How big of an advantage was it having Dennis Smith here since January, kind of being able to have him acclimated?
I've never had a player do that, before, what Dennis did, and I think it's a big advantage of him. I think number 1, a lot of times, we all forget that these guys are student athletes. They're students on campus, so it gave Dennis a chance, academically, to get familiar with our campus, go to class, go to college classes. He's done exceptionally well in school, then he also had the opportunity to integrate himself with the team, and to practice, and watch, and see, and be around our team, and coaches, and learn our culture and how we do things. I think, from those perspectives, it's been a really big benefit for him.
What can you tell us about Omer's eligibility?
At this point, I don't know that there's a lot to report, to be quite honest. I think when you have international students, and obviously we're not the first school to have that. There are some things that they have to go through, the NCAA is involved, and looking at that with our school. I think there's a lot of people that are participating, and at this point, we don't know anything more than we knew a while back.
Our hope is, here, the next few weeks to a month, but we don't really have a time table, but I know everybody here at NC State has been pretty diligent. They work extremely hard all throughout the university, and hopefully there will be a resolution at some point in the future.
Want to follow up on that, I guess you knew, when you got a commitment, that you had to go through that process. You didn't observe anything that's made you worried it wouldn't get done, or you still thinking positively that it will get done?
No, nothing has happened in a negative way. I think there's been a lot of fact finding, there's been a lot of discussions between NC State and the NCAA. I think that's standard. I don't think that's something that's unique to us, and I think it's just a process that's ongoing, and like I said, hopefully we'll learn something soon.
How frustrating is it...
It's not frustrating, because quite honestly, for us there's not really a whole lot we can do about that, so he's participated in every workout. He's integrated himself with our team in a really positive way, and we're approaching it with the hope that he won't have to miss any games, and just move right into play. If he does, we'll deal with that then. I think from a day-to-day standpoint, it's been a situation where he's fully involved, and fully a part of our team, and we'll learn more as we go.
Have you had similar situations to anything like this that you've gone through in the past, where you've had to clear a player before the start of the season?
I've had 1, at Alabama. A player, Kennedy Winston, he had to sit out a few games. I don't think this is uncommon for international students, just the way that their opportunity to play is set up with their school system compared to our school system, all those type of things. This is not unique to us. We're just going day by day, we're trying to see if we can get better every day. We'll see how it turns out.
How much different is the feel for this program compared to the end of last year, looking at the start of this year?
We're excited about this year. I really am. I think the players are excited about this year. Obviously last year was a tough year, but I think with who we've brought in, with the players that are back, there's a whole new feel around this team.
There's a lot of excitement around this team.
I think we're at a place right now where we learned from that, I have to learn as a coach, players have to learn from that. I think, for me, it's always a situation where the first thing I do is turn the lens right back on myself and say, "Okay, what can I do better? How can we be better? How can I be better?" I think we addressed those things. We addressed it with our roster. We do have 2 new coaches. Again, I think all those thing combined, there's for me personally, great anticipation to get this year going, get it started.
It's like if you and I played cards together, you kicked my tail in cards, I can't wait to play again. Let's go play. That's kind of where we are. I'm ready, let's go, and our players are ready, the returning guys are ready, and we've kind of had that anxiousness about getting this year started because of that.
Also follow up, are all your freshmen other than Omer, are there other situations that are still pending with getting clearance to play, and forwarding anybody else through or not?
We have Omer and Ted Kapita, those 2 guys. They're both, because they're international students, dealing with some similar things, but outside of that, that's it.
Between the staff changes and the newcomers on the basketball team, does this kind of feel like a first year or second year around year 5, because everything's so different, so new?
Year 6. I don't know that I'd say it's like year 1, but I do think it's refreshing. I think there's a refreshed kind of attitude with everybody. Certainly with me, I think with our staff, and the returning players, and everybody around. I do think there's some of that. There's a newness. I've got 2 new coaches that have brought some great ideas, concepts, thoughts.
We've talked a lot, this summer, about schemes, and different things we want to try to do with our team, maybe different than we've done in the past, and I'm excited about integrating some of those type things into what we do, so yeah, there's a sense of new beginning, somewhat, this year, even though it's the sixth year.
Mark, how would you approach if there is any kind of protest, or any kind of maybe during the anthem or anything like that? Is that something that in the past you've even really addressed with players, in terms of how they express themselves?
I've really never addressed it in the past, but we have talked about it with our team, and I think the most important thing, from my perspective, I'm a basketball coach, and a lot of times people think all I do is drill all the plays, and come up with a new offense and defense, and that's not accurate at all. I'm part of higher education. I view myself as an educator. I've got 5 children that are between 19 and 25 years old, same similar ages to everybody sitting in that locker room, so for me, I feel like I have an obligation and a desire to try to help these young athletes make good choices, good decisions.
I also want players, and my players, to think through topics and issues, and think through what's happening in society, because they're very well aware of it. They're college students, like everybody else on campus. I want to support those guys, and whatever it is they choose to do. At the same time, what I really want for them is for them to be well schooled, and well educated on really what's happening, and to think through and be very thoughtful about how they express whatever it is they feel, whatever that may be, and I understand we live in a country where people have different opinions. People are sensitive, and people are passionate about different things, and as I would with my 5 kids, I would encourage them not to react quickly. I would encourage them to think through and really study the topic, or an issue, whatever that may be. Then, we'll go on from there.
Personally, I love this country. I love it. I've been all over the world, and I have opinions, just like with my own children. I don't always agree with my 5 kids. I've had great discussions. One of my kids went to Stanford, and he's very brilliant. We talk about things, and a lot of times we don't agree, and that's okay. It's okay in this world not to agree. I want our players to be thoughtful and think about whatever position they maintain.
Kind of moving away from that, your backcourt looks completely different this year, with the exception of Maverick being there. What exactly do the new players that you have coming in bring to this back court compared to what you had last year?
I think the biggest thing with our back court is the unknown, honestly. Maverick comes back as a sophomore, I thought he had a phenomenal freshman year. We asked him to do a lot for a guy that honestly should have been a high school senior. People forget that he bypassed his senior year in high school and jumped right into the ACC. It was pretty good for a young player, but outside of that there's a lot of inexperience in this program, so question marks, maybe, for me.
I will stand here in front of you today and say I think Dennis Smith is the best guard in the country, period, hands down, that's my opinion. He is, yes, still a freshman, and he still has to learn. There's a learning curve, even for those players who are very talented. I have a strong opinion on how good I think he is. I wouldn't choose anybody over him.
I think Torin Dorn is another player that can really help us this year, although he hasn't played at this league, at this level. He sat out last year.
Terry Henderson has missed 2 years in a row, so there's questions about Terry, can he stay healthy? We're excited about Terry. I was excited last year. A lot of people forget he had scrimmaged Richmond about a week before the opening night had 26 or 27 points in scrimmage and 8 days later, you'll be losing for the year. We're excited about Terry, although he's not played for 2 basketball seasons, so there's something there.
Then Markell Johnson is a terrific young guy. He's terrific, but he's young. Those guys are young, so we're excited about them. I'm honest in my own kind of expectation, understanding there's not a lot of real experience there, guys that have done it at this level day in, day out, in the ACC. For us, they got to grow up fast, even though we do have some guys who are very talented players.
You just talked about this, Torin and Terry. How many times last year did you look at the bench and just see if you could nudge them in there and use them?
I looked over there a lot. I tried not to look over there, because on one hand, obviously, we were excited about Dennis.
I've been excited about Torin, because he's just such a great young guy, and he's one of those guys I think every coach would just love to have on his team, because he's versatile. He plays different positions. He's got such a great attitude. He's all those things.
Terry, it was tough for us last year. You guys that followed me know the story with Terry. I wanted Terry for a long time, here, and I screwed up the recruitment. That was my fault. When he was in high school, we should have had him out of high school and didn't. That was on us, but then to get him and miss a year after he sat out a year, and that became tough, because I think Terry is a really good player, so hopefully he can stay healthy this year.
That's one thing for us, too, I've been asked this question like with Dennis, he's coming off an ACL. He's had no signs of anything that would lead you to believe that he'll have any issues, but he is a player coming off an ACL. Terry's coming off an injury that he missed the entire year for, and hopefully we won't have situations where those guys have anything reoccurring.
It was last year, to see those 3 guys, part of the turf sometimes with injuries, and tough to go through, but again, you roll on, you get through to the next year.
What is the status of Lennard Freeman?
I would say, with Leonard, I'm pretty committed, yeah. I think it would have to be something unusual for our team, and he would have to get to a point where he somehow was 100% healthy, and mentally excited about playing, because I think right now, we've decided on reassuring ... For him to play this year, it would have to be something really amazing like that, which I don't unfortunately have.
Are there any other redshirt candidates?
I don't know right now if there's anybody that we're thinking about that with, although we start practice Friday, and one thing I've always done, is I've always tried to wait 2, 3, 4 weeks into practice, to really start to evaluate. We go through workouts in the fall, and a lot of individual workouts, and we'll do some team stuff now within the rules, but until you get into practice, and really watch practice, and see guys and how quickly they're really adapting, and learning, and fitting in, and picking things up, I always try to kind of hold my thought on who I might. I want to kind of give everybody a fresh, clean slate starting first day of practice. I want to see what happens from there, but at this point in time, I don't think there's anybody.
You do have BeeJay Anya listed at 344 pounds. Is that legitimate, or are you shaming poor BeeJay, or is he 344 pounds?
That his weight that we scaled.
The numbers change week by week. That's where it was, so that's where it is.
I'm making light a little bit of the situation, but I would surmise you're disappointed in that, to put that number at the top of roster.
We'll see how.. At this point, on September, what's today the 30th? Somewhere around there. We'll have to do the best job we can.
Malik Abu, What have you seen in his progress since he came back, and pulled his name out of the draft?
I think Malik had a really, really good summer, he had a really good fall. I think the biggest thing with Malik now, as a junior, probably a couple of areas. One would be leadership. I think he's tried to step forward and be a real leader on this team.
I like that about his approach every day, and I think day in, day out, as far as where basketball is concerned, I think he needs to become a more consistent scorer for us, and be a guy that can, whether it's 14 to 18 points a game, I think he's very capable of that every night, so we're excited about his year. I think he's going to have a great junior year. I think he's mentally in the right place.
He's beginning to be more of a leader. I think his game has developed. It improves every year, so I think this year he's one more step up from that.
Sort of a follow up on that, when you look at your frontcourt, with him, and BeeJay.. if everything goes to plan, what do you see you can accomplish, and how does Omer's skillset fit into what you want to do?
I think, at this point, until I would hear otherwise, which I don't anticipate, obviously we're counting on Omer and Ted to step in there and be a part of however we play with our rotation.
I think another thing with our team we could possibly see us do this year, I think Maverick, right now, he's grown an inch or two since he arrived on campus. He's close to 6'7", 6'8" right now, and we could play Maverick as a stretch-four at times.
I think those are the type things that you just have to wait, and see, and watch practice, and learn about your team, and learn the best way for this team to play, and this team, offensively and defensively, to be effective.
Then, the young guys, Ted, this guy has a high-motor. We signed Darius Hicks, who's a young guy that's very, very athletic. Shaun Kirk is another guy that still could figure into the mix as a kind of a slender 4, maybe play on perimeter 2. We feel like we've got some options when it comes to that, with our inside guys, and how the perimeter players, and how you kind of blend together.
Is this little different with past? Is the hype machine [on Dennis Smith] just a whole different level?
I think Dennis and Gerald Wallace, obviously there's a lot of attention on Gerald, but I think Dennis legitimately, realistically, is the kind of player with a great year that could be the No. 1 pick in the draft. I believe that. I've told people that. He and I have talked about it.
There's the hype machine is natural. It's just natural. I have gone all over the planet, and it's been amazing to me. I've sat in Istanbul, and I could name off some other cities around the globe, and when I say I coach at NC state, the reaction, people ask me about Dennis.
Again, I've talked about that, and I don't think he's a player that shies away from that. I don't think he's afraid of that. I think he's a guy that wants that. He likes the challenge. He likes to set that goal really high that, "I'm going to go find a way to get it." I've got to know him over the last 3 or 4 years, and there hasn't been a challenge that I've watched him be a part of that he hasn't risen up to a whole another level. I don't think I need to hype him. I don't think anybody needs to hype him. I just think it's natural. I just think it's who he is.
I think his peers, when you talk to other players around the country, people that have played against him and watched him, you get that same reaction. It's going to be exciting. It's going to be fun. My challenge with him is every day, and he knows it. I challenge him every day. Some days, already, in workouts he's been grumpy at me. That's fine, but my goal is to make him work as hard as he possibly can, every day, in every drill, where he can hopefully reach that potential, and reach the level that he wants to. It's going to be a lot of fun.
Mark, is there any correlation between the conference schedule and the lack of experience that you've been talking about, or is there some games that you wanted out-of-conference] and just weren't able to make it happen?
Let me say this about our schedule, you guys have gotten to know me, I like to play a really aggressive November December schedule, and I think that we missed on some opportunities this year. I think we're kind of a holding pattern for a couple, 3 or 4 weeks, back in March and April, where our roster was a little bit unsure, and I think as our roster became a little bit more solidified, we circled back with some teams, and there wasn't any interest in it or its games, and all of a sudden we couldn't get the games we wanted to get. There was about three weeks where everybody was calling us. Everybody in America wanted to play us, then right after that, I called them back, and I couldn't get anybody to commit, so it wasn't for a lack of effort.
I want our schedule to be good every year. I want our team to be challenged, and I think we still can. There's still going to be ways to challenge our team. Now, you also have to remember, like we've talked about, this is a very young roster. It's an exciting roster, but very young, and very inexperienced in our level. Hopefully, it's going to provide us some great opportunities to grow, and get better, and mature, and learn about ourselves, and those type things, and at the same time get us prepared for the ACC.
What type of buy-in do you have from BeeJay that he's there for you this year?
I think that mentally he wants to have a good year, and try to do everything we can to help him get there. I know he's committed to this team, so we'll see how that plays out. We've got a ways to go there.
I know Abu talked in the past about trying to develop that mid-range jumper. How has he become as a shooter?
I think his shooting has improved. I think Malik's ability to score around the basket has improved. He's a guy that I think has been really good here in the last couple of years, but I think he feels and we feel that he could even be better. He can use his both hands, his right hand and left hand, arm to block, using his speed and athleticism. You look from his freshman year to that sophomore year, I thought he took one pretty good step from where he was.
This year, it has to be one more step. He's got to be a reliable scorer every night for this team, and he's in a much better place to do that this year.
I think his shooting's improved, around the basket's improved, and we're going to try to put him in situations where we can give him some 1-on-1 opportunities. I think also he might step out every now and then and have a bit of a make some perimeter shots. I don't think that's his greatest strength, but if he can keep some guys on us from there, that can be good. Then, hopefully, I think he'll have a really good year.
Looking at the roster, you said you love the young exciting team. Is it a team that's going to play fast?
I think we've always tried to play fast. Now, before, I think we did one of the better half of the league, certainly, in all 5 years that I've been here, as far as scoring goes, but we've got to get better defensively. I think last year we were fourth or fifth in the league in scoring, but we were fourteenth at our defense. That's part of the reason why we were where we were, so we've got to get better defensively, but we're going to try to score. We're going to try to run.
I've never been a guy that's excited about walking the ball up the floor. That's not my thing, and we're going to try to create opportunities like we always have, with our athleticism, get out and run, score, and play, and open up the floor. That's the way we like to play, that's the way I like to play, so hopefully this year, especially with a guy like Dennis, who can be a catalyst with the ball, out in the middle of the floor. Hopefully that becomes something we can become really good at.
How do you kind of balance Dennis's 1-on-1 ability with the balanced scoring, what you guys could be?
I think that you guys also could have watched our teams here to understand, when we've been at our best, I think we've been a very balanced scoring team. A few of our teams have had 5 guys that are double figures. In a perfect world, I would love for my teams, every year, to do that. Last year was unique. We didn't have enough guys that could do that every night on a consistent basis, therefore Cat scored the majority of our points. TJ was just such a great scorer, one of the best scorers I've ever been around in my life. That became unique with him, but I'm a guy that would choose to have more balanced scoring.
I think Dennis has the ability to score when needed, but also create opportunities for other players. I think he's one of those guys that, as the game will unfold every night, it may be where there are nights where he's called upon, or asked upon, or feels the need to score more. There's going to be nights when it may be somebody else, so again, every team develops a little bit differently. In a perfect world, I would choose to have a team that has much more balanced scoring than one did not. We'll see how this one plays out.
How do approach playing with the roster that you have in case they do end up missing some games or something like that, and also factoring in, okay, we are going to have them or not going to have them? How do you?
That's a great question. I think, for us, that's always in the back of my mind. You're preparing to have every player that's practicing play, and that's how we're going to approach it, that every player that's in practice we're preparing, and at the very same time, we may do some more things in practice where they may not be a part of some segments, just to see how we would be without those guys. I think you kind of have to plan a little bit of both, because it's unknown, no one knows the outcome, but I would say the majority of our preparation is with the idea that those 2 guys are going to play and be eligible for it.
Does Omer's situation compare at all to Enes Kanter at Kentucky?
I think every student athlete that comes internationally to our country is unique in their own circumstances, regardless of what country they come from. Every player is unique, there's a unique set of circumstances for each individual person, so from that perspective, I just think everybody's a little bit different.