Thursday, December 13, 2001

Crosstown messages to Thad Matta

Shootout a frantic 40 minutes

Advice to Thad Matta

Pete Gillen.
(File photo)
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        Dear Thad,

        Tie your hat on, because every play has great intensity. The game is at a frantic pace for 40 minutes. I wouldn't say it's fun — that's not the word that jumps into my mind. I'd say it's a passionate game. It's exciting. But fun is like an amusement park.

        Xavier-Cincinnati's a special rivalry. It's just something you have to go through. You can't really put into words the experience, other than every play is like the end of the world. It's bigger than life and death.

        People tried to tell me (my first year), but I didn't understand it. I was glad the game was finally over, then all of a sudden it was like chaos. Media were all over the place. It's a big thing in the city. Even people who don't know much about basketball or follow basketball, they're excited about the X-UC game. Politicians are there. Affluent people who are into other sports come to this game, because it's not just a basketball game, it's an event, it's a happening. It's like some type of giant Bruce Springsteen concert or something.

        The week before was the most fun. The bakery has UC cookies and X cookies. That doesn't happen any other place that I know. I miss the buildup to the game, the luncheon — that was fun.

        I enjoyed the game. You didn't have to get the players up, because they were excited. When you won, it was great because you had so-called bragging rights for a year. When you lost, you had to see them. It was a tough loss, even though it was only one loss.

        It's one of the greatest rivalries I've ever been a part of.

       — Virginia coach Pete Gillen, Xavier coach 1985-94

Game intense, emotional
        Dear Thad,

        I don't know if you've been in a game that's going to have as much intensity as you'll have Friday night. The teams know each other very well; they see each other on TV every night, and it all makes for an intensity level unlike anything you've ever experienced.

        You'll feel it as soon as you walk into the arena. When I'd walk in to play in the Shootout, the hair on the back of my neck would stand up like, This is a big game, but it's something different. It's a very rare sports experience.

        The problem is getting the players to think it's like any other game. If the players get caught up in it, they're going to lose their heads. That's why you have to rely on veterans in a game like this. You'll have to rely on guys like Lionel Chalmers, Kevin Frey and David West to make sure guys play with intensity, but not too much emotion so they can't execute. The team that's able to handle all that emotion while still executing is going to win the game, and I think that's Xavier.

       — Byron Larkin, XU's all-time leading scorer and current radio analyst

Focus key for players
        Dear Thad,

        Expect the atmosphere to be great. Having it at home will be a plus. When I was coaching there, we started out playing the Shootout in Riverfront Coliseum (now Firstar Center), so the crowd was probably somewhat split, but when it was in the Gardens as a home game, it was a great atmosphere for us. That's important to be at home, because it's a pressure-packed game. It's a lot of fun. You'll wish all your games were that type of energy.

        Your players probably have a feel for what that game is all about. It's a packed house, very vocal, with a great adrenaline flow. I wouldn't advise you to coach any differently. You've got to coach based on your own personnel.

        You can enjoy it, but you've got to keep your focus, too. You've got to prepare your team to play the game, and don't let the hype — the media coverage — affect the kids. The game's going to be settled on the floor. You don't have to worry about getting them fired up. Calming them down in the first couple minutes will be necessary. Your players will be ready to play. It's just a matter of: Will they keep their composure?

        That series was very special to me. I still keep tabs on it.
       — Bob Staak, XU coach 1979-85, current Memphis Grizzlies assistant coach

Noise, nerves are problems
        Dear Coach,

        We should learn our hand signals, because it's going to be hard to hear plays.

        And make sure guys don't come out nervous. It could go either way; guys could be nervous or relaxed. You've gotta make sure they're not feeling the pressure.

        — David West, XU junior center

Dear Thad,

        I played in this game, but a coach's point of view is different from a player's. I don't think this game will be any different from your first-round NCAA Tournament game with Butler last year against Wake Forest, or going into Wisconsin last year.

        As you say, it's all about the players. You're really calm about this, as far as I'm concerned. You abide by your own credo: “Preparation is 90 percent about us and 10 percent about the other team.” You've got to pressure the team into believing that. The 90-10 rule, I think, is one of the best attributes you can bring to that team.

        People respond to you in a way I haven't seen in a long time. You have an excellent staff, and they all teach. And your feeling is, you coach during the week, and the players have to do it during the game. I don't think you'll have a problem with coaching this game at all.

        — Steve Wolf, former XU player (1980-83) and current radio/TV analyst


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