It has been a learning process getting used to the NBA, the rules and things different from college. It was a great year. I had a lot of fun… Hopefully, I can continue to stay there and continue to contribute.
Think back to your senior year in high school when I talked to you at your high school conference basketball tournament. It was the point in time when you had accepted a football scholarship and you were getting some interest from schools as a basketball player and your high school coach, Coach Beckwith, said that if you wanted to play basketball you'd need to apply for financial aid and/or take out a loan to follow your heart. Things have paid off and it looks like you are where you want to be. Talk about that journey you've made.
It was like you said, I went with my heart. I went with my heart through the entire process. Even when I got here to Carolina and started to play and feel that I really belonged here there were things that happened that made me feel like I wanted to go back to football. But I just followed my heart and continued to pray. God has continued to bless me in every way possible. I continued to look to the sky and it has worked out for me.
Think back to the low point of the season your senior year after the loss at Virginia when you seemed to be carrying the emotional load for the entire team. From the struggles you got stronger. Tell me what lessons you learned and how you used it this year.
For me, that whole process that I went through around the Virginia game was a mental stage [of development]. It was something that I needed and something that I needed even more my first year in the NBA. You are coming from a team where you were 'the man,' and you go to a team that is not winning and you are sitting on the bench the entire time. It is kind of difficult to deal with. The NBA is not all about X's and O's; a lot of it is mental. You have to think the game a lot more and [consider] your surroundings. My senior year helped me out a lot to deal with my year in the NBA.
In interviews during your time at Carolina there were times when you said that you came from a home that was always filled with love but that you didn't always have a lot things that other families had. Tell me what it feels like to be able to do some things for your family financially.
Like I said, God has continued to bless us by bounds and bounds. We continue to give him the thanks because we know where we came from. We were never to a point that we were going to be out on the street, but we didn't always have all the things that we needed. Now that we are to the point where--even though it's not a lot--we are comfortable now. I take great pride in being able to work hard and provide for my mother. I just bought her a new car. Those are some things I wanted to do when I first made it to the league. Next will be her house. God is going to continue to bless us, and we are going to continue to give him the praises. Everything will work out.
I've talked to so many Carolina fans--too many to count--who have told me over and over that the most fun they have had watching Carolina basketball was your senior year because you were underdogs, so many people thought you couldn't have a great year, but you all refused to accept that and went out to be as good as you thought you could be--far better than others thought you could be.
That is something that as far as me being the senior leader, that was big because I didn't grow up where everything was easy. There were many times growing up that I was the underdog, but we always managed to excel and to overcome. What I wanted to instill into my senior year's team was that it doesn't matter what people say about you because if you follow your heart and believe in yourself then it doesn't matter what anybody else said. With God, we can accomplish anything. I just tried to instill that. We did a great job, and we had a blast, we had fun, we fought every game. We had our struggles, and we had our good times. Even though it didn't end quite the way we wanted it to end, I still feel it was my most fun time at Carolina other than the championship year.
I want to touch on the "Carolina family" and how guys come back in the summer. You are part of that family and now you are back. Tell me about that.
It is great to be able to come back and see all the guys, to see the younger guys, see all the guys you played with, see all the guys that came before us. Just to have that closeness and to be a family like we call ourselves is big because you get that sense of brotherhood among each other. We chill, we hang out, we do a lot of things together, and that is something everybody cherishes who comes through this program.
Have you played any pick-up ball with any of the guys this summer?
We have been playing all week.
Give me a scouting report on what you are seeing from the guys on the team.
Everybody is great! (Laughs) They are not quite as good as our freshman class but they are all right--nah, just kidding. Nah, they are great. Tywon [Lawson] is awesome with the basketball, Wayne [Ellington] is a prolific scorer. You have guys like Deon Thompson who did a great job this year--even shocked me a little bit. You have Alex Stepheson and Will Graves, who is getting better and better by the day. All the guys continue to improve. Then you have Brandan [Wright] who is going to the NBA this year. They are a great [team], and they are going to do some great things. Hopefully, the other guys will stick around for a little bit longer and get a chance to experience what we experienced by putting that banner up there.
Whose game would you say has changed the most since the end of the season?
Deon has impressed me the most, honestly. All the other guys were highly recruited and things like that. Deon was definitely a pleasant surprise. Not everyone thought he could do some of the things he does. He's a big guy who has nice touch, great hands, kind of reminds me of Sean May a lot, but he is just a little more finesse than Sean.
He has lost 20 pounds since the Georgetown game--down to 235 from 255. How much more explosive does he look with the trimmer physique?
A lot more explosive. There are a couple times we have been out here in pickup where he just went up and dunked the ball, and I'm like, 'Ooh! I didn't think you could do that.' It's just one of those things. He's done a great job with his body. Jonas Sahration, our strength coach, is doing a great job of working with him.
You have been the leader, so you know what that is like. Who do you think is the leading candidate to be leader for the coming season on this team?
Honestly, I see Marcus Ginyard. He has done a great job as far as leading by example. That is something everybody needs. He isn't really outspoken, but he likes to joke a lot. I see him being the leader and stepping up this year… He goes out plays hard, he lifts hard, he plays pick-up hard. He does everything to the best of his ability. He has the potential to lead the rest of the guys just like I did and like guys before me have.