ACC Preview: No. 2 North Carolina

<i>Inside Carolina</i>'s Tommy Ashley continues his conference preview, talking to the ACC's coaches and top players. Today, North Carolina, picked No. 2 in the media's preseason poll.


Coach, how are you doing?

I'm doing good so far. Haven't won any or lost any.

What kind of team do you think you'll have?

You know, needless to say, I've spent a great deal of time thinking about that. If you tell me that we are going to be healthy throughout the entire year and then I am going to feel a heck of a lot better. I do think that is the number one issue. We have no depth at the point guard, we have no depth at the big spot and in basketball, what you do in one game is great for that next twenty-four hours but it's a long season. I've had a couple of teams in my 15 years that I started five guys the first game and started the same five the entire year. But, that has happened a couple times in fifteen years as a coach. So, that's the question that I can't answer because of that factor.

But again, if you tell me that we are going to stay healthy and I am going to start the same five the whole season – let's not say that, because someone could get hurt before we start – that I get to pick which five, then I'd pick the five best and keep them healthy all year. Then, I think it has a chance to be some fun.

You have been around national caliber programs your entire year. Is the front line talent that you have right now that caliber?

No because of one factor, the depth. The reason I say that is last year, North Carolina beat Kansas. I mean they waxed us. We had some problems, but we had two things they didn't. Experience and depth. They didn't have either one. That weekend, they were world-beaters and truly, the way they played, they were one of the top five teams in the country. But they couldn't withstand the loss of Sean [May]. So, I mean, and I feel like I am repeating myself everywhere, we go play Tulsa at Tulsa and they were ranked seventeenth in the country, and they have a three or four point lead and make a 40 footer at the buzzer at half. Now we are down six or seven and everybody in our locker room goes in with their head down. North Carolina at that time was 5-0. But, at the end of the year, we'd won 30 and were playing for the national championship and North Carolina had problems because they didn't have the experience, the depth and the toughness to overcome their problems. We lost Wayne Simien and I could make a case that he was our most productive player – he was averaging 15 a game, shooting 65% and he's not playing. But we were able to overcome that.

So I think when you say top line talent, if you are talking about three or four guys, then hey, that's a pretty good group. But that's not what determines a season. It's a team. That fourth guy is important, the fifth guy is important and a lot of times, six, seven, eight and nine are important.

Coach, you are on record saying Matt [Doherty] was treated unfairly. Have kids changed and taken more ego or they think it's their birthright to do things?

I'm not sure, maybe I've said Matt was treated unfair, I don't know that I have. I know I said I didn't like the way it was handled. But I think the input of the players and the player revolt or mutiny or whatever you want to call it, there's no doubt that was a huge factor in it. But, we can't do anything to change that except how you deal with your own team. I am going to deal with my own team the way I always have and it is not a democracy. You are going to do it the way I tell you to do it. Now, my hope is that you will believe in that also and maybe I have to do more today than I did twenty years ago to get you to believe in that.

But I also think that's life, that's being a journalist. You can't just write something down because there's going to be an Internet (and someone) that's going to say your article is stupid and they don't have to have any qualifications whatsoever. So, I think the Internet and websites have changed two professions more than any – yours and mine. You guys have to at least have some principles that you go by, some substantive information that you have to go by. Those people don't at all. And people are going to think that they are just as ethical as you are or just as write as you are. In coaching, they make our job extremely difficult. So, I think in saying that, I may have to coach my kids a little differently than I did 20 years ago. But I don't think there is a players' revolt ready around the country if a coach doesn't ask the players' permission, because I don't think that's going to happen.

Last year, you sort of had an old time team with [Nick] Collison and [Kirk] Hinrich, sort of your lieutenants if you will. Does a personality come in that way or is it molded?

I think mostly, they come in that way. You have a chance to look for it because you have a chance to recruit and I choose to recruit that kind of youngster. I think the kids we have commitments from that we'll bring in next year, I think each and every year we will get more and more close to the line to the kind of youngster I want to get.

How close are you to Coach Smith and how far away are you in some other things?

I think we are really close in most everything. He is more innovative; I'm more a copier (laughter). I could have said plagiarist (laughter). But I'll see things that Bobby Knight does that I like and I've taken a lot of things from Coach Knight. The majority, or almost all of the foundation is still what Coach Smith taught me. What he believed in and what I believe in are the same. He'll gamble a little bit more, I'll be a little more conservative on the defensive end, maybe not gamble as much, particularly in the fullcourt situations. So we have our differences but I do think we are closer than any two other coaches can ever be.

But the saying of the day and the gum laid out….

Saying of the day. Yea, (The gum) is still there. We have choices now. One day I choose Big Red, the next day I'll choose Juicy Fruit and that kind of thing. One thing is I am going to talk to Coach Smith a lot. I think I'd be silly not to. I think when he watches the games, he always watches it from a coach's viewpoint but I think he'll probably watch it even more closely from a coach's viewpoint and be able to talk to me about that. The greatest thing about it and he and I have talked about this, he knows that he can suggest something to me and if I don't agree with it, I am not going to do it. If I am not comfortable with it, I am not going to do it. He understand that and is very comfortable with it because the other day, he said, ‘gosh I'd hate to have you do something I asked you to do and it not work and I'd feel twice as bad.' That's the good thing. He is very helpful. He's not overpowering. He's not intimidating. He's not butting in. He is just trying to be as helpful as he can possibly be.

How much has the University, particularly the athletic department, changed since you were away?

It's changed a lot. I think the bureaucracy of the entire athletic department of every school in the country has changed a great deal in the last fifteen years. The red tape, the things you have to go through now to make some very mundane decision is ridiculous. Part of that is just is because I was in a very pampered structured protected system because Coach Smith had been there a very long time. The respect for him was so great that everybody knew he was going to do things the right way so there was no question. He left then Coach Guthridge came in and people wanted to get their hands in a little bit more. Then Coach Guthridge leaves and Matt comes in and people want to get involved a little more. Then Matt's out and ole Roy's in and they want to get involved a little bit more. So, I think that has made it change probably more than anything right there.

I think that after 15 years at Kansas, if I wanted something, as long as it was legitimate and honest and things like that, we tried to do it. The athletic director would try to get it done or the chancellor would try to get it done instead of having to stand up and take a blood oath and promise them your third son (laughter). I upset some people when I say it, every time I make a decision now I have to go through three committees and call all twelve disciples. (laughter) Whether or not it upsets them or not, it's the truth and that's the way I feel. If I am going to decide which bus we are going to drive to the airport on Thursday night at seven o'clock…

What about the expectations, you coming in as the high profile coach, how do you deal with that?

It's strange but I really hadn't thought of it until the other day when a reporter said, ‘coach, do you realize that some people think it's not fair.' And I hadn't thought of it in that context in thinking you know about Vitale's magazine, someone called and said you are seventh or whatever it was in the country, what's your response? You guys have probably seen this, but I said we've lost 36 games in the last two years and having been to the NCAA Tournament and added one recruit and he made second team all state. So my comment was that ole' Roy's not that good.

But, the fact of the matter is there are expectations out there that it is going to change, it is going to be like it used to be. But I hadn't thought of it until it was posed to me there about being fair. There is nothing I can do about. What I've got to do is coach to my expectations and try to get the players to play to my expectations and everybody else has got to be able to handle that.

Isn't it flattering that the record and reputation is so good that people (say that)?

Yea, but I'd rather have fact than flattery (laughter).


Everyone is saying Roy Williams is back and everything is going to be great. Is it that easy?

Nah, it's not really that easy (smiling). But it's a lot of hard work. It's realistic, it can happen. But we've got to put in hard work and take it one day at a time.

Raymond, at what point did you realize, not that the coaches had changed, but that the whole atmosphere had changed?

The first day Coach Williams came back and had that press conference. You could see the smiles on everybody's face, all the excitement. That's when it changed.

Did you guys put on a brave front last year compared to how things were?

Put on a front? No. I never put on a front. I was happy regardless. Things were fine with me.

Roy was saying he really wanted you guys to push the ball and run as fast as you can. He thinks even you have been a little overwhelmed at the speed at which he wants to run the ball down the floor. What's your version of that? Is it tough what he's asking you to do?

It's not tough, but it's a change. Pushing the ball up the court, then at my position, I've got to pick up the guy across halfcourt and play intensive defense. So it's a lot my shoulders but I'm up for it and ready for the challenge.

How much do you enjoy that style of play?

Oh, I definitely enjoy it. That's the way I play and that's the style I played in high school. I am just getting back to it at a different level, a much higher level.

What are your other responsibilities besides pushing the ball up the court?

Being a team leader. I think just leading these guys to win, leading them as a team on and off the court. Keeping their heads together, keeping everybody happy, keeping everybody satisfied.

I'll ask the NBA question. How have you prepared to deal with that this year?

The NBA stuff I am not thinking about. Whatever happens, happens. I am focused on this season, on what me and my teammates have to do this year. All that stuff can be thought about after the season if, if it's going to be thought about. Right now, I am definitely not thinking about it. I am focusing on what I can do here at Carolina.


How has it been with Coach Williams back?

It's been great. We thought it'd be tough (in practice) and it is. It's bringing us closer together as a team. Some of the drills that we do are more about mental toughness than anything. If we are mentally tough enough, we can make it through a practice session.

What kind of drills are you talking about?

We have to make 115 shots in 4:15. It's tough, but it's all about mental toughness. How hard you are going to run, how tough you are to make those shots. A layup and two jumpshots, those three shots.

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