Is there any special nostalgia about this last trip through the ACC has we know it and the end of the round robin schedule?
I've only been in the league now six years. I like the double round robin, I wish it could stay. But, the biggest thing for coaches for the ACC or any conference is get as many teams into the NCAA Tournament as possible. Unfortunately, we weren't getting as many teams. Part of that, we've got to win more. But part of that too, NC State last year was 9-7 and if they didn't win their first game in the ACC Tournament, they wouldn't have made it. That's ridiculous. They beat Duke. Sure they lost to BC. BC was pretty good. They lost to Temple at Temple, that's a tough game. So it wasn't like they lost to Division III schools.
One year, we were 9-7, the second year. Won 19 games. Beat Maryland and beat some pretty good teams and couldn't go. My point is something is the matter. Things weren't going well. We have to put nostalgia in our pocket and be more pragmatic and hopefully, we are going the way of the bottom line. We are professional coaches at the college level, sadly. Not that I am proud of that, but we are professional coaches who happen to coach at a college. It's big money and big business.
So, I feel bad that it's going to change but I think it's a change for the better because of the climate of society.
How did you and the other basketball coaches feel about the expansion process? It was a football discussion basically.
We just don't want to be forgotten. We voiced that today in our meetings. Long before I got here, the ACC has gotten a lot of respect and recognition through basketball. Football has been very good but basketball has been the main battleship for many years. It's great for football, but let's not forget basketball. It's not just Duke, Carolina and Maryland, it's other schools too and we've got to do our job and win too. The fact of reality is it's money once again. I have no problem with building up football but don't forget basketball. Don't think basketball is going to automatically take care of itself, let's keep promoting the ACC Tournament, let's keep helping the other schools to continue to improve and things of that nature. What exactly, we don't know, but let's not forget the horse that helped win the race. A lot of other schools in other leagues are growing. The SEC is growing leaps and bounds in basketball. That was our main concern. I'd like to play everybody twice, but out of necessity, I think 12 is better and hopefully we can get six out of 12 (into the NCAA Tournament) like the Big Ten does rather than four out of nine or three or whatever.
You haven't been to the NCAA Tournament in two years. Do you have to make the tournament this year?
I think it's important we get back into the tournament as soon as we can. It's what have you done for me lately. We went three years ago. We've averaged 18 wins the last four years which isn't bad. We've been to a tournament every year, NIT or NCAA. I think it's important we show progress. We are hoping they invite six teams and we'll try to be one of the six. We think that's plausible.
There's more pressure. We have an eight year contract counting this year. A lot of stuff is guaranteed without mentioning names, but hey, you are always a step away from the street as a coach no matter what happens. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves and there is external pressure but it's more on ourselves. They can always get rid of you, it's big business, that's the reality.
We feel good about our team, we feel good about our chances and time will tell. We had distractions last year. Roger Mason, who was the third leading scorer in the ACC two years ago, went to the pros so that was a tough void. Now, Duke, they are like an assembly line, they don't blink. They are different from everybody. But, we lost him and Keith Jenifer got suspended for the last 12 games for doing things improperly. So we had distractions, mainly during the season. Roger was a big blow and he was our point guard – a key position like the quarterback in football or a pitcher or shortstop in baseball. So that hurt us. Hopefully we won't have distractions this year. We have a talented freshman class and hopefully they'll be able to come in and do things even though it's a veteran league. We have a kid, CJ Bannister, he's a freshman we think is going to be a good player, a point guard. We think he can give us 10-15 minutes and that's a very important thing. We have some other talented freshmen. Gary Forbes is a terrific player at 6-6. So we what we feel a very good freshman class. Four of our guys that started last year can help our freshmen – that'll be a big thing. And, we are getting real good leadership, from Billet, from Devin Smith and we hope that will continue.
How is Majestic Mapp doing?
He's doing better. He's not 100 percent yet. He had a bunch of surgeries on his knee but he's doing better. He's not what he was as a freshman as far as quickness, but he's not feeling pain. He helped us win a couple games last year. Helped us beat Maryland, helped us beat State at home. And, he had some very bad games. So we are hoping he can be more consistent. Come off the bench and give us time and if he earns a starting spot, time will tell. He's better but not 100 percent and it might take him another year or two to get that.
In your mind, how would you rank the ACC?
I think it's a great league. I don't know who everybody has in terms of putting them together, but I think it'll be tougher than last year with more veterans. Some teams had some key losses without mentioning teams and players. But some teams had some big losses. I think it'll be a great league and I think it's going to be one of the top conferences, top one two or three conferences in the country. I think it's exciting and hopefully with Roy Williams' addition that'll help us with more prestige so the teams on the bubble whether it's Virginia, Georgia Tech, they'll get that nod because there's a little more respect. Other leagues like the Big Ten do a better job marketing their teams. Their fifth and sixth teams, whoever it might be, they get in! Last few years it's been Duke and Maryland and nobody else. That's the perception and that isn't true. The better it is the more recognition our teams get.
How would you pick UVa?
I really don't know. I think we are good but there are a lot of good teams. I don't want to pick that. I think we can do well and I think we'll be better than people think, I really do. Time will tell. Maybe the experts are smarter than I am and they probably are so we'll see.
As an outsider, how did you look at the whole Carolina coaching deal?
Frankly I felt very badly for Matt [Doherty]. I wasn't there everyday so I am not certainly judging anybody. I'm not judging, I can't do that. I felt badly that it happened. Carolina is certainly a class school but I felt badly the way things happened. I don't know the intricacies, I don't know what he did right, what he did wrong so I am not judging. But, you hate to see that happen in any situation. He did a great job and he left a great deck for Roy. Roy is a Hall of Fame coach but he left a great deck. They are going to have a great team this year. I think Matt would have done a great job this year. He would have won a lot of games. I think Roy will maybe win even more because he's a Hall of Fame coach. You hate to see that happen to any person. I like Matt, I know Matt and I felt badly for him. Like I said, I'm not there every day so I am not judging whether it was right or wrong by Carolina, I'm not saying that at all. But you hate to see any coach, whether it's Bobby Knight at Indiana, go out that way, or whoever it might be. It was too bad. But it's a tough business, it's a tough profession and there is a lot of pressure. I like Dick [Baddour] and he's a good AD. I know him from the league meetings but I just felt bad for the way things happened.
Roy caught a lot of flack from different angles…
Did he? From Kansas people you mean?
Kansas and Carolina people saying he should have taken the job three years ago and all of that.
I don't all that but you know, as I've said, I learned a long time ago, you are never going to please anyone, much less everybody. Nobody is ever completely happy. Even your best player – well he wanted to get more shots or he wanted to get more all-American recognition or whatever. You didn't win enough. You didn't get him ready for the pros. So, all you can do is your best. Try to evaluate it and do the best you can. Matt will bounce back though. Take a year off and he'll come back as a big time assistant at some place or maybe get his own team again in a different situation or maybe a different level.
Carolina is probably better off with a Hall of Fame coach rather than a young guy…
Yea. Matt was a good coach but Roy Williams is a Hall of Fame coach and he's proved it. Not just me saying it, everybody knows it. They certainly got a great coach and Matt recruited a lot of great players for them. So Matt should get some credit for the success, I think, that they are going to have. I don't know if he will or not.
Is it true that with Carolina back, it helps the rest of the league?
It helps the rest of the league. It makes my life tougher when we play them two times, but it adds more prestige, more respect to the league. So the teams on the bubble, more often than not, will get that respect. RPI will be better. I think it's good. Kind of like in baseball, when the Yankees are good, it helps baseball. Whether you hate the Yankees or whatever, it's good for baseball. The Celtics, when they are good, it's good for basketball. When the Lakers are good, it's good. Whether you hate them or like them, that adds more recognition, fan interest, RPI, whatever it might be. We came to the ACC to play against the best and we are certainly doing that. Three Hall of Fame coaches in the league, K, Gary Williams and Roy Williams. The bottom line for the league is get more teams in the tournament. That is how everything is judged. We (Virginia) haven't been in the past two years. We've been pretty good but not as good as we needed to be. So hopefully we'll be improved.
You guys miss the tournament last year. How does missing out fuel you in the offseason? Obviously you want to win every game regardless, but when you miss out on the Big Dance, then go to the NIT and lose…
That just makes your more determined and gives you more motivation. Then coming into the season being picked eighth, that leaves you with a chip on your shoulder because obviously you feel like you aren't getting the respect you should get. We are trying to come out and work hard, give 100 percent, and come game time, be fierce competitors so we can earn that respect.
How do you replace the big man Travis Watson who from the outside, was a beast and was there night in and night out except when he was hurt?
You try to build around that because no one man on the team can replace what Travis did. We'll all pick up the slack whether it's his rebounding, his scoring. We have got to be there for the things he did for us last year that won't be there this year.
What type style do you think Virginia will play this year?
I think it will be some of both. Some slow games and then some games will be running and gunning. I think it'll be a mixture.
What should we expect that we might not know about from you guys?
I think the whole team will surprise everybody. We are pretty well balanced and we have all the tools. We just need to come together.
Lastly, talk about Coach Gillen, he seems to love these type of get togethers and loves to talk. Is he like that in practice everyday?
He's pretty focused in practice but he's always got his personality so he's going to slide something in here and there. Pretty much in practice though, he's focused on what he wants to accomplish and get it done. He's strict on us and he pushes us to our limits.
How does he react to the losses? Do you see things wearing on him?
You can tell they get frustrated when we lose especially if feels like we didn't work hard. If he sees that we gave it all 100 percent, I don't think it's a burden on him. But if he sees us come out and be lackadaisical and not playing hard as he thinks we should, you can see where that frustrates him a lot.
As a player, how hard is it to go all out 33-35 games a year?
It is hard to do but it's a mental thing because you are going to get tired. I don't care who you are, you are going to get tired. It's mentally trying to push through that. You give it all you can and you fight through it.
Can you pull one moment that stands out from last year?
Nothing really stands out because I play, then put that game behind me and focus on the next game.