It is an important game. We've been playing our best basketball of late, and we'll certainly have to be at our very best on Sunday night. Wake Forest is a great team. They have all the parts, they've had a terrific season and we're going to have to be really good come Sunday night.
Can you talk about what this senior class has meant?
They've done a great job for our basketball program, and I think they've done a good job of carrying forward their own unique gifts and talents. They've really fulfilled their roles very well and represented us well both on and off the court.
Julius Hodge gets the most attention because he excelled the most, but can you talk about the roles of Jordan Collins and Levi Watkins?
It's really all relative when you say "excelled the most." I think the key is we're all blessed with different talents and gifts; we're all different, and that's good. And I think each of those guys has brought forward what they do well and really helped our basketball program. Julius, Levi, Jordan and obviously Will [Roach] have all been really good for us in their own unique, special way.
Jordan Collins has played really well. What kind of satisfaction do you get in seeing someone play that way at this stage of his career?
The temptation, I think sometimes, is to think that that happens like with a single burst of energy. But usually, you get to this kind of point because you just stayed the course and you've worked and you've worked and you've worked. And sometimes it may even seem like you're running in place or maybe even taking a step backward or two, but if you just stay with it, you put yourself into position to have a chance to enjoy the kind of breakthrough that Jordan has his senior season.
What will Julius Hodge's legacy be at NC State?
I think history will be very flattering for Julius. I think he'll clearly be recognized among one of the all-time great NC State players. When you put all of his numbers down on paper, they're incredible. But I think everybody also will have fond memories of him as a person, somebody easy to smile, somebody who likes to joke around, somebody with a lot of charisma, who's really been fun to be around.
Will there be any special ceremony? Will there be a jersey retirement?
Just our senior ceremony. Not at this time.
Julius only took five shots against Virginia, but he had an enormous impact on the game. How unusual is it for a player to be able to do that?
It is unusual, but it's not a theme that's entirely foreign when we talk about Julius. His impact on the game isn't merely a function of how many shots he takes. I think to paint it that narrowly is to really do a disservice to his brilliance, his versatility and the different things he can do. And I think sometimes we've been tempted, even in some of our conversations, to try to define his performance based on how many field-goal attempts he gets. Maybe that's more relevant for other kinds of players, but Julius is somebody who can do so many other things to impact a basketball game -- some of which can't be measured on a statsheet.
Cameron Bennerman's minutes have declined. Where is his game right now and what do you look for from him in the remaining games?
Well, we need everybody on our basketball team to be at their very best as we finish the season. We're going to have to put together an awesome 40 minutes against Wake Forest, and then when you go into tournament play, if you're able to advance you're going to play games in less than 24 hours and the competition is obviously at very high levels each night. So we need all of our guys to be at their best as we come down the homestretch.
Is there anything about his play that has not progressed the way you would want to at this stretch of the year?
Well, I fully expect Cameron to put himself in position to play good basketball down the homestretch for us.
Tony Bethel does what for you guys, specifically defensively?
Well, he's a very intelligent, athletic guard. He plays with a lot of heart and passion. Clearly, I think it's not a coincidence that our defensive improved measurably when he returned to better health. I think, in addition to us really trying to circle the wagons in that area and work harder at it, having a talented young man like Tony on that end of the floor playing and feeling well helps as much as anything.
Gavin Grant had a nice game against Virginia after he had a long stretch where he was quiet offensively. What do you think got him going?
Usually, there's not some potion or magic that triggers a guy. It usually is just a matter of guys continuing to work hard and go in and play with great confidence. You're right in identifying the fact that Gavin gave us a great lift at Virginia the other night. He really played, I thought, with a lot of assertiveness and confidence, and when we were in absolute dire foul trouble, he was very instrumental in us maintaining our lead.
Do you ever get a sense of when someone might be able to do that for you? You must not have been able to expect he was going to do that when he had been scoreless for a bunch of games.
Well, nobody has a crystal ball, obviously, so you can't forecast with absolute certainty what's going to happen. But I think you can have certain levels of expectations based on what's happening in practice and use that as a barometer as much as you can.
Can you size up where you stand heading into the postseason, the importance of Sunday's game toward getting an NCAA bid and just where you feel you are right now and what you feel you need to do from here on?
We obviously have to finish strong, and Sunday's our next game. It's a very important game; it would give us a chance to earn our eighth win in the conference. So we realize in order to do that, we're going to have to beat one of the very top teams in the country. From there, win or lose, we still have the ACC Tournament to look forward to later in the week. So we just have to finish out and do as well as we can down the homestretch; that's the part we can control at this point. Hopefully, every win we're able to get will increase the likelihood of us being in the tournament, obviously.
Your teams have always played well in the ACC Tournament. Is that because of an emphasis on postseason play or a function of your teams being better at that time of the season?
I think, by and large, our teams have improved as the seasons have gone on, and for the most part, we've ended up playing our best basketball down the homestretch, probably more than anything else. I don't think it's a different emphasis, or we don't all of a sudden change what we do.
With the way your guys have played lately, is this the team you thought you'd be seeing this season?
This is as close to our projected selves as we have been, and certainly as healthy as we have been in a long time, probably going back to December. And it's allowed us to have much better continuity in practice, and I think that's carried over into the games. So, yeah.
You had 20 turnovers against Wake Forest in the first meeting. What's the key to trimming that number down?
Well, we just have to make some better plays than we did. Watching that tape for the first time, we just weren't at our best, especially in the first half, and it led to some pretty easy baskets for Wake Forest down on the other end. We just have to play at a better level.
Do you think Simmons' improvement pushed Collins to step it up?
Jordan has really come every day to practice very focused and worked extremely hard. I mean, he has been very, very steady in practice. And his confidence has grown; he's done a great job of becoming one of our more positive vocal leaders. Right now, he's as outspoken as anybody we have on our team in terms of helping young guys, in terms of talking on defense and helping guys know where to be. So you can really just sense and see a tremendous growth in Jordan. And I think a lot of it has to do with his determination and ability just to be an every-day guy and stick with things.
Levi has had so many injuries, but what has he brought to the program by his ability to persevere through them?
Well, you're right; two of his four seasons have been really slowed with knee injuries, and unfortunately, in each case, we weren't able to save the year for him and get a fifth year. It was too far down the tracks in both cases. But even now … Yesterday, in practice, Levi's vocal and he's helping Gavin Grant know where to go and what to do. And he just has been a real bedrock in terms of doing the right things, being a great leader, having a good work ethic. He's carried forth a set of values that reflects how we want to be represented as a basketball program. And so, although I know it's been very difficult on a personal level for Levi, having to undergo two different knee injuries, he hasn't allowed that to take away from what he can offer in terms of a leader and the value that he can continue to add as a player on our basketball team.
Will he be able to play Sunday?
Yes, he will.
Can I ask you a couple of hypothetical basketball questions? You're down by three points at the end of a game and the other team has the ball underneath their basket in the last 10 seconds, would you foul to a prevent a three-pointer to tie?
Maybe I'd better not answer these questions in case we find ourselves in these situations. We'll have to wait and see if we're ever in that situation.
So many variables go into this weekend and its impact on the ACC standings. Do you watch it unfold or do you know what has to happen?
Well, I'm obviously aware of the landscape, [but] I don't know that I've sat down and worked out every possibility like I'm sure many people have. I do understand the fact, though, that literally a sheet of paper separates most of our league, and in many cases, it could come down to a very difficult-to-understand and -explain tiebreaking system. And once again, we'll see perhaps in some of the tiebreakers, the fact that everybody doesn't play the same schedule maybe have a little bit of an impact on how teams are seeded. You may have played a team once at their place and lost, and that single game could determine as many as a couple slots in the seeding. So at this point, our best investment is to focus on our next game, it really is, because you know that if you win it, you're better off than if you lose it.
But the difference right now in most of our league is absolutely nothing, and I think even going into the tournament next week, we could have a bunch of teams with the same record, yet their seeding could be very different based on some crazy tiebreakers. They could have the same record and it could come down to a tiebreaker that really doesn't necessarily spell the difference between the teams.
So you don't do your own bracketology?
No, I don't. I don't have enough time right now to eat lunch, let alone worry about bracketology.
You are credited with changing an aspect of the academic progress model.
I've spent a lot of time with that model and been fairly outspoken and shared my thoughts in a number of different ways with the APR model.