Kevin McGuff at Big Ten Basketball Media Day
COACH McGUFF: Great. Good morning, everyone. Great day to be in Chicago, obviously, as we get closer to the basketball season. I really like our team. Obviously, I like the way we finished last year and the way we were playing. We're still -- I still feel like we're young, though. We had so many young players last year, but they certainly grew as the season went.
I think we had a really good off-season. We took our kids to Brazil for 10 days. Had 10 days of practice prior to that, which really helped us improve and get off to a great start with our practices this year. And I'm looking forward to the year.
Q. I had a coach once tell me the good news is we got five starters coming back; the bad news is we got five starters coming back. Are there downfalls to having everybody maybe thinking that they've got their roles? Or have you explained to them that they have to fight to keep them?
COACH McGUFF: Yeah, we really kind of have created a culture of competition within our program. So each year is a new year, new beginning, new opportunity to build new identity for the team. And so our players understand that. And I would tell that you there's a good chance we won't start the same kids. But we do have a lot of kids that are going to have meaningful roles, and I think at this point everyone's bought into the fact that they're going to be able to contribute to our success.
Q. Coach, with four double-figure scorers returning, you were just saying about how versatile your team is. How is the added depth going to enhance how you play this season?
COACH McGUFF: It's going to be interesting. You know, we played at a very fast pace last year, and so I'm hoping we can even play a little bit faster with more depth. And also we didn't do some of the things we wanted to do defensively, especially in the full court, that I think we can do now with more players.
Q. Last year I was really intrigued by Alexa Hart in the post as a freshman. In your estimation, how good can she be? I mean, you come from a history of post players who have dominated in this conference. Do you give her that mindset? Do you even put her in that category?
COACH McGUFF: You know, she's a really interesting story. It's because -- she really, to her credit, surprised me last year. I thought she would really impact us on the defensive end with her shot-blocking ability and her rebounding ability. But she came so far offensively.
And what I think she did, by the time she got to the end of the year -- she's really a unique player for her size. She's got great perimeter skills. It allows us to do some things that a lot of teams can't do. And so I think you'll see her, obviously, play around the basket with her size but do a lot more things away from the basket this year and should give us an opportunity to be a little different, a little more versatile with our team.
Q. Coach, last year was the first time back to the NCAA Tournament since 2012. And Kelsey Mitchell is the preseason pick for Player of the Year. With the confidence of those two things, how do you think that propels your squad this year?
COACH McGUFF: Well, I think our players gained a lot of confidence how we played late last year in the season, but also it's not like we accomplished so much that they're complacent. So I think they're hungry to get back and to have an opportunity to play in post season and advance.
We also have a very, very difficult nonconference schedule. So we're going to have to be ready to go right from the start, and, you know, great opportunities but going to be really, really challenging for us.
Q. Another dynamic that really intrigued me was Ameryst Alston. Prior to Kelsey Mitchell coming in, she was phenomenal, huge scorer, led the conference, that kind of thing. Does she have the Scottie Pippen-ism feeling or how does she fit in? I mean, is there enough basketball to go around, really, for your squad?
COACH McGUFF: She averaged 20 points a game last year in her own right and I think people sometimes forget that, but part of the issue -- or part of the thing that's good for us is we play at such a fast pace, there are a lot of shots and a lot of points to go around.
And the thing about Am and Kelsey both is, number one, they just want to win. And, secondly, they make their teammates better. And Am probably does that as well as anybody I've coached in a long time. She's got a great feel for the game. She's a great passer. She always seems to deliver the ball on time. I think Kelsey has really benefited from playing with Am and feeding off -- learning from her, from Kelsey being a very young player last year, Am being a very experienced player. So she has really, really impacted us in a lot of ways. And like I said, I think the biggest thing is she just makes people around her better.
Q. Coach, you talked a lot, and we all talk a lot, about the usual suspects. But can you comment on some of those players that you feel like will make an impact that are new to the mix this season?
COACH McGUFF: You know, I think one person that's not new to the mix but really impacts us in a huge way both ends of the floor is Cait Craft. She's a really tough kid. She plays great defense. She's got great leadership skills.
Shayla Cooper also played really well at the end of the year, and she's got the athleticism and physical play that can really be a huge benefit to us.
Also Kianna Holland, who sat out last year with a knee injury, gives us a really, really great three-point shooter and probably helps us spread the floor and gives us a little more balance with having a lot of guards that attack the basket so well.
I also like Makayla Waterman, who sat out last year with an injury. She's looked really good in the preseason.
Q. Looking at the stats from last year, Kelsey and Ameryst were one-two in minutes played this year. And I know you want to be able to give them more rest this year, but how hard is it to sit either one of them during -- for very long in a game?
COACH McGUFF: It's hard. I mean, they're so good. They do so many great things, and it's just -- you have them sitting on the bench. And even though you have somebody else in there, they're just not quite as good. And as a coach, that always makes you nervous when you don't have your best players on the floor.
But I would like to get to a point this year where we could get them a little bit more rest. And I think what you would see is, both of them, their efficiency go up a little bit. Last year, with our lack of depth, we had to live with them making mistakes while tired. Hopefully, we can take away some of those things.
Q. Wonder if you can speak on the leadership skills from Ameryst and Kelsey in terms of verbal communication of how you stress that in practice to keep kids talking in the days that there isn't much anymore?
COACH McGUFF: They both are very good at leading by example. Kelsey works as hard as any player I've ever been around. Ameryst too also. And Ameryst has a great feel for what we do and her knowledge of the game. She always seems to be in the right place. And the other part of it is we've both really worked with them and are pushing to challenge them to be more vocal leaders.
And Ameryst is the captain this year, along with Cait Craft and Kianna Holland. And so the expectation there will be that they can really give us some leadership. But Kelsey, being who she is, a lot of players look to her. All of our team have great respect for her. And she has a great feel for the game. And so we're really trying to push her to speak up a little bit more because the kids will really follow her and listen to her.
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