In your scouting in the first two games you played against Syracuse what you've seen from DaJuan Coleman and how he's done against your team?
WILLIAMS: “He's been a good rebounder for them, a good inside scorer, he's blocked some shots. DaJuan is really gifted. I went up to see him play when he was a high school youngster. Jimmy came to the practice session, too. I said, I'm probably wasting my time. I really thought he was a big-time player. You're right, he's played well against us. We've got to understand that. See if we can hope that he doesn't play as well tomorrow.”
I know the story has been told in North Carolina a lot. The Justin Campbell story, you giving him the scholarship, what he's gone through, seems to be a great human interest story. Could you talk about that a little bit.
WILLIAMS: “Justin Coleman. You had me worried for a minute. I thought I didn't know all my players. You know, J. Cole had a tremendous accident when he was in high school, was told he'd never play basketball again, it was going to be a challenge to walk and do all those normal things. He was involved in a terrible car accident involving a motorcycle and someone was killed.
“He's been challenged about as much as I can ever imagine any individual being challenged. Came back and not only played, but played on our JV team for a couple years. Just a wonderful, wonderful kid. A wonderful smile. The only player I've ever coached that if you ask him a question, he talks 10 times more than I do.
“He's a unique individual. But it really is, you think as a youngster, you're told you're never going to play basketball again, it may be difficult for you to ever walk again. You come back from that, think about being involved in a car accident where someone is killed. I mean, it is truly one of those warm, fuzzy, good-feeling stories about it.”
Why did you give him the scholarship at the beginning of the season after two walk-ons?
WILLIAMS: “It was a unique deal. We ended up have a scholarship. Basketball at North Carolina, we make quite a bit of money. I love our athletic department, but I love kids more. J. Cole was with us last year, did a great job. So I pulled him out of the meeting that I was having with the team. I said, Son, I've got a scholarship and we're not going to keep it in our pocket. You've done such a great job for us, I want you to enjoy it. This will be a nice for you, but a heck of a lot nicer for your mom and dad. We're going to put you on full scholarship.
“I walked into the meeting and I said, ‘Guys, I want everybody to say hello to J. Cole, our newest full scholarship player on our team.’ It was a great, great, warm, fuzzy feeling and reaction from all of his teammates. They really got excited. He's the kind of kid you like to do things for. I think I'm right on this, 28 years as a head coach, I've had at least one walk-on to our team and as many as five.”
Jay Wright said earlier when he played you guys in '09, he could tell midway through the game, early in the game, his team wasn't ready to play. They went during the week, soaked it all in, tried to only focus in practice and in meetings. This time he's put on more of a lockdown, they're only together, not out with family and friends. What is your philosophy? Are you a soak-it-all-in guy or are you locking them down?
WILLIAMS: “Well, we're not locking them down. I think every coach has got to do what they're comfortable with. I've been fortunate, I played -- this is our eighth time at this. That doesn't mean I'm smarter than anybody else, it means I've had really good players. But I've seen it work certain different directions, seen some others that didn't work. I try to mold into what I think would fit this particular team. “In 2005, I thought my club was really focused 'cause everybody sort of talked about they had great talent, but they weren't a great team, that Illinois was a much better team. So we focused on that, but yet we tried to have some fun. In 2009, I had three guys that came basically back to school with the purpose of trying to win a national championship. It was a great, great year. 2009 we had eight seniors, eight guys graduated, three guys drafted in the first round, one in the second round. It was good.
“But that team was so focused. I didn't really worry much about that team at all. This team is sort of along those lines that we have right now. Went to the dinner last night. We let them do some things out. We have a meeting late at night with snack, which ends up being a 12-course meal, ice cream station, things like that. Try to give them a last second or two thought before we send them to bed.
“We're allowing them to do different things, do things with their families. But, you know, there's not a lot of time. I mean, you realize this morning we got up at 9:30, we had breakfast at 10:00, we taped between 10:30 and 11:30 to go to practice. We got to practice at 12, we finished, we came straight over here. We've been here 10 minutes. We're at the press conference. We're going to do this for an hour or so, whatever it is. Then we're going to shoot in front of the public, finish that at 4:00.
“I haven't had to lock them down, they've had to be here. But Jay is doing what he thinks is comfortable for him and his program. I like our guys to experience the Final Four. Coach Smith a hundred years ago, his whole philosophy was to keep everybody away. I remember 1981, we played in Philadelphia. We stayed on the other side of Villanova. We got beat by Indiana in the national championship game. In '82 we were fortunate enough to get back and playing in New Orleans. We're trying to discuss where we're going to stay. I said, ‘Coach, let's stay in downtown New Orleans. Let them realize we're in the mix of the Final Four. It didn't work last year.’ He said, ‘Yeah, you're right. Let's try that and see if it works.’ We won it. That's one of two or three things I ever gave Coach Smith in 10 years. He carried me for 10 years. I think I gave him two or three suggestions.”
You see this a lot with the ACC, playing teams twice in the regular season, then a third time in the tournament. Beating a team a third time when you won the first two is very difficult. Why is that difficult, one of the biggest challenges you face as coaches?
WILLIAMS: “I think the first premise is you got to agree with that statement. I'm not so sure it is. If you're better than me, you can probably beat me 20 times. The Syracuse games, the games went right down to the wire. Both games within the last three or four minutes, especially at our place, I think it was like two and a half minutes, we were up one, scored the ball, took it to three. At their place about five minutes to go, I think it was still a one- or two-possession game.
“Golden State this year has beaten a lot of people four, five, six times. I'm not trying to compare us to Golden State. I guarantee you in the locker room, that coach doesn't talk about, We've beaten them seven times, beating them eight is really hard. The best example I can give -- two of them, one Jimmy gave yesterday. In '84, before half you guys were born, Villanova played Georgetown twice in the regular season. Georgetown won both of 'em, all right? Then Villanova upset. What people don't realize is that Villanova was really close in those other games as well. Jimmy told that story yesterday.
“In '09, we played Michigan State in the ACC, Big Ten, in Detroit. We were great that day. We caught Tommy's club on not a good day and we beat them easily. Now we got to play them again for the national championship. That's when people said it was going to help the economy of Michigan and Detroit. That's my favorite statement. I said, Let's let the economy suffer for another day. I told our guys, ‘We can beat 'em worse.’
“So it depends on the different level. But I think with the close games that we've had, those things don't mean anything. In college basketball, it's different. I told Brad Brownell one time, maybe that was '09, we played Clemson three times that year. We had three close games. They could have won all three games. We won all three. If they had won one of those games or hadn't played us and they played some other team, they might have made the tournament without playing in the play-in game. That's the year they had to play in the play-in game, travel all night. It was difficult for them. I'm not telling my guys it's difficult. I'm telling them it had nothing to do with it.”
This team is constructed differently than the '05 and '09 teams. It does seem like from the outside at least, it's similar to those teams in that they were all teams at the end of a journey they've gone on. Is there, in your mind, that similarity or is that something we see from the outside?
WILLIAMS: “No, I think you're right. You can quote me on that. How many times have I said, You're right. That's pretty good. You think back to '05, we had Jackie, Jawad and Melvin, had gone 8-20. We were crushed at the Final Four in '08. I remember Bobby Frasor coming in the locker room at the Final Four and said, Let's remember how we felt last year.
“I think this team has a single-minded purpose to do everything they can possibly do. Now we have to get the other teams to cooperate, help us a little bit. I think they have pretty much a single-minded purpose. Perhaps that attitude that '05 and '09 had, similar to some of the thoughts these kids have had.”
I'm not sure there's anything left to ask about Marcus Paige at this point. Tell us something that we still don't know about him.
WILLIAMS: “Wow. Been one of the most decorated, most discussed, most adorned with awards. He's covered everything from his freshman year to being one of the most criticized, to one of the most effective players ever in North Carolina history, to accomplish the most. But you got it right. He doesn't like to ride in full elevators. He doesn't like to ride in full elevators. He got eight teammates get on the elevator, he will wait for the next one to go up. My boy's a little claustrophobic.”
Brice was talking about he never thought he would get to this level, coming from a small town. He played at Peach Jam, a lot of people started noticing him. What did you notice about him first? What about him saying he never thought he would play at this level?
WILLIAMS: “I do remember the first time seeing Brice at the Peach Jam, the quick jump, the ability to block some shots around the basket. But the quick bounce, that's the first thing. We were looking for another inside player. He was very thin at that time. I guess I just saw a guy that I thought had tremendous potential. We recruited him, liked him, liked what he said.
“When he came to our place, his work ethic wasn't the strongest. Didn't really know how to work the hardest. I've said, gone on record, I pushed him harder than any player I've ever pushed over a four-year period. Strongly criticized him, maybe more than any player I've ever coached. At the same time it's because I thought I saw that there was so much more that he could do.
“I'm not surprised by him saying that he didn't expect this. But I've seen the guy grow leaps and bounds in front of me. I've seen the guy grow leaps and bounds mentally. I've seen him grow mentally, his work ethic, what he's able to produce. I think he's gotten more confidence as he's played.
“I say this all the time. Brice was not a McDonald's All-American. He was a guy that just looked like a prospect. I still want him to work harder. The day I die, I'll probably send a message to Brice, You can do more. But it's the kind of thing with me that I've been extremely proud of where he is now compared to where he was. I'll be even more proud if he gets to that point that I think he can get to. Other than that, he's really a weird dude.”
Roy, Isaiah Hicks has really come on. He played from the outside at Oxford. He's now a power forward. Just his evolution to become the power forward.
WILLIAMS: At Oxford, Leo played him everywhere on the court, did a nice job of helping him develop. He has tremendous leaping ability, he's more effective closer to the basket. He's never been the Kyle Korver three-point shooter. His shot is getting better and better each year. He's spent a lot of time in the weight room. He doesn't look like the same individual when he came. He is a power player. With that leaping ability, he's really done some good things.”
Marcus, you mentioned after the ACC tournament title game, you torn down all the signs in the arena and took them with you into the locker room. Did you keep any of those? Which one is your favorite?
MARCUS PAIGE: "Yeah, we kept some of them. We didn't keep all of them. We took a little bit more than we needed, I think. A couple guys got them signed by the team, put them up where they live, which is pretty cool. I'm going to do that with the one I have. I haven't done that yet. I think Toby is the one that started that, one of our walk-ons. He got everybody to sign it because it said ACC tournament on it. That was pretty cool. Hopefully we can get a couple souvenirs from here.”
Roy, a couple questions about Marcus. The evolution of him as a leader, because it didn't really happen right away. Also he's a confident guy, but when his confidence got down a little bit this year, what kind of things did you say to him?
WILLIAMS: “I think Marcus has been a leader ever since I've known him. His junior year, his high school team won a state championship. It was with five seniors.”
WILLIAMS: “He was with five seniors, but I thought he was the leader of that team. It comes natural to him. He's a point guard. When he came to us, I handed him the ball because Kendall had left to go to the NBA with the 13th pick with Phoenix. I said, You're going to run this thing and I think you're going to be great. We'll live with the minuses, just keep being your best every day and we'll get better.
“As a freshman he tried to defer somewhat to some of the seniors, but the ball's in his hands during play, so he is the leader. I think he did a marvelous job then. Basically since the first day he stepped on the court, he's been a leader, as good a leader as I've ever had. This year when he lost his confidence kind of thing, I'm not so sure he ever lost his confidence. I think he got pretty mad. I'd say, ‘Are you all right?’ He would say, ‘Yeah.’ I'd say, ‘Do you want me to leave you alone?’ He'd say, ‘Yeah.’ That was pretty intelligent coaching on my part. I didn't say anything. He just took care of it.”
Marcus, we heard about your experiences as a freshman. What do you recall about your comfort level being a leader on that team when there were older guys?
PAIGE: “I remember being a little bit hesitant to really try to be a leader, especially vocally, because I was the only freshman in the lineup at that time. We had some older guys that had been around a while. I was a little bit intimidated to try to voice and be the voice of the team. But as they kind of accepted me as their point guard, it got a lot easier. By the end of the year, I was really confident. We started playing pretty good basketball. I felt like I could say things and not get any backlash or anything.
“From my sophomore year on, I felt like I had at least earned enough respect in the locker room to be able to say some things to some guys, get on some people, like coach, hopefully try to light a little fire under them. Everybody has been receptive of it. That's the biggest thing. I just try to be an extension of coach out there. My teammates let me do it, so...”
Do you enjoy all this media stuff? You had two days in Philly, breakout room, media yesterday. What are your thoughts on all this media?
BRICE JOHNSON: “Well, I mean, honestly, no, I don't. I'm going to be honest with you. Coming from a small town, there's not a lot of media. There's probably one newspaper. There are not like multiple. It's different. I mean, it was a learning experience when I first got here. Hey, you're going to get hit with a lot of media here. With all the other junk that was going on, it doubled. It was kind of crazy. But, I mean, I don't really like it. But I know it's part of the job. I mean, I do it, so...”
“Yeah, I mean, I don't mind it. I talk a lot, so this gives me a chance to talk a lot. That's one thing. But, yeah, I mean, there's a lot of it. It gets kind of daunting and exhausting after a while. It's just part of it. Coach told us earlier, there are a lot of people that would easily trade spots with us right now to deal with all this to be in the Final Four. You got to be thankful for it.”