Do you have a sense of what the identity of this year’s team is going to be?
No. A lot of times you don’t have it until you get into the course of your season, halfway through it or something like that. Last year’s team emotionally, mentally, when they were at a high were really, really impressive. When it wasn’t at that high level, when everything wasn’t aligned properly, they weren’t at that high level. But that is what our team was. So we had to push to try to get to that high level every night. Sometimes we came closer than others. Who knows what this year’s actual picture is going to be of what this team is going to be like.
Are you getting a sense that Isaiah Hicks is becoming who you want him to be?
He just needs to relax. It’s a hard thing for somebody to say ‘Relax and play harder, relax and quit thinking.’ We’re sending him a lot of different signals, but once certain kids get it, they’ve always got it. I believe that Isaiah will have a better year, and will get better and do those kinds of things. We are seeing some of it in practice. I don’t know that he’s going to be the best player tomorrow, but I think he’ll be better.
Do you need anything differently out of Marcus than what you had last year?
I hope we get exactly what we got out of him last year, and a little bit better. He’s a complete player, he’s really good defensively and yet he’s our best offensive player. I’m not going to say don’t worry about the defensive end of the court. We’re still going to try to get him to be a great leader by example and by word of mouth. He’s got to be able to make big shots.
What’s your relationship like with Marcus in terms how you communicate and the trust level?
I said this earlier; if they were all like Marcus I would pay our administration to let me coach instead of them pay me. He’s a true leader on the court. He came from a coaching family. His mom coached in the state championship game in Iowa. He’s sat at the table and listened to all the coach talk, he’s sat there and listened to people talk about individuals doing the best you can do, and yet he sat there and listened to them about how the team does is most important. That and his ability and the respect everybody has for him, it’s easy to talk to him. If you can’t talk to him, you have major problems. Nobody’s perfect, but he’s darn near perfect.
What’s his basketball IQ like?
One of the top five or 10, at worst, at least in the top five or 10 in 26 years as a head coach.
Do you expect your team to defend better this year?
We weren’t bad defensively last year. Sometimes if you look at the numbers, I might even be willing to take that. I think we can be really good defensively.
What allows Marcus to do well defensively?
His competitiveness is number one. He’s willing to get in the stance and get down and guard you and keep the basketball in front of him. He’s willing to do that and he’s willing to work at it. He’s willing to be tough enough to get over the screens; he’s willing to be tough enough to stick his nose in there on the loose ball. He does have a surprising little length and burst that he can block a shot. I think he’ll even get better; it’s what he’s going to have to do.
The lineup you used in the exhibition game, do you see yourself sticking with that?
No, I haven’t made up my mind at all. We just picked five guys. That morning, I asked each coach I said, ‘Who do you want to start?’ It’s one of the few times I let five guys’ opinion override mine, because I was going to start one different guy. Over the next, I think we have seven practices before the next exhibition game, we expect some guys to move up with their play and improve their play. My history has been most of the time, get five guys early and stick with them.
We didn’t do it in 2006, I started Marcus the first part of his freshman year and then took him out and started Wes Miller. In 2011-12 is when we went small in the middle of the season. Most of the time I’ve been the guy who sticks with the first five.
Who is the one guy you weren’t going to start?
I’m not telling you.
In the exhibition, what did you think of the 30-second clock?
It was brought up to us in the summer meetings. I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do that.’ Forgot about it completely. One of the coaches said something about it, I said OK. During the course of the game, I said ‘Is that shot clock right?’ I’d like to have a 30-second shot clock; I like to play faster anyway.
How have you seen Brice work toward the goal of earning a starting role?
He’s got to get his motor going faster and do it at a more consistent level. But nobody stepped up and said he can’t be the starter yet, either. Same thing with Kennedy, if you were to ask them, ‘What do you think you’ve got to do better for Coach Williams?’ They’d say ‘Play harder.’ That’s an indictment on me, just as much as it is them. I should threaten them or something. It’s just not in their nature to be as aggressive as I want them to be. Both of them yesterday I got mad and took them out during practice because of that same thing. We’ve had 13 practices and I still haven’t changed it to the level I want it changed. But they care and I think that eventually it will come.
Are you concerned that Brice might struggle as a starter, since coming off the bench is all he’s known (in college)?
Last year, he started one time and he had a terrible game. I said ‘Come on now, I don’t want to go around and say you can’t play when you start.’ Hopefully that won’t happen, because if he deserves to start I’d like to do it and not have him worried about something psychological.
Brice did really well as a sixth man last year. What are some of the advantages of having a good sixth man?
If you make a substitution and your team gets stronger in some ways, that’s a great, great thing. I’ve had guys who could really shoot that come in as a sixth man and that adds something immediately. I think it depends on which person. … I haven’t chosen who is going to start and who is going to be the sixth man yet, so I don’t know who that’s going to be.
Any concern with the difficulty of the schedule?
My staff gets mad at me all the time, but nine of the 11 years we’ve been here our schedule has been in the top 25. One year it’s been number one. I think you make out the schedule not even knowing who is going to be on your team. The only thing I’ve started doing, if I had a game… Tyler Hansbrough, I had a game scheduled in St. Louis, but I said that if he left the NBA early I wasn’t coming. We put it in the contract, if he was not on our team we were not coming to play.
I took Drew Gooden back to the Bay area to play one time, when I was at Kansas, I looked around and he wasn’t on our bench sitting there, he wasn’t on the court warming up, he was in the NBA. I’m saying, ‘What the crap am I doing here?’ So since then I’ve put that in.
Are you more pleased with the balance of your team this year?
I hope so, but it’s too early to find out. The other night I started a bigger lineup, but with perimeter players 6-7, 6-8 with J.P. and Justin. I may start two little guys. Last year we started Nate and Marcus. I just felt like the other night those were the guys who had performed the best in practice.
Are you worried that you will have to rely too much on the freshmen?
I’m comfortable and confident with those guys. I think we’re going to be really good when Brice plays really good. I think he and Kennedy can take us to a different level, right now, better than the freshmen can.
How have these freshmen compared to the other classes you’ve had?
We had a recruiting class [in 2009] it was ranked as the number one recruiting class in the country. It was the two Wear twins, Dexter, Leslie and John Henson. John was the only guy to be a consistent starter for two years in a row, I don’t think anybody else started two full years. I had a class at Kansas that was two guys. It was Nick (Collison) and Kirk (Hinrich). That’s the best recruiting class I’ve ever had, so you have to wait and see what they do.
What does your gut tell you about these three?
I think the three freshmen will be able to step in and play.
How hard is to take a group of individuals and make them into a team?
It’s a fun part of the job. It is easier now than it was 20 years ago, because the freshmen are so much more mature. They’ve done so many more things, they’re not ‘ooing and ahhing’ about college basketball.
The state of North Carolina is basketball rich. How much pride do you think these guys have to not just play basketball for North Carolina, but in North Carolina?
I think, looking at the tradition and those jerseys up in the rafters, there’s so many North Carolina guys, I think it’s important to them. But it’s important if they go play at other schools, too, so I don’t know that it’s a difference maker. I think it really is important and they understand the tradition and the history. They look up there and they see Worthy, and Jordan and Daugherty and Jamison and I think that’s important to them.
When you look at the chemistry of this year’s team, does it feel like it’s meshing better than previous teams the last few years?
I don’t know that I can say it’s perfect or anything like that, but I think they genuinely like each other and enjoy spending time with each other. It’s not three guys here, and two guys here and five guys here, it’s almost everybody together, all the time.
Would you say Nate Britt’s shot is a little better since switching to his right hand?
It’s the first time I’ve ever had that. It was my suggestion first to my staff, and then to Nate and then to Nate’s father. His dad was great; he said, ‘I’ve been thinking the same thing.’ He’s got a little hitch in his left-hand shot that he doesn’t have it when right handed. And he’s shot with both hands as young as 11-year-old. I had a little tape of him when he was 11 years old, shooting drills, coming off the screen one direction shooting right hand, the other direction shooting left handed, so I knew that was there. I see him shoot right handed in pre-practice shoot around, just junking around. His right-handed shot looked better than his left-handed shot did. I think the neatest thing is his free throws; he’s still going to shoot those left-handed. He doesn’t have the hitch in his left hand free throws. You look at his free-throw percentage; I think his free-throw percentage in conference games was the highest on the team. His three-point percentage was not.
Q&A with Roy Williams, Part III
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