Well, it's been a great day, through the gamut here so far, but we're excited, I think, to start.
Our team is one of those teams, we've got a lot of questions, I think, right now. I think in our mind or in my mind, if we can get a lot of those questions answered, if the ifs become reality, I think we've got a chance to have a really nice team.
We've got a player named Omer Yurtseven, he's still working through with the NCAA on his eligibility, at seven-foot tall from Turkey. Dennis Smith is coming off an ACL which I think he's 100 percent ready to go, and hopefully there's no issues. We've got Terry Henderson, who missed an entire year after sitting out a year, and it kind of goes on and on.
But we're one of those teams, if all those things come together, then I think we have a chance to have a really nice team. We're excited to get started I think just like everybody else in the country is.
Coach, Dennis Smith exudes confidence, and you've said that you weren't afraid to say that he was the best guard in the country, and he also said today that you gave him the keys. Can you talk about what that means, what keys have you given him, and then your confidence in him as a freshman to lead this team.
Well, I think he's an exceptional freshman. I've coached really good players before, but not only is he -- he's mature for his age. He's mature as a player for his age. Now, he is young. I love the fact that last year he wanted to come at Christmastime. He wasn't playing his high school basketball season. He was able to graduate at Christmas and join us. So he got to watch practice every day and sit on the bench and be in pregame talks and postgame talks and experience some of those things.
In my opinion, he's coming in with a little bit of time under his belt even though he didn't play last year. I think that was a great experience.
When we recruit players, my opinion is we think we know them, we watch them, we talk with them, we visit with them, but until you begin to coach them, sometimes you really don't really know what you have.
I think with me, it's been exciting in practice to see not only is he very talented, he's a phenomenal passer, he can score, he's gotten bigger and stronger, but on top of all that, you've got a guy that's got a competitive nature that's -- a lot of good players compete hard, and then there's another group of guys that they kind of have another level of wanting to win, and he shows that in practice every day.
Kind of put all those things together, and it's pretty exciting to watch every day.
I know you've discussed the subject with a number of members of the media throughout the day, but the depth of this league and the fact that you and many other coaches feel that there could be double-digit teams that make the NCAA Tournament. I'm curious as to why you feel the league is that good and that many teams might be able to make the Big Dance this year.
Well, here's the way I look at it. A few years ago we added Syracuse and Notre Dame and Pitt and then Louisville came into the league, and I think that we all kind of put a stake in the ground and said, this is the best basketball league in America. I think what's happened since then, and maybe we really weren't then, a couple, two, three years ago, but what's happened is everybody has recruited better. Everybody has got a little bit better player.
The strength of the league, the reputation of the league, the ACC, which has had phenomenal tradition and history over time, now I think every team in the league has taken their program even and lifted it one more step.
So now what you're seeing is the depth from 1 through 15.
There's a couple programs in the league right now that are truly rebuilding. There's a lot of teams in this league that are one or two steps ahead of that and think that potentially they're NCAA Tournament teams. I think the benefit of being in this league in the last couple years, the strength of that together, all that kind of as one big picture, I think it's helped every team in the league, and I do think right now you've got by and far the best, deepest basketball conference in America.
Two years ago Lennard Freeman's work on the defensive backboard and defensively was a big part of your late season surge. Last year with his health, he wasn't able to contribute that much. Is this year going to be any different for him? Is he able to play more, particularly while you're working through the eligibility issues with Yurtseven?
Well, I'm going to redshirt Lennard. What happened with Lennard is two years ago he had a stress fracture on the front of his shin. They put a 14-inch steel rod down the front of his shinbone basically from just under his kneecap to just above his ankle, and he played last year and in my opinion he kind of limped into the finish line. So this summer they took that pin out and put another pin in there, so he really hasn't had a summer and spring and fall where he's been able to work out really for two full off-seasons.
So I think with Lennard, our goal is to let him completely heal, get himself 100 percent ready, something he wants to do, something I think is the right thing to do for him.
And if you go back and think, back when we went to the Sweet 16 and we upset Villanova there in the second round, beat LSU and then Villanova, he was an important role player for what we did. We're not going to have him this year, and I hope next year as a fifth-year senior, he'll be able to come back and have a nice fifth-year senior year.
We were talking to Malik earlier, and he said a big focus has been to bring that winning culture back to the program, and he really harped on that. I was wondering what you personally as a coach have been doing to make sure that happens, and what have you seen your leaders on this year's team do to bring back that winning culture.
Well, I think every year is different, and we had been fortunate to go to four straight tournaments and two Sweet 16s, and even last year, you know, the fact that you go to the tournament doesn't necessarily mean you're going to go the next year or vice versa or the fact you don't go last year, like we didn't last year, that doesn't mean anything for this year. These guys have to take on -- this team has to become its own team, its own identity.
But I also think the guys that were here last year, they're hungry. They didn't like last year. They didn't like watching the tournament on television and not being a part of it. I'm also realistic and also realize that Terry Henderson being hurt, Lennard Freeman being hurt and Trevor Lacey going to the draft, those things hurt our team. But you've got to find a way to overcome them, and we weren't able to overcome those things last year.
This group is pretty hungry. I think our practices every day have been great. We have more depth right now than we've had, which means our practices are more competitive. I think our guys are fighting for playing time a little bit more than they have in the past. I think that's always a good thing for players.
I think all those things together probably puts us in a much better position than we were in a year ago.
Just your general thoughts on the NCAA Tournament, the first two rounds getting moved to Greenville, and how does that maybe affect you guys or these other schools in the area, just this controversy?
Well, I think it's disappointing for me. I've been in North Carolina now as a resident, this will be my sixth year. I love living in North Carolina. I don't like the fact right now that there's some sort of a negative connotation about North Carolina, and people speak about it in a negative way because of that rule, so I'd like to see it changed. I'd like to see college basketball and the NBA All-Star Game and the NCAA Tournament game and all those things back in our state, and I'd also like to see, in my personal opinion, the right thing being done.
I don't know that anything that is discriminatory against anybody is good. Hopefully that'll be something for us in the future that we can get changed.
On paper, a lot of new faces you're rolling out this year, but Dennis comes in early, you've got the transfers that have been in the program, obviously Terry and Torin, so tangibly, are these guys already kind of a formed team in that sense, more so than if they were just coming in?
Well, I think the fact that Dennis came in at Christmas time last year, Terry and Torin were sitting over there watching, I think the three of them have been together -- even though they weren't playing -- Torin practiced a lot more last year than the other two, I do think it's given those guys a bond a little bit -- I remember last year there was a tweet that Dennis or one of them put out that said help is on the way, so they've kind of embraced that role; that although last year was a struggle, here comes those guys ready to turn things around. I think it has helped them being together like that.
Malik spoke a little bit about that, rescue on its way. He also seems to think that this team is perhaps being slept on or has more potential than outsiders seem to believe. What's your perspective on that, and how high is the ceiling for this team, regardless of what we think?
Well, I think that we're a team, like I mentioned earlier, that if, in fact, Terry Henderson stays healthy and Dennis Smith obviously has no recurring issues and if Omer Yurtseven is eligible, and we've got some ifs there, that we have the potential to be a really good basketball team.
But there's a lot of ifs, and some of those will get settled soon, like with Omer's situation, and if we can stay healthy, I do think we have a chance.
Now, I don't pay too much attention to it. Players do. I think it's kind of a sense of motivation for those guys every day when they read about it. And so we'll see. Anything that motivates them in a positive way I think is good, and I think they do have something to prove. They feel like as players we've got a chance to have a really special team.
Based on the discovery of this year's team and confidence being what it is, are you and your coaches -- do you look for an aha moment? Is there a game on the schedule that you hope to know by a certain time? Obviously you'd like it to be the first game.
I don't know that there's one game on the schedule. I just think with our league as deep as it is this year, you've got 18 conference games. It's a lot of games. A lot of games against really high-quality basketball teams that we have to be as prepared as possible, in the best place possible by the time we hit the start of the league.
And then I think at that point, a team's ability to kind of march through the league depends on your ability to kind of lock in on one game at a time, win or lose. We've got 18 individual stand-alone contests, and at the end of the year, you see how many you can get out of there. Great wins can't affect your next game, or a tough loss can't affect your next game. Those are the type things when you've got a lot of young players, new players, we'll see how quickly we can adapt to some of those things.