Q & A With Julius Hodge, Part I

Wolfpack swingman Julius Hodge met with the media to discuss the Pack's appearance in the Sweet Sixteen, the matchup with Wisconsin on Friday and other matters. Here's Part I of Hodge's press conference.

Have you allowed yourself any sense of satisfaction from this last weekend?
No, I didn't give myself no time to be satisfied. This isn't enough for us. We feel we're playing our best basketball right now, and if we continue to do so, then we can hopefully advance further into this tournament.

When you're coming off such a high, how difficult is it to stay focused?
It's really easy. You can look at the papers from last month; that would be a lot of inspiration. And just a couple of the quotes that players have been saying that we've been playing against so far. And really, just being determined. We use motivation, but we don't need it.

We've got a bunch of lunch-baggers. We're called the lunch-baggers of the ACC, and all we do is continue to go to work every day and work hard.

So what is your motivation now?
Just trying to advance to the Elite Eight is enough motivation to be willing to play. Playing in the Sweet Sixteen, everybody really dreamed of that, hitting the big shot to win the game and just being ready to play. We don't feel satisfied at all; we're still hungry. Guys are still humble and grateful, and we still want to win more.

Earlier on, this was seen as a disappointing year for you personally. Have you seen all the things being written about you now?
I guess in the middle of the season, there was different things being said. Not everything was positive. But now it seems like everything is going right and now the bandwagon is crazy. Everybody's on the bandwagon now. That right there is enough motivation to keep going, just to continue to prove the naysayers wrong.

And personally, I was always in the thought process that this was my best year. I really grew as a player and, most importantly, as a person, and just the way everything's been going right now toward the end has been feeling good. But we know we have to go to work today and practice and be ready.

How big is the bandwagon?
We've got space for one more if you want to join.

But it definitely feels good. Everybody's still humble and we feel blessed to be in this situation, but we know we've still got to go to work and be ready for a very good Wisconsin team.

Can you talk about how your legacy might have changed with that shot against Connecticut?
Against the defending champs, I made a big-time play, but I wouldn't have been in that situation if it weren't for the Brackman three in the corner, Cam's big offensive rebound, "Shoush's" three that put us up nine … Basically, everybody contributing. Jordan coming in with a torn-up right shoulder and hitting two big threes in the first half. Everybody definitely was a part of it.

And I don't feel like I'm that much better of a player from before I hit that layup to now. I just feel like it's just basically paying off now, that's all.

You guys have been overshadowed by Duke and Carolina and even Wake, what they did this year …
Wake, you said? [Room erupts in laughter] I'm just playing.

… But what is the mentality for you?
The mentality here at NC State is based on never giving up – everyone knows Jimmy Valvano -- and just hard work. We have to continue to work hard and we don't look primarily at the TV camera or the newspapers to tell us how good we are as a team. We really keep a together unit and we know every day in practice we're kicking each other's butt and we're pushing each other to become great. And that's really where all the chemistry comes from, and that's where we get our confidence and our motivation.

Can you talk about the lows of Chris Paul hitting that shot on Senior Night to where you are now?
For us to be as low as we were after that big shot that Chris hit against us – basically, crawling on the floor – to now, being at this point and playing great basketball and we've got an opportunity to advance to play in the Elite Eight if we continue playing our great defense and working hard … It's definitely a great feeling just to still be alive. But we're not just settling with our position now; we know we're a very good team and we still have to continue to play great basketball if we're going to continue with our season.

What do you know about Wisconsin?
They have a very good, a great low-post player in Wilkinson, a really good small forward in Tucker. They really play tough defense. Their guards do a really good job of handling pressure defense, with them only averaging 11 turnovers a game. I think that's tremendous. And they have some really good players and a great coach, and we're going to have to be ready to play.

In Charlotte, Sean May and Rashad McCants had some great things to say about you and how you've led your team. Do you think you have a good reputation around the league?
Oh, Sean May? Rashad and Sean are two really good players and they've been doing a great job for the Tar Heels this year and I wish them continued success.

Have you talked to Jawad Williams?
No, I haven't even got a chance. I'm going to give him a call tonight, but I didn't get a chance to speak to him yet.

How has it been with all the attention in the past couple of days?
Yeah, it's been a good time in Raleigh for everyone. The hard work definitely paid off, and it's not just for us, but for our devoted fans who supported us through thick and thin. It's great for Coach Sendek; now, finally, everybody can get off his back and realize that he's a great coach. A great defensive coach. He definitely gets the job done and he got the message through to his players.

But we know we still have to continue to work. Yesterday was an active day off for the majority of the team. Everybody was in the gym, still working, lifting, and today we're going to be ready to go back to practice and work.

Do your teammates also notice the bandwagon forming?
Well, we know as a team that we have to stay focused and we're not worrying so much about what's being said. We just know we have to continue to go to work.

Coach talked about their offense as a "tag the swing" offense. Can you break that down a little bit for me?
Coach being into that Zen and all that, what he [is] saying, it really goes over my head. He's one of those guys with a 4.5 GPA. Coach will say stuff sometimes that I don't understand, but when you put it in layman's terms, then I finally get it.

What do you think about their offense?
I think they really take their time offensively and they do a great job on defense. They neutralize the rebounding category and they're a really good team -- and we're going to have to be ready for them.

Are they similar to you guys?
In terms of them being patient with the ball offensively, there are similarities in the offenses, but they do a really good job … They get it done man-to-man [on defense], and they really help out, just like we do. It's going to be a very interesting game.

After the Syracuse game your freshman year, you mentioned that it was the first game where you didn't really worry about your stats. Do you have a similar mentality this postseason?
In terms of mental preparation, the No. 1 thing is to stay focused, don't jump on your own bandwagon, don't feel like you've arrived or your legacy is set, [that] that's it now, there's nothing else out there to prove. Because there's always somebody out there still working. And not just me, but guys on the team feel like we still have to continue to work, and our mindset is like what it's always been: Be the hardest workers in the ACC, continue fighting, playing with pride and respect, and if you do that 110 percent, eventually you're going to win.

Two of the teams left, Villanova and NC State, were two big Cinderella stories from 20 years ago. How much does NC State's 1983 team play into your mind? Is that motivation?
I was born in November [that year]. But it's definitely motivation from the '83 team. Villanova, they have my homeboy from high school, my teammate Allen Ray. They're doing a good job, those guys, and I wish them continued success.

But we're just pretty much focused on continuing to play with great defensive intensity and pressure, and that there's really no team in the country that we can't beat.

Were you in the gym yesterday?
Yeah, I got in the weight room early in the morning, probably about 9:30 before my class, and I was in there shooting probably about 1:30 after my second class. I got my work in; I do that.

They defend the three very well. Is that a concern?
As I said previously, Wisconsin is a very good team defensively and they do a really good job of defending on the perimeter. We're just going to have to continue to be patient with our offense and really, sometimes, pass up a good shot that may be contested for a great shot.

Free-throw shooting has been a struggle for the team this year, but this weekend you hit nearly 90 percent. How do you explain that?
You've got to step up in the postseason; that's when it really counts. Throughout the season it does, but postseason, that's when big-time players make big-time plays, and guys have been stepping up the line and knocking it in, and hopefully we can continue to do so.

You said earlier that you've grown personally. Can you elaborate on that?
I feel, definitely on the academic side, I've really been taking care of work and being focused, even through this media frenzy we're having now for being in the Sweet Sixteen. But just, off the court, I think I've matured as a man throughout this whole process.

How do you feel you've matured as a man? In what ways?
I feel, definitely, becoming more as a leader for the guys, not just on the court, but off the court, trying to guide guys the right way. Definitely with my faith; everything happens for a reason. And … a lot of different ways.

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