Has there been any challenges that we may have not been able to notice with Theo’s return?
“I wouldn’t think so. The first couple games I had in my mind that I wouldn’t want to push him past a certain number of minutes… I think he’s probably played a few more minutes but probably not progressing in every game, but I don’t consider that a problem with limiting his minutes. I think he’s really doing some good things and I would think the last three have been better than the first two. It hadn’t been really much of a problem to me.
Have you thought about easing Theo back into the starting rotation or is that something you don’t want to mess with?
“Yes, no, no, and yes. I really haven’t thought about it, period. If it gets to the point where I say he’s playing significantly better than Kennedy (Meeks), Isaiah (Hicks), or Justin (Jackson), Kenny (Williams) and Joel (Berry), then I would start thinking about it. I like having some guys coming off of the bench that add. Buzz Williams is evidently doing something by keeping two or three of his better players to bring in the second group to match up with the first group. They do a lot of that kind of thing in the NBA but I’ve never done any of that. We hadn’t had enough practice time. He got injured in October and it’s two weeks into practice. If we had had to play a game that day, then he would have been the starter…. I told everybody that Joel and Justin had deserved to start and maybe some of the other guys not to that degree. Again, if he continues to get his play going up like that and somebody’s starts going down, I’m not against it.”
Does Kenny Williams maintaining his starting spot mean that you’re seeing him do small things on the court better than maybe you thought he would?
“No, and the thing I want to get away from is comparing one guy to the next guy because that’s not what I do. I just look for who is playing the best at that specific moment. Kenny, I’ve said this before, when we played the first game, he was our best perimeter defender. He’s still doing that… I don’t know that Kenny has surprised me because I did say that I think Kenny is our best perimeter defender. He started out shooting the ball better than he is shooting it now, he’s rebounding it better than he was earlier.”
What have you seen out of Joel Berry in terms of his emotions on the court?
“I try to always get guys to know that you don’t need to aim your emotion towards anybody else…. Joel is very emotional in both directions – he gets really fired up and he gets really ticked off. Sometimes there’s got to be a little bit of a level activity in both of those areas. I like guys that get into the game, that lose themselves into the game. I don’t like guys showing any emotion towards any individual or saying something to the bench, and I’ve said something about that to two or three individuals over the last two or three years. Joel’s emotionalism… it does motivate him to get into the game even more and as a coach you like that as long as it’s not pointed at anybody. I told him that he’s got to keep an even keel because he’s got to be the leader because of the nature of his position.
“He’s a competitive little rascal… I haven’t had to do much of anything with that for him. Joel gets mad, and he gets mad at himself more than he gets mad at anybody. That was the one thing with Marcus (Paige) who would get mad at how dumb you are when he was talking about himself.”
Has Joel’s leadership evolved the way you expected?
“About what I expected. Again, Joel gets so mad that he forgets that other part because of his competitiveness. I’ve never really wanted to tone down somebody’s competitiveness; I may want to try to channel it in a different area. It’s about what I expected and I’m still talking to him about some of the leadership things, but he’s an intelligent kid. Most of the things I only have to say once. I like that part… I do believe the three seniors, and then you add Joel, Justin, and Theo, I think they’ve handled it pretty well. Don’t tell Theo I forgot about who he was.”
Isaiah Hicks has elevated his play in the past few weeks? What do you think has changed?
“I have no idea and I’m not going to ask him about it. I’m going to keep my mouth shut and hope it continues.”
Does Isaiah play closer to his potential now than he was?
“I don’t know, because we grade people after every game, but I don’t think we grade people after three or four games. There’s ebbs and flows in the season. Marcus went through a four or five game stretch last year where he couldn’t throw it in the ocean. That didn’t mean I was going to give up on him down the stretch, because in tournament play he was pretty impressive. At the same time if somebody is going crazy and playing great, I’m not going to say, ‘let's not worry about him,’ and devote our time to somebody else. The one thing I’m still pushing to Isaiah… if you’re a big guy, you’ve got to rebound the basketball. If you’re a big guy, you’ve got to defend. His defensive grades are not as good as they were last year. Yet, going into the season I had dreams and goals, and I think Isaiah is playing better and his numbers are better, but they weren’t bad before. Hopefully he’s getting more comfortable after 21 games of starting.”
You’ve downplayed your team’s rebounding despite leading the nation in rebound margin. Is this gap between where this team is compared to where you think it should be that significant?
“Yes, it is to me. I emphasize it so much. You’ve heard me say that a prospect came in one time and he said, ‘I didn’t realize there was an 11th commandment, thou shalt box out,’ but that’s the way I treat the game. So I think we can get significantly better than we are right now. Hopefully, if we do that, then it might be something I’d really be pleased with.”