“Ecstatic to be here. We've already practiced an hour and a half out on the court. Thought we had a good practice. Need to have a good film session later today, or tape session I guess is what they call it now. We need to have a good practice tomorrow. But I think our kids are enjoining themselves. People at the hotel have been fantastic. People here at the arena have been fantastic. The media guys are always fantastic, so I'm ready.”
Marcus has over his four years gained an appreciation for analytics and that side of the game. Does he ever come to you with things that he spots? When did you become aware he was interested in those things?
“I've seen some of his comments and he's told me a couple of things. But I like a little dose of it, you know, I really do. I don't like a lot of it because that just gives you so much. I think he gets so deeply involved in it, you forget about personalities, you forget about the stage of the game when things happen.
“So I know Marcus is very analytical. I'm more than I ever was, but still there would be a huge majority of the people in the basketball world between me and Marcus and the rest of the guys that are way out there. I'm always willing to take in information and make decisions about whether it's valid for our team.”
You're trying to become the sixth coach of all time to win his third national championship, yet you've had this NCAA investigation looming over the season. How have you been able to balance the up-and-down emotions of the season.
“Well, it really hasn't affected the coaching part because it's been my sort of salvation. I go over there and I don't think about all that stuff. We have talked about it so much, it's been such a big story that I'm tired of it. We have, in my opinion, the greatest sporting event there is, the Final Four, going on. It's about four schools, four teams, four coaching staffs who have worked their tails off to get here.
“All that other stuff that sometimes I call 'junk' has been talked about too much. I really want to focus on my team, the other guys, their teams, what's happening. It's okay to be a college basketball player and it's a great event to be in the Final Four.
“The first part of the question about being the sixth guy. I really don't think about those things. I'm trying to figure out how in the dickens I can get enough baskets against Syracuse's zone. I've been fortunate to have great kids that make me look very good and I hope they keep doing it for a long time.”
Obviously the trajectory as players has been remarkable from Marcus and Brice. What do you remember about them personality-wise? They came in as lambs and are leaving as much different people.
“Their personalities were still different and still are so different. You've heard me call them the odd couple because they do really deep down enjoy and like each other. It's been a great partnership for them.
“Marcus, I knew after Kendall left, because no one thought Kendall would have the opportunity he did, Marcus said several times he thought he was coming in to be a backup for Kendall, get indoctrinated into big-time college basketball. I felt Marcus, a little bit more his mental state because I handed him the ball and said, All right, you got to make us go. He accepted that.
“He struggled a little bit. But for the most part he just handled it, tried to do the best he could do, relished the good plays and put the bad plays behind him.
“Brice was a guy I thought had a tremendous upside but we needed to get his motor going so much more. Marcus had a serious side of him, and Brice had such a non-serious side about him that you didn't think it was going to work, but it's worked perfectly.
“They have grown so much. It's one of the truly great things that I, as a coach, enjoy. That sounds corny and anything. But watching those kids mature and grow and develop over the four years, it's been a really neat, neat deal to see those two guys.
“I told you guys before, my high school coach told me, he thought I coached Brice and got him to progress farther, more than anybody I've ever coached. My statement back was that that gives coaching too much credit. But I do believe that Brice is right up there, if not the top youngster that's improved so much, maybe more than anybody I've ever coached.
Roy, you took several teams to a Final Four before you finally got that First National title. Jim Boeheim was in that same boat. What does it mean for a coach when you get that first title? Does coming to the Final Four, having won one, make the Final Four a different experience for you?
“The last part, the answer is no. We've won two of them, I'm still like a little puppy dog. I think it's fantastic, love that part of it. It means you've accomplished something. It means there's a greater prize out there. Now there's only four people that can possibly get that greater prize. That part of it's easy.
“For me, I was Coach Smith's assistant when I heard all the stuff about 'he can't win the big one.' I got a lot of adjectives the way I can describe that. I didn't believe that at the time. I was on staff when we won it in '82 when coach was head coach. I was part of Jimmy's first one.
“I'll never forget walking down to shake hands after they beat us in 2003 in New Orleans, I remember it like it was yesterday. I said, Jimmy, I'm really sad, but I'm really happy for you. I meant that. I'll never forget Jimmy's response. He basically said, Thank you, but you're going to get one, too.
“What it is as coaches, I try to work my tail off every day, try to do the best I can do. Hopefully at the end of the season look back, evaluate, say we did okay. I'm at the stage in my career where I want a lot more of them where I can look back and say you did okay maybe a few more times. That's basically it for me.”
No. 1 seed facing a No. 10 seed. What kind of pressure is there for you to win this game, or at this level does the ranking not even matter?
“Personally I think the rankings do not matter at all. If you tell me we're 1, they're 10, that means they give us some points, I'd be really happy. You'd probably say, it's like golf, trying to even it up. There's a golf course in the mountains in North Carolina that has concrete blocks that said, Spot died here. Guys always want you to spot them some shots. Well, spot died here, too. There's no points or strokes or anything in the NCAA tournament.
“For me, Jimmy Boeheim's Syracuse team is really good and deserves to be here because they beat teams to get here. They didn't vote Syracuse to get here, they beat teams to get here. Everybody they were lined up to play, they beat to get here.
“And the fact that they're playing pretty doggone well, too. What they did to Virginia I didn't think I would ever see because I have such respect for Tony Bennett and their club. Man, the second half, that was so impressive. Probably as impressive a basketball time period I've seen all year. If you don't play golf, sorry about all my golf analogies.”
Obviously you guys don't need Marcus this year the way you needed him when he was a sophomore. What is the difference for a guy when he goes from being 'the guy' to not necessarily always having to beat guys?
“I think it's a little adjustment. Tyler Hansbrough for us carried us for a couple years. We won a national championship, and he had a lot of help because we had Ty and Danny and Wayne Ellington and Deon. But I think one thing that runs from both those kids, they want to win. Marcus was phenomenal as a sophomore, phenomenal. As good a year as I've ever had a backcourt player play. If you go in that locker room and ask Marcus if he enjoyed his sophomore or senior year more, he'll tell you he enjoyed this one more because he and Tyler Hansbrough both enjoyed winning.
“There is a big difference. If Marcus didn't play well, we didn't win. Earlier in Tyler's career, if he didn't get 25-12, we didn't win. But I think both those kids appreciate winning and understand how difficult it is and they enjoy that more.”
How hard is it to simulate Syracuse's zone in practice? What can you do to do it?
“As you know, it's impossible to simulate. You just can't do it. First of all, our blue team's not 6'5", 6'6" across the frontline, got Roberson and DaJuan and Malachi and all those guys. We don't know all the little things that makes it so successful because Jimmy is the one that knows that. He's the one that coaches it.
“We watch it on tape, show it on tape, show them plays when we have played them. It is really hard to simulate that in practice. You got those guys in football that try to simulate the triple option. If you don't have one of those great quarterbacks, it doesn't work. For us, you got to just keep trying and do everything you can.”
You've become close friends with your old coaches and players when they were done playing. Is Marcus one of those guys that you envision a long-lasting relationship with?
“Yes. And, gosh, I hope so. I think it will. He's one of the most incredible young men I've ever been around. Marcus Paige has made me a better coach every day. He teaches me something every day. I think you have an opportunity to learn from every player. But Marcus truly has the gift of getting other people to follow him. He has that gift. I hope that our relationship only gets better and better. I think it will.”
What has been so different about Joel Berry last year to this year? How is he different?
“I think the biggest thing is he's been healthy this year. Last year he had a groin pull, had a concussion at one point I think. He banged heads with somebody, I can't remember now who it was. But he was basically hurt all year, trying to get more playing time, not being as successful. Just snowball kind of effect of things going wrong.
“He even missed a game because he got sick. He's back in his dorm room, roommates walk in, he said, How did you guys do? What do you mean? You're part of how we do. He's asleep and he's sick as a dog, can't even watch the game. I think health has been a big issue.
“The other thing is sweat. I think he saw some of the things he needed to do, he needed to improve. He worked his little rear-end off on it.”
Theo has been an emotional guy for you in March but also played really well. What has been the key to his improvement on the court, not just taking over press conferences?
“Every year I get together with guys at the end of the season and talk about the three biggest things that you've got to do. One of those with Theo is you got to value the basketball more, not turn it over. His assist-to-error ratio this year, knock on wood, if he misses I'm going to blame you, has been off the charts. He gives us another play-maker out there not at a point guard position. That's the number one thing.
“He's given us a burst of energy sometimes. Last year in the Notre Dame game, he gave us a tremendous burst in the Notre Dame game. In the end, he was hurt, tried to play, wasn't healthy. A little bit like Joel Berry, he's so much healthier this year he's able to give us more thing.
“Eventually Theo is going to 100% buy in to how good he can be defensively, use that concentration there. He's going to be a fantastic player defensively. Eventually he's going to be a much better shooter because he's going to work at it.”
I saw your comments on the radio yesterday where you took umbrage with the story in the Washington Post that painted your family as a little bit frail. What is the reality of your health right now? Will the results of this weekend factor into any potential retirement?
“Okay, I appreciate it. I was very disappointed in the article. I've got two of my very good friends that came to me almost literally apologizing, tears in their eyes because they felt like they were misquoted. I never read the article, never will read the article. Those kind of things do bother me. I have thin skin. But especially thin skin when it hurts people that I truly, truly care about. Their reaction to me really bothered me.
“The fact is of my health, I'm pretty doggone good, you know. Up until the knee surgery this summer, I was working out eight times a week, which is more than most people do. I felt like I could play 45 holes of golf every day, 27 days in a row, and never get tired. I still feel that way as long as I have a cart right now that can drive right up to the ball.
“My health, I've got a head cold right now, a sinus infection, I got two bum knees, and never felt better in my life than I feel right now. I do take offense at that kind of article that takes something that somebody says that's not truly what they said. My guys think I'm whacko. I don't think your guys think your coach is whacko and do weird things if you're on your deathbed. What happens the next five days is going to have nothing to do with what I do with the rest of my life.
“If this was the first time and only time I would ever make the Final Four, the only time I was ever going to have a chance to win a national championship, it might have a difference. But I've been very fortunate to coach a few more, and I hope to coach some more. But when I quit, it will not be because of anything that happens this weekend.”
The investigation obviously has gone on for a while, like it did with Syracuse, yet you guys are here. How much tangible impact has it had so far?
“Jimmy and I had to answer this same question together this morning. Hopefully we won't have to answer it continually while we're here.
“I think it affected us because it was our school. Jimmy went to Syracuse. I went to North Carolina. We've always loved those places, perhaps more than any other coach. It had nothing to do with these players. These players were not involved. It affected us as a distraction, as the way people looked at us personally.
“Again, our teams are here because they played their way here. They had nothing to do with all the stuff. I'm looking forward to talking about zone defenses and fast breaks, basketball players who have accomplished a great deal.”
I'll talk about the zone defense a bit.
The adjustments in the second half that Syracuse made, very much talked about. How do you go about practicing not only what they did in that second half with the pressure and full court versus what they do with their base defense?
“I'm assuming you're talking about in the second half of the Virginia game, not the second half of the season, right?”
“Okay. It didn't surprise me because I've played Jimmy many times in the past. Some of his teams in the past have been known as great pressing teams. Every time we've played Syracuse in my entire career, we've always worked on press offense because he still has that in his brain and in his basketball notebook.
“I think they did it so well, Virginia had to help them a little bit. I think that was the surprise. Because, again, the respect and the value that I had placed on Virginia. It was one of those terrible times. But you can't let that color what happened to Virginia for the last three years because they've been sensational. But on game day in the second half, they made mistakes they don't normally make.
“It's a little bit of both. Jimmy's club really did a great job, and Virginia helped them. That's what happens anytime you press because when you press, you open up the court and create opportunities for your team and openings for other teams as well.
“But we've worked on press offense for two days. We'll work on it again tomorrow. We have things that we've always tried to do against press. We feel that they'll try to press us. We felt that they would try to press us in Syracuse. We felt like they would try to press us in Chapel Hill. Only one guy decides, that's Jimmy Boeheim. You go back in his career, they've had some teams that were really good pressing teams.”
Last year with the controversy over the Indiana law, the NABC and the Final Four coaches released a statement supporting the NCAA's position. That obviously got sorted out right before the Final Four. In North Carolina with HB2, the NCAA has taken a similar position. Are you concerned that the state, which has hosted so many NCAA events, might lose that opportunity?
“That's a tough, difficult question you're asking of someone who doesn't know completely as much as I'd like to know before I make statements about a law.
“I hope that it doesn't put our state in a bad light in any direction. Roy Williams, University of North Carolina, University of North Carolina basketball has always been about diversity. My mentor was big about diversity and including everyone. That's something that I very much appreciated since I was a kid.
“Who I played with was extremely important to me. I didn't isolate anyone. I think the University of North Carolina and Roy Williams and our basketball program is about diversity, and always will be. I hope that we will always include everybody involved.
“That's really all that I can say 'cause I don't know enough about it. May have even said more than I should have said depending on what I know.”