“The easy one is we're thrilled to be here. Excited about being here. It's been a fun, fun time with our club and hopefully we'll play extremely well and keep it being fun. But practice today wasn't exactly sharp, so we have some work we can do between now and then and I lost a battle yesterday at practice. That's the reason I have a bruised lip -- if you take close-ups, my wife didn't hit me, I assure you. I kicked the ball, the ball hit me right in the face, and I went down like you would have thought Muhammad Ali hit me. But other than that life is good.”
The three teams that are here are similar to yours in that there's a lot of upperclassmen and a lot of experience. What do you think that says about this tournament and the teams getting to this point with that?
“You know, the easy answer would be that more experience handles tournament play better. But I think it was only three years ago when Duke won it with three or four freshmen starters, but that would be the easy answer. But I just think that there's so many really good players, so many really good teams that you want to be playing your best right at the end of the year, and you have a chance.
“And I think that older guys understand how fleeting it is and how sudden the season is over with and perhaps they focus a little bit more on that part of it.”
I think there's been some attention maybe even more this year, and I think it's loving on the way that you talk, the accent, some of the sayings --
“I never had anybody say it was a loving thing about the way I talk.”
I think it is. But I was wondering if that's how you grew up talking and that's how you've always talked? If we wound the tape back to you a while ago, if that's the same way you talked, and if you've ever felt a temptation to moderate it, to speak with less of a regional accent?
“You know, when I went to North Carolina -- excuse me, when I went to Kansas, everybody talked about my Southern accent. After several years, when I came back home, they told me I had lost my accent. And then so when I went back, I don't know, I never asked anybody if I had gotten it back or not.
“But it's who I am. I tried not to set a bad example for players and cursing all the time. So I guaran-dadgum-tee ya it comes out of somewhere, I don't know where. And dadgum it and things. But I do slip up and I curse. And my first year, first year at Kansas I told them I had seven curse words all year. And most of my players thought I went past number seven. But I do try to do that. But other than that, I'm just being Roy. I don't know if that's good or bad. But I've never tried to be anybody else.”
These last two years, have they been therapeutic for you with all the other stuff that's gone around the program? Coaching Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson and Nate Britt and these guys, has that helped you detach from the other stuff?
“No question, therapeutic is probably the proper word. Because I always say it's just made it a lot better. But we've had some junk swirling around that I haven't enjoyed or appreciated or felt good about things that were being said. But I could lose myself when I went out on the court with those guys.
“And Marcus, one of the greatest leaders I've ever had, and Brice, one of the guys that I felt like improved throughout his career for four straight years, and that gives you satisfaction as a coach, and they were genuinely fun to coach. And this year, the same thing. I mean, Theo starting last year, showing up at press conferences and the whole bit. He bothers my vertigo because I'm always trying to figure out where he is. You know, Where's Waldo kind of thing, coming in behind me kind of thing. He was one of the guys that grabbed me yesterday when I was going down.
“But these two teams have been very therapeutic for me. They've really made me feel good about what I'm doing. And they've allowed me to get away from the stuff. And when I was 17 years old, I was always the guy calling everybody when it was time to play pickup. When I was 19 at 6:30, 7:00 Saturday morning, I was always the guy calling everybody about meeting at the golf course at what time. I'm the guy that sets up all the golf trips right now. So it's always been me to try to get groups of people to do things and have fun with it. And these last two teams have really been a lot of fun.”
In what ways is your team better since Theo Pinson came back from being injured?
“The easiest way is he's really a playmaker. He really is. He gets more credit for being a defensive player than he really is. But he doesn't get nearly as much credit, maybe, for being a playmaker that he is. Every now and then he doesn't see the defense like a quarterback that has a high turnover ratio within interceptions. But he sees things happening quicker, is able to make a decision quicker, and able to make the play quicker than probably anybody on our team.
“And to me that is a playmaker. And he's talking about as he was dribbling down the court against Kentucky the other night what things were going through his mind. That doesn't -- I don't have any doubts about that at all. I think he was trying to say, okay, am I going to drive it all the way, how are they playing this? Well, they're going to make it difficult. There's Luke. I do think his mind works like that. I wish it worked like that and he was as good defensively as his reputation is because I really want him to buy into that even more. But that's the biggest thing, is the playmaker part of it.”
Today the governor signed a repeal bill. HB 2, I'm wondering you've been outspoken against it. And is it a step in the right direction? And how important is it as a citizen of North Carolina, let alone a head coach?
“I haven't seen anything. I don't know if it's completely done, if they've changed a few things. So I don't have a lot of information. But I tried to say that it's not just about athletics. It was about more than just holding and hosting athletic events. And to me, I always said, too, I was very sad because I love the state of North Carolina. I think the people of North Carolina and the people that come live there are very proud. So that was my biggest stance on it. But I haven't seen anything yet as to what actually has been done.”
You said coming into this week that you wanted this team to enjoy this experience more and have more fun compared to last year. Have you seen that so far, and how do you feel it will translate come Saturday night?
“I think they are having fun. I don't know that I said I wanted them to have more fun, unless you were talking about the final outcome, perhaps, might give them more fun. But I think they are having fun. The hotel's nice. They have their little room. Once they saw that I was going to make it yesterday, they all had a big laugh and last night at the meeting they all mimicked the way I was walking, talking, acting. So they had a lot of fun at my expense last night.
“But I think they are having fun. And today at practice we weren't very focused. And so I want to ask them tonight: Isn't it going to be more fun if you're successful? So let's try to be more focused than they were today.”
First thing, I did an experiment today and my feet didn't swell on the plane. You said that feet swell on the plane. Feet really swell on the plane. They didn't?
“Yours didn't, but most people really do. And Joel's did.”
Really? Interesting. I'm doing superlatives for the team, and one of the questions I asked them is who is the coach's pet? And a lot of them said Kenny is the one that does stuff before you say anything. And they said Joel was his son, that he was just, that you two are super close. How do you feel about those two answers?
“Well, Kenny and I are related. We're named Williams. So there's bound to be some relationship somewhere. And he's very bright, does think defensively and I think a lot of times he's able to answer things and know what I'm going towards because he's so good and thinks on the defensive end of the floor.
“And I love Joel's competitiveness. I love that. There's times you have to temper it. I mean he was mad because I wouldn't let him do anything in practice today in full court. And I went over and I said: Oh, you're mad, huh? That's good. He did nothing full court today and I'm hopeful we'll get something out of it tomorrow.
“But the players, they generally from every team they pick a favorite. It's all the way back to '05, they called Jackie Manuel my son. And I said, that's because he's the best defensive player, that kind of thing. But I've been very fortunate to coach some kids that I do really, really enjoy and love.”
Dana Altman says that he thinks the board battle will be a key factor, maybe the key factor. Do you agree with that? And what are the things about the Ducks that concerns you the most?
“I've always felt that rebounding, if I, Roy Williams, could only pick one thing, I would always pick rebounding as the most significant factor in determining who wins the game. Because I think the game's pretty simple. You get it. I get it. You get it. I get it. The only way for me to get more opportunities is to get more offensive rebounds to get another shot and to make sure that you don't get more offensive rebounds.
“So I've always thought that was extremely important, and we try to focus on it every year. When you get to this part every year, though, there's four really good teams, really well-rounded teams. There's really no weakness in any of the teams. And I believe that. And so it's not like when you're getting to play some other team, and you say if we do this we're going to win the game because this is such a big problem for them, we need to take advantage of that.
“I don't think you can do that. At least I haven't found anything yet on Oregon yet. I have already studied some tape on them. What scares me is how everybody can score. You know, with Brooks and Tyler Dorsey and Jordan Bell. They’re so athletic, I try to figure out who the dickens do I have that can guard them. They present a lot of problems.
“I saw them in Maui lose the first game, win a game in overtime. And they were not what everybody is saying Oregon was going to be. Since that, they're 31-3. And that's pretty dadgum impressive. And so when I see them, I see a guy on the bench that I know a little bit and have tremendous amount of respect for. And that he's got his team playing the way he wants them to play, and they're really well balanced.”
You gave us in Brooklyn a little bit of a window into what you thought President Trump's tweeting habits. You're two wins away, if you're fortunate enough to win to potentially go to the White House. I'm curious, in a divided political era, I was just in the locker room where I think they said 12 of the, the majority of the locker room didn't go that way politically. I'm curious how you would handle that opportunity?
“This is an easy one, really. There's nobody in this room that's as dadgum superstitious as I am. You think I'm going to think about that? I'm not even Catholic and I cross myself and everything before every dadgum putt I ever take (laughter). Talk to me about that if that is a problem and I will give you an answer, I promise. But I'm not going that far.
“The biggest problem I've had with my team, seriously, since I got here is getting everybody to understand: Don't give me any junk about we're going to read -- what's the website or whatever, Redemption? What is it? Whatever it is. Redemption? Group chat. That's what we're doing right now as far as I'm concerned, we're having a group chat. I don't know anything about all that other junk.
“But seriously my focus is to make sure they understand we're here to play Oregon. If we play, well, against Oregon, perhaps somebody may let us stay around and play another one. But no, no, there's nobody in the world that can make me think of anything like that. But after the game, if we're still standing here, you can ask me and I'll give you an honest answer. I've tried to make sure I never jinx my dadgum self.”
Speaking of redemption, I asked a few of your players if it's been a motivating factor for them. Some said yes. Some said no. What's the sense of it from your perspective, in just the way your kids have handled from fall ball all the way right through to getting here to Phoenix?
“You know, it's a hard question, because I have to break it up. In the locker room was the most inadequate feeling I've ever had in my life. And it's hard. It's hard to think about it. It's hard to talk about it. Because my kids gave me everything they had. The other team made a big-time play.
“We made some big-time plays to get in that position. So in the locker room, what I did is tried to tell them, let's focus on using this feeling as fuel, as motivation, to work extremely hard in the offseason. And that's really what I used it for. Maybe two or three times they've heard me say, what's the most fun you've ever had in basketball. And every one of them says, last year, the run to Monday night.
“I said remember that. But I haven't got it up in the wall in the locker room and I haven't gone through anything and padded it as I go out or anything like that. And I think the answer they gave you is some kids meant more to them, some kids it meant less to. But it was used as motivation to try to work hard to be the best player they could be, is the way I tried to use it.”
You touched on Joel's status. Where does it stand a few days out from the game?
“Like I said, he did nothing full court today. If we go back and he feels good tonight, we might let him do full court tomorrow. But I can't let him play on Saturday if he can't do something full court because we do play full court. If you can't do anything up and down, then I can't let him play.
“But he wanted to do more today. Between Doug and myself -- in fact, he didn't do -- he did fastbreak drills number one and three. So that's three minutes. He did defensive group work. So that's seven minutes. He did under OB defensive work. That's four minutes. So that's 11. So you're talking about 14 minutes. And he substituted out some of that. So he didn't break a real sweat, that kind of thing. But we hope to get more out of him tomorrow.”
You've said both today and before that your position on the last law in North Carolina, it wasn't just about hosting events, it was the law itself. So to get right to substance of it, probably the central plank of that law, which is it's not clear exactly what will happen now, but is that transgender people in North Carolina at least couldn't use bathrooms other than their birth gender basically in public facilities. And I guess I'm wondering why you're opposed to that, why you think that's a wrong law?
“You guys know what the single-wing is in football? Seriously, because everybody doesn't. You're shaking your head yes, but you damn sure don't. Why should I talk about some new law that I don't even know what the law says? And I trust you but not enough because I'm up here and I say, oh, that's stupid, or, oh, that's great, you're all going to write it.
“So you're asking me to form an opinion on what you just said. I'm not trying to be argumentative, but, guys, I'm a college basketball coach, that I am entitled to have my beliefs. If you ask me about zone or man-to-man, I would love to talk to you about it. Even if you ask me about calling timeouts, I would love to talk to you about that.
“But I don't even know what the new law means. I've already made my statements about the old law. And so I really think that's enough, to be honest with you. And this is America. I don't tweet, but I do give my opinion. Or is it twit? Or is that what I am, a twit? Somewhere in there.”
We were talking to Stilman White and talking about his journey to his senior year. And he talked about his mission trip and you holding the spot for him. The one thing he said was it wasn't so much a testament about the type of player he was, but the type of coach you were to do that for him. So I guess kind of expand on that and your thoughts during that time on saving that spot for him and what he means to this team?
“You know, it was an easy deal to save a spot for him because I would want that done for me. Basically I'm corny, I want people to treat me like I've tried to treat people. I want to have those things done. I'm really sad in one thing, because when he came back he was hurt. I think he might have even broken his ankle while he was gone. I know he had a couple of surgeries.
“So when he came back the first year and a half he was beat up. But this year, he's really done some good things for us in practice there. He wore them out today. He and Luke, sometimes Coach Smith also used to say, you've got on a blue jersey, he has no stress, has no pressure. But today Stilman took it to the basket. He made shots. And it's been a thrill for me to see him transform, to be healthy and to be somebody that I have a lot of confidence in, too.
“I would not be afraid to put Stilman in in almost any situation. But he's matured. Oh my gosh. He was a seven-year-old when I coached him first time. I mean -- and now he's almost an old man. But he's been around six years. So you should see that. But, no, he's a thrill and a fun guy to coach, too.”
How do you approach if Oregon goes four out, potentially having to put a big guy on Dillon Brooks?
“A big guy is going to possibly be on Dillon Brooks to start with because we're going to start two big guys. But that's who we are. And we're going to do that. And if it doesn't work, we'll try to make some changes. But I always say that if it's hard for our big guy to get out on the court and play them, I hope it's hard for the perimeter player to have a difficult time guarding our guy inside.
“In our league, we have Jayson Tatum, I mean, Notre Dame, Bonzie. We have a lot of mismatches that are difficult for us to get out the court. And yet we hope to make it difficult for the guy to guard them inside too. That's the game of basketball. We're going to start out.
“I may surprise everybody. I may put Joel on him. I may put Stilman on them, if Joel doesn't play. The good thing is we have some more time to look at some more tape. The other night I didn't put Joel on De'Aaron Fox because Joel's ankle was bothering him to start the game. I didn't think we needed to call a special session of Congress to decide if that was a the thing.
“It just seemed at that time it felt like a good thing. And put Justin on Malik and Justin played his tail off. And Theo tried to stay in front of De'Aaron. So there's still 48 hours before we have to make those decisions. But it's going to happen. But if that's the case, then the big guy better do something inside, too.”
You talked about your superstition. The Shea Rush hats, is that more superstition now or style for you?
“I'm not a good-looking guy in a lot of different ways, but I don't think I'm a hat guy for sure. But some way, somehow I took it to Greenville because I knew we were going to take a team picture, and we won. And some way somehow it showed up in Memphis and we won. And so, yes, it's with me here. I think it just walks in and gets on the bus and we go on. Yeah, I've tried to get less superstitious but I think I've gotten more.”