I'm more intense. When we play pickup now we're more serious. When we're in the weight room we're working even harder. Going through that last year definitely [motivates us].
What do you think you can do to avoid what happened last year and make this a better season?
Just go out and play and work extra hard. What we did last year, just work harder – in the weight room, on the court, on the floor – just work and stick together. That's the key for us.
Is your confidence shaky from last year or are you more comfortable?
I feel more comfortable. Getting that one year under your belt is important on the collegiate level because of the mental aspect and this year I feel more comfortable. I feel like I've been here and after what we went through last year, I feel that if we can overcome that we can go through anything.
When Jawad and Jackie were considering leaving, were you talking to them?
I was telling those guys that you can't run away from problems. You've got to deal with them and try to make things better. I told them we're in this together. We came in together why not stay together. We have to fight through this. We wanted to come here so we've got to deal with the ups and downs.
Do you feel they're fully on board now?
Yeah, they're totally on board. We were a little rattled last year, as freshmen, and we didn't expect it to be like that last year. And I think that was the key to them reacting like that. Now as we talk and mature, they're in it with me and we're in it to win.
After [the turmoil] in the spring, how is life different now?
I think we're communicating better and we're listening better. We're not afraid to speak up. Our communicating skill are better we just understand each other and listen.
Were you, as freshmen, afraid to speak up?
Yeah, because we weren't used to a new coach and were a little afraid to say something. It's about establishing a better relationship with Coach.
Your impressions of the freshmen?
Oh, man, those guys – they're ballers. They're confident, they're eager to learn, they look up to us – and that's what I like about them.
Are you able to impart anything to them to help them avoid the freshmen pitfalls?
Like the things I went through last year. I told them ‘you make mistakes, don't worry, play ball and we're here for you.' When they first came in, we took them out to eat and took them under our wing, as little brothers. Jason did that for us last year, and Kris. This team now we're even younger, so we know we're going to need to bond quickly and be together as one for us to be successful on the floor. Those guys are like little brothers to us.
With half the team being freshmen, you're sort of forced into a bit of a leadership role …
We have to show those guys what it's about. We've got a year under our belt, we know what it's like – losing – and we don't want to go through that anymore. We don't want them to go through what we went through last year. So I think it's on our hands to help them and lead them.
Have you gotten any indication of what position you'll be playing in the backcourt?
I know I'm going to play some "2." And I know I'm going to help with the point guard. I just want to get out there and play. I'm ready for the season to start.
You think you'll be more comfortable and confident if you're not forced to play the point this year?
I'm a scorer. I pass the ball, but on the wing is where I was my whole high school career. I knew coming in I'd have to play some "1," it's not foreign to me, but my natural position is the "2." At the next level I know I'll have to play the point. I just want to do whatever the team needs me to do.
What did you work on this summer?
Ball handling, getting my strength, confidence, shooting the ball. I just went out and played every day knowing what I needed to work on.
Any particular aspects of your game you were looking to improve?
Ball handling and decision making. Those were the two keys.
Have you noticed the effects of your increased strength in pickup games, playing against people like Shammond Williams?
Now Shammond's not scoring on me. I'm defending guys very well, getting stronger so guys can't bump me off or shove me. I'm still there with them.
Do you feel any pressure on you this year with the freshmen challenging you for playing time?
Absolutely not. I know how to play ball. I got a year under my belt and I'm confident. I love competition, so that's not a problem.
Talk about Jon Holmes' role in the backcourt …
He knows the game of basketball and he's experienced. He's going to help a lot this year, helping Raymond and myself.
Who has helped you the most with learning the point guard position?
Jon and David Cason, our assistant coach who played point guard. Protecting the ball with your body, being aggressive with the ball.
What improvements have you noticed in Jawad's game in pickup this summer?
He's stronger, much more aggressive. He just dominates guys. His defense is getting better, shot selection is better – just more aggressive. Bigger guys he can take off the dribble and smaller guys he can post up.
What about the other guys in pickup games, specifically the freshmen. Can you talk about Sean May …
He has great hands, and is fast to be that big. Like a Lonny Baxter – not trying to compare. If you throw it down, he's going to catch it. He's got nice touch, he can pass – that's what shocked me, that he passes like a guard – he runs the floor and doesn't complain. That's what I like about Sean.
Thoughts on Raymond Felton?
I love that guy. He's a great player. He's aggressive, he's strong – that's what I like about him. You don't see that from a lot of point guards coming out of high school. He understands the game.
David Noel is not talked about as much as some of the other freshmen. What can you say about him?
He's an athlete. He can play. I think he's going to surprise a lot of people because they're not talking about him, but his name will ring bells after this season.
How about Damion Grant …
You can't teach height and he's seven-feet tall, is big and strong. He's about Kris Lang's size as a freshman. His presence is just … is fearing. He's so big, blocks shots and you give it to him he can just turn and dunk it. He's going to be good. … He's funny. Big with a sense of humor, soft spoken – is a cool guy. His game speaks loudly, though, he'll dunk on you. Block shots, get rebounds and dunk. That's all we really need from him.
Do you feel like you guys were rushed onto the court last year and are now rushed into being leaders?
Yeah. We were put out there and just had to react. This year, we're rushed again because we're sophomores and were leaders along with Will and Jon. So, we're definitely rushed to be leaders and mature quickly.
Is this something you ever envisioned having to do so early?
I never thought that we'd go through what we went through last year. I thought it would be a slower process. But we were just rushed to mature. And it'll make us better players and stronger mentally.