"Yeah, the three guys they have coming back are guys that, two of them especially, really played a major part in their win here last year. So obviously, confidence-wise, they feel good about themselves and they had some success here in that one game. And now we're playing in their building, so we know they're going to come out with a lot of confidence.
"They've added some players that we don't quite know about yet because they haven't played an exhibition game, but just kind of scrimmaged. So we know that they have assembled talent to their roster, so it's going to be a tough game for us. We have to go down there and be ready to play in a very hostile environment and really try to keep our concentration and play hard."
How difficult is it to put together a scouting report for a team with nine newcomers and how do you go about doing that?
"That was a very difficult thing, very difficult. So you try to use all your sources that you can and then you try to watch film from last year, knowing that the personnel is going to be different at a lot of positions, but a lot of times as coaches, we don't change a lot. So he's got a system and he's been doing it for a long time."
The crowd is going to be very excited and emotional about playing in their new arena, on campus for the first time since Hurricane Katrina struck. How do you combat that as the visiting team?
"No question about it, they're going to be fired up to play. They've got us coming into their building, and as you said, it's a new building, and the fans are going to be excited about it, so we have to keep our composure and our poise. We have to try to come out and initiate something ourselves and not take the blow first. But at the same time, if they do come out with a lot of energy and get up on us, we still have to keep our composure and stay in the game mentally, and, hopefully, we can get it."
Assistant head coach Monte Towe has been reluctant to talk about returning to the area. Can you talk about what he must be feeling?
"Well, I'm sure there's mixed emotions, and not so much the game itself, but I just think the atmosphere, going back to New Orleans, having been there during that tough time with Katrina. It's an emotional thing for him; I remember when he came here and just talked about what he saw there, so I know that's going to be emotional for him.
"As far as the game itself, we know where his heart is on that one. But anytime you play against your former team, you want to fare well, so I know he's hoping that we go down there and play well."
Can you talk about the point guard rotation? Do you anticipate Farnold Degand being able to handle a full load coming back from last year's knee injury?
"I think we have to watch his minutes, definitely. Whether he comes off the bench initially or whether he's starting, I think he's going to have to watch his minutes. I don't think he's ready to log long minutes of time, but I also feel that Javy has earned to play his minutes as well. So I think having both of those guys in there, and then the young Julius Mays at any time could come into the game as well.
"So I think the main thing, though, for Farnold, is that we do take our time with him. And I think he has to let us know what he's feeling and when he feels a little fatigue, then we have to get him out of the game."
Is it a situation where you have to sort of keep a pitch count on him and stick to a set number of minutes?
"The game could dictate that. If we're playing well and we get a lead and we can get him out of the game and let somebody else play, we might try to do that. But if it's a tight game and he's playing well, then you've got to go with it, and allow him maybe to tell us that he's getting tired. And not necessarily tired with the knee or with the leg, but just tired, period, because with that fatigue you lose your concentration a little bit, your focus, and then you might do something and aggravate it again. So we have to watch that, but also I'd like to get some input from him in how he's feeling."
How soon did you know that freshman C.J. Williams had the ability to earn a starting spot on your team?
"It was after several workouts, several practices, and just watching him play, watching his poise, watching how he listens and how he concentrates. He takes in every word that every coach says, he takes it in, and he will remember it. Julius Mays is the same way. I said from day one, when I was able to talk about those young men—and you guys can go back and look at your notes—I said they had high basketball IQs. And they both do; they both do. And that's a talent, because all players don't have that."
Does it take a special guy to do that, especially considering Williams wasn't a five-star recruit or a highly touted guy?
"Yeah, it takes a player that's willing to do whatever he has to do to play and to help the team win—a player that's really going to listen to what the coaches are saying and try to improve every day. And he does that.
"And yeah, it takes a special player, because he hasn't got to the point yet where he's thinking about being the man and going to the NBA and talking that talk yet. So his focus is about the team, but he's always been that way. Even when he was in high school there last year, he was the best player, but yet, he was always focused on the team."
How has Courtney Fells handled the transition from the "two" to the "three" thus far?
"I think it's gone very well; I think it's gone very well. It's allowed him to open up a little more in terms of being more aggressive, scoring, going to the boards, running the floor. Now he's playing against guys that, at times, he's going to be faster than or quicker than, and being able to guard those guys, even though we might have to call on him to guard some of the twos that we play against.
"I think it's been a great transition for him, and he's able to do the things that he's capable of doing. That's the one thing I give him a lot of credit for, is he's now playing to his strengths. We talk often, and he understands, he gets the rebound, he says, 'Coach, I'm looking for the guards, then I want to run.' And he understands that. We don't need Courtney to dribble, dribble, dribble and try to get 10 assists a game; that's not who he is. And he's accepted that, and because of that, he's playing better and his mind is in the right place—and we've just been extremely pleased with him."
How excited is the team about getting this season started and trying to put last year behind them? Is it a game-by-game approach or is there a sense or trying to erase last season's finish?
"We're going to try to take it one game at a time. I haven't said anything to the guys about the last game against New Orleans; I think they already know. We're going down there, and the main thing for us is to be focused on us and how we want to play and do the things that we want to do. That when you step on the floor and you have something extra in you that you feel from last year, absolutely, I think you use that. But we haven't really talked about a revenge game or anything like that. We've got to go down there and be focused on what we're trying to do and then take it as one game a time."
Will the longer three-point line affect shot selection for your team this year?
"No, not really. I think that the guys that are capable of shooting them are still going to shoot them. My biggest, not concern, but reminder, to certain guys is that it is back another foot and that you don't have to stand three feet behind it. We still have some guys that think they have to be three feet behind the three, and you've got pros who can't shoot it on a consistent basis from that distance. So I tell them this all the time, 'I'm not concerned about how many you can take; I want to know how many you can make. If you're not shooting a decent percentage, then you shouldn't be shooting them.'"
Do you think there will be any confusion with it being so close to the women's three-point line?
"I don't think so, I don't think so, because often you'll see guys will actually look down to make sure that they're behind it. So they're aware that it's back a little deeper; I don't know if they're looking to make sure that they can distinguish the two lines.
"But they have confidence in making and taking the shot, and again, I just try to remind them to get up to the line. We have guys that are certainly capable of making it from that distance—just get to the line. I don't like to see guys shooting the ball two and three feet past the three-point line; that irritates me. I'd rather see you step to the line, when you can, and knock it down."
Can you talk some about your signings on Wednesday?
"We're very excited about it. Lorenzo Brown is going to be a great addition to our ballclub. Scott Wood is an excellent shooter; he's going to provide some of that outside shooting for us. And we have some others, and I can't really talk about it, but we're optimistic there's no problems with other people. But those two gentlemen are signed and they're ready to go."
With J.J. Hickson gone, will there be any change in the rebounding strategy?
"Well, we just talk about gang rebounding. We need everybody to get in there and rebound for us. At times, we do a nice job of blocking out, but then we're not going and getting the ball. We're not going and getting it. It's not done until we go get the basketball. You have to attack the ball when you're rebounding, just like you do as an offensive rebounder; you have to go and get it. The same thing when you're defensively rebounding: you have to block out and then you have to go get it. You've got to be aggressive and go get it, and that's the area that we have to continue to improve on.
"Let's face it: we can't have Simon Harris playing 11 minutes and lead us in rebounding—in two games; twice. We can't have that; we cannot have that. We need our bigs to rebound, and that's it. We get that done and we'll be fine. Credit to Simon, but we can't have our three man outrebounding our fours and fives."
Will the overall improved shape of your players help out in the rebounding aspect of the game?
"Absolutely. Absolutely. I think if you look at all our players, to a man, you'll see that guys are down in weight and they look good, and that's going to show up not just now but I think later down the road in the season as we get into it, because they're in shape, their endurance will be better, and we won't run out of gas. Plus, the fact [that] I think we have more guys, too, to play."
Has there been a technique problem in rebounding that needs to be fixed?
"I think just more concentration on going and getting it after the block out. Especially when you're playing against a team that's very aggressive on the offensive boards, where they don't really mind if they can get one called over the back or two called over the back. So you have to be strong when you block them out, and then go and attack the ball. And what we were doing, we were blocking out at times, but then we didn't go get it. So they would push us and come over the back, and there's no call there, and you can't complain about that. So technique was fine; they were concentrating on it, but they didn't get it. Like I mentioned Simon Harris; remember, he was going up and getting it. And that's what we have to have all five guys doing."
Some of the players have mentioned that you gave them specific weight and body-fat numbers that they needed to reach this offseason. What was the thinking behind that?
"Well, I think when you have a year that you're not pleased with, after you blame yourself enough, you have to start looking at other things, too, and saying, 'Let's make sure everything's right.' And I just didn't think that some of our guys were in the shape that they needed to be in, and I felt that if they got down in weight, it would help them individually, which would help us collectively as a team. And I think it's shown that. And I think we owe them a lot of credit, because they all understood it, they wanted it, and they did it. To a man, they all got down in their weights. And they want to do well; they want to do well.
"But I think as a coach I had to certainly bring that out and let them know that this is what we need to do in order to get better, and they believe in that, and they did it; they did it. They did the work."
Was last year's exempt tournament in Orlando the season highlight for your team?
"Highlight? It was certainly a bright spot for us to go down there and play against three tough teams. We played against tough teams there and beat a nationally ranked team in the championship game. Yeah, that was definitely a highlight, but more than that, it was a great start for us. It was a great start for us, and I think we came out of that feeling good about ourselves."
Did you come out tight after last year's tourney? Is that why you're not in an exempt tournament this year?
"No, that wasn't the case. We just didn't want to do it this year. We wanted to concentrate on a few other things and getting time with our guys and work with our guys, get a couple of exhibition games and then go play. We didn't want to get into it too early; I wasn't sure with Farnold, there was a lot that was going on, and we just didn't want to do it. And next year, we might turn around and do something similar to that or something different."
Has there been any thought toward having a tournament here in Raleigh?
"That's what we're talking about."
Can you talk about the thought process behind that?
"I think it's good because you get that early play, obviously, you get early games. You get three games or whatever at home, in front of your crowd. I think there's certainly a plus to that, and hopefully if you're fortunate enough, you get some early wins. There's a lot for it; our fans get to see you early. There's a lot of pros to doing it."
As a player, did you take part in any of those early-season tournaments?
"I don't think we did; I don't think we did. I'm trying to think; no, you know what, we played in one in Hawaii I think it was, and we lost to Rice, I think it was, in the championship game. We beat Wichita State, which was ranked No. 2 in the country, and then we lost to Rice, who had Ricky Pierce on their team."
Did they create fond memories for you, and is that one reason you would consider participating in such a tournament for your players?
"Um, not really. It's about winning. I know some coaches talk about allowing each player to at least have one trip during their college career, which is nice to do. But you've got to think about preparing your team for the season to win games. Maybe I'm still so old school, I'm still thinking about playing. Having fun, just … you have fun when you play and you win, regardless of where you play. I don't think Coach V took us out there to have fun; we went out there to win games."
Can you remember where you were when you heard Virginia had lost to Chaminade?
"I don't. I don't remember exactly where I was, but I will say, you just don't know. And that's one of the reasons why some teams don't do exhibition games; some teams will do scrimmages. They'd rather scrimmage someone. Would teams rather have an exhibition against a Division II school or whatever, or would you rather, say, scrimmage against a Notre Dame? Would you rather scrimmage against a Kentucky, a team that you may not play unless you meet them in the tournament or something like that? What do you get more out of? A lot of teams are doing one game and one scrimmage game now. So there are different thoughts to it, and I'm sure I'll change again at some point, until we can find out what's best of our school."
What is the impact of being in such a tournament, revenue-wise?
"I'm sure there's something financial to it, but, you know … that's not my area. We're going to do whatever we can, obviously, to help our school and university and hopefully the team as well. But the financial aspect of it, as a coach, you don't look at that. It's when you sit down and look at the numbers and talk to people, and obviously, anything we do, I have to talk to my AD. So he gives the yes or the no on those deals anyway."
Have you entered into formal discussions about having such a tournament?
"I'd rather not say, I'd rather not say. But certainly it's something that we're entertaining."
What role do you envision Johnny Thomas having in his redshirt freshman season? With his knee condition, does it become a pain management issue in terms of his limitations?
"It's a very delicate situation; it's a tough situation, because you'd like to have an idea of your rotations, who's going to be available night in and night out. And with Johnny, that knee could swell up at any time and then he's out for a couple of days. So it's a very difficult situation.
"It's also very difficult for me because I just have unbelievable respect and admiration for this young man. He's just special; he's really, truly special. He wants to go every day; he wants to go the entire practice. Doc had to pull him out yesterday; he told Doc he was fine, Doc pulled him out. He would rather endure the pain later but have the gain of playing first; regardless of the pain afterwards. You just don't find those kind of young men, you just don't today. You don't find them.
"I can't say enough about him. He's special … and I hurt for him every day when I see him. But it's a young man who just wants to play; he wants to play."
Do you think that this is an issue that he's going to have to deal with for the rest of his career or will it heal over time?
"We feel that it can improve over time, but it will take a while, because if he's playing on it every day or every other day or whatever it is, there's going to be something there. It's interesting … I always say that sometimes you have to let the players tell you how much they can tolerate and if they can go or not. He's one that you sort of have to tell him; you really do. You have to tell him. Because he's not the average; he's just not."
Every team counts on seniors for leadership. Is there anyone on your team who is really taking on the role of leading and inspiring the troops?
"You know, I don't really look for my seniors to lead. We have some guys that have definitely been stepping up. Courtney Fells has been consistent; he's been very consistent with his leadership. There are other guys that are doing things; Ben has been really good here the last few weeks or so at getting guys going, Brandon's been in there, so … but I don't look for seniors.
"I don't feel that you have to be a senior to lead—I just think you have to be a leader. Because I think, unfortunately, somewhere along the line in this game, people felt that the seniors or the upperclassmen automatically are the leaders or the captains. Well, if that's the case, if you have a bad one, then he's going to lead everyone in the wrong direction, you know? Which, that happens. So I don't believe in that. I don't believe in that, and I know that some people think that it's supposed to be given … nothing is given. You have to earn everything you get in this business and in this game.
"When I came in as a freshman here, that was just my personality. I didn't care that Hawkeye Whitney or Clyde Austin were seniors. When I was out there, I was the leader. Period. And I think that's the way every player is that's a leader. That's the way Magic was, that's the way Michael was, that's the way Larry was, you know? That's just who they are. But in doing that, you have to show it. You have to do it on the floor; you can't just talk, you've got to do it on the floor.
"So I don't know who it might be. It could be C.J. Williams, it could be Julius Mays, it could be … whoever wants it, that's who gets it. I don't think you can point and say, 'That's my leader.' The leader is going to evolve from within. That's kind of where we are; but right now, we do have some guys that are doing it. Courtney Fells has really been stepping up, really."