On Wednesday, the day before his 7-6 team tips off its American Athletic Conference slate at home against Houston, first-year Bulls men's coach Brian Gregory spent a few minutes with the media. Here are excerpts from our chat:
What kind of cohesion do you think this team has developed in non-conference play?
"When you look at our situation (nine new scholarship players), I think pretty good cohesiveness amongst the team, considering the challenges that we faced in terms of putting a team together and trying to get everybody on the same page. Obviously there's hills and valleys to that, but at the same time, I think everybody wants the same thing, it's just not always easy to get done. But we have a good group of guys and…the last 2 1/2 weeks of practices have been good."
Your freshmen (David Collins, Justin Brown) are really stepping up late. You even said they were the reason you won the last game (78-76 vs. Charlotte)
"I'm pleased obviously with David and Justin (18 combined points vs. Charlotte). It takes a very, very special freshman and a mature freshman not to have any dips, but these guys have been pretty steady. Maybe not always statistically, but in terms of their approach and in terms of them wanting to get better. The two greatest characteristics that both those guys have (is), they want to be coached and that's a positive, and they're willing to put in the time to get better. I mean, they're driven to get better. These next 2 1/2 months are gonna be important because they're gonna play significant minutes, but they have to keep getting better too. It can't just be about the minutes that they're getting. It's outside of that: the practice, the extra work, the film work."
What are your expectations with conference play?
"It's a challenge. Four out of our first five games are against…the top four teams in the league. One of the things we talked about after the non-conference (slate), we're pleased with some of the things we did. Obviously the win total, in historical context, our guys did something that was pretty darn good. We're not satisfied with it; you always have to temper both sides of that story. So you head into league play and the one thing we talk about, we've just got to keep taking care of and controlling what we can, and that would be…today's practice."
You come from two high-caliber leagues (Big Ten, ACC). What do you tell your kids about the higher competition?
"The biggest thing for us, one of the greatest traits of a great program is resiliency. You've got to put a win behind you. If we win a game, the program hasn't been turned around. And if we lose a game, the sky isn't falling and the program's gonna be shut down the next day. You've got to avoid those highs and lows in the position that we're at. Obviously every night, if you don't play well, you're in deep trouble in this league."
You've put together the program's first three-game win streak in three years. What's the mood around this team?
"You know what, the mood's been good. Were we ticked off and not feeling great about ourselves after a couple of losses? Yeah, and it should be that. But the guys have bounced back. I think the guys understand, again, that our preparation phase is very important, and (that goes) back to habits. … We saw some lost opportunities, but we're also — again — a much better team than we were on opening night against Florida Atlantic, there's no question about that."