How hard was it to watch Syracuse win the title two years back?
I think Syracuse had a great team a couple of years ago on their run to the national title. It wasn't hard for me to watch them winning because I didn't watch anyone. I didn't watch [any] more of the tournament after we exited. I just heard from word of mouth. But they had a really great team a couple of years ago and it's going to be a lot of fun to go back up there to Syracuse and play in the Carrier Dome with so many friends there cheering me on … Wink.
Will this offer a chance for your family to come up and see you?
Yeah, this will be a great opportunity for my family and friends to be there and also to cheer me on. But I'm going to try to keep my mom at home, because when she's home, we do really good. And I'm a little superstitious that way, so she's going to have to stay her butt home.
You successfully predicted you'd be a special team back in February. Anything else you'd like to predict?
I have no more predictions. Me growing up a Knick fan, I've seen Patrick Ewing do that too many times and I've seen our Knicks fall so many times. So I predict that, against Wisconsin, it'll be a great game defensively.
It seems like Carolina fans aren't sure if they should pull for State and vice versa. As a Knicks fan, did you pull for teams like the Bulls or Pacers in the playoffs so the Knicks could face them?
I think everybody can admit, at one time or another, that they became a Bulls fan. But I always stuck with the Knicks. I liked the Bulls at times and I was a big Reggie Miller fan, and Rik Smits. But yeah, I guess I could say so.
What I was asking was, would you pull for the Knicks to have to go through the best teams or would you want the teams you didn't like to get eliminated early?
I like every team. Is there a point you're trying to get at there? [Laughter.]
I think he's trying to ask if you want to play Carolina [laughter].
I wish everyone luck. Like I said, I've got a friend that plays for Villanova, Allen Ray, a close friend. He asked me last night, "What can we do to stop them?" I said, "You're asking me? They swept us this season." They have some really great players, a great coaching staff and I wish them luck, and I'm going to call Jawad tonight and do the same.
Can you talk about the way Cameron Bennerman has played of late?
Cameron really played great this season at different parts. He started off early in the season really hot and he had an injury that slowed him down for a couple of games, but now he's right back on pace. And a guy like that, he's just always working, no matter what people say or depending on whether he had a good or a bad game the night before; he's always back in the gym the next day giving it his all. It's really a good feeling to see his hard work paying off.
Can you talk about his athletic ability? He can really get up.
Yeah, he jumps out of the gym. A couple of times, he'll be having dunks and he'll just like lay it in and try to be pretty out there. And I'm like, "Man, if you're going to dunk that, dunk it! Make sure you get the two points." But not just on offense, but also on defense, he gets the job done also.
People talk about how important guard play is in the NCAA Tournament. Do you think that's overrated?
I think that's an accurate statement. You definitely need good guard play to succeed. But the most important thing is the "X" factor: that's the bench. You need guys that step in for guys that are injured or just anyone coming in off the bench to give you positive minutes and make big plays. And that's really key in March to winning.
Do you think people say that about guard play because it's more of a halfcourt game in the NCAAs?
UConn didn't seem to take you guys very seriously. Do you think you have everybody's attention now and that won't happen again?
I think Connecticut took us seriously, but that game just happened the way it did. I feel like, us winning, it really isn't a surprise to the guys on the team and the coaching staff. We don't feel like we're a Cinderella and we're putting on a Nike show like in the commercial. We feel like we deserve to be here and we're just going to continue to work. We can't really decipher how people think or what teams think coming in against us. We just hope to play well every time.
With two slow offenses, can that get frustrating?
There's no frustration now you're in the Sweet Sixteen. It's a really good feeling to be out there, and everybody is just going to play as hard as they possibly can to get a win.
What was the team's reaction to the fans greeting the bus the other night?
Oh, man. Jubilation. Everybody was out there smiling, laughing, just kicking back … There was a lot of joy in the air, and it felt good. The moment definitely felt good, but now we just have to look at it as it's in the past and we're in the present now, and we have to continue to prepare for Wisconsin and have a great day in practice today.
You mentioned you grew up a Knicks fan, but you grew up a Syracuse fan, too. Going back four years ago, how hard was it choosing State over Syracuse, and has Raleign and NC State been everything you hoped?
Raleigh and NC State have definitely been everything I hoped. It's a dream; it's been a great ride. It was really easy for me to pick Raleigh, a great school, a great institution, we have great tradition, have a great coach. Everything is great, great.
And it's warm here; I like warm weather.
Did you see the USA Today yesterday with your big picture?
How many copies did you buy?
I didn't buy any. I didn't, seriously. My brother told me early in the morning. He left a message and I called my mom and told her to buy some.
Did you make it a habit not to watch the NCAA Tournament when State lost?
Yeah, I don't watch anything else, since my freshman year. I happened to watch a little bit, and the way the upsets happened and if we would have won that UConn game my freshman year, where we could have been. Ever since then, I said, "I'm not watching any more of this. We just have to be in the last game."
What will it be like to play in the same building as UNC?
I think North Carolina has a really good team and I wish them luck.
You're killing us.
I can't. I'm not sparking up any controversy. Good luck to everyone.
What does it say about the Triangle that all three teams are in the Sweet Sixteen?
I think that's a huge accomplishment. It shows that here in the Triangle is where some of the best college ball is played. We have some great young talents, great coaches, traditions and programs, and now it's going to be a lot of fun.
Did the rivalries take you by surprise?
Yeah, everybody takes it really serious, the rivalries, but now I see why. No one likes to lose to a rival and you're always just trying to play your hardest.
You mentioned that you were close with Allen Ray. Are you also friends with Syracuse sophomore guard Lou McCroskey, even though he was a couple of years behind you?
Yeah, Louie is my little younger homey. I knew Louie [because] his mom and my mom were best friends when me and him were growing up. And I knew Louie since he was probably about 5 years old.
What makes Wisconsin strong defensively?
I think the No. 1 factor that makes them strong defensively is the physicalness they bring to the game. They have a couple of guys, like we do, that are just hard-nosed, and they're out there playing and giving it their all, 110 percent. And when a coach can say they have a team like that, that coach is very lucky. And Wisconsin definitely does it on the defensive end, along with on offense.
Does calling a timeout at the end of the game or not just depend on the flow of the game?
I think, against UConn in particular, it was the flow of the game. And I saw Coach, he was ready to set up one of our plays and call timeout if he had to, but I kind of waved him off and said, "No, Coach. It's under control." And I happened to make the final shot.
But it's definitely with the flow of the game, how things are going, how certain teams are playing defense, how they're switching up on you and basically how a team is playing one of your particular plays. I think that really determines whether we call a timeout that game or not.