Can mental toughness be a skill?
I think playing hard and being really mentally tough is a talent. Tyler Hansbrough, people would say ‘boy he plays so hard,’ well that’s a talent. Now the mental toughness aspect of it, you’ve got to be able to focus, to me that’s really what it is. I think with experience you have a chance of letting the other things drop off your side and focus much, much better. We’ve talked about it, we've got the signs up, we've got all those kinds of things. We’ll see if it works.
How much have you pushed reminders of the leads your team lost in the second half last season?
We’ve pushed it a lot. I would say focus may be even a better word than toughness, because I think our guys are tough enough to dive on the floor for a loose ball and not let someone else dive in front of them. The focus to do your job, regardless of how small your assignment is, do that assignment to the best of your ability. So I think focus might be better terminology than toughness.
How healthy is Marcus compared to last year?
Knock on wood; he’s been healthier this year than he has been since the end of his sophomore year. He’s been playing very, very well in practice and he likes feeling good instead of getting treatment because he’s hurting every day.
Rick Pitino didn’t attend this media day. Do you kind of wish you would’ve done the same last year?
I didn’t enjoy my time here and answering all those questions that didn’t pertain much to basketball. Every situation is unique, every situation is different. Rick has an attorney that says ‘I don’t think you should do that.’ That’s somebody you’ve got to listen to because you trusted the guy enough to hire him, and it’s part of the facts of life. I think Rick would like to say many more things than he’s saying, but he’s been advised not to say those kind of things.
In that respect, do you feel like it was good you were able to say a lot of the things you wanted to say last year at this time?
I’ll put it to you differently; I said some things that I wanted to say and it was 1/10 or 1/100 or 1/1000 of what the crap I really wanted to say. I could’ve given you a lot more things, your articles would’ve been a lot better, but I couldn’t say what I wanted to say.
What’s your level of frustration given the fact that, a year later, a lot of this (NCAA) stuff remains unresolved?
There’s still frustration because our program is suffering already. There’s been no penalties assigned to us. The federal prosecutor didn’t garnish my salary or anything like that. We have suffered a great deal already, for two or three years. I’m very sad, mad, disappointed that we have the problem at all. In a 55-page report, my name’s listed once and it’s in a rather positive way it’s even mentioned.
I’ve said to myself all along, I know what we did. The frustration is that we have still suffered greatly by the negative recruiting, the sensationalism by certain people, whatever you want to call it. Everybody would like for it to be over with quickly. And it hasn’t gotten over with quickly. From the Chancellor to everybody that works at the University, we would like for it to be over quicker, but the fact of life is that we’re getting through some adversity. I’ll be extremely pleased when it is finally is over with.
What was your reaction to UNC’s response to the NOA being pushed back?
What have you been telling recruits about this situation?
Same thing I just told you. I’m mad, I’m hurt, I’m disappointed, all that stuff. But read what is there.
Do you say anything to the coaches who are doing the negative recruiting? Do you pick up the phone and call them?
I’ve been known to do that, but that’s not something I’m going to share because that’s pretty private too.
What have you seen Justin Jackson do better in practice?
I think he’s much more active defensively than he was last year. I think he’s understanding how important the offensive rebounding part of it can be. He’s doing a better job of taking the ball to the basket, because we want him to get fouled. He’s really a good shooter, and yet in the first 17 practices hasn’t shot the ball exceptionally well. But I think he is going to shoot it better than he did last year. So that’s almost every phase of the game he’s better. And I think the maturity and the confidence will make that continue through the whole year.
What about Isaiah Hicks?
Isaiah needs to be a big-time player for us. He’s tipping it up at 235 to 239 (pounds), so he’s much stronger. Need him to be much more confident as well, to be able to make plays, and defend and see that big picture. I think he’s going to really have a good year.
Do you remember the conversation you had with Jackson after the win over Virginia in the ACC tournament?
If you remember that game, he was a big-time player in that game. He was, perhaps, the most important player in a nice team win. And I think he can do those kind of things a lot more often.
What do you look for in a guy that can be a defensive stopper and does Theo Pinson fit that role?
I wish we had a whole team full of them. Some of our real good teams had more than one. I asked the players the other day, I said ‘who was the best defensive team in our league‘ and everybody said Virginia. I said, ‘they’ve won it the last two years in a row, doesn’t that tell you something?’ In ‘09, the last six games we were really something defensively. I think three of their six opponents we held to less than 30 percent shooting in one half. So, you’d like those guys that do it for the whole season and that do it as a team.
I don’t know that I have anybody right now that I would say ‘I’m going to put so and so on him.’ Marcus is our most consistent defensive player. He’s in the right place at the right time and does it consistently. I’d like to have somebody step forward and take that spot because I think it’s crucial to how good you can be.
Have you noticed the physical changes from the work Jackson has put into adding weight and strength?
I think he is stronger. We put a team in the other day and I put Joel (James) and Kennedy together, and I said ‘the all-beef team is in there.’ And he said ‘no coach, I believe I'm on the all-beef team.’ I think we’re a few steps away from that part. I think more strength, body mass, weight and all those kind of things helps you on the backboard, helps you defensively, helps you… as you’re driving the ball to the basket if the slightest contact can knock you off balance, and the next year you have enough strength to make that drive and the slightest contact doesn’t cause you anything, I think that’s a huge positive.
Do you need the third perimeter player with Marcus and Justin to be a defensive guy, or can it all work with five guys who are offensively gifted?
I guess we’ll see. I think this team is going to have to be one where all five guys do their job. Jackie Manuel, for example, was so good at getting around screens. He was always there, made it difficult for the shooters. Tyler Zeller, he was always there when you needed him, but he had John Henson behind him who could block shots. Kendall Marshall was a little slower than most point guards, but he had length to give them room, and if he did make a mistake he had John and Tyler both behind him. I think this year, it will be more of five guys working together trying to do a great job.
You said Justin has improved defensively…
He really has improved defensively. I think everybody from your freshman to sophomore year should make a pretty significant jump.
Check back tomorrow for Part III