I don't know. I imagine they probably saw it coming. Sean's close with everybody and I'm sure there was some talk about it. I think the guys were disappointed because they hoped he would be back. But this is the best thing for Sean.
Would you have gone with a smaller lineup sooner had you known he wasn't coming back?
I don't think that had anything to do with it, no.
Can you talk about the morale of the team in light of the tough loss to State, the news that Sean is done for the year and the difficult few games left on the schedule?
Yeah, I was concerned about that yesterday, going into practice. I was really impressed with the effort we had yesterday in practice. I thought we had a real energetic, up-beat practice. Guys got better and really went at it.
How do you personally stay confident in what you're doing when things aren't going as well as you'd like?
You [reporters] all in the preseason picked us where? [Response: 'Seventh.'] Right, okay, and that was with a guy named Sean May, right? [Response: 'Yeah.'] Where are we right now? [Response: 'Eighth.'] With a chance to do a little bit better? We're right where you told us we'd be. And now I get the sense that all of a sudden you read articles and people are saying things – ‘sorry, you're not doing as well and you're not going to make the NCAA Tournament.'
I had a sportswriter at ACC Operation Basketball tell me that it was almost like a light went off in his head, saying, ‘It's going to be tough for you guys to make the NCAA Tournament, right?' And I said, ‘No kidding - look at our roster. Look at how young we are. Look at our lack of size and what happens if somebody gets hurt?'
And now we're nearing the point where, okay, unless we have an incredible run we might not make the NCAA Tournament. We are in eighth place with a chance to be in fifth. People are saying, ‘What's wrong, what's wrong?!' You guys picked us here. Nothing is wrong. Everything is right on schedule, except Sean May got hurt. Wish that didn't happen. So, I don't understand sometimes the line of questioning and the articles when we are where you picked us to be. Maybe part of the problem is we beat Kansas, but again that was with Sean May and we're a different team.
I'm proud of our guys. There are a couple of games I wish we could play over. But you can't tell me that there's not a coach in the country that wishes he couldn't play a couple of games over. I'm proud of our guys. I think we've done a good job. We played our tails off against NC State. We had a good practice yesterday. At the end of the day, I'm not judged by what you write. I don't judge myself on what you write. I judge myself on what I see on the floor and the end of the day if I can look myself in the mirror and say ‘We did a good job.' And we've done a good job. For some reason your expectations changed after you voted us to be seventh in the league.
What has Dick Baddour said to you about you being the coach here next year?
He … said what he said publicly. He supports me 100 percent.
How was Raymond after the game Tuesday? Was he down and has he bounced back pretty well?
He's bounced back, but I think he took that loss personally, like he let the team down. I admire that quality, but it is a team game and he's just such a competitive young man that he wants to win the game. I think in the first half you could tell that he was trying too hard. At the half I told him, ‘Take it easy, try to hit some singles and not home runs all the time.' And I thought he played better in the second half.
With the way the season has gone, is there concern on your part about postseason attrition?
No, I think if you read our kids' quotes and talk to them, they're excited about what we have. I talked to them, you've got to have respect for what Duke has done. That all got started when Johnny Dawkins was a freshman and they went 11-19. Couple years later they were in the national championship game. They lost to Virginia by 43 points in the ACC Tournament. They gave up over 100 points seven times. What's the difference? What's the difference in our group and that group? In the preseason you all voted us to finish seventh and we're right around there. We're going to be good. I think these guys see that with a healthy team next year and a year older, we'll be that much better.
And obviously, and again, we were in a situation where we couldn't afford an injury because of the rebuilding process, where other programs can absorb an injury a little better, like Kansas with Wayne Simien, they can absorb that injury better than we can right now. So I don't want to be complaining about injuries, Herb [Sendek]'s gone through them, everyone's go through it, Coach Krzyzewski has gone through it – everyone has gone through injuries. At this point in our rebuilding process, with the injury to Sean May, our record could be five or six more wins and you guys would be saying, ‘Boy, you really overachieved. We picked you seventh in the preseason.'
Has anything gone different in the late game situations the last couple of weeks? The results haven't been as good as they were earlier in the season …
I think Chris Duhon and Dahntay Jones made some ridiculous shots at Durham – not ridiculing them, but they hit very tough shots. Jones shoots a contested three and Duhon hits a scoop shot going to his left. Those shots don't have to go in. NC State doesn't have to shoot 22-22 from the foul line and we shoot 7-19. That changes by one foul shot and we win the game. Josh Howard, the best player in our league, makes a tough shot. It comes down to breaks – and breaks haven't gone our way, but over the course of time they have a way of evening out. However we have played in a lot of close games and have won our share – UConn, Rutgers, Old Dominion, St. John's, Clemson at home, Florida State. We've won our share of close games. So you can say we're a young team and it's amazing we've won that many close games.
Do you think that's more about defense?
Some are defense and some you have to give the other team credit. Julius Hodge – we wouldn't guard that play any different. Hodge hit a contested jumper over our best defender. Scooter Sherrill hits a fallaway three at the end of the shot clock. You know, that ball did not have to go in. So, no, I look at the tape and there are some situations that due to experience won't happen in the future.
I pointed this out to our team that there was a situation where we could have called a timeout and if we called timeout we would have had a whole new shot clock and it was with a minute to go and we were up two or four. The youngster knew he should have called timeout after he didn't call timeout. We showed it on film – not to ridicule anybody – and said this is experience, Steve Blake calls a timeout in that situation because he's been through it. A freshman doesn't call a timeout the first time through it. For the most part I was pretty pleased with the shots we got. At the end of the game, with eight seconds to go, the coaches I know don't call timeout with eight seconds to go when the other team scores. You try to race it up against their back against an unset defense and it didn't work out for us. UConn, we got a good shot – Jawad hit a jumper. I just think the breaks haven't gone our way and they will in the future.
How important is making the postseason for this team to get them more games and more experience?
I think that'd be great – no question. That's obvious.
Have you talked about that to them? Is that a carrot at all?
There are carrots being in the league, you have the tournament. I haven't talked about the NIT – I still hope we can win enough games to get to the NCAA Tournament.