What does this Ireland trip mean to the team?
“This is definitely unique to us. I don’t know what to compare it to. We haven’t done it. You really can’t compare it. It’s interesting. You have the 9 o’clock practice in middle of July, I haven’t done this before, our guys haven’t done it either. July, I don’t think anyone is at the top of their game.”
Why hold an open practice in July?
“It was different. It felt different. We want complete focus, concentrate, and don’t want any distractions. We want to have as much focus as we can. This is different for us. Steve (Pederson) talked about having some donors as well.”
Will you have open practices in Ireland?
“I have no idea. We have a bunch of things set up--it’s the highest ranked team they’ve ever had over there. Mr. Rooney and the connections between Pittsburgh and Ireland. There’s a few Irish people here in Pittsburgh, I think. It’s terrific for the University, for UPMC, Mr. Rooney, the Steelers, and for our guys. It’ll be great.”
How much do the extra practices now help to the regular season?
“If you break it down, you have 10 practices. You want everybody out there. The more they’re out there, the more benefit you get to it. You just want to stay healthy. I think for the freshmen, gives them a little bit of a head start, but you have (Cameron Wright and J.J. Moore) plus Aron (Nwanko). I think there’s some advantages, but you still have to go play the games in November and December. I’m really happy with how its going.”
Do you expect to have all the freshmen for the trip?
“I’m sure that they are. They’re in classes. With our schedule and when our summer school starts, there’s a fine line. We couldn’t get Isaiah (Epps) into (summer classes), and those (Wright and Moore) obviously could. We do have to have a final grade by then. We’ll be cutting it close. I do anticipate them going. We feel pretty good about it.”
What are your thoughts on the expanded field of 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament?
“It was interesting what they came up with, the final eight teams, and the 68, with the ‘First Four.’ I guess they couldn’t come up with more of a compromise than what they came up with. The high major schools wanted the last seed teams playing against each other. The other schools wanted the last at-larges. They came up with a compromise, probably the fairest thing to do. I think it’s pretty good. It’s pretty good to promote those first four games. They got a name for it already. They’re probably feeling pretty good about themselves. I thought 96 was something. I was surprised by how quickly the number jumped to 96. I was more surprised when they went from 96 down to 68. We’re fortunate enough to be in the tournament for a number of years.”
Is it personally exciting to travel to where your ancestors came from?
“I am Irish. All four grandparents came from Ireland. I’ve been there before. It wasn’t based on that. I won’t even get to where my family is. My family is from the country. I just think ,with Mr. Rooney, the Steelers, our connection to UPMC, it just seemed like the right place. I’m excited about going to Ireland. We have some nice things worked out for our players as well. I’ve talked to some (distant relatives) over there. They might come over there, cousins. I haven’t been there since I was a kid. It’s far down the list on reasons to go. It just seemed like the right thing to do.”
Were there any other countries you explored taking the team?
"We looked at France, possibly Spain. With Chevy (Troutman) and Ricardo Greer were playing over there and doing well. It might be nice to play against their teams and try to line up something there. Chevy didn’t end up going back to France. The pro teams aren’t together in the middle of August, so they’re not going to get their team together. You’ll probably see that in Ireland as well.”
What are your thoughts on not being able to offer prospects until August of their senior year?
“I’m on a couple of those committees and we had talked about that. To wait until their senior year, that’s really late in the process. I think it probably needs addressed. We spend too many times on rules, talking about them. There’s 4,000, 5,000 college basketball players. I think sometimes we make rules that affects one guy but not (everyone). That’s way late in the process and very hard to monitor, whether guys are offered or not offered.”
How are Gary McGhee and Dante Taylor progressing?
“Gary, is easily the best center we’ve ever had, defensively. That’s half the game right there. That can’t be underestimated. Dante was a very good defensive player as a freshman. That didn’t get talked about nearly enough. That’s half of it. We’re going to get very good defense out of that position. Don’t underestimate that. The interesting thing about both those guys, is it will be compared to DeJuan (Blair) in his sophomore year, Aaron (Gray) in his senior year. Compare it to their first year as the starting center. The bottom line is they’re very good defensive players, as good as we’ve ever had from that position.”