NCAAs: Evtimov, Hodge Meet The Media

NC State's Ilian Evtimov and Julius Hodge met with the media after NC State's NCAA Tournament bid was announced and here's a sampler of what they had to say.

Junior Forward Ilian Evtimov
Talk about where this team came from to make the NCAA Tournament. Was there ever a point during the season where you thought you may not make it?
Yea, I think that on the trip to Georgia Tech, we got together and we had a team meeting. We were 2-6 at that time I think. We were like, "We've got to win some games or else we're not going to make it." That was the bottom line. I think for awhile it was hard for us to accept that. We didn't want to face reality. I think that was the turning point, especially with the way we responded by getting the win, especially in a close game. That was the first close game we ever won during the season. We had lost so many of them.

What does it mean to have gone to the NCAA Tournament every year since you've been at NC State?
I think when the Class of 2001, Julius, Levi, Jordan, myself and Josh came here, we were determined to turn things around. I think that we brought a great mindset to the team. Despite the fact that we were young and without experience and all of that stuff our freshmen year, we were not as strong as everybody else, we just played with a lot of heart. I think that we built on that freshman year, and we knew that good things could happen for us if we just kept working hard and we stayed together. We've just turned things around for NC State the last four years, from no appearances in the NCAAs to four straight, which hasn't happened here in a long, long time.

Do NCAA Tournament games take on a different feel from regular season games? Can you talk about the differences?
I think it takes experience. Being in the tournament the last three years, we have some of that. The guys know what it's like to be in the tournament and lose a close game, like Connecticut or California or even last year against Vanderbilt. I think that last year just showed us that it's not over until it's over. Even if you're up 10 points with three minutes left in the game, that doesn't mean you're going to win the game, because it's the NCAA Tournament. People are going to come at you, and everybody is looking for those Cinderella stories. So, everybody is capable of doing it. I think the mindset of every team is so intense and so focused on winning because this is their last game if they don't. The competition is at a whole another level. Everybody is so much more focused and determined to win. It's almost tougher than the regular season because you don't have any chance for payback. You don't have any chance to talk about it and fix the problems. That's it.

Did you apply the Vanderbilt lesson from last season, it's not over until it's over, to your season this year?
Yeah. I mean we've had some games where we've had the lead and let it slip. I don't think that any game was the same as the one against Maryland or the one against Vanderbilt. It was such a comeback from the other team. It was a lesson for us to learn from. We know that this year we cannot relax for one second. We've got to keep attacking and keep playing tough, because it's not over till it's over. The way we learned last year.

Your game has picked up the last several weeks. How did you turn the corner?
I think that by this time of the year, people have understood their roles. Everybody is a lot more comfortable with everybody else. They know what each person is doing, and everybody knows what they do good and what they don't do as good. By this time of the year, everybody has accepted and embraced their roles. I think that everybody knows what I'm doing with this team now, and I know it myself. That makes me that much better because I can play my best that way, and so can everybody else.

Do you know any of the Charlotte players?
I know one of the players, I went to high school with him. His name is Mitchell Baldwin, the starting point guard I believe. He was my best friend in high school at R.J. Reynolds.

He's a real nice guy. We used to hang out all the time. He was my best friend my junior year in high school. We used to go to the YMCA. We played AAU ball together. We used to go to the gym by ourselves and work on our games – the same type of stuff me and Julius did my freshman year when we were roommates. He's a great guy, and I have nothing but good things to say about him.

Guard Julius Hodge
Has this season been the hardest of your four years at NC State? Because of how you guys came back from such a difficult start to the ACC season, is this the most fulfilling so far?

I think this season is probably by far the most fulfilling I've had in my four-year stay here at NC State, and it's also been the most challenging. We started out this season highly acclaimed, and we got an early top-10 ranking. Then, as it is for every team, we had bumps on the road and our problems with injuries, and not having everybody out on the court. Now, it's toward the end of the season, and we are definitely playing our best basketball. That's when you want to peak as a team. You want to peak toward the end of the season and postseason. That's what I feel we're doing right now, especially on the defensive end.

Do you know anything about Charlotte?
Yes, I know Charlotte has a very good team. They have one of the best shooters, if not the best shooter, in the country. They have very good inside play. Withers is a very good [inside] guy that can also do the job outside. We're going to have to be ready for them. Everybody on the NC State Wolfpack, we do know about this Charlotte team, and we know that they are a good team.

What will it take for you guys to go deep into the NCAA Tournament, knowing that for the seniors a loss will be it?
This year, especially, for the seniors and the ball club, there is definitely a premium on playing high intensity basketball right now. We have to keep it up on the defensive end. No one is thinking about this season being over. We're thinking positively on it. We know Charlotte is a good team, but as coach says, it's never about them, and it's always about us. If we play our ball the way we've been playing the last couple of weeks, we're going to put ourselves in a good position to advance.

What do you attribute the step up in defense to?
Everybody has played a part of stepping up defensively, and basically not just locking up your man on a one-on-one basis but being involved in more of a team-oriented defensive attack and having everybody do their own part and as a team together. We've done a good job with it.

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