The first six days of July I'm going to try and grab some vacation time and then July 7 I'm in Indianapolis for the Div. I coaches meeting before the recruiting period begins on the 8th. And the 8th through the 17th I'll be recruiting, speaking at a N.C. coaches clinic on the 19th and then hopefully go to Lawrence and pack up my daughter to get her to move back to North Carolina. The 21st that night go out to Vegas for the largest conglomeration of high school basketball tournaments in history – about 5,000 basketball players and three different tournaments out there. Do that 22nd, 23rd, 24th and then the 25th we'll assemble in Florida with the players and coaches coming for about seven days of practice and training camp with them. Then we'll go to Germany for an exhibition and then to Bosnia, Serbia and then to Turkey and then we get into Athens I think like the 16th of August. That'll take us up to when I get back here on Aug. 30th.
Do you have any concerns about security there?
I have concerns, but I think we'll be the most protected and most aware group that's been at any Olympics. Yes, I am concerned, but I also think we can't let that dictate what we do with our lives every day. I'm concerned every day when I get on I-40 to the airport, but I have to do it so I do it.
Talk about the strength of the ACC last year and how it'll be this coming year …
Last year it was fantastic, we were the strongest league in the country. … I do think we had a great, great year for the league. The people in the office have to feel really good about what the league accomplished. When you do those kind of things – two teams in the Final Four and the performances throughout the year that everybody put on is something you've got to be proud of, but at the same time you spend a lot of time beating up on each other and there are going to be some losses that maybe somebody might not have in another league. And it'll be the same thing this year. We've taken 2, 3 or 4 hits with youngsters we thought who'd be with us who won't, but I still think we'll be right there at the top of college basketball again and I think you can legitimately say that 7 or 8 teams have a chance to win the whole thing. Interest with the new teams coming in is going to be important as well.
Talk about the impact of early departures and does it change the way you recruit?
The early departures get all the attention, but when North Carolina and Duke play people are still going to show up regardless of who is in uniform. We have to understand the name on the front of the jersey is still the most important part of college basketball. It has changed the way I've recruited for the last 4 or 5 years probably. But it's changed it more drastically the last year and a half. Right now if a youngster is in the Top 10 and I have to look up at him at all, I'm probably going to make a decision not to recruit him unless I have a special in. Guys I can look eyeball to eyeball usually don't leave early. But NBA guys are drafting on potential and that's silly on their part, but I don't run the NBA and I don't make those decisions. I don't think it's the greatest thing in the world but I don't think it's going to kill college basketball. I think it's going to have just as much effect on the pro game as it'll have on our game. We're seeing that. The fundamental level kids have when they get to the NBA … it's 2, 3, 4 years of playing [in college] and you become a better player and you're so much more mature and can handle things. If I really believe a youngster has a great chance of going right to the NBA, then I'm going to try and not waste my time there.
How have the two losses (JamesOn Curry and J.R. Smith) affected your recruiting efforts?
It's made us look at more numbers for the next recruiting class. The change in the 8/5 hasn't affected us as much as it has affected other people. I do think in the fall with those four kids we had that I felt really, really good. I still feel very good about the two we have, because they're outstanding youngsters who can help our team. But there's no question we needed more depth and they would have given us more depth and more talent. The biggest thing is looking at more guys for this spring and knowing we're going to need to bring in more for this recruiting class.
Do you look for certain types of players in building your team?
I don't think I can give you one answer. It's like putting a puzzle together … you look at your team and see what you don't have and fill those holes. How do you fill those holes? I'd love to go into a school and say 'Give me your good citizenship award winner,' but if I did that the fact is there'd be another guy here in a year that you'd be talking to. So we have to look for talent first. I look for talent first and character immediately afterwards, and then I look at the academic side. That upset a little elementary school teacher one time – she wanted academics to be first. I said ‘If I had a guy that was a great, great player and 4.0 student but was a pain, I'd want someone else to coach him.' Talent, character and academics. You can fall a little deficient in one area, but I don't want you to fall any in the character side of it. Then we're recruiting for need. You need guys on the perimeter with size who can defend, you need some big guys and you need a point guard again. There are some years where you're trying to get one of each, and that's probably what we're going to try and do for this coming year.
How tough is it to project in recruiting knowing the NBA is out there?
It's incredibly hard and I'm not good enough to do it. Two weeks before the high school all star games, J.R. Smith was not going to be on the NBA screen. Those two weeks changed his whole plan – changed his whole life. So I think I'm not good enough to make that determination, but we do try to look for it anyway.
Is it fair to say Smith's decision caught you by surprise?
Yeah, it was a surprise because again a couple weeks before the all star games he wasn't projected to be a draft choice. Very few of those guys, including J.R., would have gone if they thought there was a chance they wouldn't be drafted.
When a player declares, is he usually not coming back?
They're usually gone. At that date, the college has no chance of replacing him. You can replace him with a body, but not anybody with any talent, so that date is difficult for college coaches because they can't reach back into that pool because the pool is empty. It's unusual for a guy to go back [after declaring] though we have seen that happen.
In this age of the early entrance, how important is it that you're going to have 3 seniors and 6 juniors?
I think you don't see that very often, but it's important. Our last two years at Kansas, with Nick and Kirk staying four years and Drew staying three, we went to two straight Final Fours. Talent is the first thing that gives you success, but experienced talent is really good. If you have those areas and the kids continue to improve and become more well rounded … all the guys we get from high school have holes in their game, but the more you play, the better you'll get. All the guys we have right now have holes in their game – significant holes – and every year you get better and make your weak areas stronger.
In what areas does this time need to improve?
You don't have to be a nuclear physicist to figure out we need to defend the basketball better. We want Raymond's shot to go in more – nobody wants it more than Raymond does. We want Sean to have more stamina to go longer and make more of his shots. We'd like Jackie to do all the things he did last year and hopefully he'll be more confident with his shot and have more of those go in. Jawad to be more of an inside presence and be able to score inside and be a better rebounder. Melvin to be a better ball handler. And I could go down the line, but what I do every spring is I get with every player and give them 3 or 4 things they need to work on. Some is particular and some is evident like I said there.
How much re-recruiting do you have to do with something like J.R. Smith?
I went back into J.R.'s home this spring and I went to Marvin's home this spring. At J.R.'s home I brought the NBA salary scale and I talked with 9 or 10 NBA teams myself and told J.R. where I thought he'd be drafted and where that number would be on the salary list … and where I thought he could be, using Kirk Hinrich as an example, after Kirk's junior year he would be picked 18-29 and Kirk moved up and was the 7th player picked and that's three times as much money. And if you want to be a kid and enjoy life a little longer, college is not a bad option. I told Dwight Howard he should go to the NBA. He's going to be the first or second pick and I'd take him first. Marvin I didn't get that far because we'd already had some discussions and he'd already decided he wanted to go to college. With J.R. I wouldn't call it re-recruiting, as you did – I went there to give him all the information and turned around and said ‘Tell me what you're going to do and I'm with you.' I don't think everybody going to the NBA is bad. Dwight Howard is doing exactly what he should do. But everybody should look at it individually and some make some bad decisions and go when they shouldn't go.
How much will it help team chemistry that these guys have been playing together for three and four years?
I hope it'll be a positive. It wasn't that big a positive last year because we had such a change of style. So we didn't see as many positives as we'd hope for. But now having the same voice saying the same things for a second year will make it easier for them.
When you went to J.R.'s house, you remember roughly what you told him?
I don't think it serves any purpose [to say]. I will say my numbers didn't agree with what the agents are telling him. I'm just not comfortable how public everything is that you say to kids, how public recruiting is is something I really struggle with, because I don't think it's anybody's business but his family and mine. There are some things I tell players that are private and should be kept that way. I'll leave it at where I told him what those people were telling me is not what some agents were telling him.
Can you talk about the defense? Is it just a little change that needs to be made here or there, or is a change needed in the culture?
Well, I think it's a lot more that needs to be done here and a lot more that needs to be done there. Kids want to guard better. It's hard work; it really is, and it's got to be a huge emphasis for us. I think at times we bought into it last year, and at times I didn't do as good of a job of making them buy into it. So we've got to do a better job teaching it and practicing it, too. But we've got to do a better job defensively.
Do you think your players are watching the NBA Playoffs and do you think the Pistons' defense will rub off on them?
I'm watching. I don't know if they are. But even if they do watch it, they're not going to watch it like I do. They just want to see a flying dunk, or some idiotic play. Nobody's watching it the way coaches watch it.
On the roster turnover of the USA Olympic Team -
I think it was a good plan that had a fallacy. It would be nice to have a core group of players that played together for two years and knew the international game. I thought that was fantastic and would really help us, but it doesn't appear that is working since some of the guys have begged off that were in that core group. But the best made plans sometimes go astray.
How do you think Marvin [Williams] and Quentin [Thomas] will fit in and what are you going to ask of them?
I think they will fit in very well. I think the upperclassmen understand their needs and, as a coaching staff, what we expect from them…to put their arms around these guys and pull them in and explain to them what we're trying to do. So I think they'll get the teaching and the coaching from us, but I also think they will get it from our returning players. You know last year, we were all new at this; it was every man for himself. And that's human nature. Everybody is trying to do their own thing and take care of their own business much more than looking at the big picture. This year, I think we'll be able to teach the two new guys from Level One all the way up. We hope some of these guys that are going to start at Level Five or Six will be able to help get Marvin, Quentin and those guys up to speed a little quicker.
Can you talk about your own international experience and how you got involved?
Early in my career I did several things. I was an assistant coach at the World University Games in England. I coached an under-22 team in Argentina. I had a great time coaching eight college players against the original Dream Team for a week. Then for several years there I didn't do anything. It is very time consuming. But I always had in the back of my mind the procession when we walked on the floor during the World University Games and having all of the American athletes there together. When they raise those flags – I'm kind of corny when it comes to those things I guess – I knew a dream of mine would be that one day I would help coach an Olympic Team. When they named Larry [Brown] as the coach, fortunately he called me and asked me if I would be interested. It has been a dream of mine. Some players say it's a dream of theirs, but it always has been a big-time dream of mine.
Will it be disappointing if you don't win a gold medal there?
It will definitely be disappointing. It's a tough scenario, because the only way we're going to be perceived as being successful is by winning the gold medal. That's not a very good position to be in. But I think one of the things that we do is be the best that we absolutely can be. But if we come back and we've played our tails off and somebody threw one the length of the court on the third try…(laughter), then that will be viewed as being a failure. That's the way it is. No, but it's huge pressure if you let that be the only guide to your success. But I'm corny enough; I just enjoy walking out there and having USA on your shirt.
On potentially getting burned out with such a busy schedule -
I think I've been more worn out than I've ever felt. There's no question about that. My golf game stinks; it's worse than it's ever been. But I'm excited. I wish we were starting basketball practice here tomorrow. Quentin and Marvin came in this weekend, and I'm more enthused than I have ever been. I'm really enthused about recruiting; I enjoy the summer recruiting period. I watch 10 games a day. In Las Vegas last year, people thought it was a little wacko, but I would be sure to be the first coach in the gym in the morning; and at 12:10 each night, I would look around to see if there were any other coaches around. If I saw one, I might wait around to see if he might leave. (laughter) When the time comes for me to stop coaching, it will never be because of burnout, because I'm doing exactly what I want to. When I stop, it will be because I went through the tunnel and I didn't get cold chills.
What are the benefits of the time you'll spend with Larry, Greg [Popovich] and Oliver [Purnell]?
Larry Brown is one of the greatest minds that you can ever be around. And one thing he always enjoys doing is talking plays. And we talked a little about how sorry our golf games were, but we mostly talked about basketball, and it was a great value. A couple of plays that we had here last year, I brought straight from what we did last summer. And there is no doubt in my mind that I will bring even more from it this year, since I will be more familiar with teaching and the way they do certain things. I think it will help and it will add things to what I want to do. With Oliver, Pop and Larry…we're always talking basketball.
On the 5/8 Rule -
I hope there is never anything that was as stupid as that was. They say it came from the college presidents, but it must have come from some nuthouse somewhere. No college president anywhere would be able to think that could do what it was supposed to be able to do. Some people must have sold them on that idea. This summer and spring, with some work we're trying to do and create some new models of recruiting… There is still a lot of work to do, and we're hopeful that when you put the whole package together that people will say it helped our game. But right now, we're just in the early stages getting that done. Then we've got to be able to sell it to the college presidents, board of directors and executive committees. If we can do that, then we can have a great deal of input. Then we've got to say, ‘Hey, this is our idea. Let's make sure that it works and let's make sure that we do it the right way.' There's a new ethics committee and I'm a member of that. Mike Montgomery was the chairman. We've got to do a lot of things and college basketball needs to take care of its own business and not say that was just an isolated incident.
What are some things you would like to see done different at the Smith Center?
I don't know if we're going to be able to get it done by next season, but we need new video boards. You look up there and it looks like the end zone in Knoxville. (laughter) It's not very good. We need to change that. I'm ecstatic by the way the people responded to the things we tried to do last year. Most of the people that we talked to agreed that they had more fun because they were involved more. Dick Baddour and I are talking now and we have a meeting scheduled for next week when we are going to talk about some more changes we would like to see down the line. Whether we can get them done by next season, I don't know.
Would you like a more NBA-style pregame?
I'm not against those kinds of things, but I also know about the tradition we have here at North Carolina. But just because we have tradition doesn't mean we have to sit still and say we're not going to do that because we're North Carolina. I do like music and when everybody is moving their bodies a little bit before tipoff. There is a lot of talk about signage, and as long as we do that tastefully, then I don't think there is anything wrong with that. I want people to come and feel good about being there.
Can you reflect on your decision, both personally and professionally, to come back to Chapel Hill?
I've been reflecting on that so much that it's no longer reflection. I love Kansas. That was the best 15 years of my life. Fifteen years from now I hope I'm not saying the same thing. But it is. WE have to move on. They have a great coach; they made the Elite Eight. They were just one jump shot away from making the Final Four for the third year in a row. I think we made some strides and we want to continue to make strides here. But I've got some great friends back there, and I've got some people back there that are upset at me and I don't know if I'll ever be able to change that.
What is your feeling on how hard the non-conference schedule should be?
I don't know if there is a formula. What I've tried to do with that is have four to six games that we didn't have any idea if we were going to win or not, and half of them would be at home and half of them would be on the road. With difficult people coming into the league and as difficult as this league is, I'm not so sure that is the right number. The fans want you to play Kentucky, Indiana, Connecticut, UCLA, Florida…all those people, but I think that's really stupid, too. I had a team that opened on national television against Georgia and then traveled to Indiana, and I had two freshmen on that team that weren't worth a darn for 15-20 games because they lost confidence. Seriously, they were awful. So you have to have some of those "directional" schools.
What effect, if any, does David Padgett's decision have on your recruiting plans for next year?
Not much, if any. I spoke to the kid one time in 14 months and everybody acted like I was orchestrating this thing. That really ticked me off. We were in it for information purposes for such a short period of time. It was not a factor and it will not be a factor.
On the press back in Kansas grilling him on the situation -
It's freedom of the press. You can write anything that you want, just don't let the facts confuse you. I've had a great relationship with those guys and I think I will continue to, but I was extremely disappointed with the way I was portrayed in this thing.
Could you envision an age limit for entering the NBA?
Yes, but I don't think that what is happening is killing the college game. I would hope that we could perhaps make some slight changes to make the game better. Maybe the day they pick could be changed; maybe that might help. But I don't think we should put a band-aid on it.
Thoughts on recovering former player Mike Pepper -
Michael was a kid that was an afterthought that they saw him play in a preliminary game to another all-star game. Coach [Dean] Smith thought that he played very well and they talked to him about coming. He got here and people didn't think he would ever play. But he made himself into a player because he did those little things. He worked at the game, he tried to make his practice a perfect practice, and he tried to do it the right way. And his senior year, he was starting in the Final Four. I think that is one of those stories that you love to hear and see as a coach, to see how much a youngster can improve once he gets to college – how much there is left in the tank. So I knew that Mike was going to be successful in whatever area he went to. After the problems that he had last year, we all signed a basketball and mine read, ‘Get healthy and get here,' for the reunion ceremony. He's going to be successful, he's got a lot of people praying for him and he's tough, so he's going to bounce back from this very well.