I think it started back this summer, at the end of the season. Will and I got together. We realized that we are going to be extremely young, and Will and I have to provide great leadership to the young guys. We have two seniors, but we have three pretty experienced sophomores that can help the freshmen out as well. It's going to be a total team effort, but it starts with Will and I.
A lot of guys left. Why did you decide to stick around when everyone else was leaving?
I just felt like all along, when I first committed here three or four years ago, this is where I was supposed to be. I love it here. I love the town. I love being a part of this university and wearing that jersey every day. I wanted to stick it out and help put this program back on the map, so to speak. It's still "North Carolina," but I wanted to be a part of the turn-around. Will and I feel like we have something to prove, and I want to go out on a great note.
Exactly, what happened last season?
I really don't know. It's hard to say that one thing was responsible for the season. We played a lot of young guys. I'm not sure. For some reason, things didn't work out for us. It seemed like we'd get on a roll and start playing well for a little while. The next thing you know, we're struggling. It seems like we could never get that rhythm down and could never get over the hump to get a few wins in a row to get things moving in the right direction. It would be hard to say there is only one thing.
In the spring there were people making a big deal about the relationship between the players and coaches and working on the environment. Did anything really come from those meetings? Does it matter that those things happened?
I think it was good in some respects because it cleared the air. Guys got things off their chests that they wanted to get taken care of and get worked out some of the problems they had in their minds -- maybe not problems, but stuff in the back of their minds that they wanted to address. I think it got everybody to the point where we're starting over and starting fresh. Once that stuff [happened], we were able to get started and move in the right direction late in the spring.
Do you feel like you are going to have to put people's minds at ease that things are OK in the program?
I think so. But I think people should be excited about this season. We have a hungry group of guys. We've only had a couple of workouts, but I can tell in our pickup games that there is a heightened sense of competitiveness out there. Guys are going at each other, playing hard, and working hard. We're not the tallest team and we're not the most experienced, but I think we'll be extremely competitive and play hard. I think people should be excited about that.
How much exposure have you had to the freshmen in terms of basketball?
I got a chance to play with them this summer a little bit before I went back to Indiana for a week. We've been back to campus for a week and a half, so we've been playing lots of pick-up and we've had individual work-outs. I've got a good taste of them, so far, and they've been very, very impressive.
It's possible that if this team does well, the freshmen will get some adulation that you didn't get last year. How will the rest of you feel if that happens? Will that create resentment, if that happens?
I don't think so. It's a total team effort, whether it's the guys that play the most minutes, or the guys who contribute in practice. It's a total team effort. That's up to the fans and the media who gets the credit and stuff like that, but we know that we are one unit. Every time we step on the floor, it's not just Will, or myself, or Raymond, or someone else going out there to win the game. It's a total team effort, 1-to-12, or 13, however many guys we have.
You are familiar with the tradition this place has. What was it like living through last season?
It was very difficult to go from a Final Four my freshman year and a successful sophomore year to last year, such a painful season, it was tough. There were times you'd wake up and think about our record and all the stuff in the papers and stuff like that, and the reality of the situation. Sometimes, it was hard to come to practice, sometimes hard to stay focused on trying to get better each day. It was a real test in adversity. It was tough.
I think it helped all of the returning players to grow stronger. I think it helped everybody, even the guys who left and the graduating seniors. When you come here, you don't think you're going to go through a season of 8-20 at North Carolina. But, it really makes you dig deep and grow as a person and a basketball player. Now, you can't go on like "OK, we're North Carolina." You have to get back to the basics.
No one knows how playing time will shake out, but if you don't get on the floor as much as you would like, is that something you can live with and can you lead in that situation?
For the last couple of years, it's been that way for me. It's just my mentality that I'm coming to practice every day [and playing hard], regardless of the situation. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't difficult, individually, but I'm playing with great teammates.
As far as being a leader, as a senior, having been to a Final Four, been through so many games, and been through a difficult season, the young guys, regardless of playing time, can still look to me or to Will as being experienced. We've been through it, regardless of whether we are on the floor or not. Hopefully, I can provide good leadership, regardless of playing time.