Operation BKB: Around the ACC, Part II

GREENSBORO, N.C. --- By now you've read plenty of preseason interviews with Tar Heel players. But what about the rest of the league? Inside Carolina talked with top players from around the conference at the ACC's Operation Basketball event to learn more about their teams ...

BEN McCAULEY, NC State

You struggled last year but turned it on during the ACC Tournament. How does that translate into what this team can do this year?

Obviously coming into this year, it's a lot different. We have a lot more confidence after seeing what we could do in the post season last year, it gives us a lot of confidence heading into this year.

We know that we can win those big time games against those big time teams. I feel like this year, we are one of those big time teams. We have four of five starters coming back and we have a Coach Lowe in his second year. We all know his style of play and we are all getting used to the way he wants us to run the offense and play basketball.

I definitely feel like we can be at the top of the ACC and there is no reason to doubt that. If you believe you can win some big time games and make your way to the top. There is nothing to stop you but yourself.

Rivalry with UNC and Duke.

Those games are going to be real heated games I think, down to the wire. Those two teams are great ball clubs, they have been doing well the past couple of years and I feel like those games will have a lot to do with the outcome of the ACC season.

During the ACC Tournament last year, he (Coach Lowe) said there was always one special thing that happens every year in this tournament. He said "why not us." We believed that and sure enough we took it to heart and we made it to the championship game. I think we showed what we could do.

What is it about Coach Lowe that makes you want to buy into what he says?

He's been through it all. Coach Lowe has National Championship and he knows what it takes. The fact that he's been through it all, it is pure. He is there 100% for us so why not be there on the floor 110% for him.

How long did it take to buy into Lowe's system?

To tell you truth, right away. When I sat down with him for the first time, he straight up told me, "I'm in this thing to win. I am here to win and I am going to do whatever it takes for you guys and I expect you to give 110% for me." Right away, just looking into his eyes and his big smile with those big white teeth, he got me hooked.

Do you see a difference in Coach Lowe from last year to this year?

Yea, there is a little bit of difference. One of the main things is when you shake his right hand, you see a ring on his finger – the '83 National Championship ring. Last year he really didn't have that out but this year, it's the 25th anniversary for the '83 team so he is more into this year. I think that's getting us all excited and it is getting us ready for this season to start.

Does he dangle the ring in front of you guys?

(laughs) He's got it on his right hand so when we shake his hand, we obviously see it.

JAMES MAYS, Clemson

What do you take from the start last year and then the collapse?

We have to learn from our mistakes. After we start off with such a great start, we have to learn how to continue that and keeping winning and not hit that wall and then go downhill from there.

Was there a moment last year when you felt like you hit a wall?

I mean, most teams get that first loss out of the way early in the season. We are 17 games into the season then we lose and we just kept losing close game after close game and it made us think more. At the end of the season, we pulled it together and made a run in the NIT.

Talk about your path to where you are today….you came from the hotbed of the ACC here with Carolina, Duke and State all around and then you got away to Clemson…

I'm from Garner, N.C. right outside of Raleigh so I grew up watching State, Carolina, Duke. All those places are thirty minutes from my house so the ACC was branded into my brain. It was a dream come true to play (in the ACC). I thought I had a chance to play locally but after I met Coach Purnell and his staff, it was a no brainer to go to Clemson.

Do you feel different when you play your hometown schools?

You always have that little extra because it's like a homecoming. When we play at State….I mean that's where I grew up and spent 18 years of my life, going through high school so I have a lot of friends around. Carolina is right down the street and then Duke it right there. It is homecoming to go back there and play those North Carolina schools because all my family and friends are there.

Did any of your family or friends want you to go to Carolina or State?

I have an uncle that's all Carolina. I have friends that are like "why didn't you go to NC State" or whatever. But I am really happy with the decision I made to go to Clemson. I feel like we are getting back to being a great program and getting better each day.

Talk about where you guys might fall in the conference race and then talk about the pretty much consensus number one, Carolina.

I feel like we will be in the top half of the ACC with the team we have coming back. Four of five starters coming back. We have a lot of depth and leadership.

Basically I think Carolina will be strong. They have outstanding athleticism and personnel. Last year, ten teams one 20 games so that shows what type of players and teams we have in the ACC. After Carolina, probably any team can fall anywhere.

DeMARCUS NELSON, Duke

Does this team still have a chip on its shoulder after how last season ended?

It is not something that is going to go away. When the coaches sense it's going away, we have to remind everybody (of the end of last season). For us to be really good, for us to be a championship level team, we have to play like that anyway. We always have to go out there with something to prove every time we step on the court. When we lose that feeling that there is something to prove, that's when we will be vulnerable to get beat. This is a new year with the new team so we all have something to prove collectively and individually.

Is this freshman group ready to play at the level you need them to play to win?

I think so. They all can play and they all work hard. They are still learning what it takes to play in our system defensively – the difference philosophies, where they are supposed to be – learning things like that. They've done a good job so far of learning and picking those things up. And then mixing our philosophies with their instincts. They've done a good job of that.

Are you embarrassed by last year?

Yea. We feel like we didn't maximize our potential last year. We feel like our team last year….we went 22-11 and we could have easily been 18-18 or .500 or whatever but we could have easily been 27-5 or so. There were six games that were decided on a bucket or two that came down to the last possession offensively or defensively. We prepared hard but we didn't to the tough things necessary to win last year and we took a lot of heat for that. People are not normally used to seeing those type things out of Duke team-not making winning plays at the end of games and all. All through the year, the magnifying glass was on us with people trying to break down our team to find out what was going on. Around town, listening to the fans and all….It was embarrassing and like a slap in the face really. It's Duke Basketball, one of the premier programs in the country every year and we didn't feel like we upheld that last year.

The thing about that is it was last year and this is a new year with a new team. Now we have the opportunity with the guys returning to really go out and prove to everyone that we are a good team and everyone from last year's team were good players. And we'll take the new guys and show them the ropes and then go out and win this year.

What excites you the most about this year?

It is exciting because I really enjoy playing with these guys. We have a good group and everyone can play, we are all talented. I'm excited about how we are playing and what we are going to do on the court. It's fun. Going to practices, working hard, working out, I can't wait to get the point where we can play games against other people.

Did you lose that spark last year?

I would say some of that fun was definitely lost. With the pressures of winning and the pressure that we put on ourselves to win. The pressure to figure out why we dropped a lot of games last year. We have to get back to having fun and competing hard.

Was chemistry an issue?

I don't think team chemistry was an issue. We just had, I think, a lack of collective toughness last year. In every point of the game, there are plays that decide the games…..usually it's late in the game…..we were used to making those plays to win games, and we didn't make those plays. Those plays were taking the charge, grabbing the tough rebound or diving on the floor for a loose ball that decides the game. We didn't do a good job of learning how to win close games last year. We've worked hard at that already…game situations, simulating game situations during practice and learn how to win. Then the next day, we break it down on film and it's almost like a dress rehearsal for the (real) thing. When we come into those games, we'll feel like we've already been through it 100s of time.

Was leadership an issue?

That is something….with myself, Greg and Josh, we had three guys that wanted to do it, but it was still not set who was supposed to do it. And it changed from game to game. That is something the players are supposed to work out. I think with this year's team, as far as the role of leadership, it is my job to set the tone, my job to make sure we are doing those tough things or to make sure we are in the proper sets and then executions. I embrace that role.

SEAN SINGLETARY, Virginia

Was it tough to come back to Virginia when you were seeing guys you'd been with leaving?

It's tough, but one thing I learned from my mother and Coach Leito is live without regret no matter what you do, whether it's working out or going to school. I saw guys I feel like I could play with or I was better than get drafted or whatnot, but it was the decision I made and I am sticking to it. I have to get this part of my life behind me, I need to graduate, finish up my career and move forward.

What are your goals this year both personally and then for the team?

I expect to be as good as I was last year and I've had an entire summer to work on my game, my defense, watch a lot of film. Just get better and become more mature and if I am able to put that time in and make the game better, I think we'll ok.

How do you think this league will shake out….it seems like everyone has a lot coming back this year.

Well, you never know until you get into the season, but there is a lot of talent. I feel like North Carolina State and North Carolina will be up at the top. Florida State has enough fire power to be up there and Georgia Tech. I'm not right all the time, but I feel like…Clemson will be good too…but I think those are some of the better teams in the league.

What was your biggest moment last year?

The biggest moment for us was selection day. Getting back to the Tournament because it hadn't been done in a while. Everybody had a good feeling about that and then getting that first win. This year, we need to get in (to the NCAA Tournament) and go a little further.

TYRESE RICE, Boston College

On Carolina

They have everybody back except for Brandan Wright and Reyshawn Terry so that's a pretty talented group right there.

Talk about how you think BC is perceived with the rest of the ACC

I feel like we are on the outside looking in…just like coming through the airport…I saw all this ACC stuff, but nothing for BC. That's just how it is being a northern team in a southern conference.

Do you guys feel like a rival of ACC teams when you come down here to play? Do you feel like the fans get up for you like say a UNC/NC State game would?

I think it has for all the teams we've beaten in North Carolina, (laughter) it's starting to get that way. We've beaten NC State, Carolina at Carolina, we've won at Wake Forest. The only one we haven't done is win at Duke. I feel like it is definitely getting that way because we've beaten them.

Do you guys get enough respect?

Not hardly…not even close.

Why do you think the respect is lacking for BC? Is it being from the northeast, is it from being new?

I think it's a combination of both. A lot of people didn't want us in the conference and I know the Big East didn't want us to leave that conference. So I think it's a little bit of both, being so far away from the North Carolina schools, we get overlooked.

Are you under more pressure to score this year?

Losing two of the top players in the ACC in Sean Williams and Jared Dudley, I am definitely going to step it up a little bit, but I am not going to pressure myself to score a lot more points. I am going to keep other people involved and get others scoring. That will make it a lot easier for us.

Do you pay attention to what other teams are doing? Some guys do while others don't care.

When I am not playing, I am a fan of all the ACC schools. I'd like the ACC teams win. I definitely watch a lot of ACC teams play and I know a lot of the guys on the teams. I definitely pay attention.

How do you think the league will shake down this year?

I would have to say probably Duke, Carolina as the top two. I really think NC State is going to shock a lot of people and I think Georgia Tech will be there.

Do you think people are noticing that it's not just Duke and Carolina in that area but now NC State is rising up?

I think a lot of people are going to be worried about NC State this year. Maybe they weren't last year because they (State) were so young but if you look at them, they have some of the most effective players in the ACC. I think Brandon Costner is going to be really good and get the respect he should have gotten last year. Him averaging 17 and eight, he still didn't get a lot of respect. (Ben) McCauley, did the same thing. Maybe it's because they lost games early, but they came on later, but maybe it was too late.

When you see those three schools with all the tradition that close together, what do you think about that?

I think there will be a lot of heated rivalries. It will be a lot of big games and a lot of good teams going at it head to head every day.

How did you wind up at BC because I think it was a surprise to see a guy from ACC Country go up to New England? Do you every look back on that decision?

Not once. I felt like BC was the only school that stayed with me from day one, through the good and bad that I went through in high school. I felt more comfortable at BC than I did anywhere else.

JACK McCLINTOCK, Miami

Who do you think might surprise in the ACC this year?

Everybody. The ACC is so crazy that anybody can win or lose at any time.

I asked Tyrese Rice about respect and he didn't think they get enough respect in the conference. Do you think you guys get the respect you deserve from the rest of the conference?

I don't think we get a lot of respect either. When people think of Miami, they think of Miami Football, you know? I think it's time for a change around here. If Cincinnati can do it, you know they are a basketball school and now they are ranked in football so it can happen. We come out everyday in practice trying to get better and get things turned around. So when you think about Miami, you'll think about basketball AND football.

What do you think you guys have to do to get the respect in this conference with most of the teams in this central area of North Carolina?

It's good and that's why you want to play in the ACC, to play against those teams and have a chance to beat those teams. Every team is good so anyone can win or lose on any given day. I think the teams that work hard, practice hard and all have more chance to be successful.

Can you break down your chances in the league and where you think everyone else might come in at the end of the season?

Like I've said, but it's weird because every team in this conference can do anything. Our main goal is going out and getting to the NCAA Tournament.

What does it mean to have Anthony King back?

It means a lot because Anthony King is a great leader, great defender, great rebounder. He's developing a great offensive game so that helps as well.

Last year, you guys were so guard oriented…will that change any this year?

Definitely because you have to feed your horses. Those are the guys getting your rebounds, blocking shots, so you definitely have to feed them the ball and let them work it inside out because it makes it so much easier.

Last year, no one really knew much about you and then you had a good year.

Maybe that was a good thing. No one knew about me so maybe that was as a good thing.

Do you feel like you showed people what you could do?

I guess. I mean if I didn't, then it will be better for me because no one will expect it. But, people know about Miami and me so anything can happen.

GAVIN GRANT, NC State

You guys struggled early then got it going at the end. Was there any one thing that sort of turned things around?

We were coming down the stretch so we wanted to let people know how good we were and I definitely think we achieved that. I thought we could be good all along, but we didn't realize what we had until later in the year. I think it clicked at the right time.

Talk about the ACC Tournament…beating Duke in the first round then you had a good shot at Carolina in the Finals.

Yea, that was a tough game. Reyshawn Terry may some tough baskets and they played hard to the end. That was definitely the most fun I've had in college so far. Those four ACC games were like AAU games, playing game after game, no practice, just get out there and play.

Talk about the Carolina and State rivalry. Obviously Coach Lowe brings more into personally than Coach Sendek did. Coach Lowe's been in there and done it…

Coach actually played in the rivalry and he's won the National Championship so he's been through the fires so I think the players identify better with Coach Lowe.

Does that make a difference?

Yes, definitely. He's done it so he knows what it takes.

Talk about Ben McCauley and Brandon Costner.

Ben and Brandon are real good together. Ben's inside moves and Brandon's inside/out game the way he shoots the ball. It's good for us.

Who will play the point guard?

I don't know. You'll have to ask Coach that. Seriously, I don't know.

So after the first week of practice…

They have been pretty good so I don't know who will win the job.

Does it matter?

No, I don't think it matters. They will all play well I think.

Realistic expectations for the Wolfpack…I read where you said you guys would lose only four games…

I said we possibly could lose less than four games. But we won't know until we get out there. I didn't say we weren't. It wasn't like that……I've taken a lot of heat for that (comment) so I wanted to clear that up.

But we are definitely capable of doing something like that, losing only four games.

What do you think about the rest of the ACC and Tobacco Road?

I don't.

Do you care about what other schools are doing?

I don't care. I don't care about other schools and I don't want to see what they are doing until the day before we play them. That's their business. They have their team to worry about and I have my team to worry about.

DERON WASHINGTON, Virginia Tech

Talk about the offseason at Tech….

Yea, it was an unsure offseason. We didn't now what was going to happen. We didn't know if this guy was going to qualify or this guy was going to play or whatever. We couldn't really worry about it because we had to work hard and get ready for this season.

It hurts us because we lost a point guard and a big guy we could have used this year.

Talk about playing the ACC where every night is a battle.

It seems like every game anybody can win. It's tougher to play on the road at other people's gyms because schools are better at home. But any night, you can go and win.

Talk about playing at Carolina or at Duke and in other places around the conference.

It is a great experience to play at those places because you think of all the players that have played there in the past. I know last year we looked forward to playing at other people's gym.

What happened to make your home court such a big advantage?

The fan support. It seems like the basketball team has come around and more and more people are interested in us. We had a good season so that helped.

Does the great football environment help you guys when you play at home….does that carry over into your place?

I think the energy for the football games moves inside for the basketball. It's the same type of atmosphere. The fans bring the same type of energy inside for us.

You guys had the same backcourt for basically four years and you lose Coleman Collins.

I think we will play faster, but our style will be very different.

How did the March tragedy affect you guys?

Now, since school has started and after that first football game, I think everything is getting back to normal. The community is much closer after that though.


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