Tell me your impressions of your kids right now-
"The nature of the game, the business or the culture, I was involved in one individual workout this fall, I watched one other individual workout this fall, because the calendar is just so ridiculous. From Sept. 9 to Oct. 5 is the recruiting period. And because the recruiting calendar itself has gotten moved up so quickly, the fall period has turned into an extremely important period in my eyes. So I was in 19 states. I would go out and Coach [Joe] Holladay would come out and meet me, Coach [Steve] Robinson would come out and meet me and then he would go home. So what it boiled down to is that I was gone. Sometimes that's not bad. My own individual feeling is that when I'm here I try to get the assistants to do a lot of it, because I dominate practice so much. They hear my voice so much, I think it's important for the guys to get the respect of the other coaches and hear a different voice there. I don't have that kind of information to answer your question. I think the conditioning – the mile run that we did – I was mildly disappointed at the mile run. The test on the basketball court that we did, I was very encouraged. Messing with 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds, it depends on what day it is. I don't like for preseason conditioning or individual workouts to color my feelings before the season starts; I want them to show me out there on the court when the season starts."
With more depth, do you see this team playing your style much more effectively?
"I hope so. The depth issue is something that will help us. With the three additions that we have, I think we'll be able to do some things. We'll have more people that we can run out onto the court. I'm hoping that after a year of our defensive drills, we'll be better. I did ask them at one point last year, ‘How did I get dumb so quickly?' In 2002, [Kansas] led the whole nation in defensive field goal percentage. I think that is the single best stat to show how successful you are on defense. The number of points that the other team scores is ridiculous, because you can hold the ball and cut that down. But the quality of the other team's shot is extremely important. If you don't let them have a very good shot…[our opponents] shot 37.8 percent against us in 2002, and last year they shot 45 percent. We did the same drills. I'm really hoping that will transfer into a big improvement for us, because we really need that."
Do you sense that the players get along better now?
"I'm pretty open. When I felt like we've had some problems like that, we've just addressed it. I think they're more comfortable with how we do that. It's human nature to be selfish, and it's human nature in some ways to be jealous. I think in coaching a basketball team or having a big family, it's the same way – some people think someone else gets preferential treatment or whatever. So until you go through the whole thing and realize, ‘Hey, that's not what I thought it was,' you'll have those doubts and then you remove those. They also understand how important being together as a whole team does transfer to more success. I think they understand that a heck of a lot more now."
What was you're reaction when you first saw Damion and the weight he lost?
"I had already been told, so it wasn't a shock. It's not like I walked in and he went from ‘Fat Albert' to ‘Olive Oil.' I had already been told that he had lost the weight. I had been told that he had done that and that he had been participating in the pickup games at a much higher level than he had before. I talked to him about it and I've been really impressed by what he has done from a conditioning standpoint. Last year, he hadn't done anything. He did a little bit more than you guys. He didn't do the 12-minute run, he didn't do the two ‘20s,' he looked great leaning over a bicycle and that was it. So now that he's gone through the entire conditioning deal – he didn't get his ‘tough time,' but he made all his other times and he didn't have to come back and do it a second time. I'm very encouraged by that and the physical conditioning that he is in. I'm extremely encouraged by the focus that he appears to have. And then, hopefully, I'll be extremely encouraged by what he does on the court. But I don't expect anything, because I've never seen anything. I'm not trying to be harsh, but I don't know if there is a single practice last year that he went through the whole practice. So I've never seen anything to have any expectations for. I'm anxious to see what's there."
How far are your guys required to run?
"Just six-and-a-half laps of a 440-meter track. That's not that big of a deal, but you like our guys that can make over seven and you like it if somebody makes eight. I've had three or four guys to make eight in the past. Six-and-a-half is not that difficult, I made it at 42. I think Quentin [Thomas] did better than anybody else."
Is defensive rebounding and not giving up putbacks going to be better this year?
"When you go back and look at the film from last year, we didn't give up that many offensive rebounds for buckets. Where we hurt ourselves was getting beat by dribble penetration and giving up wide open 12- and 15-footers. The team did a great job of boxing out, I can say that. If you look at the stats from two years ago, they were out-rebounded by six rebounds a game. Last year we out-rebounded the other people by four rebounds a game. I'll miss that a little bit, but it was about a 10-rebound swing. Last year at this time, Jawad [Williams] was healthy, so you can't prepare for what might happen in a season with him with the broken nose and the concussion. We've got to stay healthy. If you don't stay healthy, you don't keep that depth. If we do that, we can be better. I think we can be a much better offensive rebounding team than we are. Sean [May] is a great offensive rebounder, but 90-percent of those are his own misses. If he starts making a few more doggone shots, people won't be talking about his offensive rebounding so much. I want him to be able to get to the board when other people miss. I want Jawad to get much more effective on the offensive backboard. I expect Marvin [Williams] to be a great offensive rebounder. So the defensive side of it – the boxing out – we did really well."
At what point does Jackie Manuel get the freedom to take more outside shots?
"I'm going to let him shoot them early; he's just got to make them. If he makes them, he gets to shoot more later. If you're not a great shooter, I don't think the 3-point shot is the cure all for everything in the world. It's just something you guys get a chance to talk about. You still don't get a chance to get the other team in foul trouble. If you don't make 60-percent of them from beyond the arc, then you shouldn't shoot them. I'm not concerned about Jackie Manuel. I guarantee if Jackie is the biggest point of concern that I've got, then the only person better than me is Santa Claus. I'm not concerned about Jackie shooting the ball."
How have you seen him develop different parts of his game?
"He bought into [my system] quicker and he produced quicker. During the offseason he worked extremely hard. Coach Holladay worked with him on his shooting. My whole thing with him is, ‘Don't forget those other things that made me love you, and try not to do those things that made me not love you.' I think Jackie's going to have a great, great year. If we can play a little faster, be a little more aggressive on the defensive end of the floor, I think all of those things are going to help Jackie maybe more than anybody else on our team."
What's No. 1 on the list of things you want the team to do better?
"We've got to guard people better. We can't let people break us down on the dribble as much as we were last year. Challenge the other team's shot, so the other team isn't going to shoot 45-percent against us, or whatever it was. We've got to buy into the fact that we can beat people by what we do on the defensive end of the floor, and not just what we do on the offensive end. There is no question that would be No. 1. Underneath that you would have 50 other parts, or you could list them 2, 3, 4, and so on. The defensive end of the floor is where we've got to do it."
What are your thoughts on the ACC and how everybody is talking about how great it's going to be?
"I think that it is. I think you're going to have five teams picked in the Top 15. I think that is legitimate, even though we know it's not going to end that way. Because you can't, because you end up beating each other up and you have more losses. I've been in the league 10 years as an assistant when I thought it was the strongest league. When I went to Kansas, in my mind, ACC basketball slipped a great deal during certain periods. When the ACC only has three teams make the tournament, that's eye-opening. But last year and this year, boy, nobody wants any part of the ACC, I don't care which team you're on."
Do you remember the '86 season? Do you think this could be a year like that?
"That was a real good year. For us, I think that's the year Steve Hale had the collapsed lung, so that really hurt us at the end. I would have to sit down and look to see if it reminds me of that year or not, but I can't think of many years when there have been five, maybe six. I can't remember any year where that's happened. You're talking about five or six teams in the Top 15, and deservedly so."
How do you see the playing time being divided up between the point guards?
"Playing time is not on my Top 100 list; they'll take care of that. At times last year when we had to give Raymond [Felton] a break – when he got in foul trouble – we had to put in Melvin [Scott], and there was a guy who was not a true point guard. I will be surprised if I have to put Melvin in for Raymond this year at all. There's not a lot of playing time for the fourth point guard. Raymond, Quentin and Wes [Miller] will get the playing time decided themselves over the next five weeks."
What have you learned about Melvin Scott and what do you expect from him?
"Melvin had some big time games for us shooting the basketball and I hope he continues to shoot the basketball, and I want him to shoot it effectively for us. He had a bad stretch run during those last seven or eight games last year. I'm sure his shooting percentage went way down. And if you're a shooter, you can't have those kinds of things. I want to make sure that he doesn't have those kinds of spells, especially at such an important time. I think he'll be a better defender and a better ball handler for the extra work we put him through for the times that he did have to play the point. So my expectations for him will be to do the same things he did last year, except not having to be the backup point, but to do the other things we asked him to do last year and do them better."
Were the last 18 months the busiest time in your life?
"Yes, no question. I believe when you start that second round it's so much easier. But since April 14 of this year, it hasn't slowed down any for me. Part of it was the Olympic thing was so consuming for 36 days. You've got to make that up somewhere else. Some of the nights this fall when I have been home, there are a lot of nights I've been at the office until 10 or 11 o'clock at night. I've never gotten to the point of having a bed put in; I'm not going to go that far. But I'm still trying to catch up. I've got folders on my desk from people that have written me notes from four or five months ago and I haven't been able to get back in touch with them. Those are the kinds of things that have had to wait. Those things that I've hopefully tried to be very meticulous about – when people ask me questions, I try to respond."
What are your expectations for Marvin Williams?
"To play his butt off. I haven't put him out there and told him he's going to be a four man or a five man. I haven't said he's got to get this number of points or rebounds. I expect him to try his rear end off. He's a very gifted youngster. He's the kind of guy that can make me a better basketball coach. After three weeks of practice, I'll be able to give you a better idea as to how he is progressing. You hear this all the time, but it's true with him: He's going to be a big-time player, but he's already a bigger time kid. You just can't be any nicer of a kid than he is."
Talk about the perseverance of Melvin, Jackie and Jawad-
"I even challenge the guys in preseason conditioning and tell the guys, ‘You haven't gone through what these three guys have.' These three guys have gone through what no one has. They've paid a heck of a price. For this year to be the kind of year that they want it to be, everybody has got to do everything they can. Everyone else has to be able to make sacrifices, to be more disciplined, to be more organized, to be more attentive and have more accountability. Now they have to, also. Those three kids' dreams of what their college careers were going to be like have not materialized yet. I'm really hoping that it will. Here's also three guys, who at the end of May, will have their degrees in a four-year period, and that's pretty impressive, too."
Do you have any long term concerns about Sean May's conditioning after playing for the USA this summer?
"No. Sean worked really hard when Kelvin Sampson had practices for those 15 days and Sean worked really hard for us in practice and in his individual work. But once you're away from that, nobody relaxes any better than Sean. … I'm really concerned about his body, but not of any burnout or anything like that."
What did Rashad learn from his time at the USA Trials?
"He made some mistakes and I think he knows that and realizes the mistakes he made. It was a difficult time period for him. What I tell him is just to realize your own mistakes, acknowledge that they're your own mistakes, try not to make the same mistakes again but other than that just move on. First two days he's the best player there and he got cut – so you've got to learn from that and I think he did. We talked during the time it was going on, after and we've talked about it a little more since he returned and I got back."
Are you more comfortable here now?
"Everything is not a panic for everybody around me, it's not a panic for the players … a guy hits the ball in golf and hits a terrible one and drops the ball and hits a mulligan – it's the same guy but he's just a heck of a lot more experienced because he hit the first one so badly – well that's what it is for us. We're more experienced so they understand what I'm going to ask for and most of the time understand it before I have to say it. … to me everything is a lot better, but even last year I tried to not get caught up in it being my first year back. I don't think I did get caught up in it – I was just trying to coach a basketball team. You never get it perfect, you're always going to have the glitches but it was a lot smoother and I didn't get caught up in it being my first year back …"
But leaving Kansas was hard for you and that lingered …
"That still lingers until those guys leave. I started recruiting Wayne Simien in the seventh grade. I'll always be a Kansas fan but I won't ever be as big a Kansas fan as I am now with all those kids on that team that I've included. Everybody on their roster last year was a kid I recruited – even the two walk-ons . But by golly I'm the coach at North Carolina and that takes precedence over everything. When Coach Smith was coaching at North Carolina and I was at Kansas I was the biggest North Carolina fan in the world but I didn't skip practice to watch a Carolina game. In that viewpoint it is something that will always be there but with each and every year it lessens."
Is there anything style-wise you may change …?
"As long as we can continue to recruit the personnel that fits it, we'll stick with it ... But there are unique teams and unique individuals in this league that you can't say ‘This is the way I'm going to do it and I'm not going to change.' It's something we will continue to look at … sometimes the personnel on the other team doesn't allow you to do that. … I hope that I'm never married into one thing."
What is going to make the team play more consistently like a team this year?
"The difference is that it was much fewer times on the offensive end of the court as the season went along. But on the defensive end you've got to play five guys moving in unison every time the ball moves and that's where we didn't do as good a job. The idea of one guy getting more shots and one guy getting less shots – they handled that pretty doggone well. So, the selfishness on the offensive end is not a big deal – the individualism was on the defensive end of the floor or in the locker room off the court and those kind of things seeped in and made it more difficult for them to be a really close knit team. I think the kids do enjoy each other more and if I'm still sitting here talking about playing as a team and that we've got a bunch of individuals then two things have happened – one, is I'm not doing a good job and one of the reasons is I should have run somebody off. That's the bottom line. You've got to live with certain things during certain time periods. Last year Sean May didn't sprint up and down as much as I wanted him to, but I needed him to be in there for 35 minutes during the game and when we get it to where I want to be and if he doesn't sprint up and down the court he can come and sit with me. I do think this University hired me to try to win as many basketball games as we can win. And it was my feeling that it was better to keep Sean in there. And I don't mind using Sean as an example, he can handle it. I thought the University hired me to try and win as many games as I could and get the program going again the right way and where we want it to be. It's easier to not put up with those things when you've got other players and then you let the bench take care of it."
How have you seen Raymond change the pace of his game to pull it back a bit and let his teammates keep up with him?
"It's a good question. I think Raymond does have tremendous speed with the basketball and I want him to go even faster. But I always add those two words: ‘under control.' I don't care how fast, medium or slow you go, at some time you have to make a decision. Making that decision is the most important thing. If you go as fast as Raymond Felton can go, when you get there to me, your decisions are easier because it's four-on-two or three-on-one. If you go medium speed, there're going to be five guys …everybody's going to be there waiting. I want him to go as fast as he can possibly go and still make that good decision under control. And we want Raymond to shoot the ball better; there's no question. But I'm even more concerned about making better decisions. That, to me, is going to have a much greater impact on our team than just shooting the ball like everybody else wants to talk about."