A lot of people are surprised to still see 12th-seeded Villanova still alive in the tournament. As you would expect, freshman guard Corey Stokes is not one of them. The 6-foot-5 freshman guard from Bayonne, N.J., scored a career-high 20 points in the Wildcats' second round win over Siena last Sunday, but now he and his team prepare for a whole new animal in Kansas University. He took a couple of minutes to give his thoughts Thursday afternoon after the team's practice at Detroit's Ford Field.
Ryan Greene: You guys have a guard set that's young and talented, kinda like that team did with Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry. Has that kinda become a tradition at Villanova, that it's a guard-heavy team with guys who are talented who can just score?
Corey Stokes: Yeah, everybody talks about Villanova as a four-guard school, but Coach Wright, he talked to us about how it wasn't really planned for the four guards to play. Some people got hurt, and Randy Foye was so tough that he could play the four position, and that's what happened. A lot of people compare the guards now to them. It's a great feeling to be compared to guys of that caliber.
RG: Does it give you a little more when you play at Villanova now, just a few years after that set played, to kinda live up to what they built?
CS: Yeah, when Randy Foye and Allan Ray and Kyle and Mike Nardi and those guys come up to the school, we really look up to them. Especially Randy. I really look up to Randy. He's from Jersey, and I really look up to him. Coach Wright says Allan Ray and those guys, they didn't really get it their freshman year, and we're picking it up faster than they did. And I'm thinking to myself like there's no way possible.
RG: Because those guys are in the NBA now...
CS: Yeah, it pushes me to get better.
RG: Well, with that extra push, you're going up against one of the best guard sets in the country tomorrow night. When you've watched them on film this week, what really stands out to you about what they can do between Russell, Sherron, Mario and Brandon?
CS: They're real tough because they push the ball in transition. Chalmers and Rush, I know they like to shoot the three. Rush, he has a great mid-range game. I actually played against him in high school when I was a sophomore (at St. Benedict's) and he was a post-grad (at Mt. Zion). And it was the same situation. I just went out, played hard, tough against him. My team won. Tomorrow night, it's just gonna be a street fight, a straight out battle. And me and my teammates, we're just gonna go out and play aggressive, with Villanova pride.
RG: How's he a different player now you think from when you last saw him play three, four years ago?
CS: He plays the same, but he plays a lot more aggressive, he's a lot more tougher than he was in high school. Me being younger than him in high school, I looked up to him and I used to model my game after him, so I'm really gonna go out and play my heart out tomorrow.
RG: Now the people who watched the game with you guys against Siena on Sunday just saw a nonstop, up-and-down game. Is that what you guys want to play against Kansas? Or do you want it to be a slower game?
CS: Coach Wright always talks to us before the game, he tells us to go out and set the tone, just go out and be the more aggressive team, be the first team to dive on the floor, be the first team to take a charge and just set the tone to the refs. And that's what we're gonna do tomorrow night.
RG: A lot of people say they're surprised you're still around. You guys don't seem very surprised. How much did the conference schedule you guys played help that, preparing you for this?
CS: The Big East is the best conference in the country. Every team in the Big East is tough, so it helps us prepare for games like this in the tournament. A lot of people didn't even thing we were gonna make the Big East Tournament. We had a losing streak, then we made a big run, we beat UConn, West Virginia, had a tough loss against Georgetown. Then we waited for Selection Sunday. And we're just on a great roll right now. And just looking forward to tomorrow night's game.
RG: What about that arena you just shot in for practice? Was that a little surreal? What was depth perception like? Was it a little difficult to adjust to it?
CS: It was a little difficult to adjust to it. We played in an arena like that earlier at Syracuse, the Carrier Dome. But it's nothing like this. The Ford Field is a lot bigger, and when you shoot, there's nothing in the background. You've just got to get adjusted to it. I'm a shooter, so I think I'll get adjusted to it quickly. We'll just see tomorrow night how everything goes.
Stokes, a Top-30 recruit a year ago out of St. Benedict's according to Rivals.com, averages 6.4 points per game on the season for the Wildcats, and his guard set will get its biggest challenge of the season Friday night at 8:40 p.m. (CDT).