Will Roy Williams in the mix revitalize or change anything at all with the rivalry with Carolina?
No I don't think it will. It's my 24th year and that particular game or games, we won't approach it any differently. I've known Roy for a long, long time with the Coaches Association. Carolina, with the foundation that Dean built there, produced one of the great programs. Now Roy has the chance to do it. Same thing with me. I'm doing my thing and I think it will be a good game.
How would you characterize that relationship [with Coach Williams}? A lot of people talk that maybe there is a little bit of tension there sometimes. Is it competitive tension?
No, no. I've been to more meetings with Roy Williams than almost any coach. I consider Roy a really good friend. I am going to try and beat him or anybody we are playing against. Whatever someone wants to confuse that, you can use your own interpretations.
Do you think that Roy coming in and reestablishing Carolina's national profile, will the league benefit?
Well, I think the league has always benefited with having North Carolina in the league. Having Roy, who is an established top coach in our profession, that does help. But the Carolina program, I ultimately respect. Roy being in the league helps, bottom line, because he's really good.
You have outwardly said you really like this team you have. What are the reasons?
Well, they are older first of all. Our team was incredibly young last year, not just with the six freshmen, but with our upperclassmen, none of them had really been a so called ‘star.' And this year, just having six sophomores, and we still have our ten scholarship players with six sophomores and a freshman – but the six sophomores have been through a lot. Four of them started games. That's big coming back. J.J. [Redick], if you guys would learn how to vote better at the ACC Tournament (laughter)…J.J. being in that position. You are going to see now, sophomores being much more mature than they used to be and you are going to ask them to do things juniors and seniors have done in the past – at least we are. So I like that about our team. It's obvious that our kids have made a commitment to getting physically better. We are big. Now, how do we adjust to those things? Potentially we are a better team.
Talk about the physical size of your players, particularly Shavlik [Randolph].
Well you know Shavlik was on crutches for ten weeks this summer because of a hip operation. He had a bad hip for his last year in high school and all of his freshman year. When he was doing that, he followed a regiment of lifting and eating. I think we all realize that part of gaining weight has to do with eating. I can certainly attest to that (laughter). So he ate probably five to seven meals a day. I'm not saying they were big [meals] but he ate. I was wondering when he was coming back this fall, how much of the weight he would be actually keep on. But he's been able to keep it on. He's about 238 to 240 which is almost thirty pounds – he finished the year at 211.
When you found out about his hip, what it a moment where you figured things made so much more sense now?
Well, yea but also, part of Shav was he needed to be a kid as a freshman whether he had a good hip or a bad hip. He is still going to be skinny. But the hip talked a little bit more about his explosiveness and his lateral movement and his ability to really run. So for him to solve that problem, and actually talking to our doctors now, it was very unusual and sort of a leap of faith to do it. It was not just repairing of the labrum, which is sort of like the meniscus around your hip, which was torn. There was a bone spur – do you remove it? What do you do? – and the fact that you are going to be on crutches that long shows the, I'm not sure the severity of it, but the fragility that recovery period would be. And to see the result shows that Shav and our medical people have done a great job.
You talked about the youth last year. This year you have only one freshman (Luol Deng) and he's maybe, if not your best player, certainly one of the best you have. What does he need to do before he becomes that go to guy that you might want to use him as? And, can he be that?
Can be. But when he'll be that will be the question. We still have to remember that he's 18 and yesterday was the first time he's put on the Duke uniform. He still gets excited and he's nervous, he doesn't know about the game. We have to give him a period of time to mature. I would hope that our sophomores will help him because they went through some of that. I think a big mistake that I can make is to assume that he's going to go from step one to step nine or whatever is our number of steps. We need to take him one through nine in the becoming of a player. Hopefully he'll go through them fast and again, this isn't a nine step process though.
Will he (Deng) remind us of somebody you've had in the past?
His versatility. To be able to play him outside and in. Defender. He's not the athlete that Grant Hill was. Not many are. In the last decade or twenty years, there were only a hand full like him. But, how we will use him will be a little bit like Grant. A little bit like Shane in who he is as a person. His competitiveness. Whether he becomes like both of them, that would be unbelievable, and the fact that is a lot is expected of him.
J.J. had pretty low numbers yesterday [in the Duke Blue-White game]…
Well he was guarded by Luol. Also, Luol had cramps because he had to guard J.J. So they negated one another. J. J. knocked him out the last couple minutes of the game.
It looked as though few people took the Kansas loss as hard as J. J. did in the locker room afterward. How did he respond to that?
I think that'll make him a better player. My thing with him after the Kansas game is we have had very few freshman, Dawkins maybe, who was put in a position to take big shots the entire year. And with that, maybe the end of game results maybe manifests itself on you. So, it says something about how good he is and also that he's able to grow up. Dawkins played in games when we were 11-17. J.J. is playing in games where we are 26-7 and won the [ACC] Tournament and if we win, we had a chance to play for a regional championship. So he's put on center stage in the responsibility mode earlier than most.
So, in one year, is this team now mature enough to challenge for the national title?
Well, we did last year I thought. That's a goal every year so that's what I'd like to have us doing by March. I don't know, because I don't watch everyone else and I'll know much better when we start playing people, where we fit. We are a potentially a better team than we were last year.
Last year the league didn't have a regional finalist for the first time since 1979. So many players back this year so is it fair to expect the league will resume its national prominence?
I'm the wrong guy to ask. I think we'll be an older league. But I can just speak for myself and I think we are potentially better.
Do you guys feel like there is less teaching going on this year - Guys know where to go on the floor and know what guys' roles are this season?
Most definitely. Last year, with all the young guys, there was a lot more teaching. It was kind of like holding hands, making sure guys were feeling alright, their confidence was good. This year, guys understand the game better, they have more confidence, they believe in themselves a little bit more. Now we can just focus on our team stuff, more x's and o's, strategies, that type of things.
What have you seen from J.J. Redick over the summer and the early part of practice?
He's gotten better. I think he's realized over the summer that he's not going to be able to just sit out there and shoot this year because people have picked up on that. He's worked other aspects of his game, doing the little things like making sure he sets up screens right so he can get open a little bit better. Working on his midrange game, driving and kicking and things like that. He's stepped up as a leader also. He's going to be a big key on our team again this season.
You guys weren't maybe the favorites last year and now you are way up there coming into this year. How does that change what you do?
I really doesn't change anything. We just want to come in and best the best team we can be. You can't really worry about where people rank you or what accolades they give you before you even earn anything. We want to go out and best the best team we can be, win the most games we can win and make it to the Final Four and win a National Championship. We'll take that. But right now, we are making sure that we build our team chemistry and work.
What kind of leader is Chris Duhon?
Chris is a very important leader for our team. He's been through a lot. He's won a National Championship so he know how it feels, knows what it takes and he's being a real big help for me personally. I think he's going to be a real good contributor for our team this year with his skills and his leadership.
Can you talk about Luol Deng and how he's doing early on?
This is the first week of practice and I think he's handling it real well. He's playing real well right now. It's obvious that he's a special player and he's going to be a special player for our team. He's going to be a key factor for what we are trying to do.
He's a long athletic player. He can play a of positions on the court. I think he can pretty much play anywhere on the court you put him. He's comfortable out there. He takes advantage of his matchups.
You've talked about building your leadership skills and all…is that something you work on?
Most definitely. I'm still trying to build on making myself a better player, a better leader and helping our team out. It's going to continue throughout the whole season and hopefully I can be the best player I can be and be the best leader I can for this team. Hopefully it'll help us reach were we are trying to go this season.
Coach K talks about not concerning himself with what other teams are doing until it's time for Duke to play them. Is that something you and the players do as well or do you keep up other teams? I know you guys have friends on other teams and whatnot.
Me personally, I don't really dwell on what other teams are doing. I mean you know how well they are doing because you have ESPN and all the highlights, but you really don't focus on it until a scouting report comes in or the day before the game. I'm similar to coach. I am more concerned with my team and my play.
Will there be any difference in Duke's style of play last year? Shelden [Williams] came on strong late. Will you guys go inside first or….?
I think it'll be different. I think we'll be a more balanced team. Last year, we were perimeter oriented. This year, I think we are going to establish our inside presence because our big men have done a real good job in the offseason getting better, getting bigger, getting stronger. I think we'll have a better inside presence and people are going to have to respect that this season.