You've been talking about Richard Howell, his weight loss, his improved fitness but I think you really have to see him after four or five months to really get a sense of how drastic it is. Do you feel that way, you see him all the time?
"Yes, you have to remember I took the job on April 4 and he was at 271. I think he's been pretty consistently hanging around 245 right now. He has a done a great job, he deserves the credit. I think our strength coach, Bob Allejo, has been hand in hand with him. Those two guys collectively. It shows me that Richard is very dedicated, he wants to make a difference and it's going to help his conditioning, stamina. Last year the few games I watched he seemed out of shape, overweight and couldn't be the player that I think he can be, so this is the first step, get your boy ready to where you can be a good solid players. And now go from here."
He said you had stayed after him pretty well. Did he need a lot of badgering or did he go at it pretty aggressively?
"Obviously I encourage him but at the end of the day to transform your body you have to want to, each individual person. I think he's just done a good job with it. It's taken a lot of discipline for him to do that. The next step for him is to get into a system where he can play differently than he has in the past. But he at least has a foundation now where he can begin to work and have a chance to much more effective."
You mentioned Coach Alejo, talk about what he brings to the table.
"I think Bob Alejo is as good a strength coach as there is in the country. In hiring him I thought quietly it was one of the best hires I made. I think our staff is terrific, I like my staff, but that one flew under the radar just a little bit. Bob is going to have an impact with our program in a lot of ways."
Were you aware what you were getting with Alex Johnson? A lot of the guys talked about how good he is.
"It's kind of hard for me to tell. I've watched some tape, I did not watch him in person, obviously. I was at UCLA seven years so I have a lot of contacts in California and called a lot of people and tried to learn as much as I can about him. I truly did not know what to expect, to be quite honest. What I have enjoyed about Alex is his maturity, his leadership abilities. He understands that he can provide a very valuable role to us and it may not be the most glamorous role but he gets it. He can be a very key component. That maturity is something our team needed. He's a good fit for our team right now."
You said when you got here that guys really needed to learn the value of hard work. Do you think they are starting to get it?
"I think so, I think we've taken some steps. Most of the summer and into the fall we don't work with them as much as we'd like to. Most of that is in the weight room. Bob Alejo had them for 10 weeks in the summer, two five week sessions and then he came back in the fall and had them in the weight room for another eight week period so that's 18 weeks right there since the start of summer school. Our staff has been with them in groups of four and what we're allowed to do with them on the floor so I think we've kind of got the foundation laid, or maybe a better word is expectation. Here's how we want to work every day, here's what we expect of you. To judge where we are right now I think our team has responded pretty good. They want to win, they are hungry. They are wanting for somebody to come in here and help them, and they know they have to work hard. Overall, that has been pretty positive since we got here."
What will the most difficult thing for these guys to learn about you and your offense between now and the start of the season?
"I don't know that there will be a lot of things that are difficult. Any time there is a new coach there is always a learning curve. What does the coach like? What upsets him? How do I get in the rotation? Those of us that have played, I don't care what team you go on, you better learn what the coach wants. Our guys, it's day by day, but they've done a pretty good job with that. They are learning and we've tried as a staff to lay it out there very clear for them. If they are not playing hard, they are not going to play, period. I don't care who it is, because at the end of the day you aren't going to win anyway. We want to play together, we want to be unselfish. We want to be in great condition and we want to play together. I want guys who enjoy playing with one another, that's then the whole thing gets fun."
How have Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie responded?
"Calvin's been good. He's getting better each day. It's something that him or any player, they clearly know the expectation for them and he knows it and again, it's something that we have to do every day to hold everybody accountable that they are going to work as hard as they can every day. Lorezno is our quarterback. He's the guy that I'm going to hand the ball to. I've had some great point guards, Mo Williams being one of those guys that's playing in the NBA and I think Lorenzo can eventually become a guy like that. It may take him a few years but he has to learn how to run a team, how to be the point guard, what the expectation is, how to value the ball. The point guard's responsibilities are a lot more than everybody else's. This is the first time at this level where Lorenzo is going to be exclusively a point guard and learn how to play the point and learn how to run a team. I'm excited for him, I think he's going to be good at it."
Lorenzo said he has to learn to be more vocal. How difficult is it to take a kid who's nature isn't to be vocal and get him to be a good communicator on the court?
"Most of us aren't going to completely change who we are, that's just the reality of life. The dye is cast a little bit but I do think that he will become more of a floor leader with his voice. That's something that he can do, it's not a concern of mine with him."
How do you feel about the schedule?
"I like our schedule. I've had some people in the profession, some of my close friends, tell me that we've over scheduled. They think that I'm stupid and we're a little bit too ambitious but I think it's the right schedule for our team. Debbie Yow deserves some credit because she helped me, we had to get out of some contracts and those aren't easy sometimes to do. Our staff did a good job of finding the Legends Classic, the tournament is going to be very good. Vanderbilt will be a top five team in the nation, Texas and Oregon State both very good. If you look at our first three games, the general fan might look and say 'UNC Asheville, Morehead and Princeton' but those are three NCAA Tournament teams. Vanderbilt is a fourth and potentially Texas as the fifth. We know what we're doing as far as trying to schedule. It's not by accident. We're close, the deal is not signed yet, to adding Kansas on a two-year contract. That's something that I'm excited about."
What kind of late pickup was Thomas De Thaey?
"I'm excited about Tommy. I like his maturity, he's an older freshman. He's a phenomenal worker. He's in this building probably as much as anyone on this team. Early morning, late at night, getting extra shots up. He brings some physical attributes to our team too. He's very athletic. There will be a learning period for him, learning the American game and the officiating and the style. That will take him a little bit of time but I think for a freshman right now we're really excited about him."
Has the college game gotten to the point where you need power forwards that can stretch the floor?
"I don't know that you need one but it's nice to have a forward that can step out behind the line and be a threat to make a three-point shot. That's big. At the same time, defensively, Thomas is a guy that can guard a lot of true power forwards in college basketball. If you look at him, defensively I think he can handle some guys around the basket. We're hoping that he can be a very effective guy for us this year."
Because of numbers, Tyler Harris and Jaqawn Raymond will probably have roles this year too?
"I think going into practice everybody needs to be ready to play. When you cut right to the chase, let's not forget that we finished 10th in the ACC out of 12. There is nobody on this roster that's guaranteed anything. It's not like you are walking in here to a team that won 25 games and roles are somewhat set. Playing time is there for all these guys to hope to get and that's kind of what we told them. We'll see what happens when practice starts."
What does that mindset do to the work ethic you see from these guys?
"Competition always helps all of us in everything we do. I don't care, in the work place, in school, competition brings out the best in you and you better bring your A game every day. We hope in the next year or two that we become a lot more competitive than we are right now in practice. If you are a player the shies away from the competition every day then that guy is not going to be a great player anyway. We like guys that want to compete every day. They are walking into a situation with a brand new coaching staff so there is no promise of anything of who's going to play or start. It's all up for grabs."
Over the summer you described this team as a mystery team. Do you feel the same way now or do you know more about what you've got?
"In the league, if you looked at our league race and tried to handicap our league, we're still a mystery team. There is a lot of unknowns. We're going to play a guy at the point who really hasn't played exclusively at the point. You are moving your tight end to the quarterback position. We'll see how that turns out, hopefully it's going to be good. You've got a guy in Calvin Leslie that's been up and down as a freshman. Had great moments and had some moments that weren't so good. A guy in Richard Howell that's got a new body. To me there is just a lot of questions, a lot of unknowns. When you look at some of the other teams in this league maybe roles are a little bit more defined, where they kind of sit with their program is more defined than ours. To me, ours is a mystery."
Does Mr. Leslie enjoy you calling him Calvin?
"That's his name. It's time for a new start with him so it's a new beginning."
Do you call him that to his face?
"It's his name."
Does that make it easier? Is C.J. Williams C.J.?
"Yeah, C.J. is C.J., Calvin is Calvin."
WIth regards to Alex, this rule allowing graduates to transfer and play right away has exploded. Is that a good thing for college basketball? Do you like that?
"Well, I do now. This year I like the rule. We had Justin Knox at Alabama that went to North Carolina and was in grad school there. It's a rule that has the best intention on paper for that student athlete that graduates and desires a specific degree program that is not offered at that school. The reality of that rule is that a lot of guys are transferring and finding a major that's not offered at the first school. It's a rule, it's something you are allowed to do and I'm glad it's written the way it is right now."
What is the pool like of guys trying to do that?
"It's a very small group of guys. That's why I was very happy that we found Alex to be quite honest. He fits for us right now. He fits a need."
How fast do you want to play?
"Here's the thing I think you have to remember, I'll try to describe this in layman's terms. Everybody wants to run, that's the most fashionable thing to say. That's like the politician that says he wants to cut taxes, everybody cheers. Now, the reality is can you really do that? That's the question. Can we be a good enough defensive team where we're not taking the ball out of the net every possession, because you're not going to be a fast break team if you have to take it out every single time. If we can't get a defensive rebound, we're not running anywhere because they are going to put it back in. We want to be a team that absolutely puts pressure on opponents to get back quickly and we want to score in the open floor and in the break.
"We have to teach a team how to do that, how to throw an outlet pass, where to get open, how do you get open in an outlet area Lorenzo Brown to where you can be an outlet and catch a pass to start the break. How are we going to make good decisions in the break, we're not going to run down there and throw it into the ninth row. It's a process, this team has to learn how to do that and we have to be good at a lot of areas that tie into a fast break. It's easy and fun to say that we're going to run and score 100 every night but the reality is there is a lot that goes into that. Our system, when it's executed properly can become a good running system but can we do that? We'll see, the verdict is out on that."
How much do Deshawn Painter and Jordan Vandenberg help with the running game?
"From a defensive standpoint and a rebounding standpoint they become critical. For us, defending around the basket is important no matter how you play, fast or slow. Both of those guys can do those things, hopefully very well."
They've had a bit of a tug-o-war at that position the last couple of years. How do you see that playing out?
"It's unfortunate that they are in same class. In a perfect world it would be nice if one of those guys were a year ahead or behind the other, but I think they are going to compete this year. It's not exclusively at a center position. In our system our two forwards are forwards, we don't necessarily have a four and a five. And our wings are relatively the same. There isn't a lot of difference offensively in a two or a three. We'll play with a point guard, two wings and two posts so for me we're going to find the best two bigs we got and play them to start the game."
Would Calvin be considered a big this year?
"I hope Calvin can play a little of both, but we've got to do is find the most effective place he can play. Where can he be the best? I'd love to say before a practice ever happens that I know already where that is. The reality is I don't. We'll have to figure that out a little bit as we go with him."
How has C.J. Williams' leadership been?
"I think C.J. Williams and Alex Johnson, those two seniors, have done a nice job so far. You have to remember we're about to start practice and things are going to change in their world after this weekend. So far, I think those two guys have done a nice job."
Who is the better shooter? You in your day or Scott Wood?
"No question, I always tell him he's the second best shooter in the gym."
Bobby Lutz and Coach Early, how do you define their roles with you out there on the practice court?
"Bobby Lutz has tremendous experience as a head coach. What I love about Bobby is his willingness to become incorporated into a different system than his. Where I want Bobby to be good and where he's already been good is bring those things that we was, in my opinion, excellent at and then incorporate them into our system. He's going to make us better, without question. I'm not big on the titles, associate head coax, I've never been a big fan of all those things but he's that guy that's a little bit closer to me as far as those strategic things. Orlando Early has been a head coach as well, Rob Moxley is good, Jeff Dunlap. I've got a good staff, there is no question. They bring a lot of different things to the table."
Is there a learning curve with you and them in practice, the voices and kind of how that works?
"There is, some of that is coaching the coaches and teaching them those teaching points in drills that I want to see them do and where the emphasis should be. There will be more time in the first year than in other years where you spend with the staff breaking down each particular drill and teaching how we want this taught. The great news is you have a guy like Bobby who's got phenomenal basketball mind and a great background. I'm excited about that."
How do you see yourself getting Scott Wood shots?
"I think it's a combination of two things, number one we have to do a good job of creating opportunities for him. Second part of the equation is he has to do a much better job than he has in our workouts of learning how to effectively play without the ball in his hands where he then can get open. Teams defend him chest to chest, nose to nose. They don't let him have any room. With that in mind, how do you take advantage of that. It's two-fold. We have to do a good job and he has to learn as well to really become an effective guy when he doesn't have the ball in his hands. We've talked with Scott a lot about that already and that's going to be a collective effort."