"We're excited about the opportunity to play a basketball game. It's been a long time since the last game, and the turkey didn't taste as good this Thanksgiving as it has in years past. We're looking forward to coming out, playing hard, and competing against an Indiana team that's had a lot of games, and that has one of the best players in the country in Jared Jeffries. It's, hopefully, going to be a hard-fought, competitive game and we can perform well."
What did you find out about your team's confidence as they came back from Thanksgiving, since you told them to go home and shoot in a comfortable gym?
"It's still fragile. Our guys are still fragile. I think that they need to get more comfortable, and I think they have over the last few days. Hopefully, that will show on the court. We have to go out and play and have fun and lose ourselves in the game. But that's easier said than done. As a player, I went through problems with confidence, and it's not fun.
"Woody and I have talked about playing golf and if you're standing over a tee-shot or a putt and you're not real confident, it's not a lot of fun. It's hard. I was talking to Coach Smith today about Michael Jordan. In Michael's junior year, we played in two tournaments—the Stanford Tournament, and then the Holiday Festival in New York—and he didn't make all-tournament in either. He was really just putting a lot of pressure on himself, and finally it just clicked. I hope it clicks for us on Wednesday.
Indiana isn't known for playing zone defense, but they have a little under Coach Davis. What do you expect?
"I think that I have to be prepared for him to play some zone. I'm sure it's crossed his mind to play zone, so I have to be prepared. Will they play 40 minutes of zone or two minutes of zone? I don't know, but I have to be prepared for it. Not only for Indiana, but I've got to do a better job of preparing my team for zone defenses. We've done that, so we'll feel comfortable in man or zone."
There were some shifting in line-up's from game one to game two. Have you settled on a line-up?
"I have. That's something that was hard for me, coming into this season. You want to be fair and give everyone equal shots, but it's tough to find that out in practice. Sometimes you need games to figure that out, and I'm going to go with Melvin at the point, and probably go with Brian at the two, Will at the three, Cape at the four, and Kris at the five. Jawad will come in for Jason or Will. Jackie will come in for Brian. Adam will play some, Jon Holmes will play some, and Brian Bersticker will play some. I'd feel comfortable putting Orlando in there too, at times. Brian's got to help us—Brian Bersticker. Those guys have to feel comfortable, and I have to make them feel comfortable that they're going to play and live through some mistakes, that kind of thing."
You knew that you were going to have to rely on the freshmen early on in this year, but in the background of starting 0-2, that's got to be more difficult for them. How have they handled it, individually? Are they adjusting?
"I think it's been tough on them. I think Melvin has handled it the best, because that's just his personality. Jackie wants to please so much that he's become tight with that. I talked to him yesterday and again today. Jawad—I think it's been tough on Jawad. He comes in with a lot of expectations, and it's been hard on him, but I really like how he's reacted. He came back, didn't sulk, and he works hard in practice. He realizes that he's got some areas to improve upon.
"I told him this: 'Vince Carter didn't start as a freshmen here.' So a lot of good players didn't start as freshmen. But that doesn't mean he's not going to have an important role. He has a very important role. I want him to play the four. It gets him around the basket more. I think he's a little more comfortable there, right now.
"Jason Can play the three spot offensively, because he's done it his whole career. Hopefully, that makes Jawad more comfortable. I really do like the way he's responded. A lot of guys could pout and complain, but he hasn't. He has come out and worked really hard in practice and gotten better."
He has also looked confused out on the floor at times. Do you think that's the case?
"If you miss some shots, teams back off of you. There was one play against Davidson where he was at the top of the key, and he was open. He looked to pass, then the crowd reacted, then he shot it. That's confusion and lack of confidence. That's a lot of those things that you go through as a freshman.
"It's exciting to say, as a freshmen, 'OK, I'm coming in and I'm going to play at North Carolina.' But they are coming in and needing to perform—all three at once—and I think that's hard. Joe [Forte] came in, and he had Ed in the backcourt and Brendan up front, and Kris and Cape. He just had to fit into a slot. If he didn't perform well, the other guys could step up—those kinds of things.
"With these guys, there's probably more on them right now, and there's not as much experience around them as there were for some other freshmen in years past, but we'll get through that. It's been hard, and maybe I should have delt with it in a different way.
What have you asked from your seniors at this point, since this has always been a senior-oriented program?
"I talked to them both yesterday. They have been great. After the Davidson game, Kris and I were in the gym until about midnight and just talking. I talked to Jason that night. I talked to Jason the next night. The neat thing about them is they aren't pointing fingers at anybody. They are taking it on their shoulders. I think Jason has realized—much like Michael realized the pressure he was putting on himself his junior year—he is putting it on himself, and he says, 'Hey, I need to come out and have fun and play.'
"They are really, as a team, and we as a staff, are taking it on our shoulders collectively and looking ourselves in the mirror, and saying that we need to work, we need to get better, and we need to stay the course. And we will get better, and we will stick together.
"It's easy—I told Jason and Kris—to lead when things are going well. Beginning of practice, everybody can be a great leader. You win 18 games in a row, it's easy to lead then. The challenge is to lead when you are going through some adversity, and I think that Jason and Kris have done a good job of leading through this difficult stretch."
What are some of the things that Will has done to get the starting spot against IU?
"Will has played extremely hard. I don't know if there is anyone who plays harder than Will. He is a very good outside shooter. He does the little things that you appreciate as a coach—setting screens, diving on loose balls, and those kinds of things. He's a team player and a capable scorer."
Would you have envisioned him starting before the season?
"I knew he'd be in the rotation. I knew he'd be in the top six or seven players. You come into a season, and it's fun to speculate who is going to start, but it doesn't surprise me."
What are the strengths of this team, and what are some areas where you need to improve?
"It's probably easier for me, after two losses to say what we need to improve on. I think our defense did get better from the first game to the second. We need to continue to work on our defense, our ball-handling, and shooting. We've got to take better care of the basketball, and we've got to make shots. Those are the areas we need to improve on. I thought we did a better job with shot selection in the second game, and that's an area that we needed to improve on and continue to need to improve on
"I was pleased with the number of 3-point shot attempts. I was pleased that we didn't just take the first open 3-pointer against Davidson. That and the defense I was pleased with from the Davidson game."
You mentioned Melvin might be the freshman best equipped to handle this whole situation. What is it about him?
"He just has a very gregarious personality—very upbeat, very positive, very outgoing, very confident."
You've tried to keep your players pumped up. Who have you reached out to and talked to over the last several days to try to make sure you are where you need to be?
"I've talked to Coach Smith so much. I talk to him pretty much almost every day. Coach Williams called me the other night, and he is great to think of me. He said, 'Hey, you need to hang in there. You think that's tough. My first year at Kansas, I lost eight in a row,' and that was coming off the year where they won the national championship.
"Coaches understand. Coaches have been there.
"And there are so many things that can help you put it in perspective, wether it be your kids, or I've talked about losing a couple of friends in the World Trade Center attacks. There are so many things. We handed out some turkeys at Thanksgiving to the Ronald McDonald House and the homeless shelter. Michael Norwood called me—his daughter has been sick—and he said, 'Hey, it's a game.' There are people who can put things in perspective for you.
"But it is my life and my livelihood, and it is important to me, and this university is important to me, and all the former player who have played at this place. I want to put a team on the floor that people can be proud of. I'm proud of these kids the way they've hung together—their character. They've come back, and they've worked. Does that mean we'll win the game? No, but I think we'll be better than we were last week. And hopefully, we'll be better the next time we play. If we keep that attitude, eventually the dike will break for us."
You are trying to guide young players through this, but you are a young coach, yourself. To what degree does this weigh on you?
"There are times that—certainly a lot of times—that 25 years you'd say, 'Am I doing the right things? Am I saying the right things? Are we playing the right way?' But I've been coaching with Coach Williams for seven years, I played for Coach Smith for four, and I've coached through some tough times at Notre Dame, coached through some tough times last year, and I think you draw on your experiences.
"You control what you can control, and then you try to give up some control. That's hard to do as coaches, but I think you need to. Someone told me it's not a matter of if but a matter of when, and I believe that. You've got to keep working every day."
You said that when you took the job that you looked ahead to this year and said that you thought it would be a difficult year, given the personnel. People feel there was a break-down in the recruiting pipeline that resulted in this team. Do you feel that's the case—that you are missing some pieces that should be there?
"It would be nice to have Joe here and things like that, but I knew when I got the job that Joe would probably be gone at this point if he had another good year. I tried to prepare for that the best I can. Things go in cycles sometimes. We've got some very good players here, and we just need to come together and believe in each other—which I think we do—and hopefully improve every day on the floor. At some point, we hope that will click for us. That's the best way I can answer that question."
Speaking of Joe, have you talked to him? He's struggling too. He just got back on the active list, and he's only been in one game. Have you had any conversations with him?
"Yes, I called him about a week ago or a week and a half ago. He called me back, and I just was checking on him to see how he was doing. It's a big adjustment for him going from college to the pros. I asked him what the biggest adjustment was, and he said, 'Being alone.' As a pro, you're alone so much. In college, you have the dorms and your teammates. In the pros, you're playing with grown men who have families, and they live miles apart from each other. That's been a big adjustment for him.
"And then Coach O'Brien was having him play the two and the one spots, and they put him now strictly at the one so he wouldn't have to learn two spots. Hopefully that will pay off for him, but I asked him how Paul Pierce was doing, and he started laughing. I said, 'Paul's pretty good, huh?' and he said, 'Yeah, he's pretty good.'
"It's a big adjustment, just like Jawad's adjusting to college. Joe's got to adjust to the pros, and he will. He's a talented kid who is a smart basketball player. It's a whole different deal."
Did you get the sense that maybe he thinks he made a mistake? I know you could have used him.
"No, I didn't ask him that. I didn't get that sense, and I wouldn't go there. Even if I sensed it, you can't do anything about it. Don't even go there with it because you make decisions and you can't look back. You've got to keep going forward.
"I just wanted to let him know that I'm there for him, thinking about him. Today is Brendan's birthday, so I called Brendan and left a message for him. I want those guys to know that I'm thinking about them, and I hope they're doing well."