It's Senior Day. Has it hit you, "Gosh, it's MY Senior Day?
Not yet. As it gets closer, it's starting to sink in. I guess you are so busy with practice, games, and travel, stuff like that, even as the days go by, it doesn't start to hit you when it's like the next game. Even before Wake Forest, it seemed like it was so far away. It's a weird feeling to think it's the last home game and stuff like that.
Physically, you look a lot like the guy who walked on the campus. How do you feel different?
That's a good thing. When I'm 60--
I've been through a lot, a lot of experiences. I think I've matured quite a bit. I was wide-eyed and sort of absorbed everything when I first got here. It's been a great ride. I went from a Final Four to the last couple years and coaching changes and stuff like that--things I didn't anticipate when I came here. I didn't anticipate going through what we've gone through the last couple years, which has required me, along with everyone else, to mature quickly and grow up and deal with adversity first-hand.
I think I've improved ten-fold basketball-wise since I've gotten here, playing against the best every day in practice and getting some opportunities in games.
I'm a totally different person than when I first came. It's definitely been because of the experiences here, both socially and on the basketball court.
Do you sense that, in the long term, it's going to be these last two years that you learn more from for life than the first two?
Definitely. You definitely learn more from adversity. When you experience change or adversity, it requires you to mature and handle things that [you didn't expect]. Like I said, when I came here, if somebody had told me we'd experience what we have the last couple of years, I'd have thought they were crazy. So, when you do have to face it and deal with it, you learn a lot of life lessons when you don't anticipate it.
When you are playing basketball at North Carolina, you don't expect to be going through things at 21 or 22 years old that you may have to look back on the rest of your life and take into other circumstances later on. I've definitely learned a lot and these last couple of years will help me in the future.
It looks like you might have to run the table in the ACC to make the NCAA's. Would you, as a senior, take anything you can get to keep playing?
You never want to see it end. When you start talking about Senior Day, the last home game, you know the end is near, no matter if you go to the national championship game. There are only so many more games left, so anything to prolong the season to get more games and keep this experience going... It would be great to run the table, get some wins, and go to the NIT or NCAA Tournament.
This next game is big: last home game, Duke game, Senior Day, your standings, post-season. What are your feelings?
It's a weird feeling. I grew up dreaming about stuff like this, being a part of Duke/Carolina as a senior, last home game, it's going to be something special. All my family will be here, and friends. It's going to very sweet--a great day,a great atmosphere. But it's also going to mark the end of my career here. I just want to go out on a good note, show my appreciation for the fans and the support they've given me for the four years I've been here. It's hard to put into words what you are feeling. Even only two days away, it seems like it's still down the road, not around the corner. It will be an exciting weekend, so, hopefully, we can get a victory and go out on a good note.
What have you gotten out of Carolina basketball in your years here?
Wow. It's like writing my Senior Speech. Obviously, it's the relationships that I've built with my teammates and coaches. That's the main thing I'll take away from this. That's the funny thing. You focus on playing, how well you'll play, what you are going to do as a player and a team. What you get out of it is the relationships. You don't go into the situation intending for that to be the thing you get from it, but that's what you get from it.
Then, obviously, the great memories: the great wins, going to the Final Four, the NCAA Tournament. And I'll remember the last two years too--the tough times and how you have to continue to work and continue to hold together in tough times, and I'm sure I'll take those lessons with me in the real world in whatever I do.
In a way is that almost something you can get more from?
People say that you learn more from losses than wins, and we've had plenty of losses these last two years. I think that's true. I think losing just hurts more than winning, so it's harder to forget, and you want to avoid that whenever you can.
What have you seen this year that you didn't see in high school?
Of course the defense is better. Everybody defends better and everybody defends better as a team. If you beat your man there are guys collapsing on you and helping. The team defense is much better in college than in high school.
The way you guys have come together as a team it almost seems like you can't wait for next season to start. At this point, do you just want to keep playing games, no matter what, whether they be NIT or NCAA games so you can keep going and continue to improve?
I'm thinking about the future, but I'm thinking in my mind that this season is not over. I think we still have a chance to make the NCAA and make a run in it. Definitely next year, we should be great. We have Sean back and everyone will be healthy. Everybody will have worked on their game and gotten smarter towards the game, with more experience. We'll be juniors and sophomores, with a good freshman coming in. We'll be OK. We'll definitely be stronger next year.
What are your feelings about the NCAA Tournament versus the NIT versus no post season?
The NCAA is every team's goal--to make it there. We don't want to just sit out. We'll play in the NIT. We wouldn't want to--well, I'm not saying we wouldn't want to, but we want to play in the NCAA first. But, if we don't, we'll play in the NIT, of course.
Is that extra experience beneficial for a team as young as you guys?
Definitely. That gives us more experience and gets us ready for next year, I think.
What are your feelings about the Duke game--anything you remember from the first one?
Nothing really. It's just a great experience in that atmosphere: Duke and Carolina. It's a rivalry.
What impressions has your freshman year left on you that you may not have anticipated?
I think I handled things fairly well. I've had a pretty good season. I've done some good things and I've done some bad things--not really bad things but I've made some mental mistakes, so things that I have to work on and shape up next year because I got that experience this year. It's all about a learning process.
What has come up that you might not have expected?
I think just losing 14 games. In my whole high school career, I only lost nine games, so it's a big difference losing games after not losing as much. But that's fine. You're going to lose some and win some at this level.
What team were you a fan of as a kid?
I liked Duke. It was mainly because I liked the way Coach K coached and I liked the players they had. Once I grew up and the Carolina/Duke rivalry became even more competitive, I started liking a lot of players from Carolina. I liked Vince [Carter], Antawn [Jamison], Shammond [Williams]. They really fit the mold of a Carolina player, and that's what I wanted to be.
Was this a gradual change, or was there an event that marked your change-over?
It was a gradual change. When Carolina played Duke, I rooted for Duke, but when they played anybody else, I rooted for them. It just went on that way, but now that I'm here, I'm all Carolina."
What is the Duke game for you now that you are playing in it?
For me it's like no other. Watching it and finally getting to play in one was crazy--just the atmosphere of being out there and being on the court and having fans cheer for you and boo you and things like that. You get chills up and down your spine.
Now that we get to play them a second time, it will be the same atmosphere. Now that we get to play them at home, I think it will be more [exciting]. It should be a great win.
You can certainly do more than just dunk, but the dunk you had in the last Duke game was pretty spectacular. People saw that all across the country. You saw the guys on TV as a child, so how do you feel about now seeing yourself in that game making a spectacular play like that on ESPN or on the local sports highlights?
Man, I didn't know what to think. I was like "Oh my God! That's me!" It's like when you are little and you see a [picture] of yourself and you're like, "Oh, that's me!" It almost took me back to when I was a kid. "Oh my God, that's David Noel right there." The feeling of it being me was a great feeling.
When did you realize that you were good enough to get a basketball scholarship?
I always thought that I was good enough to get a basketball scholarship. It was just that some of the schools I wanted to attend were full. They had given all their scholarships away. I just decided to pay my way.
The whole football deal was fun, but I really didn't love it as much. You only play once a week and I'm the type that wants to be in a game situation all the time. I decided to play basketball.
Let's clear something up. What if other schools had offered you a basketball scholarship and UNC had offered you a football scholarship but no basketball scholarship after your first year--what would you have done?
I would have gone there.
You would have gone to the other school?
Yeah. Football was my intention, but I really didn't feel like that was it for me. I would have gone wherever, whoever had offered me a scholarship for basketball because that's what I really wanted to do.