ACC Preview: No. 3 Wake Forest

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Can you give us a very brief overview of where your team stands right now?

Right now, I hope they are in study hall. (laughter) I think we have some talented kids. I think we have good, not great, but good size. I think we have good, not great, but good quickness. I think we have some experienced kids. I really concerned that we don't have any seniors. I think seniors play with a special desperation knowing it's their last go ‘round. So I wish we had that. I am thrilled with the character of our kids. I really enjoy going to practice everyday. They are playing very very hard. I tell ‘em, we aren't going to have a parade because we are playing hard, we've got to play hard. We have to start playing well. After a week of practice though, there a million things we are doing wrong but I think we have a chance to be a hard team to play against this year.

What differences have you seen in Eric [Williams] this year?

He has really improved in terms of his offensive understanding of what he needs to do. He has improved his left hand. I think he's diversified himself offensively. My biggest concern is that he improves himself defensively, that he gets places before the plays occur. He was too reactionary and less anticipatory. He needs to really anticipate things better.

From a distance, watching the whole Carolina thing, what can be taken out of that and the entire nature of college basketball these days?

Again, I am big Roy Williams fan. I am big Carolina fan. As a high school coach, that was the program we tried to pattern ourselves after when I was coaching in West Virginia. But I think if you look at real good organizations and being from Pittsburgh, the Steelers, they always stayed the course. They hired the guy they want and they gave him a chance to be successful. But, I think it's become now, unfortunately, too many people don't look on us as an educational enterprise, it's become more of an entertainment enterprise. When our seats aren't being filled and our tickets aren't being sold and enough championships aren't being won, then a change has to be made. Looking at what's going on with these kids in the classroom, are they graduating. I think we are losing focus as to what the enterprise is supposed to be about. Again, I don't want to wax too philosophical but that's what I think.

Back on Eric again, is he different? Is he stronger?

He is in the low 270s. At least he was yesterday. We aren't practicing today so I don't know what he went out and ate last night. He is a little bit lighter. He understands defensively a little bit more. He's better. He gets it better I think. I hope. We need him to stay on the floor especially with Chris Ellis being hurt and he may be hurt for a long time. So we need him (Eric) to stay on the floor.

Last year in recruiting, you talked about recruiting and wanting to make a statement in recruiting in the State of North Carolina…

I don't think I ever said that, but it's worked out that way. We are just trying to recruit the best players we can. You know, in this state, with Duke, Carolina and State, they are always going to have really good players, so we have to recruit really good players. They can be North Carolina kids – that much the better. We also try to recruit inside out, whether I was at Xavier, Loyola, what have you. Same thing here in North Carolina.

What is Chris Paul going to bring?

Number one, he's a wonderful person. If he never played a second of basketball, Wake Forest would be a better place for having Chris Paul as a student. Good student. Pure point guard who really understands things offensively. Less so defensively and that's what we are trying to get across to him in practice. Again, a pure point guard, a natural leader. Kids gravitate to him and again, I think he's got a chance to have an excellent career.

Talk about what he went through last year as a person.

He has the benefit of having an incredibly strong family structure. He reacts as well as he reacts and he deals with things the way he does because he has tremendous support at home. Difficult time obviously, but considering the horror of the situation, I think he reacted as well as humanly possible.

Did you have contact with him during that time?

Well, we went to the funeral home. He's a kid, since he's from Winston, he was around practice a lot anyway. So yea, we had a lot of contact with him.

Have you seen a change in him?

Probably of a more serious tone. Not all the time. But, he appreciates people, and I can't say because I'm not around him as much as his parents are, but he appreciates things more because it's not forever.

Does he play that way?

He's always played with a real passion. He loves to play. I haven't noticed a difference there to be honest.

What type minutes will he get this year?

I don't know. It'll depend on how practice goes. We played all three of those guys at the point during the last week of practice. Yesterday at practice, we played all three of those guys on the floor together. When they are out there together, we are really concerned about rebounding and guarding a big small forward, without trying to sound dumb. A ‘big' small forward, that oxymoron. It gives us good quickness and shooting ability.

Josh [Howard] brought a lot of toughness out there last year…

Oh yea and that's a concern. His (Howard's) courage had a ripple affect on the rest of the team and we are going to miss that. Maybe. Only time will tell how much we miss him.

Can you comment on this being the end of the round robin play in the ACC?

I'll miss it. I think we all will. But that's a casualty of expansion. Collateral damage? Is that a better word? (laughter)

What about the situation with the exempt tournaments and how that's been handled?

I think there can be a benefit as long it's done the right way. I didn't have a huge problem with the two in four rule. And I think there are cases where it can be abused too.

What about how expansion has been handled?

Well, not to appear overly Churchill-ian, I don't think it was our finest hour (laughter). But, perhaps all's well that ends well.

Are you pleased at how it ended up?

My feeling is this. I have only been around the ACC for two years. I have tremendous trust and respect for Ron Wellman (Wake's AD) and Dr. Hearn, my president. They know a lot more about Wake and the ACC than I do and they are both 100 percent behind this and I trust that that's the right thing.

What stood out in your first two years at Wake?

It's a hard league. Every game is tough. There are no lay-ups in this league. You have got to have them laced up tight every night. Maybe that stood out more than anything else.


You guys have inside guys and outside guys. You can do both. Do you see yourself as this teams most versatile player?

Well, I love to do a little bit of everything. If I have to go outside and play wing, if I had to guard a big guy, I will do that and work on every facet of my game.

It seems the ACC is so strong with wing-type players. Most of the big guys are in the NBA these days. There are a couple going point guards. But, as a whole, the strength of this league is the guys on the wings. Do you agree with that?

Well, people think of the ACC as a finesse league. Players that I have played against, most of them are perimeter guys. I don't know why. But this league has good players overall. Good post players, good point guards. This is one of the best leagues in the country so…there are a lot of players that can do so many things. This league is a lot of running up and down the floor in a creative type of system.

How do you replace someone like the heart and soul of Wake last year, Josh Howard? Who steps in the role that he had last year? He seemed to will you guys to wins last year at times.

Well, like you say, Josh was a good player. This year we know he's not here, he's in the NBA, so now somebody's got to step up. I think not just one person has to step up, but we've got to play as a team Vytas [Danelius], Taron [Downey], me and the others. We've been through and lot, through the ups an downs, so we have to step up. I'm expecting everybody to give their best on the floor.

What about the young guys? Are you the role model? How do you prepare someone like Chris Paul for what he'll face?

Well, I think it's a process. Not just on the court where you have to get adjusted, but off the court, adjusted to college life with classes and everything. Wake Forest being a tough school academically, I think that's where you have to help them the most. The thing about the new guys is that they are nice guys so they are willing to work hard for what they get. As well as on the court, they know they are freshman and they have a lot of stuff coming at them, and they can't do it by themselves. I let them know that I am there, they can talk to me whenever they want and if they have any questions, I am not just a team member, I'm a good friend. So, I try to help in what ever way I can.

What about Eric Williams? When he's in there staying out of foul trouble, he's a force, but cause like (another reporter) said, most of the big guys are in the NBA. What improvement have you seen from Eric?

I've seen a lot of improvement in the preseason. Like you said, he's a pretty big guy so we need him to be out there because he can create a lot. He can get rebounds, he can play good defense. He has foul troubles, but I think he's improved a lot on that. Offensively, he's worked on his game, post moves. Now, he's not a freshman, he's got to play. He's worked hard now (in practice), he's got to make it happen in real games. I think he'll make a big improvement this year.

What about yourself? What have you worked on specifically to get better?

I have tried to work on everything. A little bit of everything. I haven't focused on one thing. I have tried to be more of a leader, more vocal. Offensively, I've worked on my mid-range game and defensively, I've tried to be a better defender on the ball. Besides that, I still work on rebounding because we are going to need that this year if we are going to be good. Trying to help my teammates. Whatever it takes.

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