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Bleacher Report Special: All Access at the Final Four

Aired April 4, 2015 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:10] RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN'S SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Welcome to Indianapolis, we are inside Lucas Oil Stadium, you know it as home to the Indianapolis Colts during football season, but this weekend, it's home to the final four.

In the next half hour, you are going to get an exclusive behind the scenes look at one of the biggest events of the year, the coaches, the players, the emotion of an event that has gripped the entire country. This is All Access at the Final Four, a CNN Bleacher Report Special.

MIKE KRZYZEWSKI, DUKE COACH: Everyone talks about game pressure. When it gets to the tournament, it's tournament pressure. It's game pressure at the highest level.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think there'd be any less pressure on us to win this thing whether we have won (7-11). We're on all on the same boat. Everybody is zero and zero this weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This group never gets discouraged to the point where they get down on themselves or their teammates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's (inaudible) these games guys...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Denzel Valentine, that's for three. Michigan State is headed to the Final Four.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Wisconsin Badgers are going to the Final Four.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Duke Blue Devils are back to the big fence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the Cats are headed to the Final Four.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can just tell listening to them that it meant the world to them to get here and they worked for it. They earned it, and they're going.

NICHOLS: I'm Rachel Nichols, along with Clark Kellogg and Steve Smith. Clark, of course, took Ohio States to the tourney back in the days. Big (inaudible) conference, also MVP. Steve Smith lead Michigan State -- I think we got a few Michigan State people here to the tournament and sweet 16 appearance. It is great to have you guys with us today.

CLARK KELLOG VP OF PLAYER RELATIONS FOR THE INDIANA PACERS: Thank you, Rachel. I'm happy to be here. STEVE SMITH, RETIRED AMERICAN BASKETBALL PLAYER: Thrilled to be here. This is one of the great sporting events on the calendar and here in Indianapolis. Nobody does it better.

NICHOLS: Absolutely. Well, I know you're excited about your Spartans being here, but you guys did play on this tournament. Take us through what these players are feeling today? We're just a few hours way from game time.

KELLOG: Well, I'll tell you what, they're excited and anxious to get out on the court. All of the hoopla surrounding, getting to the Final Four has been well-documented and talked about. They're ready to get between the lines, work up that first ladder and see if they can figure out a way to get to Monday night.

SMITH: I'm with Clark, I mean, you talked about these kids, getting the chance to be on this type of stage. I have chills, Clark. Just remembering back when I got a chance to play, the motion that goes through it, the passion, and obviously for those guys to get a chance to compete.

NICHOLS: Deep breaths right now, deep breaths. And of course when something becomes an American cultural event, kind of like the Super Bowl, you get the focus of the entire country. This week, the tournament helped put a lot of the tension on the state of Indiana's controversial religious freedom law. The NCAA had quartered here in Indianapolis got involved very quickly. And even did some behind the scenes work you might now know about.

NCAA president, Mark Emmert pushed local lawmakers to remove the windows for discrimination that were part of the initial law. We also heard from the whole Final Four coaches this week pushing, and Duke coach, Mike Krzyzewski, noted, it's a dynamic we've seen before.


NICHOLS: Have you seen the power of sports affect social change in these moments?

KRZYZEWSKI: Well, I think our sport is done the most, you know, over the years, especially as far as race relations, and that, you know, we're playing in shorts, you see, are you -- are you white? Are you African-American? Are you Asian? Are you -- you know, who are you? And all of a sudden you're working together, you're sweating together, you're hugging together. You're talking, you're loving, you're fighting.

In other words, you see people, "Oh, that works." It works.


NICHOLS: All right. So what do you guys think when you see something like this, an amendment was made to this law in part because the NCAA with it's very big foot, put a lot of pressure on local lawmakers and said, "Hey, we will consider moving our headquarters out of here." The Final Four does half a billion dollars in revenue in the next four days, pay attention to us. How do you see sports kind of constantly pushing the boundaries forward?

KELLOG: Well, I'll tell you what, because of the humongous leverage and platform that's (inaudible) our culture, it can bring its weight to bear on a lot of things that are socially unjust, bring awareness to issues that need to have awareness brought to them, and this is clearly a case in point because sports gives you platform, a venue, an amount of coverage and exposure that can be leveraged for the greater good.

And in this case, I think it moved the needle where it needed to be moved in regards to this particular Religious Freedom Reformation Act -- Restoration Act rather.

[14:35:07] SMITH: And I look at it as these coaches are leads and everybody is standing up Clark and Rachel. Nationally in having their voice but I think also not against this discrimination but also the violence that acts against also people being discriminated against, but I think also what I don't like is I'm a furious.

This about the student athlete, this is their platform they have anything takeaway from those kids, I wish you can just move a side let's give a chance to have these kids playing these games because this is about a student athlete when you talk about the final four.

NICHOLS: Look of course really is seems they have made enough amendment that they have been able to now move to the final four and let shift our focus to the actual game.

We have three hours of free game coverage on TBS starting right when this show is over it's 3 P.M. Eastern. The first semifinal match up Michigan State versus Duke starts at 6 P.M. Eastern with the national broadcast on TBS. That's going to be followed by Wisconsin and Kentucky at 8:30 P.M. Eastern.

I would like continue just about three hours down the road for Mindy, we know there will be a lot of wild cats here. I sat down with Kentucky Coach John Calipari to talk about their quest for perfection. Trying to be the first team since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers to end the season undefeated.


NICHOLS: There are some coaches who think "Oh, it's better to lose one along the way relieve some of the pressure. Do you put any credence in that or is that, and that is not much of your competitive nature.

JOHN CALIPARI: No, there is loosing bridge loosing it puts loosing in their minds. I don't believe that. And the only other thing is do you think they're being any less pressure on us to win this thing whether we have 1 711, we're all on the same boat, everybody is zero and zero this weekend.

We're all zero and zero. And so we got hopefully two games to play. We may only play one. But, you know, we're all on the same boat right now. (END VIDEO CLIP)

NICHOLS: All in the same boat but maybe with those low extra chair. Notre Dame came very close to knocking them out of the elite eight. The attention of the whole country on them what do you see, happening with Kentucky here at this tournament -- at this final four.

KELLOGG: Well I've been on the ben wagon for about three months now that this team was going to make history it already has but to get to the finish line (inaudible).

NICHOLS: Three months does that make you a Ben Waggoner that's makes you a driver come on.

KELLOGG: Well it never have you when I look it. But I -- one of the things I really like about this team is, it's a case study in how to play the game, they aren't selfish, they play hard they play together. And what I also like is this team has shown the demeanor in this position to stay in the moment.

They are not fractured, they've not been rippled, they've not been distracted. And I think that's not a (inaudible) as they try to win two more games here in the Indianapolis.

SMITH: I think Clark, is (inaudible), right Rachel and I think when you look at I play the guard position he was a power forward and I think when you have that many big play to your strength. I think all Kentucky has to do, is come out and play big, whether it's on a defense event and on an offense event.

And then after that you sunken a deep as (inaudible) guards get a chance to knockdown (inaudible). But Clark say that this they have been discipline, and I take my head off the calipered to having this seeing such a young team with all this pressure stand discipline in a moment.

NICHOLS: Yeah, absolutely. We're also going to get a very rare rematch Kentucky faces Wisconsin in the semifinal. Second year in the row a very close game last year, Kentucky defeated the Badgers by just one point in the final seconds crazy shot by Aaron Harrison.

And this year the Badgers say, they are more prepared. So, hey Coach Bo Ryan his been very unusual a good luck charm.


NICHOLS: All right I do have to ask you one thing this young man right here. Since we last saw you in the final four a baby was born to Wisconsin couple.

BO RYAN: I did hear about this...

NICHOLS: At the beginning of March and they named their son Bo Ryan to, you know, honor you and to hopefully wish Wisconsin some luck throughout this tournament, that what they said. And it seems to be working so far. RYAN: That was unbelievable. But of course the first thing that ran through my head was if I only need back taxes.

NICHOLS: That kids get them...

RYAN: Yeah, they know where to go. Yeah, I thought that was pretty neat.


NICHOLS: I love that, I mean do you guys have people name there for you?

KELLOGG: Really very interesting.

NICHOLS: OK, there's a few things missed out there. It is amazing though, it seems like at this match up Kentucky has 8, McDonald's All American playing today. But hey Wisconsin starter Frank Kaminsky, he is the one who's been collecting all these player of the year award.

So, it is going to be great. He is also of course the fan sensation Frank the tank (ph) hanging out with his name stake from old school there (inaudible) social media, loves him a lot of star power. And of course we are playing more here on CNN.

Coming up coach K's secret ingredients to successful coaching but will be enough to be (inaudible) who seems to have this secret Dakota ring to March Madness.

You're watching all access to the final four as CNN Bleacher Report Special.


NICHOLS: Indianapolis holding its seventh final four This city loves this basketball plus we've got the March Madness Music Festival going on with Imagine Dragons, Rihanna, The Zac Brown Band, this band experience around here is just incredible. Hey, it can't be here in Indy the next best thing clearly is being with us right guys?

KELLOGG: That's right. I'd agree with that.

NICHOLS: And we talked about the rematch coming up between Kentucky and Wisconsin. This is a rematch also for Duke and Michigan State, they played each other back in November and when Duke beat the Spartans by 10 points, it looked pretty lopsided. But Tom Izzo, head coach of Michigan State seems to be a genius when it comes to this tournament.


NICHOLS: We hear it all the time, Tom Izzo is a determined coach and I know it is not as simple as that. But what is it about the way that you coach your recruit that is just a good fit for March Madness?

IZZO: You know, I really don't know. I think I get too much credit, my assistants, my players they deserve the credit, my former players do because I think they put some pressure on guys, but I think our preparation really contrary to popular belief that I don't work in November or, you know, December, January, February.


NICHOLS: All right. So the Spartans coming at the low number 70, the only non-number one to make it to the finals. This is your alma mater here, any special insights and to how Izzo is preparing his team?

SMITH: Well, I think we all know it's nothing special. I mean, Tom is always preparation, is obviously played to the identity and as rebound the basketball, defend, box out fundamental spark and I think that's the one thing about Tom Izzo, there's no trickery. We go come out and we go do the little things, it's going to be fun (inaudible). I will say it's about Tom Izzo, it starts right at the tournament ends. Like last year he start to prepare and then to get back to the final four.

KELLOGG: Yeah. And he's terrific in preparation, but I think too he really relies on his upperclassman particularly his seniors to lead the team and be an extension of him and he's gotten that from Travis Trice and certainly Denzel Valentine and to a degree in his own personality Branden Dawson. I think the leadership he demands from his top players is something that serves him well come tournament time.

[12:45:05] NIHCOLS: Yes. Coaching superstars' here. And then you have Duke, I asked Coach K about reaching 12 different final fours with vastly different teams playing in different style in different eras. Take a listen.


NICHOLS: What quality about you has enabled you to do that?

KRZYZEWSKI: Survival, I think. And I think it's like being a parent when you have a lot of kids, you know. Some of them are 18 and some of are two and one and, you better adjust and be able to relate to each one of them. And it's called -- and I learned West Point and I learned it really well with USA Basketball, and that is adapt.


NICHOLS: Well you heard Coach K there guys, reference his army roots, his eduction at West Point, his first collegiate coaching job there really shaped him. And Bleacher Report caught up with some of his former West Point players. Guys that he coached back in 1975 and they had some stories. Check that piece out,

And coming up on this show, Duke star Jahlil Okafor and the village that helped him overcome the lost of his mom had lifted him all the way to the Final Four. That is up next on All Access at the Final Four, a CNN Bleacher Report Special.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [14:50:12] NICHOLS: Welcome back to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis site of the 2015 final four. And get ready to see some coaching magic happen right here in a few hours.

Take a look at this, with a combined 25 final four appearances between the four coaches, this is shaping up to be an epic finish to what is already been a fantastic highly viewed tournament. Oh its fun guys, right to see the coaches go up against each other at this level although we know it is the players that make this tournament special.

Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor projected to be top NBA draft pick this year. Well he has an incredible personal story. Lost his mom when he was just 9 years old, he now has a very close relationship with his dad and with his extended family take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He really was right, (inaudible) where he was raised (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look this kid could be the biggest jerk if he wanted too because of how good he is and how talented he is and because what his future should be. He is the furthest thing from it. All of that is a big part of the way he was raised by Chuk.


Female: And we know we're going to see his dad Chuk O. he did grow up a Duke fan but by the way he says he is a hard core Cameron crazy now. We're going to see him in the stands going crazy in just a few hours and you love his dad, right Clark.

KELLOGG: I really do, I like his hands and I like his feet. His got a great hands and he knows how to use his feet propositioning and scoring opportunities inside.

SMITH: Hey Clark, hitted right on and then you talk about a kid who has the ability to play and traffic when -- with that size. And a lot of big players don't have that and he has a good view for dummy on the block.

Nichols: Really remarkable young man. And talk about an inspiration here. We are going to introduce you next to the five year old Kentucky fan who has captured the hearts of the entire team.

Plus I'm getting these guys and put them on the spot prediction are coming up. Which team will be crowned champion of the NCAA tournament, that's all ahead. All access to the final four CNN Bleacher Report Special.


[14:55:11] NICHOLS: Welcome back we are at the stadium where the Indianapolis called usually play but not this weekend instead we're just hours away from tip off of the final four. And I'm here with Clark Kellogg, Steve Smith. And -- guys one thing for sure in this stadium it fits more 70,000 and it will be packed with fans in just a few hours.

Initial reports spend time with five year old Jackson Conner. A huge fan of the Kentucky Wild Cats basketball team. Jackson was born without a right hand but that has not stopped him from becoming a great basketball player.


CALIPARI: What players do you want to play like?

JACKSON CONNER: Tyler Ulis, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns.

CALIPARI: let me that ball on the hoops, let me see. Oh my goodness look at this. That's what I'm talking about let me see it again.

I've known Jackson since he was born. And I don't even think Jackson knows that "Man always different." I mean he looks at this and he doesn't see it as something that's going to hold him back that's what this make great.


NICHOLS: You can go to to see the rest of Jackson's really touching story. And of course a lot more incredible moments are going to unfold this afternoon on TBS.

A quick reminder we have three hours of free game coverage coming up on TBS starting right when this show is over at 3:00 Eastern.

The first semifinal match up Michigan State versus Duke well that's starts at 6 P.M. with the national broadcast on TBS and for the super passionate fan of each team. We've got you covered too. Team Stream presented by bleacher report. The Spartan's home announcers they're going to have the column through TV

The Blue Devils home announcers are on TNT you get more via broadcast there if that's what you want. Now, that's followed by Wisconsin, Kentucky at 8:30 P.M. Eastern TBS as the national broadcast.

The Wisconsin Team Stream is going to be on Tru TV. And the Kentucky version airs on our sister network, TNT.

So, that's all well and good. But let's just cut to the chase guys.

KELLOGG: You handle that pretty well.

NICHOLS: Well thank you that is a lot of networks but no matter who is watching on which ever network everyone wants to know one thing. Who's going to win and you are the experts. So, expert us up here come on.

KELLOGG: I don't know if I'm an expert enough but I do have Kentucky and Michigan State meeting in the final on Monday night.

I think Kentucky has more ways to win than Wisconsin does. Wisconsin the best offensive team in the tournament, has been one of the best all season. But Kentucky's defense want to get some of that. Michigan State I look to the experience of their main three guys Branden Dawson, Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine to be the difference against a really good but young group team

SMITH: I look at the same way as Clark. All right, Kentucky has so much size, this going to a fantastic match up. Looking for Wisconsin to come out and make a game. And obviously for fans want to go out to the last possession and Michigan State do game.

I'm looking at Michigan State the rematch is (inaudible).

NICHOLS: Of course you're looking in Michigan State. We need like a homer cloud over you, over here or something like that. All right these guys stay in the number 17 (ph) is going to make it to the championship that would certainly be a great Cinderella type story here in the final four.

We will all be watching touching brackets to see if you guys are right and that is indeed for us here at Lucas Oil Stadium for Clark Kellogg, Steve Smith. I am Rachel Nichols enjoy the game and the moment that are sure to be like no another.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know you put in the work. I know you're prepared. God help them if they're not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go to work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At a shoot PJ. I want a whole place, you know, PJ. (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm the type of -- I figure it was like this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: March Madness. Makes all the way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's going to count.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's always make place dooms will dooms I mean that's way life works.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh my goodness they call goal tending.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's all my fault, as a senior he can't make this mistake goal tending in the game.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (inaudible) for three.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (inaudible) has fallen off the stool.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Badger State (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love this kid, I love him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You gave them everything you can give them. And they won enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's hundred of coaches (inaudible) wonder what they would do if they ever play Kentucky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pop and Jesus or somebody on speed now I hope (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not perfect, we're undefeated my team knows that they're every team it's left playing to be best.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The madness of good time game this year we always remind ourselves that we've been there before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of what these guys and they think they came through.

[15:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And, you know, we have our work cut out for us, of course. But we've had our work cut out for a us all year.