What Was Said: Mike White, Georgia get ready for NIT semifinals

On3 imageby:Palmer Thombs04/01/24

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A week from now, College Basketball season will be getting ready to wrap up. The fact that Georgia is still playing might be considered a March miracle by some, but not Mike White and his players.

The Bulldogs are in Indianapolis, getting ready for Tuesday night’s NIT semifinal matchup against Seton Hall (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Before they take the court at Hinkle Fieldhouse however, White, along with two of his team’s oldest players, Noah Thomasson and Russel Tchewa, met with the media to talk about the season, the semifinals and more. Here’s what was said by White (plus a video so you can check out the players too).

Mike White Opening Statement…

“Pleasure to be here. Honored to be here and to represent the University of Georgia. Historic event and historic venue. Obviously a special place. Really proud of the run that these guys have made. Proud to be a part of it. No one more important obviously to what we’re doing than these two guys [Noah Thomasson and Russel Tchewa] who’ve finished strong, playing their best basketball of their careers. We’re playing the best basketball of the season [having won] five of the last seven. These last three have been really impressive with the way that we’ve played, so trying to take advantage of every opportunity we can get. We’re appreciative of this opportunity and so happy to be here.”

White on how much this NIT run, extension of season assists in preparation for next year…

“You know, in today’s landscape, it’s uncertain based on what happens this spring with our roster and every other roster in our league. We could talk about that for a long time, but I’m more focused on trying to help these guys here, Noah, Russ, RJ Sunahara, guys who have exhausted their eligibility. We’ve also got four fourth-year juniors that have options this spring. We’ve got some freshmen, some other third year guys. This is about this year’s team more so than anything. Extra credit might be building for the future, and I appreciate these guy’s comments about the future of Georgia Basketball. We’ll get there, but we can talk about that next week. I’d really like to see this team just continue to play well. They’re playing their best basketball of the season. I love being with these guys. I love working with these guys. I’m proud of our development, especially over the last month. Just trying to help these guys finish strong.”

White on extended minutes for Frank Anselem, working Russel Tchewa back in and an update on Jabri Abdur-Rahim…

“Yeah, Jabri’s day to day. Sunny’s the same way.

Frank has played really well, and in some of our bigger wins this year, he’s been on the court. Every Day Frank is what we call him. He had a great practice yesterday, I would bet he has a great practice today, it’s who he is. He works, he’s got great energy, and he really played well the other day. It’s why we continue to call his number, and he’s continued to earn the right to stay on the floor. We’ll evaluate it in real time tomorrow night, but Frank will certainly continue to get opportunities.”

White on what it’s meant to see the run, extension of season for older guys on this team…

“It’s been awesome. For the past month, this team has played and been super, super competitive. There’s not a lot of teams in the country that, regardless of the circumstances, could do what we’ve done. There’s obviously a few and a couple of those teams are still playing in the other tournament, but the way that these guys have performed – we’ve won five of the last seven. We lost at Auburn, and they have as good of a home court advantage as anybody in the country of course, played Florida to a one possession game in the last minute of the game and have won five against really good teams. Let’s keep playing. 

It speaks to the character of our guys, and also the basketball character, their relationships with one another, they want to continue to play with one another, they want to continue to fight for one another. And we’re playing loose. We’re having fun. But they also want to continue to prolong the season. It’s also very unique for us in addition because this is an incredibly long season when you consider the fact that this team started in June to start preparing for a foreign tour in Italy. This has been a 10 month season for these guys, which, to me, speaks further to the fact that Noah Thomasson and Russel Tchewa like each other, want to continue to prolong this thing as long as possible. They like playing at Georgia, like repping the G and like building, but also, going back to this current team, they want to see where this thing can finish. We’re honored to play Seton Hall who had a really strong argument to play in that other tournament. These other teams did as well. We won at Wake. It’s hard, hard, hard to win at Wake Forest. We won at Ohio State. Really, really hard to win there. The numbers speak for themselves. So this team’s had a heck of a month.”

Mike White on closing out games in the NIT when that didn’t happen in the regular season…

“A couple that we all wish you could have back at the end of every season, especially as you watch those teams make runs in the NCAA Tournament. We talked about it all year. We’re a lot more competitive than we were a year ago even though we only have a few more wins. We had chances to beat some high level teams to compliment the high level wins that we’ve gotten. Down the stretch, we’ve played with a little bit more confidence offensively, found a little bit more rhythm, little bit more role identification offensively, a little bit mentally tougher and resilient to finish. I don’t think there’s just one area you can point at for improvement from a couple of those losses. That said, a really big factor in why we lost to a couple of those teams is because they’re really good. The SEC is really, really good and we just weren’t quite good enough on that night to beat those teams, but we have been lately.”

White on how winning on the road in the regular season and winning at FSU has helped this NIT run…

“Well, I think it continues to show our guys and hopefully infuse confidence in the fact that we’re very capable and we’ve got a lot of momentum. These other teams have got momentum, too. Seton Hall’s got momentum. But we’ve played in some tough environments. We played in neutral-court environments in the past. We played on the road in the SEC, which is as difficult as any league in the country, and here we are with another great opportunity against a team who’s really good. And they’ll be very prepared, and they had a great year. 

But we’re going to have fun with it. You know, as Noah talked about and Russ confirmed, we’re seeing where this thing will take us and try to finish as strong as we can.”

White on Georgia playing this deep into the calendar…

“I talked about it a little bit earlier, but the fact that we’re still playing — we’ll be playing on April 2 and potentially April 4 depending on obviously how we play — when you complement that with the fact that we started in June, it’s really incredible. It’s as long of a basketball season can possibly last, right? I mean, it’s going to be 10 months and a few days regardless of what happens this week. Again, I think it speaks to the character of our guys, the fact that down the stretch — although it maybe took eight-and-a-half months, better later than never — for it to come together a little bit in terms of that extra level of, again, mental toughness, resilience, what have you. Just playing really well. We’ve just kind of gotten incrementally better throughout the year through ups, through downs, through some winning streaks, some losing streaks. 

But our guys have stayed the course. Great practice team. Best practice team I’ve ever coached. I’ve said it all year, and it’s the same deal. I’m still saying it 10 months in. We’ll have a really good practice today. We’ve played a grueling schedule. We played a lot of really good teams. We’re building, and we’re anxious for another opportunity against another high-level team tomorrow.”

White on how close he feels like Georgia is to being on the level of some of the best SEC teams…

“I mean, we’re really close. I think anyone in this tournament’s very close, especially the teams who are sitting here now in Indianapolis. The way that we’ve played, again, in the past month, if we played that way all year we would’ve been in the other tournament. Again, if you look at what Ohio State has done at home and what Wake Forest has done at home and the team that Xavier’s been all season and with the SEC wins late that we got, we’re playing like an NCAA Tournament team like now. Unfortunately, you’ve got to do that all year to get in the other tournament, and you’ve got other factors that are involved with your Quad 1 and Quad 2 opportunities and how you take advantage of your computer numbers and all those things.

We talk about growth in our program as much as anything: growth on the court, growth off the court, playing your best basketball of the season late in the season, becoming your best version, maxing out. It’s all the same stuff, right, and each program phrases those type things in different ways. Those are usually the words we go to the most, but if it comes down to growth and that’s where your focus is and you’re process driven as opposed to results driven and getting better throughout the year, I’m proud of what this team’s accomplishing — really proud because today we’re a very good basketball team, and who knows what that means for next year. We’re going to finish as strong as we can, but hopefully it gives us a little bit of momentum to be this version, you know, for longer stretches during next season and the following season and moving forward.”

White on what stands out about Seton Hall…

“They remind me of a couple of teams in our league that really sit down with discipline and physicality on the defensive end. Their positioning is high-high level. Texas A&M comes to mind, Tennessee comes to mind. We’ve got some really good defenses in league … Mississippi State. But tough, physical, sound, committed to the defensive end and they really protect the paint at a high level. They have a high percentage of steals, a really high level of blocked shots and altered shots. They force you to make jumps shots. Mixing defenses, their zone is more effective. They’ve got good guard play, they’ve got good length. They’re very, very good.”

Mike White on balancing preparation and next year’s roster…

“We’re all multitasking. We’ve been very active with recruiting throughout this but it’s like that throughout the year. When the portal opens it ramps up a little bit. We’ve had some Zooms, we’ve had some phone calls. We would remiss though, if we didn’t continue to pour everything into this team and finish as well as we could possibly finish and give to these guys.

We owe Noah, Russ, RJ Sunahara, these guys came here with one year to play to try and do something special. They found a way to get that NIT invite and continue to find ways to prolong their season. So, we’re balancing this the best we can and will continue to do that this week.”

White on what challenge does Richmond Kadary bring and is he an NBA-caliber player…

“Tough one there. I’m not scouting for that league, but they’ve got a few guys who are going to play basketball for a long time, I’ll say that. But he’s very, very talented and has a tempo, a pace to his game. He’s got a little burst that’s deceptive, great hands, and a really good feel.

There’s a few guys in our league who have that ability, I should say a couple to a few, but not many that can bring it up versus pressure but can also post up guys their own size. He’s a really versatile guy who compliments the people around him. They’re very hard to score on, but they’re equally as difficult to defend.” 

White on what would it mean to advance to championship game…

“It was great to make the NIT, it was great to win the first one. It’s like every tournament process. It’s great to get here, it’s great to be in the NIT Final Four in Hinkle and play against a team the caliber of Seton Hall. It will continue to give these guys lifelong memories and continue to enhance our brand as a men’s basketball program at Georgia and give our guys a chance to compete for a championship.

But our guys, we’ve done a really good job of staying in the moment. Again, our focus today is having a great practice. I know you guys are sick of hearing me say that all year. Not that you shouldn’t be, I’m sick of hearing myself say it.

But that’s what it is. It’s having a great practice today, having a great film session tonight, having a great first four-minute segment against Seton Hall tomorrow. Try to get some A shots against a stingy defense, hopefully converting and sprinting back on defense trying to get some shots and slow these guys down. Hopefully, we’re in a position mid-second half to be within striking distance to capitalize, to finish, and worry about postgame when we get there.”

White on his Louisiana Tech experience in the NIT and how he approaches the tourney…

“The experience of competing in the NIT as often as I’ve had the opportunity to do so, probably has taught me to relay to our guys what we just talked about with the last question – just being in the moment, just being appreciative, just playing with gratitude and enjoying playing for one another. I think in the middle of the year when you’re lacking the amount of Quad-1 opportunities, you’ve got Tennessee coming in who’s ranked this, you get a double-digit lead and all of a sudden it can be result-driven. 

I thought at times a little bit during the year we played a little bit tight offensively when we had chances to win those games and capitalize. We played a little bit too much in terms of looking at the scoreboard and thinking this shot is bigger than the last one, or this one has to go in. It can’t be that way. Unless you play like that all the time, and not many teams have success doing it … this team is playing loose. It’s having fun. If we had played as loose offensively as we’re playing now, maybe a couple of these other games at home when you’re playing with a sizable lead, it could have been a little bit different. We found what’s working for this team, especially this time of year, and we’re playing well.”

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