How has your relationship with Brice Johnson changed over his career?
“We have more of an understanding now. At first, I think he felt it was more personal, but that didn’t last very long. He’s pretty much understood the whole time that I was trying to make him the best player that he could be. I don’t know that I would change anything with how I’ve coached Brice because we have a really unique relationship that I’ve really enjoyed.”
Do you treat everybody like that?
“Oh no. You jump on some guys like that, they’ll go in a shell and go in the locker room and lay down and curl up and cry. I’ve gotten on some other guys just as much as I have Brice. But with Brice, it’s been a consistent—I want more from him today. And I think Brice has got to have better basketball even in front of him even more because I just think that the intensity of his effort was at a low-point, and he’s really fought that and fought that and gotten better and better and better and better. You take some of the stats that Steve gives out and you look down there at the numbers the rascal’s had this year and its off the charts. And I still want him to be a better defensive player… If I were to coach him another five years, my guess is I’d coach him the same exact way.
“Brice is not the best that he can be, because he still has some things that he can do even better. I love that part. I just want him to keep improving and keep improving, and he’s a special, unique kid… I saw him play in high school, his dad stayed on his case, too. He didn’t walk over and hug his dad in timeouts, I guaran-dadgum-tee you that. His dad got after his rear end, too.”
How much do emotional players like Brice Johnson and Theo Pinson change the personality of your team?
“I’ve had some weird dudes. Scot Pollard is on that Survivor thing that’s on TV right now. He used to paint his fingernails, his toenails, proposed to his wife at Late Night, so I’ve got some guys that are way out there, too. Theo is the most enthusiastic player I’ve probably coached in a long, long time, but I like kids that are different, that don’t just look you in the eye and can’t breathe, that kind of stuff. I like personalities. I enjoy laughing. Theo is a guy that makes me laugh, but yet Theo is really a good basketball player, so I love that part of it, too. This team’s got some characters on it. Theo and Brice, those two. Joel Berry is, too. He sort of hides behind everything else, but he’s right up there with the lunatics that the rest of them are. I’ve had a few. Tyler Hansbrough was called Psycho T for a reason. Nobody ever called him that to his face in the locker room, but all of those other guys, so I’ve had some guys that have been like that that have been a lot of fun, too.”
As loose as this team is, what is it about them that makes them flip the switch to this sense of purpose that it’s all business?
“I think they’re always going to enjoy each other. We make clips just to show how silly somebody looks. Theo comes up, ‘I’ve done something to my leg, I’ve done something to my leg,’ I said, ‘What happened?’ He said ‘A guy stepped on my foot.’ Then we watched the tape, and a guy didn’t come close to him. So we run it back and show it to the entire team so they can all laugh at him. We have some fun that way, but I think, to answer the question, to me, it’s probably a little more feeling of confidence each and every week that’s gone forward throughout the season, and even when we lost two in a row at Louisville and Notre Dame. The kids came back and they worked.
“We lost to Duke at home, and that was crushing. But they came back the next day, and they came back to get ready for Miami. Then we lost at Virginia. And then they came back and tried to do everything they could to make sure that Marcus (Paige) and Brice and Joel (James) got out on Senior Day the proper way. There’s a time to work, and we laugh during practice. Whether it’s at J. Cole, or me stumping my toe on the practice court or almost falling, or something. But I think that the confidence level has gotten better and better, and with that, also the trust level of playing harder defensively and the rewards that you get from it, I think that’s been huge, too.”
How concerned were you during the Providence game when Theo Pinson had to leave, and how do you get updated on a situation like that during the game?
“I was concerned, and our trainer Doug Halverson came up and told me what was going on, and that he thinks things are fine. Theo, like I said, I don’t have many great lines, but one of the best I’ve ever had is that I never have to congratulate Theo, because he congratulates himself before I do. With Theo, it could have been something that just caused his body to act that way because it’s Theo, but I was scared to death the first couple seconds when he started talking about it. Then Doug said ‘No, everything’s fine, he’s checked out fine, everything’s fine.’ When I put him back in the game, I said, ‘Are you okay?’ And he just looked at me like, ‘What are you talking about?’ So I was scared to death for a couple of seconds until Doug gave me the information.”
Have you talked to your team about being more balanced than being a second half team?
“No, it’s the same thing with Marcus Paige a few years ago. He played better in the second half, I never told him to stop playing the second half, play the first half. Play as well as you can play every moment. They’ve done a really nice job of taking what we told them at halftime and putting it to use like we changed our way we played the screen on the ball the other night at halftime. I think it really helped us that they adopted that. I wanted to play the entire game the way they play their best five minutes anywhere, but that doesn’t usually happen. But I’ve always said, you’ve got to play the whole game. I’ve never believed the first four minutes, the last four minutes, first four minutes of the second half, last four minutes—It’s a 40-minute game, and you’ve got to play as much of it as you can.”
What’s it going to take for Kennedy Meeks to get back in a groove?
“I have no idea. We’ve coached him, and you’re right, it’s only been a couple of weeks. You look, it was about two weeks ago that we played Duke? He had 12 and 14. I got on my radio show last night and said some things that people should quit being so negative, he plays on our team, you’re either with me or you’re not, but we need him to play better, and he knows that. Hopefully he will.”