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What Arizona’s Tommy Lloyd, Kerr Kriisa and Azuolas Tubelis said at Pac-12 men’s basketball Media Day

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What Arizona’s Tommy Lloyd, Kerr Kriisa and Azuolas Tubelis said at Pac-12 men’s basketball Media Day

The annual Pac-12 Media Day is in the books, the day beginning with the news that defending regular-season and conference tournament champ Arizona was picked to finish second this season and ending with coaches and players from all 12 schools doing a variety of radio, TV and in-person interviews.

Below are the highlights of what UA head coach Tommy Lloyd and juniors Kerr Kriisa and Azuolas Tubelis had to say when interviewed on Pac-12 Network and in a press conference for the league’s media contingent:

Tommy Lloyd

On trying to replicate last season’s success: “I think that’s the great thing about college basketball. You have good players, you have great seasons. Good players move on, and it creates a void and then you have, new players in our program that kind of fill that void. I got high expectations for these guys this year. I think we have high standards as a program and I’m looking forward to the challenge of going out and recreating that.”

On goals for the 2022-23 season: “We don’t talk about that stuff on a daily basis. we just try to stack up good practices and good days on top of each other. And then as the season starts to play out maybe then when you see we have a good nonconference going and then maybe we’ll start setting some team goals. But right now, honestly, it’s no more complicated than getting better day to day, week to week.”

On replacing Benn Mathurin, Dalen Terry and Christian Koloko: “I’m thankful for the guys we had last year, but I’m also thankful for the guys that have back in our program. I’m counting on these guys here (Kriisa and Tubelis) to lead the way. I’m also expecting them to be our most improved players. We put a lot on their shoulders and we invest a lot of time and energy in helping these guys develop. To me, that’s what makes college basketball special is just watching guys grow year to year. I’m exceptionally excited to see these two kind of take the next step in their careers.”

On individual year-over-year improvements: “These two guys here, I think you’re gonna see a lot of improvements from them. We really kind of encouraged Kerr to see what he can do inside of the 3-point line this year., and I think he’s he’s done a tremendous job of it. Zu, we’ve asked him to expand his game and be more consistent and both ends of the floor and he’s risen to that challenge. Ballo, we’re hoping he makes a jump like Koloko made, Even a young guy like Adama Bal, he didn’t get to play much last year, he’s really made progress.”

On Pelle Larsson: “This will be his third year in the Pac. His first year he had a good freshman year, last year Sixth Man of the Year, and we’re expecting him to more of an all-conference type player this year. He’s gonna obviously have more opportunities. I’m sure he’s going to be in a starting role. We’re counting out on him to be a great player on both ends of the floor because he’s an elite defender. Offensively he continues to get more polished. I think he’s a pretty special player.”

On what Oumar Ballo needed to improve on the most in the offseason: “Obviously conditioning. Oumar is a big guy, so it’s not easy to stay in great shape. But also, I gotta be realistic. I probably can’t ask a guy like that to play 35 minutes as hard as we play. The next thing is he’s just got to continue to get more comfortable with the ball inhis hands, his touch has got to get better. He’s got to get comfortable operating away from the basket. That doesn’t mean shooting jump shots or driving. That just means facilitating the offense in and the ball movement. I think he’s made strides in all those areas. I’m sure there’ll be some bumps in the road but I think he’s ready to show he’s one of the best big men in the conference.”

On transfer guards Courtney Ramey and Cedric Henderson Jr.: “We’re fortunate to get both. Both are great guys that have come in and kind of really fit in seamlessly. Courtney has a ton of experience, he played in the Big 12 at Texas in a prominent role for years. He’s a guy who is comfortable kind of filling all gaps, with the ball in his hands, without the ball, also a very good defender. Cedric, I think he’s really going to grow over the course of this year. We don’t count on him from day one to contribute, but I think as he gets more comfortable playing at this level and with these guys ... he’s a wing that’s multi-dimensional. He has a chance to impact the game defensively, but offensively, he’s got a nice little floater game. He’s comfortable coming off ball screens, so I’m excited to see his growth over the course of this year.”

On Arizona being an energetic team: “I think the game is meant to be played with energy and emotion. I think that’s when it’s the most fun to play and the most fun to watch. So I definitely encourage our guys to be excited. But at the same point, you’re right, you got to be able to function and execute and ... keep the focus on the main thing, which is winning the game. So it’s a fine line, but I’ve always been okay with our guy kind of walking that fine line. I want our guys to have a ton of fun when they play because, listen, I know this: I have more fun coaching players that are having fun. So let’s create a culture of that and we do that every day.”

On UCLA and USC leaving the Pac-12: “Obviously, I’m disappointed because I love competing against those schools. But again, they got to make the decisions that they think is best for their athletic programs. So, I’m going to respect that. I really believe and I feel strongly that the brand of Arizona basketball is strong enough to stand on its own. I’m just gonna focus on doing the best job at Arizona. We want to do everything we can to compete for conference championships and compete for national championships. That’s still my focus. I wish those guys the best of luck. Hopefully we’ll be able to compete with them, obviously the next couple years, and then beyond. I would love to continue to play those schools.”

On if talks have begun on scheduling UCLA/USC in nonconference play: “Not to this point. I mean, everything’s so new, and there’s so many moving parts. I’m just giving you my personal opinion. I haven’t like run that through the channels or even talked to UCLA about it. I’m sure in the near future, we’ll sit down and have to have those conversations and hopefully figure something out.”

On Kriisa’s ankle injury during the Pac-12 Tournament: “I’ll give Kerr a ton of credit. He and I’ve never really talked about it, but he had a real injury, and for him to give himself up and try to come back and play for our team at the end says a lot about him. And so I was really proud of how he approached it. But I was also proud of our guys, I don’t know how many teams could lose their point guard and win four postseason games. I thought it said a lot about the other guys in our program. And it said a lot about Kerr, how he attacked that, tried to come back for his teammates.”

On maintaining roster continuity: “So many things have changed. There’s so many more moving parts now that maybe there was 10-15 years ago. I think it comes down to one thing, I think it comes down to treating people right. I think if you treat people right, you treat players right, I think you have a better chance of them wanting to stay around. And that being said, I’m also really excited for our guys that did leave and the opportunities that they’ve created for themselves. We’re just going to attack it on a day to day basis and just try to make good, simple decision after good, simple decision and treat people right. I think that’s going to be the foundation of our continuity.”

On if recruiting to Arizona is easier than to Gonzaga: “First off, recruiting is tough. No matter where you’re at. And to me, more important than trying to talk kids into coming to Arizona, it’s just about you know what I always try to do is figure out how we’re going to build the best team for the upcoming season and then have a few pieces we can develop for the future. I try not to put too much stock in, or pressure on our staff that we have to go out and recruit five McDonald’s All-Americans, because I don’t know if that always translates into winning and consistency. Now listen, you need good players, we know that. Bar none, that’s 100 percent. I would just say, I’m still in the learning process of that too, to be honest with you, I can’t tell you exactly what the differences are, what it’s gonna look like a few years from now, but we’re going to try to be genuine. We’re going to try not to over promise and under deliver when we recruit kids, I think it’s really important when you recruit somebody that you’re doing it with that in mind of that kid being successful at your school, not just, hey, let’s see how this kid does, and if it doesn’t work after a year we’ll get rid of him. So I’m trying to be really methodical and make sure that we deliver on the things we talk about when we’re recruiting a kid. So I’m probably being a little cautious, to be honest with you, and slowly build in how we’re going to recruit at Arizona because want to make sure we’re being mindful and we’re doing it the right way.”

On recruiting international players: “Obviously I’m comfortable coaching international basketball players, and hopefully if I continue to coach for a long time it’ll continue to be an important part of any program I’m associated with. We love having a really diverse group of people in our locker room. I think it makes it a lot of fun. The little differences, the little nuances that come up, the language things. We have a ton of fun with guys. Like we’re having a lot of fun with Filip (Borovicanin) right now from Serbia. He’s a great kid and he does it all smiling. I think it’s just a ton of fun. I love the way these guys take the game and they play, and it I think it’s right in line with how I like to coach. Listen, if you’re watching these NBA games, a lot of these are the same concepts that they’re playing with in the NBA. You watch how those guys are able to move the ball now in the NBA. I know there’s some great isolation players in the NBA, but there’s a lot of players that really know how to play basketball and move the ball well and play in some great concepts. To me, I think we can do our own little version of that in college and I think it’s pretty cool.”

On what his goals were for his first season as a head coach: “Listen, none of these guys had played in the NCAA tournament. That was honestly my first objective was, we’re gonna get to the tournament. And then other than that, I didn’t set any limitations. Let’s see how good we can get. And these guys did an unbelievable job last year of just getting better week by week. And when we lost, we learned from it, and so it was a joy. All these seasons are our journeys and they kind of unfold and they become their own story. That’s what makes it fun, but I wasn’t trying to describe what we were doing last year. I was just trying to give these guys everything I got and then I was just trying to kind of follow their lead and they did an amazing job. We wanted to establish a style of play. And we wanted to implement a system with great pace, great player movement, great ball movement. On defense we wanted to be tenacious, we want to really pressure the basketball. And I really wanted to hammer home, more than anything, the effort and energy that we’re going to play with every single day.”

On learning from the TCU and Houston games in NCAA tourney: “TCU and Houston are two really good programs, incredibly physical, very well-coached. I thought we were a really physical team as well. So for me, that’s the number one standard. Can you check that box? Can you go play in physical, high-level games? Are you a team that go toe to toe,and so I really want to see if we can continue to build that Arizona. I think we have some guys now, in our program, that have shown that toughness. I think we have maybe some other guys in our program that might not be quote, unquote, you wouldn’t say they’re a tough guy, but I think we need to establish that identity. And we’re gonna continue to grow. There’s nothing worse than getting in a game and in a tournament or whatever and just being physically outmatched, and not being able to win that game. So we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can in those physical matchups to come out on top.”

Kerr Kriisa

On playing for Estonia over the summer: “A really good experience, of course. First of all, you represent your country, which is always an honor and we take a lot of pride in it. So that was amazing. And secondly, you play against good players. A good experience for sure.”

On what Lloyd wanting him to do more inside the 3-point line means: “Taking more shots from 3, probably. (laughs) Obviously, I gotta get a more aggressive approach to the paint. I really put in the work this summer, and I can be really happy that I made some improvements on it, for sure.”

On the NCAA Tournament experience: “Tournaments are hard. Lose you go home, pretty much that’s what we learned. We lost and went home. It’s basically who has the best run at time. So you can have a great regular season, but ... for example, North Carolina, they didn’t have probably the best regular season but they just went hot at the right time.”

On playing with energy: “If we don’t have energy we wouldn’t be where we are. I feel like energy is a big part of our game. I feel like we have to celebrate our baskets, so we’ve got to celebrate our teammates’ baskets. It just makes everything way much more fun and enjoyable for everybody. I think that was also a big part of our success last year.”

On dealing with his ankle injury last March: “Of course it was tough because you’re preparing your whole season in order to play for March Madness, and then you get there and then the week before we get injured, so obviously it was frustrating. But we had a great medical staff, regular staff, everybody just said stick with it. I did like 24/7 rehab, tried to get as best shape as possible with my ankle. And obviously, it wasn’t easy, but I got through it. Looking back, it was still a great experience, but I wish it would have gone a little bit differently.”

Azuolas Tubelis

On what Lloyd wanted him to improve on: “Defensively, I need to be able to guard the more faster guys than me. For example, like UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez. So I need to guard the good players. Offensively, keep working on my post moves, my threes. Sometimes be a more selfish player this year, because I think I have a bigger role this year because our three players left.”

On the difference between international and college basketball: “The United States you have very athletic guys playing, and now we’re playing with our age guys. In Europe, me and Kerr played with men, so the physicality is different, but here in (the) states the pace is faster, and I really like it here. One of the reasons that I came here was because I wanted to play fast and run and dunk the ball.”

On how he ended up at Arizona: “It was like a funny story. Because Coach Jack Murphy came to Lithuania to watch Kerr play, and I played against him, and he said ‘oh I want this guy, too.’ So I got offered a scholarship. I lost (the game), yeah, but I was good, though.”