Q: Is there one thing that Duke is doing that concerns you most?
A: No. If it were one thing, I would feel a little bit more comfortable about it. If it were one thing, they wouldn't have a 15-game winning streak going. You look at them, and the things that I have a great deal of respect for, I look at defensive field goal percentage. I look at other team's stats, so teams are shooting 38.6 percent against them. In conference play, it is a pretty good league, it is even lower than that, 38.2 percent. Next thing I look at is rebound margin and they are averaging five more rebounds a game then their opponents. The next thing I look at, and probably other people wouldn't because I think those first two are pretty high up on most people's list, I look that they have made more free throws then their opponents have attempted if I am not mistaken. So those things right there defensively, offensively and getting the ball to the basket, getting the other team in foul trouble, getting extra possessions, they are a well-balanced team. I think that is why they have won all the games in a row. To answer your question, there is not one specific thing that you can be concerned about because of how well-rounded they are and they don't really have any holes that you can aim at.
Q: What advantages do you think you might have in the game tomorrow?
A: It is at our place. That's a pretty short list.
Q: You don't think your speed against there defensive pressure?
A: Well I think against defensive pressure, If they are slow, then speed is pretty good, but they have pretty good speed too. Chris Duhon isn't going to lose too many races. Daniel Ewing I tried to recruit him like crazy at Kansas. I loved him to death. The big guys, Shavlik (Randolph) and Sheldon (Williams) can run as well as anybody. Luol Deng, I've never coached against him, but just watching him on tape. In the athletic category, they are not far down there. I really believe that. We have got to play our best game of the year to have a chance. I think there is a possibility we will do that. I am hoping that we will.
Q: How much has the lack of an inside presence hurt you?
A: You look at Jawad (Williams) and I'm not telling you guys something I haven't shared with him. I won't tell you guys anything that I haven't shared with a player, but he went five games with eight rebounds total as our starting power forward. The mask was a huge hindrance to him. With the mask, he told me he couldn't see the ball. I wish he would have told me before those five games had lapsed. In the Clemson game it was very evident. There was a bounce pass to him and he fumbled it out of bounds because he couldn't see the ball coming to him. I took him out at that time and told him 'son, I can't play you, you can't see.' Then he took the mask off because he wanted t play, but you can't have eight rebounds in five games out of your power forward. Sean (May) is struggling some inside as well. But we still have to go in there. Now the only thing is, and I think this is what you are getting at Duke, when they are more productive our team is a heck of a lot better. There is no question about that. So for us we still have to try and give them an opportunity to be effective. We are going to give them an opportunity to be effective.
Q: Why did you put the faith on Rashad McCants' shoulders in those two last-minute plays you called for him?
A: Well, two things. There is trust there. He is scrutinized maybe more than any other player I have ever had. I think his facial expressions are part of that, but his lack of intensity at times causes part of that. One of those things can be changed easily and the other one needs to be changed. I hope it will be done too. I do think that he is improving. I think he is making some strides for us. I honestly believe that, I'm not trying to sell anybody on that. So there is some trust there because I see the effort. The other thing is that in both cases I knew that the play is a very sound play. It is one that we have worked on and it was something that would be beneficial to him. I didn't call the play specifically for him, but I knew he was one of the options. I think both times he made great decisions. One, to shoot the three and the other one to take it to the basket. We would really be talking about what a great job he has done if that three went in at the end of the Florida State game. But I think there is more trust there and I am more convinced that he is trying harder.
Q: How much did you follow this rivalry as you were growing up, and how much are you looking forward to it?
A: Duke and Carolina is always a big game for any kid who grows up watching Carolina basketball. It is the game you wait for all year. It is a big matchup, so I am definitely psyched.
Q: Is it more an intense of a rivalry now with Coach Williams?
A: You can tell it is more intense of a rivalry now that he is here. It is more anticipated than it was before, just waiting to see what is going to happen. How the game is going to be coached with two of the best coaches in college basketball. I'm just excited.
Q: Big-time players step up in big games. Do you thrive on that challenge?
A: That is the saying I really live by. It is has been told to me my whole life, since I was in the fifth grade. I've always thought of it as a challenge of being that big-time player, making big shots in big games. I think this year and a little bit last year I have shown my self that I can really do that, but it is still a challenge.
Q: How has your relationship with Roy developed, and how much more do you guys know each other now?
A: I think our relationship is good. Early on it was kind of shaky, but I don't think that had anything to do with us winning or losing. I think that with a new coach and a new player there is always going to be a trust thing there. After the Kentucky game I had a meeting with Coach. We just talked about trust and effort.
Q: How does it make you feel that he called your number for two late game-winning shots? Does that help build that trust?
A: I think that is what made me believe more in him. I saw how he trusted me. In the Kentucky game I was kind of questioning that, seeing that I was playing so bad and I kept getting pulled out of the game. I was questioning that. But he is a great coach and he knew what he was doing. He was just trying to push my buttons a little bit, and he definitely did. We saw eye to eye after that meeting after that game and since then things have been pretty good.
Q: Who initiated that meeting and what happened during that meeting that made you feel better about things?
A: I initiated it. I was feeling bad after the game and I couldn't sleep. We should have won. I went up to Coach and said 'I need to talk to you.' We sat down and talked. I just told him what was on my mind. He responded and the thing that got my trust the most is he told me that I was an NBA prospect and he has had a lot of them in his career as a coach. He has never been in the green room with them or anything like that. He told me if I were to stay four years and graduate, and my dreams to go to the NBA were fulfilled, he'd go to the green room with me. You know, I'd be the first one for him to go. That was more inspirational to me then anything in my life. I think we both kind of shared a tear. That is when I knew I was going to bust my (butt) for him everyday, every minute.
Thoughts about the Duke game:
"I am really excited. I haven't really had a chance to really get a feel for the Duke-Carolina rivalry. Only playing ten minutes in the game last year at the end of the season, I was just happy just to be able to play again. I didn't really care who we were playing against. I am just really excited and I have had a good week at practice. I didn't play that much at Clemson, only played about eighteen minutes because I got in foul trouble. I haven't really been playing well the past couple of weeks, and I am just trying to get out of this little funk that I am in. I am trying to get back to playing the basketball that I know that I am capable of playing."
Is there a time that you can pinpoint that you lost a little bit of tenacity?
"After I came off the ankle injury against Wilmington, I hadn't been playing that great. I didn't play well at Kentucky, and then I came back and had two strong games against Miami and Georgia Tech back-to-back. It really started at Maryland. I didn't play terribly at Maryland, but I didn't play as well as I know that I am capable of playing. Ever since then it has been consistent, I haven't been playing well. I just think that I am in a little funk right now that most players go through their first year playing, and this is really my first year of playing in the ACC, playing road games and really getting a feel for the league. People can say that is an excuse, but that is just part of it. I am growing as a player, getting better each day and that is all that I can ask."
Talk about your match-up against Sheldon Williams:
"I am really excited. We talked about it a lot this summer when we were roommates at Michael Jordan's flight school. Shelden is a great player, having a tremendous year and doing really everything for that team. He is scoring a lot at times, rebounding the ball really well and the one thing that he is doing really well, that I have noticed, is he blocks a lot of shots. At 6-9, he has great timing and he is a heck of a player. It is going to be great for me to have another test this year and I am just looking forward to playing against him."
How is Duke able to dictate the pace of the game with their defense?
"They play really good team defense. They have some weak spots here and there, but somehow, someway they make up for it, somebody always picks somebody else up. Just watching them play, their unit out there is playing forty minutes together. I think that comes from Chris Duhon being the leader on that team. Winning the national championship his freshman year, he has been through it and he knows exactly what to expect. It is kind of trickling down the line to the younger guys. They are having a great year right now and they are kind of on a roll."
Talk about the lapses in defense:
"The only thing that I can say is that we don't have that guy who has been through it. You are talking about fifteen guys on this team who have never won anything, fifteen guys on this team who have never been to the tournament. We don't know what it takes and the only thing that we can do is bind to what Coach Williams is saying. We are doing a better job at it, but at times this team knows that we lack intensity on defense. That is something that Coach has tried to preach to us each and every day, and we are just trying to take it in and trying to get better every day. Coach said, 'this thing is not going to turn around overnight,' and so we are just doing our best job to win games. We had some games in our fingertips that we should of won and we let slip away. For us to win this game tomorrow, it has got to start as soon as the ball tips in the air; it has got to be a great defensive effort for the entire forty minutes."
Is there a cause and effect between you struggling and Jawad struggling?
"I think that this team is better when both of us are on and playing really well. I think that we feed off each other a little bit. I think that the reason why Jawad is struggling is because as soon as he gets over one injury something else happens. He gets hit in the face against Georgia Tech and then comes back and gets hit in the nose against State. It has just been a rough year for him. To me he is not playing that bad, his minutes are just affected by his injuries. With me, I just got to play and stop worrying about everything, stop worrying about being doubled-teamed, about missing shots. I think that it does affect him when I am not playing well and it affects me when he is not playing as well cause in a way we feed off each other. When he is playing well, it gives me a pressure release and when I am playing well, it gives him a pressure release. I think that we kind of intertwine with each other."
Are you wearing the mask for the next game?
"No, I got rid of the mask half-way through the Clemson game and I am playing a lot better now, even in practice, without that mask."
Are you tentative in any way about getting hit again?
"If I get hit now, then it is not meant to be. I really don't care, I just want to get back to playing basketball the way that I was at the beginning of the year."
How well do you guys trust in the fact that you are capable of beating Duke?
"I think that we are capable of beating anybody if we go out there and do what we are told to do. Then, we will be fine, it is no big difference than any other game."
Considering that you are not really into the rivalry being that you are from Cleveland, is it hard to kind of avoid how this game feels to everybody around campus?
"Yes, you have people that I have never talked to a day in my life coming up to me saying 'beat duke.' It is a goal of ours, but it is not that big of a deal."
Being that you have been so tentative lately, playing with the mask, are you going to come out and throw caution to the wind tomorrow night considering that you will be playing without the mask?
"Of course, I have been doing that the last few days in practice. Like I said, if I get hit in the nose again, then it is just not meant to be. Until I get hit again, then I am going to continue to go hard."
Is rebounding going to be one of your major concerns tomorrow night?
"Yes, of course. I have been making an effort trying to get to the board better, but now without that mask I can actually look above me. I can go chase after that ball that is bouncing off the rim."
Talk about Chris Duhon:
"Chris Duhon is probably having his best season at Duke. He is doing a tremendous job and he is a great player. He is just showing his leadership. He is a senior in his last year, and just like any senior he wants to go out with a bang. He is just giving it all that he's got."
Do you think that the match-up tomorrow night can get any more intense than the one here last year?
"Yes, it could get into that, but it is just all in the mix of the game. We didn't know that was going to happen last year, but it is just a big rivalry. It is going to be a hard fought game. Both of us are going to go at it and it is just going to be a typical rivalry."
Talk about how the rest of the team feeds off your defensive effort:
"I think that I have to do a better job at leading on the defensive end and offensive end. I think that I have to do a better job with executing, just penetrating and making the other team's defense just slack off a little bit so that we can get better shots. So, I think that I have to be a little bit more aggressive on that end, but yes, definitely, it starts with defense. We are going to have to be defense for forty minutes. If we don't, then we are not going to have a great game tomorrow night."
What are some of the things that you are going to look to do on the offensive end against Duke's defensive pressure?
"Be aggressive, go at them and try to penetrate to make their defenders commit to me so that I can get my teammates some open jump-shots, some open lay-ups, or whatever it is to spread their defense out a little bit."
What makes Duke's defense so talented?
"They play great team defense. It is not really just one guy pressuring the ball and making things happen, all five guys that are on the court at the time, play great defense. They play team defense, they help each other when somebody gets beat and the little different things like that. To me, defensively, they are playing their best game ever. This is probably the best team yet, defensively, that I have seen at Duke."