"For me, I like the competition. I like people coming at us. The team and our coaches are like that too. I don't think it will be a big difference. In practice we go hard at each other. We're very talented and very deep. I think this year we just have to stay within us, communicate and have chemistry."
With so much talent returning, this team appears to be on the rise. How can you guys continue to go in the right direction?
"I think this year is the highest UM has been ranked pre-season. I've never been ranked that high even in high school. For this team to be ranked so high we have a lot of expectations. We don't want to come out and lose. Last year we went on like a 13 game winning streak. We want to keep building on that and keep winning. You want to make a run to the Final Four and try to win the whole thing. I think it's going to help the program with recruits and stuff like that. Hopefully we'll have more fans than we had last year. We're trying to make UM more than a football school. We're trying to make it a basketball school and a national powerhouse.
Being a local guy you have seen the program's highs and lows. What is it like to be a part of a program on the rise?
"I've seen the program go up and down. It's like a sigh of relief. I'm here and the team has come together. We have so many good players and we're ranked high. It's amazing. I didn't think the team would be ranked this high."
What was the toughest part about last year for you?
"For me it was defense, you know staying in front of guys, and becoming more of a leader. I've go to talk to the veterans and tell them ‘you've go to be here or you've got to be there'. Learning the plays and getting my legs back. Towards the end I started getting my legs back around the middle of the ACC season. Throughout the whole year I felt stiff just getting warmed up."
You were a freshmen playing against the stellar point guards of the ACC like Ty Lawson and Tyreese Rice. How tough was that for you?
"It was tough. I took it hard on myself because I wanted to come in and make an impact. It's a process. It took me a while to understand that. When I went against one of those guys I always gave it my best. If I didn't, I was pretty upset with myself. I put a lot of blame on me. This year coming in, I've got more confidence and that helps me take my game to another level. Besides that, I've been working out very hard over the summer staying after practice to put in extra work getting ready for the season."
You mentioned the struggles of last season. What makes you more confident heading into this year?
"I've been working out a lot in the summer. That's going to help me. I've been doing good in practice. I'm taking care of business. When I was a freshman coming in, I didn't know what to expect. I was on the court and I didn't know my legs we're going to be stiff. I didn't know how to act. I felt slow. There were just a lot of factors. Now having a year under my belt, I already know what to look for. When I'm playing someone, I know their tendencies and their weaknesses. That gives me a real big confidence boost."
How is last year's experience going to help you this year and what do you see your role on the team being?
"This year, I slimmed down. I lost around five to eight pounds. I feel lighter. I bulked up a little bit and got more ripped. I feel like I got my athleticism back. Last year, I felt real stiff coming into game. I have my legs. I feel way faster than last year. I've been working on my handling and my shot has gotten a lot better. I looked at my stats from last year and was shooting very low from the free throw line. I picked that up tremendously. It's just confidence. I worked on my three point shot. My defense has gotten a lot better. I can stay in front of guys. I just feel it's going to be a real good year for me. We'll see what happens."
You bulked up quite a bit going into last season. Was it too much for you?
"Last year I bulked up. I'd never been that high. I was at one-ninety-something. I felt real stiff. This year I've been lifting but I've been playing a lot too. Last year I was on the bench every now and then and I was eating so I gained a lot of weight. This year I've constantly been playing so my body has gotten in shape and I'm ready to play in the ACC."
What are you weighing right now and do you want to continue to lose more weight?
"I'm at 186 right now. I want to be about there. When you play, you lose weight. When we start lifting I'll get it back. I'll probably be at 185 throughout the season."
Was there one point last season where you thought it was the most frustrating moment of your career so far?
"It was the first two games I started when Jack was out. That was the most frustrating for me because I shot very poorly from the field. I was like two of ten in both games. I felt like I lost an opportunity there. I could have shown the coach what I could do. It could have helped me in the long run. I could have played more in the upcoming games. It dropped my confidence a lot because I really played poorly against two non-conference teams."
Do you think being a local guy and having your family and friends in the stands puts extra pressure on you?
"Last year I had a lot of pressure but this year I just have to worry about the team and myself. I think last year I tried to please a lot of people. Some people wanted me to shoot and some wanted me to pass. I had mixed emotions. I was very confused. This year I just want to do whatever the coach wants. I'm going to run his team and hit shots when I'm open. This year is very team oriented for me."
There's a lot expected of this team this season with the pre-season ranking and last year's success. What do you think of these expectations?
"I think it's good for the community and for Miami. The thing that helps us out that a lot of people don't understand is that we really get along. The other day we went to the movies. The whole team went to see Saw V. We're always together. We're always joking around off the court and having fun. That helps us when we get to the court because we already have the chemistry off the court. Once we get on the court we click and just have fun out there."
Do you think the point guard play between you and Lance Hurdle will help this team take the next step?
"Oh yeah. I think Lance has gotten a lot better this year. He's gotten faster. His vertical has gone up about two inches. This year, Lance and me keep getting better and better. Also, Malcolm Grant has been a good addition to the team. He's one of those New York guards that like to dribble the ball a lot. I've had to guard him a couple of times and that's really worked me out. Everybody is just trying to get right for the season."
How has Malcolm Grant been doing in practices?
"He's doing real good. He does have problems with the plays but we have a lot of plays and he's picking them up real quick. He's a real smart guy. He's not that athletic but he gets the job done. He's always getting in the paint and he hits his shots when he's open. He's very vocal too."
People kind of compare him to Jack with the way he can hit the three. Is that what he reminds you of?
"He's kind of a poor man's version of Jack. He's a good player but I think him and Jack are two different players. They can both shoot the rock. Malcolm is a straight point guard. He can play the two but he's more of a point guard because he likes to handle the rock. He's got moves and can penetrate. He's a very good passer when he's in the paint. Jack can do the same things but he's more of a scorer. He tries to look for his shot."
Coach has talked a lot about defense and that was the major hurdle you had to get over. Do you feel like you're picking up the tendencies and have improved defensively?
"Yeah. The team tells me what to do when to get off screens. It's just staying in front of guys and staying low. Last year, my legs would stiffen up. I'd feel a burn real quick like up and down my legs. This year, I haven't had that in practice or anything like that. I just feel real comfortable out there on the court."