We'll need more patience. I think patience is going to be the key for me and my staff. We have a young team and we have a very tough schedule.
They were young last year, so what did you learn from last season?
I thought, at times, I showed pretty good patience. I didn't go into the locker room and rip the team after losses. We have a heck of a challenge ahead of us this year. It's tough as a coach sometimes because you want to be positive and have high expectations, but you also want to paint a realistic picture for the media and the fans.
But I like this group. I like our chemistry. I like our leadership. Will and Jon have both shown great leadership. I like how Jawad has been listening. We talk a lot about listening and to me listening is as much a talent as running and jumping. These guys are a group that listens. They play unselfish and they play hard. And hopefully that results in winning basketball games.
Paint us a realistic picture …
I can't tell you in terms of hard numbers, but hopefully you'll see a group of guys that can pass and shoot the ball, speed and quickness and hopefully intelligence and toughness. I think we have some tough kids. But in terms of will we win "X" amount of games? I can't answer that – I hope we win them all.
With the streaks gone, is there pressure to get back and start again?
I don't feel that. No one will put more pressure on me than me. I want to win – I want to win every game. But I'm not coaching for streaks. I'm coaching to get our guys better. I'm coaching to win the next game. The better job you recruit and the better job you coach, the better chance you'll have of starting a streak. Streaks are the result of [consistent] recruiting and coaching.
How do you handle such a young team?
One thing is that I wish we had an easier start to our schedule, but those are things we can't control. I think you have to find small victories, whether they be in practice or in games – and really praising. I've got two young kids, and I'm in the driveway with my son I tell him that's a really good job of sharing with your sister. As Coach Smith always says, ‘praise the acts you want repeated.' You've got to do that and take baby steps before you take big steps. So I've got to -- through the course of a practice, scrimmages or games -- find things they do well and harp on that. Not worry about the wins and losses at first as much as confidence. Confidence is an important thing, and I think that's the greatest gift a coach can give a player.
The start of last season was a major set back to confidence --
I think that was huge. To start the season losing to teams that if we play well we should win – I think the kids felt the weight of the world on their shoulders. This season, hopefully, will be different because they don't have anything they have to live up to. Now the kids have a chance to get the program headed in the right direction.
How will Felton handle the point guard spot as a freshman --
I think he's very good, but I haven't coached him in a practice or a game yet. How do you react when there are 22,000 in the stands and the game is on national TV? I think he'll react very well. Phil Ford was surrounded by Walter Davis, Kupchak, LaGarde – and Kenny Smith was surrounded by Jordan, Perkins, Daugherty, good players that were experienced. When Raymond's on the floor he might be surrounded by freshmen and sophomores. We'll see how he reacts – I like the look in his eye. Here's a high profile prospect who says ‘lets work on this' and he tried and he fails at first, but he keeps working at it. A lot of kids don't want to make those changes.
Based on what you've seen from skill work, can you see three freshmen starting?
I don't want to speculate on that. We have some very talented players. Five upperclassmen. Sean May is our most experienced post player. But everyone will have a chance to start. You've got to earn that every day. After two weeks of work, I've got an idea of who has played well and who has worked hard. And they've all worked pretty hard. So we'll probably have some new guys starting.
On Damion Grant's injury problems this summer –
Damion and Sean – both. That's been a big concern. Damion hadn't done a full preseason workout and didn't play much during the summer time. He had an Achilles tendon problem and has not done the conditioning – underwater treadmill in the pool – and Sean has done the same thing. Sean has what they call ‘jumper's knee.' I never had that problem because I couldn't jump. Damion and Sean will play [in Friday night's practice]. I'm concerned because here you're talking about our two biggest players, so it's very important that they stay healthy.
How do you overcome having a small, young frontcourt?
You spread the floor a little bit, double post some, box out like heck and our guards are really going to have to rebound. We could be a very small team and that's my third main concern. No. 1 is youth, 2 is the schedule and 3 is our size.
Assuming they are healthy, all six freshmen will play?
Yeah, I think so. We'll see how they react to practice. They all can, though some are more prepared to help than others.
After last year, anything you think you need to do different…?
There's probably a bunch of things. I don't think it's just one or two. I'd have to think more about it. Probably 5-10 that I've consciously gone over. I've talked to different coaches about the different between the art of coaching and the science of coaching. The art is dealing with the kid and science is the X's and O's.
I think I've developed some thick skin. Don't want to pat myself on the back, but I think I showed some toughness. I think I was able to put things in perspective. I think I grew – it forced me to grow. And sometimes growing can be painful. Sometimes, you have to look in the mirror and ask yourself some tough questions – that's hard. I'm proud, hopefully I grew and that's all I can ask for. People said "You will probably learn more this year coach than you would if you had a great record." I would rather take the great record. That learning stuff is tough.
On the toughness of the ACC --
I think it's the best league in the country. It's always been the best league. There have been years where other conferences have good teams, but no one has a nine-team league that plays a round robin. That's the toughest thing, playing at campus arenas and tough places to play. The attention, the rivalry and it's hard to beat a team twice. Coaching in this league is superior. Try playing against the lower half of our league on the road every year and it's tough. We were No. 1 and we lost at Clemson. Duke lost at Florida State last year.
Is David Noel a great athlete that needs to learn the game or can he play basketball?
David Noel can play basketball. I wouldn't have offered him a scholarship his second year. I wouldn't have committed that to him if he couldn't play basketball. I watched him on tape several times and watched him in person several times. I saw a guy who can pass, handle, and shoot the basketball at high speeds with a great deal of quickness and, I think, some toughness. He's one of those kids that people didn't talk about because he was playing football, but David Noel can play.
On how it will look to have UNC ranked low in preseason polls. Does that give you something to prove?
Yeah, anybody who is competitive looks at that and says, "Let's show them." By the same token, if I'm sitting in [the media's] seat or if I'm a fan, it's probably realistic. But as a coach or a player, we're going to show you otherwise. I can understand that. No juniors, two seniors who haven't played a whole lot and sophomores, none of which made all-league last year. And six freshmen. We believe they are talented freshmen, but I was a McDonald's All-American, Clyde Drexler wasn't. John Stockton, same thing. He wasn't a McDonald's All-American. You have to do it on the court.
How long did last year stick with you?
It'll stick me with forever. The Indiana loss in ‘84 still sticks with me, the LSU loss at home still sticks with me, the Indiana loss in the Final Four still sticks with me, the Georgia loss still sticks with me. Played the Long Island championship in eight grade, and lost, and that still sticks with me. I'm serious, I don't like to lose.
You've got to learn from it. You've got to get better – I've got to get better.
I made a mistake last year when a reporter asked me if I wish I had more experience. I said, "Yes." I was just being honest, because with more experience I'll be better. I was being honest. Who wouldn't want more experience? I think some people took it wrong. I still think I'm a good coach. I would love to, all of a sudden, be blessed with 30-40 years of experience. I'd be that much better. I think that I have to learn.
What is the upshot of all the discussions in the spring, the transfers, and how does that shape this season?
I think that kids are here that want to be here. And that's what I want: kids that want to be here and want to be a part of this program. The kids who left this place – kids have left here before, have left Duke, State. Kids have left Kansas. People get divorces. That happens. We wish them well. They were good kids, but I have a team that wants to be here and wants to work hard. Hopefully we can come closer as a result of last year's adversity.
What has it been like for you as you get closer to the season?
I'm excited, but also anxious. You want to see what you have. I'm excited. I'm anxious to see what is under the tree. I'm excited but also anxious. …
This year in the ACC -
Duke lost a lot. Maryland lost a lot. I can't control what I can't control. The key position on the court is the point guard spot. Steve Blake is a great point guard. Chris Duhon is a great point guard. We don't have an experienced point guard.