Men's Basketball head coach James Dickey and student-athletes spoke to members of the local media as part of Houston Basketball Media Day on Friday morning.
HEAD COACH JAMES DICKEY
"We're extremely excited about getting started Tuesday night and opening the regular season a week from today. For our guys, we started as soon as spring break was over last year. They worked extremely hard in the spring and summer."
"We had a new rule change, where we could work with our guys two hours per week during the summer for eight weeks. We thought that was a great rule. We had a very productive fall."
"We have two new additions to our staff. I've got the best coaching staff in the country. We added strength to our staff in the spring and summer when we hired Ronnie Hamilton to our staff and then Bryan Lewis as our new strength and conditioning coach. Both have been tremendous additions to our basketball program."
"Our players have gotten bigger, quicker and stronger and have been in terrific condition as we got to Oct. 12 on our first day. Every one of the guys that we have on our squad we feel very good about them as people, students and as basketball players."
"The big difference you are going to see between last year and this year is a great togetherness of these guys. They play for each other. They care about each other. They try to help each other score. Their attitudes have been very good. They've worked extremely hard. We've had some things that we wanted to accomplish."
"One thing that stood out to us is we have to be tougher. Under that toughness comes better defense. We have not been better defensively. We have to be better in the rebounding area. We have to take better care of the basketball and not be careless."
"Our players are well aware that we wanted to be a more physical basketball team and we want to be tougher mentally. We want to be a team that is much more sound defensively and we do not turn the basketball over. We value the ball. I love our guys' attitude. I love the way they prepared. We're looking forward to getting started."
On playing better defense
"Defense is a mindset. Rebounding is just an aggressive part of the game where you've got to go get it, you've got to box your guy out and you've got to be relentless. You can't be afraid to have contact and physical to play to do either one of those things."
On sophomore guard Joe Young
"Joe played both the one and the two last year. He is going to have to be able to handle the ball. We talked to our guys about taking care of the ball. We're going to have great depth at the guard position. When you look at the wing positions, there is a lot of competition for playing time. Joe has been fine when we asked him to handle the ball. He knows we're going to be a lot more balanced."
On improvement offensively
"This team has grasped shot selection. We've talked about that the last two years, and these players really understand it. When you look at our team, we're going to have a lot of depth. There is going to be a lot of competition for playing time. Guys know they're going to have to play the right way, and if they don't, somebody is going to be there to step in and have the opportunity to step in and show what they can do."
On the team's depth
"I like the fact that we have depth. We have good character on this team. We have young men that want to do things the right way. That's important as well."
On freshman forward Danuel House
"Danuel is going to be fine. He understands that it's a different level. There are three things that affect freshman coming in... One, the speed of the game; it's a lot quicker; Two, the physicality; and Three playing without the ball in your hands. Almost every guy on our team was the best player on his high school team, and he wanted the ball in his hands. Now, they have to be able to give it up and go someplace else and that has not been natural for them. He's going to be fine. He's a terrific athlete. "
On playing as a team
"The thing that our coaches have done a terrific job of is reinforcing that this is a team game. We've got to share the ball. We've got to help other people score, and you have to be happy for your teammates. The bottom line is that you win and you don't care who scores. The players have really embraced that philosophy and they're trying to help one another do that."
On the players in the front court
"We relied on TaShawn (Thomas) so much inside last year, and we're going to be able to free him up some. He's very good around the basket. Leon (Gibson) has prepared, and we're going to expect a lot out of him. on and off the court. He's the lone senior so he has some ownership. One interesting point is that we have four guys, besides the recruits, that didn't play much last year (junior forward J.J. Richardson, sophomore forward Mikhail McLean, redshirt freshman guard LeRon Barnes, redshirt freshman guard Jherrod Stiggers) . We have those four guys along with our new players, but we've added size and depth."
On freshman Valentine Izundu
"By nature, he is very quiet, but these players have done a great job of embracing him, encouraging him and, at times, getting on him. That's what guys do. They hold other players accountable and responsible. He's young; he just turned 17 last February. He's continuing to get better on the fundamentals, but he can run the floor, he can block shots and he's starting to be more physical because he's gotten beat up a lot on in practice."
On the attitude of the team
"They're playing for one another. You aren't going to see selfish play. You aren't going to see guys playing for themselves; they're going to be playing for the Cougars, and that is what is most important."
On the recruiting class
"That's a great compliment to the coaching staff. We are excited about those four guys, but I'm also excited about the returning guys. The guys that we have now, we've brought them all in. We brought Leon (Gibson) in and Mikhail (McLean) was our first signee. We had a very good class last year. What makes the recruiting class this year so good, is these guys have to fall in to what's been established before them."
SOPHOMORE FORWARD TaSHAWN THOMAS
On team's preparation
"We are playing hard every day in practice. You practice the way you play. If you go hard every day in practice then you'll play hard in the game. We hard every day and bring toughness and make everybody fight through pain that we might get in the game."
On what this team has to offer
"We lacked toughness last year. When times got rough we had a lot of people that just sat down and let things happen. This year we have a tougher team. If something bad happens we have people that will pick each other up and get us back on a good run."
On something that stood out during preseason
"There is this drill we do where we never make it the first time. This year, we did it again and didn't make it, but we all took a break, got together and talked about how we could do it and went back and finally did it. After doing that you can see that we have better chemistry with the team.'
On his role
"This year I'm going to step out a little bit more, but I can't shy away from my strengths, with going inside when I have a smaller man. This year I want to, if I have a smaller man go inside, and if I have a bigger man who's slower than me I can go outside and help the team on offense. I need to be able to defend a smaller man too."
On how he has helped the younger players
"I'm trying to help out the younger guys like Valentine (Izundu) and (Danuel) House and all of them. I'm trying to help them get used to college level basketball."
On goals this season
"We don't want to lose any home games. We want to protect our home. If we win every home game, that will help us out on the road, because we'll have a lot of confidence."
"It feels good (to get started). We worked hard this whole summer in offseason. The workouts we got to do during the summer helped out a lot. We're looking forward to this year."
On the newcomers' progress
"It helped the younger kids learn how to adapt to college basketball faster. The summer house helped House and Valentine and some of the JUCO players that came in because they had a longer time to get used to college basketball and college practices."
On what he wants to accomplish
"I want to leave Conference USA with a bang. I want everybody to remember that we did something special before we left."
SOPHOMORE FORWARD MIKHAIL McLEAN
On team's preparation
"We've been preparing since March. We've been doing offseason workouts with coaches and individuals, strength and conditioning. We've prepared earlier and now that the season is here we're ready."
On the team's youth
"A lot of the guys, like Valentine and House, came in early so they got two months of work in with the coaches. They're more accustomed to the offense than the JUCO guys who came in later. They should help us out as well though."
On team's expectations
"We have a lot of expectations. Our first expectation is to take care of our non-conference schedule and win as many games as possible in non-conference. We want to take that momentum into conference and win a lot of games in conference and make it to the tournament finally. That's our ultimate goal right now."
On prepping for season opener
"It's been a long journey. As soon as we got done with the season, the next week, we started practicing and then we had offseason in March, so it's been a long time coming."
On preseason workouts
"They were huge actually. We actually got to gel more as a team and work on stuff early instead of waiting for the first week of practice to work on it, so I really think those early offseason workouts helped a lot."
On being tougher as a unit
"It's just people being more accountable for each other. If people take responsibility for their actions, that altogether brings a team together. That makes us tougher as a unit."
On what he tells the younger players
"Always have open ears. Listen to the coaches, listen to the players, and always keep your head high and never get down."
On returning to the court
"I sat out the entire year last year so I'm actually very ready. It's tough to sit and watch the games. I think I'm more ready than anyone else aside from the freshman maybe."
On the season beginning next week
"It's a long time coming. I've been waiting for a full year. I'm happy to be back out there. I love to have the fans at the games. It's just exciting."
SOPHOMORE GUARD JOSEPH YOUNG
On early workouts and preparation
"The summer was really helpful to us. We got that chemistry as a team, and got better at being brothers on the court. We know where each other are and we're accountable for each other on the defensive end. It was a great experience for the team."
On this year's team toughness
"Last year we were tough but we weren't as tough as we're going to be this year. We hold each other accountable for everything and pick each other up when we're down."
On the goals for this year
"We want to win, win, and win. That's our main focus. That's what we're going to do. As practice is going on, nobody slacks and even the young guys come in and give it their best."
On switching positions
"I'm a combo guard. I can play the point and shooting guard. In high school, I played the wing, so that is no problem. Moving to the two guard doesn't interfere with anything. It's all the same game, still passing the ball and shooting the ball."
On the new players
"We have Tione (Womack) who can handle the ball and distribute well, then we have Brandon Morris who can distribute well and can score. We have Danuel House who is athletic and can do anything."
On the start of the season
"I'm very excited. This being my second year, I'm very focused. We have a good team coming in. I'm satisfied with the team this year, in that we're more together and we're brothers. We're going out to win for each other. There is no individual; everybody is doing it for each other."
SOPHOMORE GUARD J.J. THOMPSON
On team's goals this season
"We're looking to make the NCAA Tournament. We just need to take it game by game."
On the team's youth
"We're a very young team. This year we only have one senior and that's Leon Gibson. We all play hard and we like each other. That's the best part."
On freshman forward Danuel House
"He's very athletic and very long. He just needs to work hard and put it all together."
On what fans can expect
"Just to play hard every night, distribute the ball, and be a leader on the court."
On this team's talent
"We have a lot of talent, so we just need to try to put on a show every night."
On keys to success
"We need to play up-tempo, with speed defense and rebounding."
On team's chemistry
"We have more chemistry. We play together and talk to each other."