Watch as Indiana head coach Mike Woodson and players Trayce Jackson-Davis, Xavier Johnson and Race Thompson met with the media on Monday evening in Dayton.
Further below is a transcript of the media session.
Indiana (20-13) and Wyoming (25-8) tip at around 9:10 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday at the University of Dayton Arena.
Q. Trayce, when we talked to you a year ago this time you admitted you had one foot out of the door before Coach Woodson came in. You said you were thinking about life after Indiana but you wanted to come back for moments like these. Is there validation in a moment like this, or do you just sort of think like there’s not validation until the journey’s over and maybe you won some games and that sort of thing?
TRAYCE JACKSON-DAVIS: Even just what happened in the Big Ten Tournament solidified me came back and how it was such a great decision, just the joy that that brought me and doing that with my teammates and experiencing that was just huge.
But, again, you can’t get too high, you can’t get too high on yourself because still have a lot of work to do. And we’re playing here today, we’re playing tomorrow. So we’re ready to get up and go.
Q. Race, is there some benefit playing a bunch of games right in a row and getting right back on the floor here without any of that, any lulls, that confidence you guys built up over the weekend, just carrying it over?
XAVIER JOHNSON: We’ve got a lot of confidence coming in, playing a whole bunch of games back to back is important and it tells us about our legs. Now that we’ve got a day, well, you’ve got to win to go to the next day. And we’ve got a day off. So it’s going to be a better team.
RACE THOMPSON: There’s a benefit to not having too much time between games. We played well in Indy and hopefully we can put that together and carry it over here and get a win.
Q. Trayce, the benefit of, during the season, there’s so many close games you couldn’t close out. But to be battle tested last week and find a way to get through and bust the door down, what kind of confidence does it give you knowing that these games can be just like that?
TRAYCE JACKSON-DAVIS: It’s a really big confidence booster, honestly. I think the Big Ten is a gauntlet. We competed with almost every team every night. And finally getting over the hump in the Big Ten Tournament and winning a few of those games I think really boosted our confidence.
Q. Xavier, your thoughts on the two guys sitting up there with you, they both had the opportunity to leave, in the portal and all that. They stayed. Give me a player’s view — what have they meant to this team and this program with you guys getting back to the NCAA Tournament?
XAVIER JOHNSON: They’ve meant a lot. When I first got here, they opened up with close arms. And we’re close. They kept everything close, everything was family from day one. And they’re a big part of our program. And they’re the next up.
Q. Xavier, yesterday you tweeted they’ll “pay for it after the Selection Show.” Just kind of wanted to get your thoughts on where the committee evaluated your resumé and if that’s going to make you play with more of a chip on your shoulder?
XAVIER JOHNSON: Definitely going to make us play with a chip on our shoulder. I’m not disappointed we didn’t make it — we made it. We came ready to play. And the two guys next to me, we’re going to get the team ready to play as well. Didn’t put a chip on just my shoulder; it put the team — we’re all going to play with a chip on our shoulder, honestly.
Q. Trayce or Race, what have you learned about Wyoming in the last 24 hours? They have a physical post score. I know you’ve seen a lot in the Big Ten, but your thoughts in matching up with Graham Ike?
TRAYCE JACKSON-DAVIS: He’s a great player, lefty, likes to back down, go to the basket. They also have a point guard who’s 6’7″ and he likes to back down as well. So we’ve got to be locked in on defense, take away the stuff they want to do and just communicate with each other. I think we have the best defense in the league, in Big Ten, and one of the best in the country. We’re just going to have to show it.
Q. X, Trayce, the pick and roll you guys have started to use more and more over the couple weeks; it seems like it’s added a lot to your offense. How did the chemistry come together with that, and how much do you think that has expanded what you guys have been able to do offensively over the last couple of weeks?
XAVIER JOHNSON: Honestly we’ve been doing it since day one, me going off a on ball screen, getting down here — and I see Trayce running off the screen and jumping, jumping as high as he can to get the ball. It’s amazing to me how athletic this dude is, because when I first came here I was actually shellshocked, shellshocked how high he can jump.
TRAYCE JACKSON-DAVIS: What X said, we’ve had that connection. But I think overall, in the last few weeks, we’ve talked with Coach Woodson, especially with a lot of bigger guys we’re playing against — bigger, slower guys — I think the pick and roll is working a lot better.
Q. Race, with these quick turnarounds, what’s it like having a guy like Clif Marshall to get you guys prepared, get you hydrated and get your bodies in shape?
RACE THOMPSON: Coach Clif is always pushing electrolytes, making us stretch, making us foam roll, giving us massage guns, and just setting up stuff to help us take care of our bodies. He definitely helps us a lot and learning about taking care of our bodies. He always tells us to be a pro. So with him, he really just gives us all the tools we need to do that.
Q. Can you take me back to when you guys were real little kids playing the game and how many times you played this tournament in your mind? Second question, emotionally, when you went back to your dorm room or your apartment back on campus what was your emotional moment? You’re like, yeah, I’m going dancing, stuff like that. Were you fist pumping, what was that like?
TRAYCE JACKSON-DAVIS: So back when I was a little kid I always just dreamed of playing in the championship game and hitting free throws for the win — I won’t say what team it was, because I will tell you it wasn’t Indiana. But, yeah.
It’s always been a dream playing in the tournament. And finally getting that opportunity I think is really cool. But after we got selected, I was really relieved because I was really anxious leading up to it, especially going through it. Not seeing our name until the final bracket was a little nerve racking. But finally having that pressure off your shoulders and you’re finally playing for something, playing for a national title I think is really cool.
XAVIER JOHNSON: I just always watched it. I can’t really say what team either. But I mean, once I saw our name called, I mean, I think a lot of people seen my reaction. I was kind of — I was happy that we made it but I was disappointed where we fell at. But I’m happy to be playing and ready to compete.
RACE THOMPSON: I was definitely excited. My whole life I’ve watched the NCAA Tournament. Dreamed of playing in for a national championship.
Q. What team?
RACE THOMPSON: I just wanted to play. I just wanted to play in it for real. And then just that sigh of relief when we finally made it. Like Trayce said, it was one of the last teams to be called off. I mean, definitely just felt good to make the tournament. That’s what we set out to do this year. So we’ll take care of it.
Q. Xavier or Race, when Trayce found another level in the second half of the Michigan game, what was the impact to the rest of the team at that point and moving forward for the rest of the tournament?
XAVIER JOHNSON: I mean, it was big time. Because we know what he’s capable of. When Coach jumped on him and said something to him, I think it just hit — it hit everybody in the whole room. And everybody just had a different energy coming out in the second half and the rest of the games we played.
Q. Race, you’ve been here longer than anybody, waiting for this moment longer than anybody. What in your mind clicked these last couple of weeks to make this team different than any of the other teams that you were on before?
RACE THOMPSON: We were right there, a couple of teams that have been on. We weren’t really — been on the last four in, been there. But this team really felt like we could really feel like we were right there, we were able to play in the tournament. We really just talked about locking in for a month and taking care of business. And we ended up doing that. And now we’re playing in the NCAA Tournament. It’s really exciting for us.
Q. This is a question for Race and Trayce, two-parter. Looked like, it was after the Michigan game, Race, you kind of gave Trayce a hug in that postgame line. What do you guys remember about that moment? And also what has been your guys’ favorite part of seeing each other grow kind of throughout your college years?
RACE THOMPSON: I gave him that hug because me personally I didn’t have my best game that game. Luckily Jordan Geronimo was able to step up and have a great game. Trayce had a great second half. Xavier had a second half. I didn’t play much in the second half. I was just telling him, yes, bro, like, thank you, thank you.
But, definitely. I’ve seen Trayce grow not only on the basketball court but just like in life, it’s fun to watch. And I think he can say the same.
TRAYCE JACKSON-DAVIS: What Race said. I don’t even remember it really; I was so amped up. And just surreal that we won. But at the same time just watching Race grow over the years and especially just from last year to this year, because last year he was already such a big presence. But even going further and how much he’s grown his game from 3-point shooting to just rebounding. And overall he’s been one of our best players on the team. I think it’s been huge for us. And we wouldn’t be in the position we are without him.
Q. Trayce, you said something like you took about 20 minutes in your first conversation with Mike Woodson or something like that for you to decide, hey, this is the guy I want to play for. What was it and sort of how has that played out throughout this last year with your relationship and developing under Coach Woodson?
TRAYCE JACKSON-DAVIS: I think Coach Woodson, the big emphasis with him was family. And I trusted him from the get go and what he was planning on doing, what our goals were. And one of those goals was winning a Big Ten title. And we were one game short of that. And then winning a national title.
And we have a chance to compete in that. So right now there’s nothing wrong. And I’m really glad I decided to come back.
Q. Trayce, growing up in Indiana, you know how much basketball means to Hoosiers. I know you’re playing for your teammates. You’re playing for each other. But do you feel that sleeping giant of the IU fan base how much this means to get back into the tournament after such a long drought? What kind of pride do you take in carrying that banner?
TRAYCE JACKSON-DAVIS: It’s a huge pride, honestly. Especially just you can feel a different type of energy in the air, especially after that Big Ten Tournament run that we had. It’s when we’re playing good ball, it’s just the whole state gets behind us. And I think it’s really cool.
And I know that now, coming here today, we’re going to see a lot of red in the stands. And I honestly can’t wait to get back on the floor, honest.
Q. Xavier, to who or to what do you credit your midseason acceleration of your level of play?
XAVIER JOHNSON: I mean, three weeks ago my grandfather died. And I mean it just hit me. Hit me a lot. I was playing well before that. And he’s one of my biggest fans. And I know he’s still watching. And I dedicate my game to him.
Q. X, Trayce mentioned their point guard, Hunter Maldonado, a 6-7 guy, seems like it’s kind of a contrast in styles, you like to get up and run; he plays slow and deliberate. What’s your read on that matchup at this point? And what’s impressed you about him and how do you see that contrast playing out?
XAVIER JOHNSON: I believe he’s a good player, playing in the Midwest, averaging 18 points, six assists. That’s big-time.
But I don’t think he’s played against the type of guard that’s actually going to pressure him a lot up the floor. And so I’m just ready to compete tomorrow against him.
Q. Wanted to rewind, talking about the pick-and-roll. You talked about how good Trayce is around the rim, how quick he can get up, the offense and stuff like that. But how much have you seen him improved in the start of the plays — bringing the screen, hand off, his footwork and getting into the roll? And the chemistry between the two of you, knowing where you are when you’re attacking that way?
XAVIER JOHNSON: Honestly, it’s just God-given talent for him. He honestly always had it. We just started doing it more and more constantly down the stretch, and figured it was something that was working. Now we’re going to keep working on it, keep doing the two-man game and get my other teammates involved as well because we’ve got great all-around pieces as well.
Q. All you guys know that Mike Woodson is Indiana basketball. What has he brought to the program this year?
TRAYCE JACKSON-DAVIS: Honestly, Coach Woodson to me has just brought a light. I feel like Indiana basketball has been in the darkness for so long now, five or six years drought. No tournament. Not even competing. So just him coming in and just even in his first year, doing the things that he’s done like beating Purdue who has beat us eight straight times. Beating Michigan.
And then making the tournament. I think it’s just huge not only for him but for the state and for everyone that roots for us. And so I think he’s given this program hope. And I can’t wait to see what happens in the future.
RACE THOMPSON: I would say I agree with Trayce, the program has been in the dark for a while. We haven’t made the tournament. Coming in, that was one of his main messages, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re not going to set our goals any shorter than the Big Ten championship and the national championship. That’s what we’ll set out do every year.
We fell short of the Big Ten Championship this year but we made the NCAA Tournament, have a chance to play for the national championship. He brings that light to Indiana basketball.
Q. First question is for Xavier. I’m here in the D.C. area. I know you played at O’Connell. Just want to talk about your journey a little bit, kind of who helped you get to this level, anybody that you want to thank from back home?
XAVIER JOHNSON: First person I want to start with is my dad. My dad, he joined me eight hours a day when I was a sophomore in high school. When I was told I wasn’t going to make varsity my sophomore year, he pushed my limits honestly. That’s the first person I want to start with. The second and third person is Keith Stephenson (phonetic) and Joe (phonetic), my high school coach and my AAU coach.
Q. You played three games in three days. They’re all pretty intense, played a lot of minutes each game. What was it like physically in regards from fatigue factor Saturday night when you were done. What have you done between then and now to have fresh legs tomorrow night.
TRAYCE JACKSON-DAVIS: With all the work we put in this summer, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal for me. And then just going on that run, I was actually just ready to play. I was ready to go after the first game. I was ready to play the next one. After the next one I was ready to play the next one. I think that’s how all of our teammates were.
And even with the Iowa game we had, I feel like we were still competing at a really high level. And I feel like everyone was wanting to win, and we set out to win. I don’t think fatigue is big for us when you’re trying to win a championship.
Q. Race, you guys have had I think five straight games have gone down to the wire here. You won two, lost three. I’m curious about that experience and how that can help you if you have another game like that on Tuesday night?
RACE THOMPSON: Yeah, those games definitely help. We sit down and break down the film after every game. And we see things that beat us and we see things that help us win the games. And at the end of the day for us we end up beating ourselves most of the time. And that’s something that we watch on film and that coming to the NCAA Tournament that we’ve learned and can’t let that happen.
COACH WOODSON: I’m thrilled to death to be back in the Big Dance, and the 17 guys that have worn this season has had a lot to do with that. The fact that they gave me an opportunity to coach ’em and stay on board means a lot to me from the coaching standpoint.
Like I told them when we sat in Assembly Hall yesterday and got the message that we were going to the Big Dance, it was great to celebrate, but the celebration is behind us. We’ve got to look forward. And I thought we had a pretty good practice today to start preparing for Wyoming.
Q. You were a former student-athlete at IU, led your team to the Sweet 16. What does it mean to you now that you’re able to coach this team?
COACH WOODSON: It means a great deal. I mean, when Scott Dolson, our AD, called and asked to speak to me when I was in New York as an assistant with the Knicks, I was thrilled to death.
He flew into New York, sat down with me, and he and I had a great two-and-a-half, three-hour meeting. And one thing led to another. And a couple of weeks later I was offered the job.
For me it’s like a dream come true. I’ve been in basketball a long time. I’ve worn a number of hats as a player, as a head coach, as an assistant coach. But to be able to come back and coach your alma mater, a place where you really — where the university was really good to me as a player, when I played for Coach Knight. And I think I played for probably the greatest college coach that’s ever graced the floor in Bob Knight. It’s like a dream come true. So it’s good to be back.
Q. What do you remember about your experience in the NCAA Tournament as a player?
COACH WOODSON: It’s a grind. Preparation is so important. Yes, it’s exciting times, but everybody wants to win, man. Nobody wants to go home. That’s why it’s so competitive. That’s why when March Madness rolls around, you see all these great games. And you just walk away shaking your head, saying, wow, that was a hell of a game. It’s just different playing for a Big Ten title, it’s different.
The play is so intense. And that’s how it should be. It’s like NBA playoff. The level of play just goes to a different level.
Q. You’ve known Race and Trayce now for almost a year. What is your favorite part about coaching them? And what particularly do they do that embodies what you want this program to be about?
COACH WOODSON: Well, when I took the job over, and Trayce allowed me to coach him, I told him in front of his parents, that I’m not an easy coach. And I’m going to challenge you and push you. And if you allow me to do that, I think you will grow as a player. And he’s done that. He’s allowed me to actually coach and push him.
And I know there’s days he walks out of that gym pissed at me. But, hey, at the end of the day, it’s just coaching, man. As long as he knows that I love him and I’m in his corner, that means more to me than anything.
Race has been a tremendous, tremendous player this year for this team. I mean, when I took this job, I was picking coaches that were here about who can do this and who can do that. And I had done some of my own due diligence on watching film. And the one thing that came out of my coach’s mouth that had been here, well, I don’t know if you want this guy to handle the ball that much and he’s a good player, he’s going to work hard.
And I told our guys it’s our job to get him where he’s comfortable in handling the basketball. And it’s our job to get him comfortable in shooting 3s.
He’s had all the other intangible parts going for him. And he’s added that to his game this year, and it’s been a treat to see his development. It’s been nice and I think we’ve all benefited from that as a team, I think.
Q. Going back to your relationship with Trayce, you’ve been a Big Ten MVP. You’ve been I imagine what people would describe as the face of the program. That’s where he is now. How have you seen him navigate that, handle the pressure, the expectation, the attention, all those different kinds of things?
COACH WOODSON: It’s been a roller coaster ride for him. I mean, I’ve watched him, really, as of a month ago it was so intense, you could see it in his face. I mean, if these guys would stay the hell away from social media, life might be a little bit better. Really.
But he’s dealing with the fact that he’s a guy who can possibly go to the NBA. He could possibly be an All-American — all these things are going through this young man’s mind. Can you win the Big Ten? Can you win a couple of games in the Big Ten Tournament?
There’s a lot of things that are at stake. And I get it. It’s a part of playing this game. And my whole thing to him is, hey, you can’t wear it, you’ve got to cherish the moment and still grind and work. I mean, you can’t run from it.
And I thought he stepped up big time, man, in the Big Ten Tournament. I mean, he took it to another level, which was kind of nice to see.
Q. Sometimes a team’s identity at the very start of the season, sometimes it evolves and changes. As we sit here right now, what is the identity of this team as you go into the tourney?
COACH WOODSON: Defense has always been our identity. And I made that very clear when I took the job, that we had to establish a defensive system because offensively I just didn’t know where it was going to come from. And I knew if we did that we would put ourselves in a tremendous position to win games. Unfortunately, we’ve lost a lot of games down the stretch.
And I take blame for a lot of that because these young guys, they still are learning and trying to figure me out. And I get it. But defense is where we’ve been good in terms of being able to compete all year.
As we go into this tournament we’re going to have to stay at that level because I’ve always felt defense wins titles. I mean, it gives you an opportunity to, I look at it that way.
Q. You’ve coached a number of NBA playoff series. I guess this would be like a Game 7 or elimination game. Anyone you reached out to in the college world for advice or anything that you can draw from that in terms of maybe your approach in your first NCAA Tournament game?
COACH WOODSON: No, I got calls from Coach Calipari and Larry Brown, two of my closest friends. They wished me well. But they don’t need to give me — at the end of the day, man, I’ve coached enough basketball and been around it a long time, man. It’s about getting these guys pumped and ready to go, man, and sustaining it over a 40-minute ball game. That’s what it’s going to be about.
Q. We haven’t had a chance to talk much about your interaction with your three assistant coaches a whole lot this year. But what from those three guys have you gained and learned across the course of this season as well in regards to working so well together as a staff?
COACH WOODSON: Again, they all have been in the college game. And I’ve spent all my life in the NBA game. But I’ve always believed coaching is coaching. I don’t care what level you coach at. But they have helped me navigate through this college season from recruiting, the things that I can do from recruiting. I mean, they’ve helped me so much.
Things I can say and do and not do. It’s a lot of little things when it comes to the NCAA that you’ve got to be careful of. And I took the compliance test, man, it’s tricky. (Laughter) it’s a lot of things that I shake my head and say, okay, wow.
But, no, they’ve been able to help me. They’ve been great in terms of practice plans and helping me. At the end of the day, we all get together and we come up with a plan. And I make the final decision on how we’re going to go into that game and play it. And live or die they’re going to have to roll with me and pretty much been a learning curve for them, too, trying to get to know my style and what I’m about from a coaching standpoint.
And I like to think that I’ve helped them in that area grow a little bit as coaches. I always believed as a head coach you work with your assistant coaches to put them in position one day that they might be a head coach. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.
Q. What was Jordan Geronimo able to do in practice today? Do you anticipate him playing tomorrow?
COACH WOODSON: I think he’s going to play. He worked a little bit today in practice. So we’ll see how it goes. I’ll get a better feel when he wakes up in the morning, see where he is.
Q. There’s a lot of talk about as the season grinds on, some coaches like to keep players off their feet a little bit, not practice as hard as they did. What’s your philosophy on that? And how has the last week with so many games impacted your approach?
COACH WOODSON: I’m still learning. We haven’t grinded as much based on all the games that have been coming at us. But I still always try to get conditioning in. I think that’s — our conditioning is fun and it’s with the basketball. So that’s every day.
But the banging and going up and down, we’ve kind of gotten away from that a little bit based on the fact that we’ve had so many injuries. I mean, people don’t mention it.
I mean, we lost Galloway for 14 games. And Rob for 10 games, I think it is. When we started this journey, they were a major piece to the puzzle. And I like to think if I had them all the way through, man, things would have been a little bit different.
But that’s a part of basketball. But it’s good that we got them back now.
Q. What have you learned about Wyoming at this point, what concerns you about them?
COACH WOODSON: Very, very well-coached. Big team. Start a 6’7″, 6’6″, 6’7″ guard, that should tell you a lot. Hunter is as good as they come at the point guard spot. They’ve got a big presence inside with Ike. And they’ve got perimeter guys in Xavier and Drake and Oden, guys that can make shots.
So they’re well-balanced, and you don’t win 25 games not being well-balanced. So we’ve got to commit for 40 minutes. It’s how I look at it on both ends of the floor, compete, man, in order to come out here with a win.
Q. Trayce mentioned when we were talking to him that he had basically come to you recently approached you about running more pick-and-roll, that he thought that was something that was going to work. When did that conversation happen? How did he approach you? And do you like your guys coming with that kind of input with game plans?
COACH WOODSON: I think it’s great. I’m always open, always had an open door policy with our players. If you go back and look at the beginning of our season and probably midway through our season, we try to run a lot of pick-and-rolls, but X wasn’t there yet at the time. And X has grown so much that it’s allowed me to play what I came here as a coach to play offense is play some good pick-and-roll along with post-up.
It’s got to be a balance in the mixture. And we struggled in the pick-and-roll early on in the season. And I just kept piecing it in here and there, here and there. And now X, he’s grown. He’s figured it out. And when I say figure it out, he’s figured it out to a point where he knows when he’s got it. He knows when he doesn’t have it. He knows when the lob or the pocket pass is there, the throwback, all of that takes time. And he’s starting to figure it out. That’s why you’re starting to see more pick-and-roll play.
Q. Trayce talked about fatigue not being an issue. And you talked about conditioning, when you’re playing four games in the span of six days how do you mentally prepare your team for that kind of schedule?
COACH WOODSON: It’s what it is. I mean, really. You can’t run from it. You guys as media, you put it out there, well, maybe fatigue. Guys, you’ve got four games in four days. Hey, this is what you signed up for. And again I say it, these guys are 19, 18, 20-year-old young men. They’ll be just fine. You just gotta go play.
Q. I’m sure it’s different in the college game than the pro game, but we see so many runs this time of year that can determine a game. Do you have a formula how to end a run or take a timeout letting guys play through it, or is it just a gut feeling?
COACH WOODSON: College game you don’t have enough timeouts to me. The NBA, we have a lot of timeouts to kill runs. I’ve gone through this season, man, and I can’t — I think it was a game on the road with somebody, might have been Minnesota. And everybody was barking about, you know, call timeout, kill the run R well, sometimes as coaches, I want to see who is going to step up and kill the run themselves for our team.
And Minnesota, we were able to do that without me burning all the timeouts. My coaches always tell me I’ve got to have at least one or two at the end. And all the time I’ve coached in the NBA, I’ve only used my timeouts all of them one time.
And so sometimes you’ve got to put it in the players’ hands and feel good about it. And then sometimes you’ve got to make the move, call the timeout to kill the run.
Q. You’ve mentioned a couple of times this season just about not only wanting to create great basketball players, but also turn them into men and people that are going to go out in the world and society. Why is that something that’s important to you?
COACH WOODSON: Because a guy by the name of Bob Knight did that for me. And I owe it to these young men to do the same thing. Basketball is such a short-lived career in terms of dribbling the ball up and down the floor. These young guys don’t know that right now. They think that it’s something that’s going to last the rest of their life. But there’s going to come a time when you can’t do it anymore.
And that time comes very quickly. There’s not a lot of LeBrons and Kareem Abdul-Jabbars that have played 19, 20 years in the league, just doesn’t happen, if you’re fortunate enough to get there. You’ve got to rely on your education, which is first and foremost with me, and then basketball is secondary. And if you’re fortunate enough to move on, great. If not, it’s my job to try to see that you go out in the world, workforce and figure it out, if I can help you in that area.