You have talked about each player on this team spending time focusing on himself, rather than worrying about what is going on at other schools with other players. Has that been a point of emphasis--each player focusing on himself?
One thing Coach Williams always says to us is when you leave practice, can you look in the mirror and say you gave it your all today. I try to look in the mirror everyday and say I gave it my all. If I didn't, I'd be letting my teammates down as well as myself.
Towards the end of last season, about the last four weeks, your game looked more fluid, you looked more assertive, and is that a good place to pick up this season?
Yes, but I think I was trying to be more of a leader in the beginning of the year. I started off a little slow, but I was trying to make sure that Raymond and those guys were adapted to the college game first, before I worried about myself, which I thought was a good thing. As things started to fall apart, I thought I had to be the one to step in and put my arms around everybody to let everybody know 'This is how it has to be done.' Through everything, I just tried to maintain my consistency. I did it in spurts last year, but this year I plan to do it the entire year. I don't have to baby these guys anymore. They know what to expect.
How much did you know about Roy Williams before he came to UNC--more than just his reputation?
Just his reputation. I had never met him before. Coach Holladay recruited me, but they didn't recruit me too hard. They figured they had no chance, which was true. There was no way I was going to go to Kansas. I didn't pay much attention to Kansas. They were a great team, but they weren't a school where I could see myself going to play. I was more of a Carolina player, or Maryland player, those type schools.
What stood out in your first impressions of him?
That he cares about us more than just basketball players. He cares about us as people. The main thing that stood out about me from Coach Williams was in his [press conference] saying he was taking the job. They talked about his contract. In his contract there was a bonus that he got if we graduated, but he turned that part down. He said that he shouldn't get paid because we go to class and do the work. That showed a lot right there--turning down money because we are successful in the classroom.
How much faster pace is Coach Williams going to practice, and how much faster will the team go in the regular season?
We are picking up things a lot faster because right now we are going through a review session. We have done these things before. Now we are trying to make sure we do everything right, down to the last detail. As the season goes by, we will move faster.
Coach Doherty and Coach Williams are from the same "coaching tree" so there are going to be a lot of similarities. What are some things that you are doing this season that are different than what you did last year?
Big guys are running like guards now. You have to get out and fill a lane just like a guard would. That's going to be very important--easy baskets--and the way you win basketball games is making the easy ones.
Is everyone held to the same standard, or are your run times broken down into groups for post players and guards/wings?
We are given different times. You can't expect a guy like Sean May to make the same time as Raymond Felton--it's just not going to happen. He probably could do it once or twice, but the third time you can cancel that. Some guys have the ability to run with the guards, like me. I'm a post player, but I run as a guard.
What did you make as a special point of emphasis in the off-season?
My strength. At the end of last year, I was 203. Now, I'm up to 225, and on a good day, maybe 228. That's the biggest thing--since I'm a small forward playing the power forward position, that's something I had to adjust to because I was playing guys who outweighed me by 40 pounds every night. Now it will be only 10 pounds.
Overall, this is still a relatively young team, but all you guys got experience last year. How does that set you up for this season?
I think we will be fine. We are a young team, but we have that year up under our belts. If we all stay together after this season, that will make us even that much better.
You guys brought a bunch of youthful enthusiasm to the court last year. What do you think about continuing to bring that kind of energy but removing some of the mistakes from inexperience this year?
We definitely want the crowd into it. We want everybody excited and hyped up before the game. That's the way we play--me and Rashad. We look at the crowd and throw our hands up to get the crowd into it. We have to get them involved to help intimidate the opponents. It's fun. That's the way we play. That's the way I play--with great intensity and I play hard every second.
From an ACC standpoint, how important is it for Carolina to get back to where it was nationally in terms of being the perennial Final Four team?
Those are the expectations that everybody sets for us. Of course, we want to do those things, but we are going to focus on our expectations. We have to take it one game at a time, one day at a time. Our expectation is to make the NCAA [Tournament], is the make the Final Four, is to be the number one team in the ACC. That's every team's expectations. We can't worry about what everybody expects us to do or wants us to do. We will do what we need to do, based on our expectations.
Coach Williams really wants to push the tempo. Is Coach Williams and that system the perfect fit for this team?
I'm not saying that Coach Doherty wasn't the right person, but [Coach Williams'] offense fits our offense now. This is the best situation at this time. I still hate what happened for Coach Doherty, but this is the best situation for our team in Coach Williams' offense. It's great to have Coach Williams. He's a great coach, a coach that wants to win, but what coach doesn't want to win? He's a great coach--it's been proven and it's been shown.
Do you sense that fans expect a very quick turn-around?
Definitely. But they can't put that much pressure on him--or on us. We are the guys who have to go out and play. He's the one who will direct us and put us in the position to win.
Coach Williams said that he's had to get on you guys for some things this week in practice. What were the main things?
Focus. If he tells you something or if he tells another player, he expects [everyone] to know what he said, so you won't go out there and make that same mistake. If you make that same mistake, that means you weren't paying attention. I understand him getting upset about that. If you listen to him, you will accomplish some great things. He has accomplished some great things. He's been in the NCAA just about every year he has been coaching and he's been in the Final Four for the last [few] years. Whatever he's doing has got to be right. He just wants you to listen to him.
Two guys who had some injury problems, Damion Grant and Sean May, are going to be counted on to help in the post this year. Damion didn't participate in the Midnight Madness game--is he coming around? And what are you seeing from Sean?
I think so. He had to take a trip to New Jersey to go see his doctor or whatever. Sean is healthy. He's back to his normal self, so everything is fine with him. We're still waiting to hear some things on 'Debo.'
What did Damion have checked out?
I don't know. It was something personal.
Could it keep him out of action for a while?
I'm not sure, but I don't think so.