How much does your place in North Carolina history matter to you now or is it something you'll think about down the road?
"It's probably something I'll think about later, when I'm done playing here ... but I don't want to look at that right now and reflect on those things while I'm still playing here because I still have a lot I want to accomplish."
There are a lot more good seniors in the league this year than past years. Does that say anything about the league or the state of the game?
"People just enjoy college. A lot of people forget, or don't take advantage of, going to college and really enjoying the things we do off the court, too."
You were 36-3 last year, but everyone seems to think this team will be better -- do you?
"I definitely think so. We have pretty much the same team coming back. We lost some senior leadership, but we have a lot of experience and a lot of guys that know what it takes in those positions. We know we can win on the road and we just need to listen to our coaches and see what happens."
What do you think about this season ...
"I'm excited. I'm really, really excited to get this season underway. First day of practice, I'm really looking forward to it. I'm just excited just to get things rolling."
What's different about your game from last year?
"I'm working on my shot, trying to increase my range by a couple feet. I'm shooting from NBA range. Just my pull-up, my mid-range game, my left hand - I took this summer to work on the things that people say are my weaknesses."
Have you gone back and watched the Kansas game, or is that something you try to avoid?
"Me and Deon actually watched it two days ago because we were ready for the basketball season. I've watched it twice since the game, just to see that if we're in that position again what we should change to make it better ... it was kind of tough to watch. ... That's easy motivation."
Will it be hard to enjoy the ride and stay focused on all your goals considering the top goal is to go farther than last year?
"We all love playing basketball. We've got to play well now to get to April, so we're taking it one game at a time to get there."
You had some injuries last year - are you completely healthy now?
"I'm 100 percent healthy now. I can't wait for it now, since I missed a big part of last season and the part I did come back for I was still a little hurt and couldn't do my thing. I'm dunking again and ready for the season to show people what I can do."
Other than winning it all, what's the biggest goal for you personally this season?
"Just to have fun and enjoy it. I think it's going to be such a special year for us that we've got to make sure we enjoy it and have fun. There's going to be a lot of business and lot of hard work, but also to have fun while we're doing it."
How do you assess where you all are defensively and how you can improve that this year?
"A lot of people say defense was our weakness, but I look at it as that's something we can improve on. I think we're all going into this season knowing our offense will take care of itself - we can put points on the board. But we all understand that to get where we want to be, we're going to have to step it up another notch defensively. We want to create more possessions and in order to do that we want to get more stops and create pressure situations for opposing teams in order to get out on the break and get more possessions for our team."
How do you handle the expectations ...
"We let people talk about that amongst themselves and we don't really get concerned about that as a team. We just take care of what we can and that's to be the best we can every day, and to work as hard as possible and listen to Coach Williams."
Is it possible for you to be a normal student on campus?
"[laughs] It's not hard around here. There are fans and they all show us love and that's what it's all about."
On the affects of Marcus' absence:
"Just him being around – his presence. He does work hard in practice, so we'll see how that goes without him being there. I feel bad for him for his senior year having to start off this way, but there's anybody that can bounce back from something like that, it would be him."
What can we expect to see differently in your game this year?
"Just hopefully improvement. And not getting so mentally down on myself and playing the game more consistently. Having more positives than negatives. I just don't want to put too much pressure on myself like I did last year."
Have you talked to Alex Stepheson recently?
"Maybe about three weeks ago. He was trying to figure out what he was going to do, if he was going to get the petition or not to play, and I'm not sure if he got it or not… He seems to be happy. He's at home with his family and friends, enjoying the California sunshine."
How have the freshmen looked?
"They're really long and tall, and they can run the floor really well. They're going to be really talented and be able to help us out a lot."
On his left foot:
"It's just one of those things you have to deal with. It's something that comes along with the territory of being an athlete. Right now, there's just nothing you can do about it, except do everything you can to help recover as fast as possible."
When did you know you were going to need to have surgery?
"This has bothered me for a good period of time. It wasn't known to me that surgery would be a good option until about four or five days before the surgery. I guess it was like the Wednesday or Thursday before. So it was one of those decisions that we had to make on the fly, but it was one of those things that wasn't a clear-cut decision, the right or wrong thing to do, but we definitely think we made a good decision in going ahead and getting it fixed now and not letting it bother me later in the season."
Did you foot hurt during the summer?
"It wasn't bothering me too much in August. The end of August was when I sprained my ankle, and I hadn't played for six weeks. My foot just started to hurt in September, and so the fact that through the six weeks of me not playing and my foot was still continuing to hurt was a sign that we needed to look at some things."
Does the eight-week recovery window still look about right?
"I'm hoping. Right now, I'm still wearing the post-op cast – just waiting for them to take this thing off. Once I start to put some weight on it, I'll start to get a feel for it, and I guess in a couple of weeks when I'm walking on it again, I'll have a little more idea of how it's healing and how it's going to feel as the weeks go by."
On serving the sixth-man role:
"I'd like to start, but it doesn't really matter. Either way, I feel like I can adjust and someway be effective and help the team. As long as I help the team, it's okay with me. If I can be a factor, and that's what coach said – he told me last year that I could be a factor on this team and I believed him and I was."
What's different about your game this year?
"Of course with the whole NBA process thing, I've worked on my individual stuff, but when it comes to the team, there's not going to be too much individual stuff going on. That's stuff you have to work on on your own. Coach has emphasized sharing the ball and emphasized doing what's best for the team, so when it comes to us playing as a team, you've got to play within the system and do the things he asks of you. That's what I;m basically going to do."
What stood out about the NBA process?
"Really just how much of a business it is. How well you perform in a workout can really say a lot about you. One workout can change everything. It's a whole lot of business. It's nothing personal or anything. I'm pretty sure all of the GM's and NBA guys love everybody as a person and as a kid, but they're not going to draft you because you're a great kid. They might, but for the most part they're going to go off how well you perform in their workout and how much talent you have."
Are you able to go full speed on your knee now?
"I went through the conditioning program, played pickup all fall and it's held up ... nothing is holding me back now."
I'd imagine you're chomping at the bit to get back out there ...
"I'm itching to get back into competitive games, fans in the crowd. Practice is going to be great and it'll be fun to compete against guys in front of the coaches, because it's been a while since I've done that - but the first time under the lights with people in the crowd is going to be fun."
How's this team different as you enter this practice from the years before that you've been here?
"We're all a little more mature, that's a given being a year older. And we know what it takes to get there - how to prepare, the mindset you have to be in. It has to be about Carolina basketball, it can't be about your own stats and numbers. Everyone realizes that if this team has success, guys are going to get drafted. They look at it in that picture and hopefully we can make things happen at the end of the year, get the ball to bounce our way and win a national championship."
The team seems to have used the previous year to take the next step the following season ...
"We've gone a step further every and hopefully we can make it two more steps further this year. It's definitely going to be on our mind come Tournament time that you've got to be ready for a team's best shot and if it happens to us, we'll be ready this time."
What's been the biggest challenge you've faced as you've tried to become a better defender?
"It's more of the mental aspect of defense and the little things. You can be in the right position and still not be doing the right things - now if you're doing the right things and you're out of position you can recover. I just try to get all the little things down and give 100 percent effort."
Has Coach Williams noted ways in which he's seen you improve over the last two years?
"Really, effort. ... Just more effort. I feel like defense is mental and if you just give it all you've got and concentrate for those 35 seconds, everything will fall into place. That's what Coach has said - that I've been giving more effort and going in the right direction."
Have you thought about what role you'll have on the team this year?
"Whatever we need, I'm ready. That's how I feel. Wherever Coach sees I fit best, I'll just have to work hard in that position."
How's your knee recovery coming along?
"I'm doing great. Dr. Taft just released me to start doing cuts. ... Maybe about a month I was running straight and two days ago he said I can start making cuts. ... After a hard workout, it gets a little stiff or sore, but I'm working with Jonas and we're doing everything he did with Bobby."
What's the current outlook on when you'll be ready to go?
"Maybe middle of November, early December I'll start practicing with the team. But I'm doing a lot of stuff now like jumping and cutting. I'm kind of ahead of schedule ... they didn't think until four months that I'd be running, so I beat that..."
So it looks like you'll be able to play this season ...
"I always have a smile on my face and now it's even bigger just knowing that I might have a chance to get to play and help the team as much as I can."