You have a year under your belt now (in the ACC). Can you talk about what can we expect out of Georgia Tech coming into the season?
"Good question. I have no idea (laughter). Five freshmen and one player we didn't play last year or rather he only played five games. I like the team. I think we are probably a little more gifted athletically. But, we are definitely sloppier at this point. We are throwing the ball around a little bit. We are going to be different than last year. Having Alvin Jones made a big difference in the half court. Offensively and defensively, he was a huge difference. What he did for us offensively in the half court, giving us a low post inside threat, we are going to have to make it up by committee this year. Defensively, we can't take some of the chances we took knowing that we had him back there to erase some mistakes in the half court. We are still going to press and I think our press has a chance to be better. But, you never know how freshmen are going to adjust.
"So far, they are working hard. They need to understand that they need to work hard all the time. I have seen flashes of brilliance followed some lapses. They think "ok if I show I can do it once in a while", that's enough. They have to know that they have to play with a certainly level of intensity all the time."
Have you begun to get over the shock of the (Michael) Isenhour situation? And, beyond that, he was one of the big men you were counting on and now he's not there. How do you rearrange things to compensate?
"Our immediate concern was just to make sure that we support him the best we can. It turns out he's been the source of support for everybody. He is just so upbeat. When we went to see him in the hospital, and for those of you that don't know him, Michael does know everything, if you hadn't figured that out yet (laughter). He's been incredibly positive. He's still himself. Our players and our staff were obviously in shock when we first heard about it. But then going to see him, it's just normal regular ole Michael. He has a form of leukemia that doctors feel is treatable. But, there is no 100% when you are talking about leukemia. They feel like they caught it in the first couple of months. Right now, the biggest thing we can do is pray and support him the best way we know how.
"The next cause for concern for us after his health is to make sure he stays on track for graduation. He is scheduled to graduate in December. He has no final exams but he does have group projects left. We are hoping the kids that are in his group will make the trip to the hospital because he is going to be in the hospital for about 30-35 days."
You are not going to be a very big team. What do you do to compensate for the lack of size?
"Like I said, I think our press is going to be better. I think as a group, we will probably be better rebounding. As a group, though we will miss Alvin. Then, prayer always helps (laughter) every once in a while.
"It is going to be a different team. I think statistically, we can add up to the same numbers because our perimeter guys are bigger and longer. We may block just as many shots, but they are going to be different types of shots. We can rebound, get just as many rebounds. Our press will be a little bit better.
"The big thing for us is that these young guys stay positive especially through the first two months of the season."
In watching you on the sidelines and dealing with the players, you are always very positive and upbeat with them. Are you always like that?
"In games, yes (laughter). Practices are closed for a reason (laughter). Yea, I think if we do our job in preparing the guys, if we do it the right way, I feel like I want to give them as much leeway as they need. So what I try to do is be very encouraging. Yea, we are going to make some adjustments and we are going to tell them what we think is going to work and not going to work, but if a guy breaks off a play because he feels he has something he can go with, go ahead. Once we get you to the game, we feel like you are prepared. If you are prepared the best way we know how, then we just make you feel confident while you are out there."
Coach, talk about Tony Akins, your best player. Are you concerned about the roles he is going to have to feel in terms of both scorer and playmaker this year?
"Well, just leader period. He knows how to do the rest. You look at what he did the second half of the last season. He made a huge change. I don't think I've been around a player, personally in HS coaching, I coached three years and now I guess it's 11 or 12 years in college coaching with four as a head coach, I've been around a player that has changed as much as Tony. You could maybe accuse him of being somewhat of a selfish player with points last year. He went from there to being totally unselfish and even more effective statistically. He shot 46% from three, arguably, he was one of the best players in the ACC the second half of the season. He averaged 18, shot 46 from three and led his team to the NCAA Tournament, he and Alvin.
"He really understands now, what we want him to do. Statistically, he could be just as good, he could be better or maybe a little worse. But, as a leader, he's getting better every day. I think statistics aren't as important to him. I think he knows he can get his numbers just playing the game, taking good shots and doing the things he knows how to do from a basketball and talent standpoint. I think he understands that he's got to direct the guys a little bit more."
How did you get through to him?
"He's a good person, number one. It's easy to talk to him. I tell you what, the Clemson game last year when we scored 111 points and he didn't score, that was a real awakening for him last year. ‘Wow. They don't really need me to win. They don't need me to score points.' From that point forward, he really opened up and we started the second half of the season at Carolina, and from that point forward, he was one of the best players in the league."
Was the ACC everything you thought it would be?
"Unfortunately, it was more than I thought it would be (laughter). It's a great league. The players, the coaches, how it's covered, it's even better than I expected. The other thing that I have been impressed with is how hard all the coaches work. Everybody is out there recruiting and preparing their teams, individual instructions…they work very hard. You look at our league now, Coach K just won the Championship and based what you read in the paper, he's been out recruiting too this year (laughter). He's been out there working a little bit. Just you just don't sit at home and get that. Based on everything read, guys like that want to come to your school, especially the quality guys. Look at a guy like Steve Robinson, I know he's working very hard and I think their team is going to be much better."
Is there that much of a difference in coming from a place where you were (Siena)? Do you have to change your approach?
"I don't think you change your approach, maybe just intensify it a little bit more. Everybody competes but the pool of players you are going after is a little bit smaller. So you have to be a little more intense on how you approach things."