The fantastic NCAA tournament that just concluded featured outstanding action on the mat, but we also got to hear from a wide array coaches and athletes throughout the tournament. You can check out all of our interviews on our Championship Central page, but we also went through the transcripts from Friday and Saturday night’s press conferences to find the best quotes for your enjoyment. All questions and answers are pulled directly from those transcripts and all quotes are from Saturday evening unless otherwise noted.
Q. Is this the case how you wrestle, everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the face. Don’t get double overhook and thrown. Don’t get splay hooked (Editor’s Note: The person who asked this question has confirmed he said spladled, not splay hooked as the transcript states). Like I said, you gun sling. Are you just going to do what you do, it doesn’t matter, if you’re going to gun sling you’re going to throw them you’re going to splay them you’re going to do it?
BO NICKAL: No doubt I’m just going to be myself out there. I feel you don’t really lose until you stop being yourself and you lose your freedom. If you’re going to go out and lose a match and be yourself, then that’s the way it’s going to go. But if you’re going to go out there and do something that’s not who you are really, I mean and even if you win I feel like that’s not really even winning. So I’m just going to go out there and be myself no matter what.
Q. You’ve been saying that size doesn’t matter but Zahid was 20 pounds heavier than you last year at the Worlds. And Bo’s a big guy, and you’re very technical. And against the bigger guys, you have to wrestle a little differently. Talk about how you had to adjust yourself because you’re not as big as those guys?
MARK HALL: Yeah, I’ve got to wrestle smarter. There’s a lot of things that can happen in a match. You wrestle smart, you wrestle through it. I don’t know. I didn’t want to cut any weight. I probably will go 174 again next year. Cutting weight sucks and it makes the season a long season. I think anyone who cuts weight can tell you the same thing.
So at the end of the day, I said before, it’s not about the size of the dog in the fight; it’s about the size of the fight in the dog. One thing Coach Cael always tells us is it’s the story I like. He tells us when a pit bull is around, and a small dog walks by, doesn’t bat an eye. But when a pit bull is around and a big dog comes by, he starts flexing, puts his fist in the ground and he’s ready to fight. And I’ll be the pit bull.
Q. What you guys did at the Big 12 Tournament was amazing. Eight All-Americans here, the most you’ve had since 1990. This has been an amazing year. You don’t win the team title. Coach Smith is happy with your guys’ performance. Penn State had an unreal tournament. And you end up a champ. You’re the team leader. You’re the face of the program. Just because you guys don’t win the national title does that take a little bit away from this? Are you still pumped and excited? Are you going to build off of this, off eight all Americans?
DEAN HEIL: You know, even though you said — I don’t believe that I’m the face of OSU. John Smith will forever be the face of Oklahoma State. He’s just got eight All-Americans to back him up. Even then you’ve got a whole team of guys who are in the stands or back home who couldn’t make it.
That’s OSU. I couldn’t be more thankful for the guys that are — to push me every day, to help me win my championship. It’s those guys who are most important to this program more than anything. They put their bodies on the line every day to give us the opportunity for these type of situations and it was a great tournament.
Like you said, Penn State had an unbelievable tournament. I’m very happy for it. But I still would have liked to have won that national championship. And with six returning All-Americans going into next year, I think five or six, you best believe we’re going to be coming back for the title next year.
Q. So many injuries, so much adversity through this year, you battled through it. I don’t think getting taking down first is how you had that one drawn up, but to come from behind, win that match with a ride-out, what’s it mean to you to finish off the senior like this after being runner-up a couple times, finally getting it done for the University of Iowa and (indiscernible) Coach Brands? What did it feel like to you and did you ever feel it was going to get done?
CORY CLARK: Did I ever think it was going to get done? I thought if it wouldn’t have got done it would have been a disaster because that was my goal as a senior in high school. I always set high goals. I always said four-time NCAA champ was my goal. I didn’t really tell anybody that, but that was my goal.
And each year I didn’t accomplish that it hurt me inside. So to get it done this year is incredible. It means a lot. And some of these questions you guys are asking, I’m straight off the mat. So my answers are kind of maybe not where they would be if my head was straight. Got a lot of emotions running through me. But I don’t know, man.
I’m just — it’s incredible to finally get this done. I’ve had two years in a row where I spent a week — weeks in my basement just pouting, just being a baby, just not doing, not in a good spot. Not doing the right things.
And today I can look forward and know in two weeks I won’t be in my basement with my headphones turned all the way up and crying two weeks from now. You know? So that’s a good thing.
Q. You sat out all of December. By I think couple weeks into January, you seem like you were in a pretty good place mentally. At what point along the way did you get to the point that you were going to beat these guys in your mind no matter what was going on in your left arm?
CORY CLARK: I think I always thought that. When I was at my all-time low, Tom pulled me in his office talking to me, what you think your season is over? Why are you out there pouting? Not being mean. He was just being realistic. He wanted to get some stuff out to me because I didn’t open up to anybody.
He could see it in my face. I was good at faking it around the media, I could fake it. But in all reality, I was hurting and the closest people to me could see that. And Tom pulled me in, talking to me, talking to me. At the end of that conversation I felt a lot better about my shoulder, what not.
Right as I walked out the door I remember I looked at Tom and I said, I just want you to know I think I can beat everyone in my bracket whether my arm’s on me or off me. I can beat all these guys.
And he just said I agree. And that was kind of the turning point where I was just, like, you know what? This is my senior year. This is what I gotta deal with. I’m here. It’s been done. No magic wand. No surgery going to happen. After the season, whatever. So that was kind of the point where I just really had to buckle down and get serious.
Q. What does it mean to you when people say that you’re the greatest Mizzou athlete of all time?
J’DEN COX: It’s nice to be recommended. I didn’t do this for the accolades. I didn’t do this for the acknowledgment. I did it for the love of the sport. But for people to say that, I’m honored to be put in that category.
But at the end of the day I wrestle because I love to wrestle. I do what I do because I want to do it and I love to do it. But I’m blessed to have had the accomplishments I’ve had and I’m honored to have people put me in the conversations of being one of the greatest wrestlers of MU. One of the greatest athletes of MU I’m blessed and happy but at the end of the day I’m overall just joyful in doing what I’m doing.
Q. Coach Smith, I was talking to you out in the hallway, 2012, you guys had all 10 guys qualify here in St. Louis. You were the host as a matter of fact. You had zero All-Americans that year. Explain the swing of emotions from 2012 having all 10 guys and not getting what you want to three finalists from Mizzou in front of your home crowd and just the wave is rolling 7-0 on the night. What are the emotions like? What’s that swing like and how have you built it?
BRIAN SMITH: Yeah, 2012 was a hard day. That Sunday after, I wanted to quit coaching. I thought I just — we win the Big 12, we finally do it and get our first Big 12 title and come out and lay a big egg. Obviously the blame had to be on me, and I just remember how I drove 12 hours. I bought a puppy, and I’ve still got that puppy, and he reminds me that I’ve got to coach them up because I don’t want that feeling again. But I love my dog.
But I drove and got that puppy, and I said, I’ve got to find ways to improve because that can’t happen. We can’t get so overjoyed about winning a conference tournament that you go lay an egg like that, and it can’t be that big of a deal, and since then we’ve won five straight conference tournaments.
But the focus is the national tournament, and our guys stepped up today, and the feeling is much better today than it was in ’12.
Q. Not winning the Big Ten could have affected the way you wrestled. Right now you’re probably still the most dangerous wrestler. Did it do anything to your mindset, and the fact is you have cut your hair. Was it the change from the Big Tens? You wanted something different?
BO NICKAL: No, the haircut, my hair was getting in my eyes a little bit and my face, and I didn’t want to deal with that, so I just had Zain shave it off, and he did a really good job, so super happy with Zain`s haircutting ability. I’ll probably definitely go back to him at some point in the future.
Q. I see you got a Muhammad Ali shirt on. Is that a purposeful message to your opponents that you’re the greatest?
GABE DEAN: No, actually not at all. I’m definitely not that kind of guy to boast about myself. I actually wear it for a different reason. Muhammad Ali actually lost to the guy that’s on the ground in this picture and came back and fought him again and got a first-round knockout in the first minute. And it just reminds me that our true character is defined in our most adverse moments, and that’s why I wear it. Definitely not to boast about being the greatest or anything, because there’s plenty of great wrestlers, and I’m just another one of those guys trying to create kind of a legacy, that’s all.
Q. Two questions: Did you realize that he had pulled your headgear or did you not know that until they actually called time out, and talk about your mindset since the Big Ten considering you lost that final.
MARK HALL: I didn’t — I mean, I was just wrestling. He took me down, I got away. I was ready to be down 3-2, 18 seconds left, 19 seconds left. I was ready for that. But when he had taken me down, my headgear was a little bit jostled, and it just happened that he grabbed it, he put time back on the clock, and we wrestled through it.
I know for a fact it wasn’t on purpose. He didn’t — he wasn’t going to cheat to get a takedown by any means. We were just wrestling. That’s part of the sport. It happens. I wished it could happen another way, knowing that I know Zahid very well. But at the same time, like I said before, you just wrestle and you wrestle through all those positions.