Having been in the ESA for a while, can you tell if it is making a positive impact in recruiting?
I think that it is. I think we've continued to make advances in our recruiting. That doesn't mean that we get everybody that we want and I don't mean to imply that. But, our positioning, our image on a national level, I think it has continually gotten better. I think we are very well received nationally. I think we've really made strives in our image – who we are when we say NC State Basketball –in the kinds of kids we are trying to recruit.
Explain why the new practice facility on campus has been beneficial logistically and otherwise.
Well, it is most significant in terms of just daily operations. For years we shared Reynolds Coliseum with women's basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, wrestling, ROTC and I am probably leaving out a few other tenants. There are only 24 hours in a day and there is just one 94x50 court there. You can't even go sideways and drop a curtain like you do in high school. So, just to be able to have another court with baskets improves the daily lives of our student athletes. We don't have to practice at all sorts of different times and go through the logistic challenges we've had to deal with for years.
How are you adjusting to being the media darling of the ACC (laughter). Gotten any calls from Johnny Carson lately?
It's been a reputation that's been hard earned (laughter). I know I am up there among the most quotable coaches in the country to those that carefully listen and pay attention (laughter). Why are you guys laughing? (more laughter from everyone, Sendek included)
Is the ESA the asset that you wanted it to be?
I think it's very impressive when we bring a young man and his family to see the RBC Center. We always consider that as an important part of our presentation. I think it's proven to be a good home court for us. We have been able to win at about the same rate that we had maintained in Reynolds through the history of the school. That's a pretty impressive winning percentage. Hopefully we can improve on that as well.
What about the rank and file student and fan? Do you think they consider it home?
Well, I think we are moving in that direction. I don't think you spend over 50 years in one place and then instantly have the same feeling you do about the old place. It's no different than if you grew up in a house and you went to kindergarten there and went to the prom from that house, that's where you were confirmed and you had all of those things happen in that house then all of a sudden you move, there's no way you are going to have the same instant feelings you do about your old bedroom and the old sleepover you had on your birthday or whatever. I think we have to build and develop that nostalgia for the new building. That's not going to happen in one year and it probably won't even happen in ten years. It's going to take time.
No different I'd think that if you went back historically when they first moved into Reynolds, I am sure there was a group of fans or students or professors that said, man, the Frank Thompson gym and I remember hearing the stories even now – ‘that's Thompson gym, they played Carolina there and they had to cancel the game because the fire marshal came over. You look at the twinkle in people's eyes when they tell those stories and that's really meaningful to them. I am guessing that when we first went t Reynolds, they were thinking how could anything be better than Thompson gym. People coming in through the windows at night to watch the games and all the stories that have been passed down even now over 50 years later. We are going to have to go through some of those growing experiences.
There are a lot of people predicting the four North Carolina schools are going to be the top four schools in the league. What kind of spice does that add if it turns out that way?
I have never framed it as a league within a league. Our league is great top to bottom. When we play Maryland or when we play Virginia or any of the other schools that aren't members of the Big Four, we don't approach the game any differently. We try for that particular game to give everything we have to win with all our hearts. When you win one of those games, it feels great and when you don't, it hurts like hell too. Not withstanding that, I realize there's a special history going back to the Big Four tournament that coincides with the North Carolina schools. Part of that is the unique landscape that we are located so close together. It's hard to think of any other place that would have the kind of proximity that we have.
In your mind, where do you guys fit into the race? You have a unique team again compared to some of the upper echelon teams. How do you fit in to challenging for the title?
Unique is like one of those words like when you are not handsome or pretty, you are ‘unique.' (laughter) It's like the girl that's not pretty, she has a nice personality – you are really going to get along with her (laughter). She can really have a great conversation. She can really cook well. (laughter)
Ok, strike unique….(laughter) where do you guys fit in?
I think we can be a good team. I think there are a couple keys for us. We are going to have to get through the first part of the year maybe without the kind of depth we'd really like to have. We are going to have to stay healthy. The big caveat there is Ilian (Evtimov) obviously. I think we are going to have to bring to very young guards along quickly or maybe more quickly than you'd ideally like. That's going to be important to us. I think we are going to need our best guys to be consistently really good and our other guys are going to have to be consistently solid.
Do you think getting to the finals the past two years, you guys have some confidence?
I do. I think our recent successes have served to breed some measure of confidence. Our guys feel good about themselves. Whether it's making the championship the last couple of years or defeating the past four national champions in a two year period or any of the other statistics that would support the claim of some success, I think all of those things help. Obviously it's a new year and you start 0-0. That's the great thing about sports. No matter how good or how poorly you did last year, you have a chance to start over and go at it again.
Are you going to go back and talk to Devonte (Edwards)?
Well the one thing about our team right now, everybody can't play in games to start but we are pretty good in practice. Even guys like Tony Bethel, we can't use him in a game right now but he practices every day. We almost have two teams – a practice team and a game team. We are ok in practice and it's not like my first two years where I had to go over to Carmichael (rec gym on State's campus) and blow the whistle and say ‘if anybody is free from three to six today, let me know.'
Are you trying to play a little more inside this year? Obviously you are matchup problem on the outside with your versatility, but how much are you going to focus on the inside because you don't have a Josh Powell?
I am going to be focusing a lot inside because I feel like that's the responsibility that I have to take for my teammates. I can see if I didn't have good back to the basket moves, then I wouldn't try. But I feel like my back to the basket moves are good enough for me to score points for my team down low. So, that's what I am going to do, try and take the initiative to do better. My outside game will just come to me even better.
What specifically do you work on?
First thing I tried to do was add strength and a little bit of weight. I think that will help.
It seems that you guys would be a middle of the pack pick this year in the preseason. Obviously you guys have a higher opinion of your team. Are you comfortable with where you get picked and how much do you think not having Josh affects where you'll be picked?
I think it affected us too much. With the loss of Josh, we lost a good player, but we also added some good players. Ilian Evtimov, a guy with experience, a guy who's had time to sit out and look and watch us play and get to understand a lot of things that goes on on the court that we don't see. I feel like with the addition of him, Levi Watkins and the others stepping up playing big minutes, Dominique Mejia and guys like that, I feel like we take a big hit.
Where do you think you should be picked?
I want to be number one personally, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
How much did the last second losses last year – you could have won both- affect how you prepare for this season?
It really opened our eyes and let us know that we can win against big time teams in the nation. All we are going to do is work hard, continue to work hard and go out and leave it all on the floor. As long as we do that, we'll win.