Q&A: Troy State media conference

Published on Thursday, March 16, 2017

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Phil Cunningham is the Troy State Head Basketball Coach

Phil Cunningham is the Troy State Head Basketball Coach


Troy State media conference

FrIday's game

7:20 p.m. No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Troy, TBS

THE MODERATOR: We've got our student-athletes from Troy -- Wesley Person, Jordon Varnado, DeVon Walker and Jeremy Hollimon.

Q. Guys, what does it mean to be able to make the NCAA Tournament? And also what challenge is there in playing a good ACC champion in Duke?

WESLEY PERSON: It's a great feeling playing in Greenville, having a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. It's been our dream and our goal for the whole season, and just to finally make it here, it's been a good ride.

And I know we have a tough matchup ahead of us tomorrow, but we've prepared for the game just like any other and our team is confident. And we'll be prepared and ready for tomorrow.

JORDON VARNADO: Like Wesley said, it's just an unreal experience to be here right now and for the opportunity to be here. And like he's been saying, we've been preparing for the game for tomorrow. It's going to be a real great show tomorrow.

DEVON WALKER: Piggybacking off of what these guys said, it's just a blessing to be here. As these guys said, we've prepared and we're going to bring it tomorrow.

JEREMY HOLLIMON: I honestly feel it's a blessing to be here and as far as the opponent, it doesn't matter who we play, we'll be ready.

Q. Wes, when do you hope the wow factor of being here kind of wears off?

WESLEY PERSON: I guess when we step out there tomorrow for warm-ups, and they finally tip the ball off and we played a couple of possessions, the wow factor be gone. Just feel like a normal game, and we just gotta be ready to play our game.

JORDON VARNADO: Like Wes said, when the ball tip off tomorrow we'll be ready and focused for the game.

DEVON WALKER: For me I hope it wears off when we get on the bus heading over here. I hope we approach it just like any other game which I know is kind of impossible but that's my hope.

JEREMY HOLLIMON: I'm still in wow. I'm going to remember this forever. (Laughter).

Q. You've been on this stage before. You've been to a Final Four. What can you do to tell these guys what they're going to experience tomorrow?

DEVON WALKER: Just all week really and in practice, just telling these guys not to let the experience take over the game.

We still have a game to play. There's still a lot of things that's surrounding us, a lot of, as you said, the wow factor. There's a lot that's going on. So we don't want to let those things overshadow what we came here to do and that's to play basketball.

Q. Your experience to get here, what's it been like going from Florida now to Troy?

DEVON WALKER: It's been crazy. It's been crazy. I couldn't have wrote a better story. It's all the blessing to be around these guys.

I've been on some great teams. Florida, played under Coach D. Did a lot of great things, but this right here is in the top with it. Like I said, I just can't imagine coming to Troy and being able to have this opportunity.

Q. Wes, I asked you about Brantley a couple of times already, but just what does it feel like now being here, a kid from Brantley, small town, I-A basketball, and now you're here trying to play on the big stage?

WESLEY PERSON: It feels a whole lot different coming from here to Brantley, Brantley being a population about 500 people, and coming here somewhat of a big city, and just to see all the hype around the March Madness. And finally to be here, soak up all the feeling of having a chance to play in the tournament and playing against Duke tomorrow.

Q. Jordon, your brother plays in the NBA. What advice has he given you about this moment?

JORDON VARNADO: Just to take it all in. Just be focused, prepared, lock in mentally and just try to get your legs and body back in right shape and right form.

Q. Wesley, I wanted to ask you just how many 3s you think you'll score tomorrow? And what's the challenge of going up against a Duke defense that allows under 30 percent from that area?

WESLEY PERSON: Well, I'm not worried about how many 3s I'm going to make tomorrow, but just going to continue to play within the offense. My teammates, we all do a good job finding each other when we're open. So I know we'll get looks that we've been getting all season.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.

COACH CUNNINGHAM: We're obviously very excited to be here. It's been a whirlwind since we won on Sunday and made the tournament and got home late Sunday night. But it's been a great experience at this point and very good problem to have, everything we've got going on. So just really excited here, looking forward to getting down to business and playing some tomorrow night.

Q. I'm wondering, this week your program is in a spotlight it's not always in the rest of the year. Is there anything you're going to do or ways you're going to do it, maybe it's recruiting, exposure, anything, this week just because it's here and you have it?

COACH CUNNINGHAM: The thing about the day and age we all live in now, it's all instant news and we've got a tremendous media staff, and they're pumping information out like crazy. So the thing about in terms of recruiting, I think it's probably helping now. But it will really help us down the line some, and when we have time to go back and reflect and use it to our advantage. But social media right now everything is instant. Our stuff is out there everywhere.

Q. Wes Person had a phenomenal tournament out in New Orleans. How do you think his momentum carries out here?

COACH CUNNINGHAM: He's been a guy consistent throughout his career. But he really stepped it up in New Orleans, is on a roll. Confident young man since the day he walked in, didn't feel the fear of a freshman. He started every game except for one in his career when he was late for a shootaround or something one day, overslept.

But outside that he's been on the floor from day one. He's never showed one ounce of fear, and I don't think he will tomorrow night. He'll be ready to go and they'll be zeroed in on him like all defenses we played against.

But we certainly use him, the way he's shooting the ball the way he's playing right now, we could use that to our advantage, if he can stay hot like that.

Q. Being on this big stage, what's it like having a guy like DeVon Walker, who's been here before, been to a Final Four. What kind of influence does he have on the team?

COACH CUNNINGHAM: The thing that stands out to me that DeVon has helped us with this week is just a calming presence. When I look at him, his reaction, starting in New Orleans as we advanced in the tournament, he never wavered from an emotional standpoint.

He was the same guy day after day, not too high, not too low. And that's carried over from Sunday on. He just hasn't shown a lot of emotion either way. He's been right down the middle of the road, which is what we try to preach every day anyway.

But I think if I'm a guy on our team right now and I look at him and I know what he's been through as a player -- the locker rooms he's been in, the way he's been on teams that have advanced to the extent that they did at Florida while he was there -- and I'm on our team and I look at him and I see that he's not very effective. I think it's really been a calming presence for the rest of our team because he's been the leader of our team. Even though he was a grad transfer we challenged him to be the leader of our team and he's done that. To answer your question again, I keep going back to he's been a calming presence for our guys.

Q. You've played on now two extremes, one in Dothan where the lights basically don't work in the arena, and now you're here at the NCAA Tournament. Where does your team come from the moment it started to finishing middle of the pack of the Sun Belt and kind of getting hot when the time's right?

COACH CUNNINGHAM: It's been a year filled with a lot of ups and down, but from the start we thought this team had a chance to be really good. I keep saying I look back on the trip we made out when we played at USC when they were undefeated, ranked in the Top 25.

We took a three-point lead with about a minute to go and felt like we had a chance to win. We knew we had the ingredients to be really good. I don't think what's happened here in the last week, I don't think it's been something many people thought would happen. But we've been pretty good.

You look -- we've beaten the best teams in our league. UT Arlington, you saw what they did last night against BYU. So our league's been really good this year and we've beaten most of the better teams.

And just to win our league shows you that we have what it takes to be here. But it's been a climb. But in the last month or so we've been playing at the highest level we have all year. It's all sort of come together at the right time.

Q. Obviously you're playing a very good Duke team tomorrow in that game. But does it help you to kind of fly under the radar? Does that give you a little bit of an advantage for you guys being disrespected in that way?

COACH CUNNINGHAM: Probably so. I don't know that disrespected, I don't think they feel like they've been disrespected. Again, it's been such a whirlwind since we made the tournament and just the preparation.

I think the thing that stands out to our team is I think they're so excited about being here, but not only just excited about being a part of the tournament, but I think as a competitor, they're excited about playing the game. Ultimately that's what it comes down to.

All this hype and everything that goes with it, that's a great part of the process. But ultimately, they're excited about walking out there on the court and playing with a brand name like Duke.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.




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