers the second half of the year to put ourselves in a position to possibly to continue to have a solid season, that would be very helpful. But improvements, there is nothing specifically I can think of. Defensively we weren't as good as we wanted to be but we were pretty efficient offensively. Obviously, losing a kid like Daniel Horton, who had a terrific senior year for us, probably led to that. I'm hopeful that we can be better this year, but that's obviously yet to be seen."
On if he prefers for someone to step up and take Daniel Horton's role to help take pressure off the team... "I remember something that coach (Lloyd) Carr said recently. I think it was in reference to (Mario) Manningham about being the go-to guy. He said that he wanted the go-to guy to be the open guy. If we can have a group and a team that can play unselfishly and not necessarily have to rely on one person or player to carry the burden that way, then I think we have the makings of a good team. I'm hopeful that this team this season can give us some pretty good balance, inside-out, off the bench and production. I think that's when you look around and see that the best teams have good balance. If we can have a team where we can always go to the open guy, then I'll be very satisfied as a coach."
On how the rotation is at point guard... "I'm anxious to see how we are going to practice. We've worked with our guys a little bit. Jerret Smith is a returning player for us that played some significant minutes as a freshman. We're anxious to see how he is going to perform this season. We're confident in his abilities to grow and he's gotten better. Dion Harris is obviously going to play some point guard for us. Being a senior and a ball-handler and a perimeter player, he's going to have to shoulder some of those duties and responsibilities. We're going to see who can emerge from the rest of our group and look at different combinations. I think that's the thing that I am interested in right off the bat, to see how guys are going to play with certain groups. Certain players are going to have to be key guys. Dion is a guy who is going to be a key guy for us this year. Courtney Sims is going to be a key guy for us. I didn't even mention, maybe the biggest key force is Lester Abram. When you think about our seniors, those three in addition to (Brent) Petway, I'm anxious to see the combinations of players and how they are going to perform with those players. I'm hopeful that our senior class can play to their potential. I think that the group is anxious to get this season underway."
On where he sees the contributions of the seniors... "We had Lester and Jerret with us this summer on the Big Ten Foreign Tour Team, when we toured Australia. Those two kids were with us as a coaching staff that took that team to Australia, to Sydney and to Brisbane, and both played fairly well. I was pleased. In particular, I thought Lester was the Lester of old; fearless and attacking. He showed no signs of being shy about the injuries that he's had the last two years. I was very pleased with his production. Hopefully, you can see a guy like (Brent) Petway or (Courtney) Sims anchor the front line for us, a la what Graham Brown and Chris Hunter did a year ago as seniors. You want those guys to lead the way, to be players that can shoulder that burden for us up front. We need Courtney to have a consistent senior year. He's capable of doing that. We talked about him shedding a few pounds and trying to be a little lighter to be a little bit more active, agile and quicker to get up and down the floor a little better and to be in better shape. That's one of the things that we talked about for our team. Courtney is a guy that's attacked that very well so I've been pleased with that."
On if there has been a change in selection process for choosing captains... "Yes, I made the change. There was nothing that happened to 'strip' anybody of their duties. That came about some way, but that's not accurate. I made the change. I wanted to see how our guys were going to work and who was going to emerge. I think we may even look at that as a different way of deciding our captains for our program. I wanted to take a look at that. I made that decision to make that change and we were pleased with how that turned about for us with the spring and the summer workouts. Guys were here for summer school. I thought Lester Abram was the best choice for us. We're anxious to see if that's going to pay some dividends for our team this year and I think it will. Nothing [made] me want to make that change. I just wanted to see if somebody else would emerge other than the ones that were 'voted.' Looking at work ethic and leadership and all of those things and see if they could earn that based on spring and summer and I though Lester did a terrific job of that."
On the incoming freshmen class... "Their role is to learn, to work hard and to compete. If we can get those three things from our incoming freshmen guys with the talent and some of the abilities that they bring to the table, I think we are going to have a nucleus of a good class in this program over the next few years. It's very difficult to try to say what I feel they are going to do out on the court right now or in games. For me, that's impossible to be able to predict that or forecast those kinds of things. I am expecting and demanding of them to work hard, to listen and to compete. I think if we can get those three components for those talented kids that we have in that class, I think they are going to have a chance to emerge; some maybe sooner than later."
On K'Len Morris and Zack Gibson... "We're excited to have them. I think it's obvious that those two kids, being former high school teammates, they're familiar with one another. Being in-state kids, I think they're very excited to be here in Ann Arbor to wear the Maize and Blue. I'm anxious to see how hard they are going to compete. Certainly Zack has to sit out this year from competition, but he's eligible to practice. I think both kids are going to add tremendous value to this program over the next few years."
On if someone will emerge as the same personality like Daniel Horton was both on and off the court... "I think Daniel was a big personality. He wanted those moments. For a team that's trying to develop its own identity this year, sometimes a person can emerge in that direction. Sometimes what I found over the years, as a player and a coach, maybe because you had a dominant personality or person that someone else wasn't allowed to become what they maybe can become now, but we'll see. Certainly Daniel was a guy who wanted the big shot and made the big shot. As you mentioned about his personality, he kind of dominated our team in a lot of ways. For the most part, that was absolutely outstanding, but we're anxious to see what kind of personality and identity this team can have. It may not be one person, which is okay. It might be the personality or the identity doing this team doing such and such out on the court. That would be great if that were to happen, especially for us right now, to become a better defensive club."
On if he wants to try and push the tempo like he wanted to do last season... "We're going to try to do that. We are going to try to rely on that aspect of our system and our philosophy, the way that we like to coach and teach. We still have the personnel that can fill in with that philosophy. I anticipate us trying to be a transition oriented team. I'm hopeful that we can add to that by playing better defense. That's the key on the court for us. If we can become better defensively and tougher on the defensive end getting stops, not giving up dribble penetration and not giving up second shots; I think if we can do those things defensively, I think it's going add to the opportunity to get up and down the floor and get easy baskets."
On the freshman being physically ready... "You see that a lot of guys can show those flashes. We've had a chance to work with them, as you know the rules allow us to do that a little bit now. It's been that way for while with up to four players, but recently, we're allowed to work with the whole team for a couple of hours a week. We've been able to see some things in certain players, in particular the freshmen kids who we haven't had that much opportunity to work with and teach. They show some flashes there. Everything's a first. It was a first to have individual workouts with the freshman, it was the first to have team workouts with them, it is the first time for them to be away from home and the first media day when you speak with them. Everything's a first; a first game and a first practice. You think that a lot of times, they don't have a frame of reference. Thinking back to me and kids that you've coached over the years, the first year - it's trying to develop some rhythm and balance and consistency, it's the biggest drawback. In terms of some of the things that are there lately, I think they have some pretty good skills and ability and now can we put it together with going to school here at Michigan and living away from home and all those kind of things, that hasn't been told yet."
On how many guys he would like to use in as a playing group... "I don't go into it with a set number and try to make the kids into that. I like to work around what they can give us. If we can go seven-deep then that's what we are going to go. If we feel we can go nine or 10 then we're going to try and do that. It's all a function of what we think they can give us. Then we are going to try and develop strategies, game plans and ways to utilize their strengths. I'm hopeful that balance and depth can be a strength, but again, I've been here before and talked about that and that hasn't turned out the way we wanted it to."
On Courtney Sims being a go-to guy... "I think he realizes, and we certainly do as coaches, he's a guy that we're heavily depending on this year. I've been around this long and involved in basketball long enough; when you become a senior, you always use the word purpose about you. You seem to have a different purpose. I'm hopeful that Courtney will demonstrate that this year. Having this senior class C Brent (Petway), Lester (Abram) and Dion (Harris) - going back to all those guys, that their purpose will be to lead this program to higher levels. We certainly realize that if we're going to do that, than they're going to have to do it; carry the load and show the way. With Courtney being a front-line guy, we're going to need a consistent post presence, a big time rebounder and a guy that can play extended minutes without being winded, tired and fatigued."
On which senior will be more of a vocal leader this year... "Brent (Petway) has always been the guy who has taken on vocal leadership in our program in a lot of ways. He's a pretty outgoing guy. You talk talent and you talk ability, but a lot of times you miss out on personalities of teams. Brent's personality is of a high energy, talkative, locker room kind of guy that keeps people loose if that's what's needed or being the vocal guy out on the court. The way he plays lends to that as well. I would see Brent merging in that direction more so than any of the other seniors."
On Brent Petway being know for more than just dunks... "Brent is a good passer. I think sometimes, because he's such an outstanding athlete, you overlook some of the little things, being that he's a vocal guy and being that he's a guy that's a good passer for us on the front-line. We're going to rely on that from Brent. Offensively, Brent has a good 15 mid-range jump shot that we're going to hopefully see him utilize more and not just shoot it, but make it. I think the area that he has to improve, and he knows this, he's got to become a better foul shooter. That's a key area for any guy that's going to be on the floor extended minutes or should be on the floor extended minutes. Players that play on the front-line, you're probably going to be fouled a lot because you're around the goal or attacking the basket. We're hopeful that he's probably going to be probably our biggest energy defensively. Not just blocking shots, but Brent and Graham Brown were the tow that took the most charges on our team a year ago. We have one of those guys returning. That's a function of intelligence and being in the right position, not just a guy who can jump over the basket. He doesn't get credit for those kinds of things, outside of what we say and how we talk in the locker room. I think that's important to see that he brings other things to the table other than just dunking."
On Jevohn Shepherd and Kendric Price... "Both of them are outstanding athletes. If we want to play up-temp transition or if we want to utilize depth and play better defensively, those guys fit right into our philosophy and that's why they're here. I think that if we can get both of them to be sharper with taking care of the basketball, that's one of the drawbacks of wanting to play a faster pace, you're going to have some of that, but we need those guys where our team can be able to trust everyone with the ball out there to make the right decision, be sharp and take pride in their passing. But both of those kids, defensively, can bring a lot to the table for us if we're able to go deep into our bench."
On if there is a guy who he wants to have to ball down the stretch... "Again, going back to what I said about how Coach (Lloyd) Carr described it, I'm hopeful that we can have a team where the ball can be in the open guy's hands. I want us to have a team that players can step forward. Lester (Abram) is a player that we love to have in position to do something for us when it's a game altering kind of play or moment. I'd love for the ball to go inside. If we can put the ball in Courtney's (Sims) hands in the paint, not only that, but you get a higher percentage opportunity. The second piece of that; for Courtney, Lester and Dion (Harris) in particular, those guys are outstanding foul shooters. Not only did we want it in Horton's hands because he's the personality and all those things, but Daniel (Horton) shot 90-some percent form the foul line. So you want the ball in people's hands at critical times if they can make a shot but if they attack and get fouled, they can go to that foul line and cash in as well. That's another function of where you want the ball. Those things have yet to be 'determined' for our team. Ultimately, the optimal situation is to have it in the open guy's hands and if they become that kind of team, I'll be very happy."
On if the team is in better shape... "I think for a team, we are hoping that's something that we can control. We talked about that. There are a lot of uncontrollable's in the world of sports, especially team sports. But there are controllable's and we're trying to see if we can control the controllable's. One of those is if we can be in top shape. It goes back to our seniors and our older guys to set the example and lead the way. If we continually get that production from those players, not just points on the board and those kind of things, but setting the example all the time, I think this team has a chance to have a pretty good season."
On if Lester Abram looks better because his health is better... "Health is one. This is his final go around; we talked about that work-purpose with seniors. When you're out for pretty much two years, certainly the year before was almost a complete season, and then last year, I don't know how many games he played but it didn't seem like a lot, especially not in the conference. I think there's a hunger there for Lester, and it should be. I think anybody that's been out of doing something for two years that you really love and you get a chance to get back at it and you have a senior year at it, I'm sure there is a purpose and a hunger about that kid. He's always had that, but it was nice to see that again because he's been out of the equation for a while for us and it's nice to be able, right now, to have him back in there."
On what the message to the team is for this year... "We have something that we talked about privately with our kids, five things that we felt we wanted to really hone in on for this season. We're going to keep that with us. Another thing that I really feel, a lot of times teams can look around and say 'we didn't catch a break.' You hear that a lot and we've probably done that to ourselves or whether we did it publicly or not; it's a natural thing to feel as a human being. One of the things that I'm going to preach to them a lot about this year is make one and you'll get one. I'm hopeful that we can think about it in those terms. Let's make a break. Let's make something for ourselves. Most of the times when you do it that way, you catch one or you get one. I'm anxious to see if we can buy into that, but it's up to us to try and make on first."
Contact: Tom Wywrot (734) 763-4423