What do you think of the rules changes?
I don’t waste a lot of time thinking about it. Going from 35- to 30-(second shot clock) is not a big difference for me. I’m a little disappointed that we no longer have the five-second, closely-guarded rule because I don’t want to see one person handle the ball for 30 seconds now. I think it makes a lot of us play the same way at the end of the shot clock, everybody sends four people to line up across the baseline and play. I think, for me, I liked it better when we had it.
I wish it were still easy -- or easier -- for coaches to call timeout. I don’t like that part, because if things don’t work at the end I’m responsible, I’d like to be able to call timeout. And yet two years ago in the NCAA Tournament I’m standing there screaming ‘timeout, timeout’ and didn’t get it either. At the end of the game I asked the referee, ‘so what does all this mean?’ He said, ‘basically the game is over with.’ So I said ‘thank you’ and I turned around and shook hands with Fred (Hoiberg) and walked off. Other than that, I wish we would stick up all year long and stay trying to keep the game a more free-flowing game. That’s the most I’ve talked about it since it came out.
What about some of the movement to push the season back?
I haven’t heard much about that… I think the college basketball season is a long, long season. Starting so much earlier, sort of makes you start your conditioning program, your weight program earlier too. It’s a long season.
You have four returning starters, for that fifth spot who are you looking at?
I think it’s hard to answer that right now and I’m not sitting on the fence, I’m just being truthful with you, because this week will be the first week that Theo Pinson’s been released to do everything. I’d hate to say ‘yeah, we’ve really figured out so and so’ because I haven’t figured out what all Theo can do. Kennedy (Meeks) has done some nice things, but so has Joel (James) and so has Isaiah (Hicks) and so has Brice (Johnson). First thing I do is I realize we have pretty good depth up front, but Brice, Marcus (Paige) and Justin (Jackson) have proven they can do it at crunch time. So I think those three guys, needless to say, have a step-up on starting.
In the other spot would be… Kennedy has done some really good things at certain times. Isaiah and Joel have improved their games. But then the other spot is the one that’s the question mark and it’s the weakness of our team -- depth on the wing. We have Kenny Williams, Justin and Theo. And Theo was operated on May 4 and did not play a single ompetitive game of basketball until basketball practice started. You’re talking about from May to October before you get a chance to play; we’ve got to give him time to get acclimated to what we want to do. Nate (Britt) and Joel Berry are going to be involved the process as well. Next couple of weeks we’ll really make a lot of decisions.
What additional ability does Kennedy’s physical change give him?
He’s better now. Last season he was much better athletically than he was the year before. He came in as a freshman at 319, but last year he played at 265 to 275. He has seen 258, I know, this year. The challenge for him isn’t nearly as hard as what he’s already done. Losing that much weight is really hard. Now, you’re not carrying around that weight so you should jump higher, so then be more explosive, jump to the full of your ability. I get on him all the time about this double pump and lay it up against somebody’s arm pit. He can explode up now, so I need him to change that part. What he’s already done… everybody tells me, is as hard as it can possibly be.
Did the team embrace the extra conditioning you added this year?
In the locker room in Los Angeles, when we lost in the Sweet 16 game, I told them that night ‘I hope you remember this feeling and use it as motivation, use this a fuel to work harder over the off-season and to be willing to work harder and pay more of a price so you don’t have this feeling again.’ With Marcus, Brice and Joel being really good leaders, they’ve done those kind of things and I think they’ve helped us through the preparation of practice. I think we’ve had 17 practices and 16 of them I’ve been fairly pleased when I left. We had one that was a dog and I went a little wacko on them at that time.
I think all those things the team, so far, has used that… you don’t want to use it just in a positive manner because you don’t want to have that experience in the first place. But I think they’ve tried to use it as motivation.
Does this group have a certain amount of internal expectation because of all those returning people you have?
I think we have expectations, but expectations -- I always say those are other people’s thoughts. I talk in terms of dreams and goals, and I think we have our own dreams and goals. I think they’re legitimate. In ‘05, we had everybody coming back but we added Marvin Williams and that’s a pretty big addition. In ‘09, we had everybody coming back and we added Ed Davis particularly, but Tyler Zeller as well, and I think that was very significant additions.
This year we didn’t add one of those top 15, top 10 talents to the group. Our only improvement has to be how each individual has improved. I think they’ve had a great attitude about that and tried to improve. I hope they’re embracing the idea that everybody thinks we’re going to be pretty good. We have some limitations, but I like the fact that I feel like we are embracing those feelings that other people have that we’re going to be pretty good.
What will determine if this team reaches its ceiling?
Oh, I have no idea of that. I told them Wes Miller, that’s the head coach at UNC-Greensboro right now, came closer to playing to his potential than any player I’ve ever coached. Their challenge is: try to be the best player you can be. And hopefully be willing to focus enough to look at the big picture to make that to be the best team we can be. If things don’t turn out like our dreams and goals are, I’m not that type of guy that’s going to smash some trophy or honorable mention deal… If we don’t win the National Championship I’m not going to jump off the top of the Smith Center and I don’t expect any of our players to. But I do expect them to give me everything they can to try to be the best team we can possibly be.
What are the challenges of getting an experienced team to grow as a group?
There’s no question younger players can take bigger leaps, because they haven’t proven they can do it so you don’t know if they can. I like an experienced team; they have been easier to coach. They understand those difficult moments in the locker room, they also understand those good moments in the locker. I do, I challenge them all the time: be the best player you can be and then let’s get everybody together and be the best team that you can be.
Everybody would take talent. Every coach in here that you asked ‘would you rather have talent or experience,’ everybody would take talent. But if you can’t have talent, the second one would be experience. The one that everybody would really want would be that experienced talent, which I think we had in ‘09 particularly and I think we had it in 2012 as well, but I don’t think we have it at that level right now like we did in those years.
Do they get stubborn the older they get? Do bad habits get harder to break?
No, we’ve got a really, really good group to work with. They’re very coachable, they trust me, they trust our staff. Everybody’s got their own feelings, that’s the reason you have the tape machine, the cameras, the old ‘eye in the sky don’t lie’ - you got to show them those kind of things sometimes, but that’s OK too.
Check back tomorrow for Part II...