I think the origin of the game was two-fold. One, the RBC was scheduled – I think Disney on Ice is there this week, is that right? So we didn't want to go for such a long period of time without playing a game, and with exams, we certainly didn't want to travel. So we needed a game. It just made sense that we played in Reynolds during that period, because it accomplished the other goal of kind of keeping that building alive for our basketball program. So we started a couple of years ago, and once we did, it was amazing how much the guys who hadn't ever played there before or been to a game there before really enjoyed the experience and were amazed at how close the people are to the action and how loud that place can get.
How special is it for you personally?
I love Reynolds, and I just said earlier today, I really feel privileged and honored that I was able to spend my first couple of seasons in Reynolds. We have great reverence for the history of NC State basketball and the centerpiece that Reynolds was through the years for this basketball program.
Generally speaking, how much can a player improve his overall shooting coming from high school to college?
I think you can certainly improve. You see guys even got to the NBA and continue to improve their shooting in very measurable, definite ways. It doesn't always happen and it's not that easy to improve your shooting a great deal once you get so many thousands of shots one way underneath your belt when you reach a certain point in your career. Usually, by the time you're in college, the guys who can shoot can shoot, and the guys that can't, even with a lot of work, tend to still need more work. But you can, and there have been cases you can point to where guys continue to improve their shooting and make significant change.
Is there any player in your coaching career that stands out in that regard?
Just dramatically change their shot? I don't know, I'd have to think about that. No one just pops into mind. I think most of the guys we've had probably fall into that overwhelming majority; they either were pretty good shooters and still made shots or they were guys who might have marginally improved or improved a little bit, but didn't go from Dennis Rodman to Steve Kerr.
Where does Jordan Collins fit into that scenario?
He is improved clearly, but in my mind, he always had good hands, he always had a nice touch, he had good form. So with Jordan, it wasn't that we ever had to reconstruct his shot. He became a better shooter, but it was because of repetition and confidence. It wasn't … that we just had to tear his shot down and build it back up, that's a whole another situation. Jordan has good hands, a nice touch, a good feel, pretty good mechanics, so if you take that and add repetition and your confidence, and now you see the improvement that Jordan has shown. That's different to me than a guy coming in, his elbow's out, he has no backspin on the ball, and you've just got to completely reconstruct his shot. Jordan wasn't one of those guys.
With this senior class, were you pretty sure that they'd turn into the types of players they have become?
You never know for sure; it's anything but a science. You can look at every pro league and they invest a lot of money and have huge staffs devoted only to scouting and evaluating players, and they don't even have to recruit, they get to draft. And they still show us each year that it's not a science; there's room for error. And recruiting is much the same way. Obviously, some guys you're more sure of than others, but you never know for sure until guys do it on the court. But speaking of that group, we felt really good when they came through the door. We felt like we had assembled a terrific class, and I think those guys have done a real nice job for our basketball program, by and large.
But they've got to work to improve after they get here, right?
No matter how good you are coming through the door, in almost every case, you've got to get better. There's a transition from high school to the ACC, and you go through those kinds of learning curves and growing pains, and guys get better every step of the way. I think each one of those guys in that class has continued to improve each step of the way.
You're leading the league in field-goal percentage. How do you assess that?
Right now, it's really dangerous, I think, to jump too far down the road with conclusions, just because we don't have enough numbers yet. We haven't played enough games, and some schedules have been more challenging than other schedules in our league, so I hesitate to draw too many conclusions about those numbers. But I will say this about our team so far: by and large, we really have tried to play together and we really have tried to play unselfishly, and that's a good beginning.
Can you compare or contrast where your program was before this senior class arrived and where it is now?
Well, I think it would be really an oversimplification to draw a line in the sand and say it was one way before and another way after. I don't usually miss an opportunity to credit some of the guys who came even earlier with building a bridge, with allowing us to be in position to attract that class. If those first groups didn't make it to the NIT, if they didn't do some of the things that they did when we had recruiting weekends in terms of selling our program, then the things that came later may not have happened. I think, too often, it's really oversimplified and it's painted as, before that group, in the NIT, and after that group, in the NCAA. And it really is a continuum without those really definite lines. And sometimes, whether you're a business or sport, it's not just like this [upward slope]. Sometimes you have a downward slope and it's because you experience that hardship or that downward slope that you find out what you actually need to get over the hump.
Why wasn't Ilian Evtimov rated higher in that class?
I can remember some of the raised eyebrows when we took him that spring. I don't remember the exact source, but I think one ranking service had him as the last-ranked player of all the ACC players in that class. And some of the people just threw up their hands. But he was a guy that just had continued to grow on us the more we watched him. I will tell you that, when we first saw him, he wasn't a guy that we immediately offered a scholarship to, that we initially recruited. But as we evaluated our program and where we were, we just were in desperate need, I felt, of somebody with his kind of skill level and understanding for the game. Fortunately for us, he came with us, because he's had a great career and has made a tremendous impact on our program.
Sometimes defenders have an expression on their face like, "How the heck did he make that?!"
He's probably the most unorthodox guy that I've ever coached. I don't know if this is a fair description or not, but I'd hazard a guess that it's probably crossed most of our minds -- but he's kind of "old school," right? He's got the hook shot and all the things that you kind of associate with from days gone by.
What about the underhanded flip shot he has?
I didn't teach him that. I had nothing to do with that, I've got to be honest with you. He pulls that out of his hip pocket every once in a while. But necessity is the mother of invention, I guess. He's not shooting over anyone, that's for sure.
How do you assess Liberty after watching them on film?
We have a lot of respect for Liberty. We've played them in the past, and last year, they had a great run to the NCAA Tournament. They have a couple of guys right now who are really scoring for them: Larry Blair, who I think was the conference newcomer of the year last season, and David Dees. Both of those guys are capable of really big nights, so like always, you've got to be ready, and hopefully our guys will tomorrow afternoon.
What kind of challenge does finals week present?
We've actually had a really good week of practice. We've taken some time off, but we've tried to get them in and out. But when we've been together, our guys have worked well this week. And hopefully that will transfer into the game – it doesn't always work that way. But we've had a good week of work, I think.
For the first time ever, each of the "Big Four" teams is ranked in the top 10. What are your thoughts on what that says about basketball in this area?
It's always been a great area for basketball and all four of those programs have great tradition. It's early yet, though, it really is. Some of the folks who probably do the rankings haven't even had a chance to see all the teams that they're ranking yet. So it's early, and right now, the big key is to keep getting better.
Have the league coaches as a whole discussed media seating for games? Some programs are rearranging and moving media seating.
You're asking if there's a preference? [Shields eyes and looks straight up, eliciting a round of laughter] I think that it's good that there is some separation. You obviously don't want anybody other than the team and the coaches infringing on the sanctity of the huddle. I think that's important. But specific locations, that's up to each individual arena, depending on what the arena looks like and all those other things. But I think there is -- just like the locker room, the huddle -- there are certain areas in sports where I think it's important to preserve the sanctity of those areas, just like you have certain private areas at home as well. It's not that you're trying to hide anything, it's not that you're trying to keep something away from somebody, but I think, with any group, with any family, there have to be certain times and areas where you can communicate, where you can get together with each other, without people from the outside in.
You have five guys averaging right around 10 points a game. Are you pleased with the balance so far?
I am. I still think we have to work to get some of the parts fitting perfectly together, but guys have been unselfish, and that always helps that process along.
How much of the rankings is a mark of respect for what you've done in the past?
I think that's always the case, not just in basketball. You look at the preseason football rankings. How else do you do it? Nobody has seen all the teams yet. How else do you come up with rankings? I think it's impossible to completely separate the past from what you're doing now until everybody has seen each other and played enough games so you have enough information to do it this year. So I think in almost all cases, early-season rankings -- at least in part, perhaps not totally -- are a function of what teams have done in the past.
But aren't you on the phone to recruits saying, "Hey, look where we are"?
It may come up, but I don't know that, right now, that that's something that we spend a lot of time talking about. I think recruits are so aware of so many things today that we almost don't have to tell them. All you have to do is look at SportsCenter, the ticker … There's just so many outlets now that they just have so much information at their fingertips.
You mentioned that you were going to review Julius' free-throw shooting. Did you come to any conclusions?
We watched some film together and we've been in the gym working and certainly reminded him that he's a career 80-percent-plus free-throw shooter. And I think he's had a good week in practice with it, and I'm confident that he's going to step up to the line and continue to shoot them very well, like he has throughout his career.
So you didn't run into any form problems or mechanics or anything?
We talked about a couple of very slight modifications, but certainly not a reconstruction.
You have mentioned that you are concerned about recruiting. What have you been able to do to improve that?
I don't know yet, because the last time out, Manhattan really put it to us on the backboards. That's something we worked on and talked about well before the Manhattan game, so hopefully we'll be able to begin to perform in that area in the games.
So you didn't see the results against Manhattan, is that what you're saying?
In other words, what I'm saying is, it didn't take the Manhattan game for us to start working on it or emphasizing it. It's something we've done since the first week of practice, and yet, especially in the Manhattan game, it's not something we did very well. So we continue to work on it and emphasize it in practice this week, and I remain optimistic that our men will begin to do a better job in that area.
Has rebounding changed with three-point shooting?
Well, I guess, I don't know if there's ever been any studies done, but I would assume logically that, the more three-point shots that are taken, the greater number of shots that will be long rebounds. Other than that fact, that there may be more, longer rebounds with more three-point shots, I don't know … We talk about where the shot's been taken from, where it's most likely to go, you talk about rebound angles. A lot of times, rebounding isn't just, "I've got to block out my man," because, so many times, during the course of an action, the defense is caught in a rotation or in a scramble, and so it's not as simple as me blocking out my man and you blocking out your man. It gets a little bit more involved than that, and the ability to have blockoffs out of scrambles and rotations is much more difficult than if it's just a perfect world and everybody is perfectly lined up with their man.
With the high ranking, is there any worry that the team will lose focus?
I haven't detected any of that at all right now. Once again, we're so early in the season that our team hasn't done anything of special note or recognition to this point in the season. I don't think that's been an issue at all with us right now.
With the shortage of flu shots, have NC State athletes gotten them?
No, we didn't. In fact, we've battled the flu a little bit. It wasn't until afterwards, for example, that I had a full understanding of just how sick Tony was for the Purdue game. Remember, he didn't play very well and didn't seem to be himself, I kept thinking. And then I later found out that he really battled it that day. It's kind of gone through our team; Andrew Brackman had strep throat. But no, we didn't have flu shots.
Have you responded to the letter in the paper saying you shouldn't have coached that night?
Not yet. I tried not to shake anyone's hand. But she's probably right; I should have stayed home. I would helped the team equally as much.