Opening Comments: "This is a good time of the year for myself, this is the time of the year I enjoy. You can start coaching, you don't travel as much. I like this time of year. Obviously this time of year compared to last year we do know a lot more about our team. In particular having those ten days of practice and taking that foreign tour, that put us ahead from that standpoint. And besides we've got some people returning. Everybody knows last year we had five or six points returning, everybody was new and not knowing anything about them. This year I think we've got 50-55 points returning, plus we had an opportunity to see these four freshmen. I think that's put us way ahead of the game."
Q: How has practice been and how are the young players meshing? "As a whole practice has gone great. And again I have some things to work with from the standpoint of experience. We still have ten freshmen and sophomores but at least I have some people who have been through some things and they have shown good leadership. The four freshmen, because of the kind of people they are, they've picked up extremely well. There has been very little slowing down to let the freshmen catch up; all four of them have great basketball IQ's, a great ability to listen, and they bring a great work ethic to practice every day. So from that standpoint the meshing has been good. I think they've earned a lot of respect of the older players and that's a positive too."
Q: You've said comparing these freshmen to last year that maybe they have surpassed last year, can you expand on that? "There's no question from a standpoint of where they are at, an ability to listen and learn and the kind of people are. Absolutely they are as good as any coach would want. Last year's freshmen were very good, too. I think it was a little more of a learning curve than this year, these freshmen all have a very good basketball IQ and come from some good programs. I think that has shown, they're all gym rats…one of them too much of a gym rat! During two-a-days I'm in the weightroom working out in the morning and Ben Hansbrough is in the weightroom in Sanderson getting some extra lifting in! I told them to check his fever, I've never had a young man do that. But they have all fit in great. All four are going to be able to help this team in some way this year."
Q: Are you healthy? "You shouldn't ask that question! Knock on wood for sure, but we haven't had an injury. Charles Rhodes had a little bit of a thigh bruise Saturday, outside that I think we're healthy."
Q: Talk about how Vernon Goodridge has improved. "We knew going into this season we had to get a couple of questions answered, who could help Charles Rhodes inside some. We knew who the candidates were, Vernon and Jarvis Varnado. We didn't know how much progress Vernon had made, we'd seen some things in conditioning but not on the court. Absolutely, going through those ten days (practice) and playing in that foreign trip and also practicing a week so far no question Vernon has improved immensely. He's in the best shape he's probably ever been in, he's catching the ball and finishing a lot better. He's stronger. Is he where we want him to be, nope; but he has made tremendous improvement and he's at the point where we feel we can count on Vernon to help us. And that's a huge statement from sitting here when March was over asking could we depend on Vernon. Absolutely, we can."
Q: Is it a big thing for you getting a rotation right now? "No, not as much. We've got those guys coming back. Someone asked who was going to be the starters, as you know I don't always start our best team. people say why not, sometimes you start people form a chemistry standpoint and what makes your chemistry fit the best overall, and you may sub in your best team. We may start big and may go small. We may go with a small lineup (like) we finished up last year, maybe different personnel doing it. But at least I know for sure we have an opportunity to play big. Vernon Goodridge as a five is much-improved, and Jarvis is as good a freshmen as we've had in here and that's a huge statement. And I absolutely love him."
Q: Is Charles Rhodes taking on the leadership role you want him to have? "He's started that process. It started number-one with the players electing him a captain. This time last year he wanted to be a captain or leader, but this year to show he's done some things better he got the majority of the votes. Now is he still where I want him to be, no, but he's made progress. He's made progress every year. The biggest thing with Charles is the one thing I tell him all the time, he has to become consistent with his effort level every day and every possession. That's the biggest thing. Is it better than it was, absolutely. You want your best player to be your hardest worker every day and every possession."
"That's the key to when I talk about winning on the road. Everybody is good at home, but teams able to win championships are teams able to go on the road and win. And to go on the road and win you have to be consistent, you can't have those bad effort possessions. It's about effort and toughness on the road. That's why we preach is it a good enough effort to win on the road? At home you can overcome it sometimes because you've got a lot of people behind you, on the road you don't. That's what we're trying to get Charles to understand, he has to prepare as if he's on the road every day and every possession."
Q: What have you seen from Jarvis in practice to make that statement? "Number-one, and this is something you never know until you get a young man in the fire, he has a great ability to listen and retain what you're teaching him. Number-two, he brings the effort level every day and every drill that you don't see in a lot of freshmen. Then you put he's athletic, he can score and block shots…if you want to find something that you can't control but will get better with him, the only thing you can look at Jarvis and say is he needs strength. He came in at 180 pounds, he's 195-197 now. I wasn't sure how much that lack of strength would allow him to contribute this season, I've got no questions after this fall and going through practice. I have immense confidence in him and so do his teammates. He has a presence about him and he has a feel for that double-team, his ability to pass the ball. And one-on-one in the block he can go score a basket. You can't teach that."
Q: Where is Jamont Gordon going to play? "He's going to play! Where? Is he going to play point guard, absolutely. Is he going to play some four, yep. He'll be moved around, he'll play lots of different spots. His biggest thing as a point, which we all know and we continue to work with him on, he's got to take care of the basketball. It's not his mentality to play point, he's got a great mentality, he sees the floor, he can make passes and in transition he's about as good as we've had getting it to the hole if you don't stop him. And it's not many nights you don't have an advantage strength-wise at that point guard spot. The thing he has to continue to improve on is when it's not there, or when things are going bad, do I help mend it together or do I unravel? Hopefully it's a lot more mending than unraveling, last year in situations it seemed it'd unravel a lot or he'd think he had to go one-on-three or one-on-four to beat somebody. But he's better in every area of his game. I think he's a good shooter when he takes good shots. A lot of times when he gets a four-guy down in there he's hard to defend because that four guy can't pressure him as much and he can take three-point shots. Finding that balance is the key."
Q: What does Ben Hansbrough bring to the backcourt? "Ben just brings a great work ethic, he gets immediate respect because everybody knows how hard he works. Whatever a gym rat is, that's what Ben is. His biggest adjustment at the point guard is just learning to slow down some. His game is 100 miles-per-hour all the time on offense and defense, and he's got to find that medium offensively, slow down and run the team, and when things start speeding up that's when you've got to be at your best to slow down. But two things as a freshman allow him to play. He has the mental and physical toughness, two things that freshmen don't have lots of times he's got both of those. And the thing that really helped improve his game a bunch is his ability to shoot the basketball. I think he's gotten lots better over the summer and fall, and at the end of the day that's what the game is about, putting it in the hole. He gives us another dimension out there, a guy you can swing it to. And I think you'd better guard him now, he's getting a lot confidence in that shot."
Q: How did you get Ben to come here? "Well, we recruited his brother (Tyler). We had him in camp here for four years, they came to team camp since he was a freshmen. We had his older brother here for a couple of years. Recruiting his older brother we developed a relationship with the family and Ben. I think it was this, his brother committed and signed with North Carolina early which meant Ben was going into his junior year, and a lot of people didn't come back by there. I don't think a lot of people realized Ben's potential. We got him at camp again going into his senior year and got him committed before summer. He's just going to be a great piece for us."
Q: You've said Richard Delk could be the most improved player on the team. How has he done so far? "I see that improvement in him. As I said last year until he got hurt I thought he was playing very good for us. We got him back late and I thought he contributed well. We're playing him over on that wing a bunch, what that does is give us another point guard, another skilled player that can handle it and pass it. His shooting is 100% better. The biggest thing we're on Richard to do is go rebound that basketball. And he has shown us the ability to do that now. I like the progress he is making, I really do. He's doing some things a wing guy has to do, and he's a guy that can play wing and become probably our third point guard."
Q: Talk about the difficulty of this non-conference schedule. "It's challenging for sure. We wanted a challenging schedule because it helps us prepare for the SEC. As I've said many times you've got win on the road in this league to win championships, it's very obvious we've got some good road tests early. And we've got some good home tests early.
Q: Have you accelerated the practice pace because the schedule starts a week earlier this year? "It helped us accelerate with those ten days of practice (in August). And just because of familiarity with what we're doing with the guys that have been here. And the new guys have picked up so well, we still teach a lot of basics but be able to move on a little bit. This time last year we weren't thinking too much about sets; we've got a few sets in. We've had to make some adjustments coming out of Vancouver to what we were doing, the first week we made some of those adjustments and hopefully we'll finish up this week. Because we need to move on."
Q: Has not making the NCAA Tournament last year been a type of motivation? "No, it's not a motivation. It's something to build on. Our goal every year is to compete for a championship. I don't use the NCAA as a goal or something we're trying to achieve. What we try to do in the off-season and now is ‘is it good enough for a championship effort?' That will take care of anything else. We don't set 20 wins as a goal, it's about making yourself the best you can be every day. Ask yourself is that a championship effort, is that everything you've got? Is it good enough to win on the road. Those three basic things, they hear that coming out of my mouth constantly. If you take care of those three things all that other will take care of itself."
Q: Why put together such a difficult schedule? "Well, how is this young team going to get better? I'm preparing to win on the road. Whether it's those four (road) games or if it helps us win SEC games somewhere along the way, that's my goal with it. Plus next year we have all those teams coming back in here. That's a plus too. I've heard many times let's get some big-name teams in here, alright, we've got them in here now! Missouri, Clemson, and Miami in the same year, that ain't never happened!"
"And I'm looking at the big picture. It could hurt us short-term some with the win-loss but in the long term it's going to make us better. And as you know it's not easy to get teams in here, to do that we had to go to their places first for the most part. It just so happened we go to three of them first. Even though we have ten freshmen and sophomores, we have some guys who got experience last year. And it's only going to get better. I could have got us three more wins there very easily, and our record look better for sure. At the end of the season I may say I should have done that. But I think we'll all agree playing those teams on the road will make us better come SEC and that's what it all boils down to. You've got to win some games on the road."
Q: Can you talk about your other two freshmen guards? "Phil Turner, nothing has disappointed me. He's everything I thought he was and is going to be. Is he where those other guys are, maybe not. But long-term he could be more because of his athleticism. He can shoot the basketball and he has a great charisma about him. He's going to be a very, very good college basketball player. Barry Stewart, maybe some of you have heard me say this, he reminds me of a young Timmy Bowers that's not quite as athletic. And that's about as good a compliment as I can give because I've said in my opinion Timmy is the best player to play here. He has great poise, doesn't turn the basketball over, understands the game, and makes shots. He makes shots. He puts it on the floor some. This young man will get off the bench and help us this year."
"Three of those freshmen will help us win games this year. I don't know if the other will redshirt, probably not. We'll see how it goes."
Q: Going into your ninth year as head coach, are you more excited about this team? "I was telling someone, and this is a pretty huge statement too because we've had some pretty good teams. I kind of like where I'm at this stage of the year in our program the best I've ever like it, because of two things. We have ten freshmen and sophomores, and a young man sitting out that is a player, Brian Johnson, he's a great person. With these freshmen, and I can't talk about the two young men we have committed but I like the fit, too. So I like where we're at."
Q: Do you have an opinion on the new seating plan? "Do I have an opinion? (laughing) I hope everybody is happy with their new seat! All I know is we need people up in those seats, and the nights you can't be there make sure you put somebody in those seats. That's the biggest thing with me, making sure we've got somebody in those seats. I hope it worked out where everybody is happy with the new arrangements!"
Q: Is there any talk of building a new arena? "First off, we'll let the next coach worry about that! The one thing our program absolutely needs in the worst way, not a want but a need… In April we were in The Hump three days; in May zero days, the first two weeks of August zero. The week before practice started, zero days. We're in a desperate need for a practice facility. In April and May we have to go to Sanderson, tell me what other SEC program has to do that. It's not about who has The Hump, it's a multi-event facility. I found elephant…you know!…back in the summer, they had the circus in there! There's been everything in and out of that thing. We just kind of find our way and get in it when we can get in it. That is a need in every way that is important for us, and we'll find ways to get it done. Besides that, it's become such a recruiting tool. It's in the works, in the stages, and we're trying to get things going on as we speak."