How have the first practices been? What have you seen? What’s surprised you?
They’ve been unusual practices. I’ve always been very intense, pushed and long practices. This year, whether it’s right or wrong, I’ve made the decision I can’t do that. We have 10 guys on scholarship and four of those guys have nagging little injuries. Two of them that we were concerned enough about that they’d do MRIs. So I’m thinking if I pushed them as hard as I’ve pushed in the past, we have a greater chance of getting them hurt. We have eight JV guys that have played with us for the four practices. So we’ve taken the 10 scholarship guys and substituted five at time against the eight JV players for about 90 percent of the practice. It’s more unusual than anything, because I can’t push like I’ve always done in the past.
In saying that, everybody is really together. Everybody is motivated. They’re never going to be as enthusiastic and rah-rah as I want them to be, because it’s just not the way they are. We do have an ability to score; I think we’re seeing that more and more each practice. Reggie (Bullock), Kendall (Marshall) and Harrison (Barnes) I think are going to be effective for us. I’m ecstatic about what Justin Knox has been able to show so far. And then all the older guys have gotten a little bit better.
Who are the players that had to get MRIs?
Tyler (Zeller) had a calf problem several weeks ago. They looked at and didn’t see anything, but decided to an MRI just to make sure. John Henson, believe it or not has a muscle in his leg [laughter] above the knee he felt something in there. They didn’t see anything, but did an MRI just to make sure - we’re being a little cautious with both of them. Larry (Drew) had the high-ankle sprain, all back from Aug. 9, so we tried to be a little careful with him. Reggie does a very poor job of running through his house. His little sister is chasing him, he runs into the table and has a huge bruise on his hip. I think that’s about it.
What have you seen so far out of Harrison Barnes? Can you describe his game?
He has an ability to score. He can take the ball to the basket, he can shoot from the outside, he can get an offensive rebound and turn all those into baskets. I think he’s going to be a fantastic defender for us. He’s very gifted. But his strongest suit right now, is his discipline, his focus, his desire, his willingness to make sacrifices. It’s a strange routine; Tyler Hansbrough did all those things over a four-year period and got it stronger each and every year. I think Harrison, at this stage, is even more driven, more focused and more disciplined than Tyler was. It remains to be seen if he’s going to increase it every year like Tyler did. But you know, it’s pretty impressive the other night after Late Night, everybody gets with their families; as soon as he had all the responsibilities that he had to have over with, he went to the practice gym and got up some more shots.
That’s unusual for a young player isn’t it?
It’s unusual for anybody.
In the limited time we saw during the scrimmage, it seemed like he didn’t have to dominate the ball to score…
He’s efficient. I think he’ll be one of Clark Kellogg’s guys, a stat-sheet stuffer. He’ll do a lot of things. I don’t think he’ll be getting the basketball – I used to get on Danny Green one time, I counted and he dribbled it 17 times and didn’t even get a shot off. I don’t think Harrison will be like that. He’ll be able to get some shots up and do some things without dominating the basketball. Then he instinctively moves it when someone is wide open.
Do you think Justin Knox can be a starter or have you formulated anything like that in your head yet?
I haven’t even formulated it in my head yet. He’s been impressive and he’s done some good things. He’s a man. He’s 22 years old, been in college for three years and already has his diploma. He’s been through the wars three years in the SEC. That experience, it shows.
Are you any more optimistic about your team this year, than you were this time a year ago?
I was somewhat optimistic last year, I just wasn’t unrealistic like a lot of people were. I think that I said very plainly that we had some problems with experience in the backcourt, with anybody that had done anything. That proved out. I said that we were concerned about our ability to shoot the ball, that was the poorest shooting team I’ve ever hard, particularly at the three-point line. I said that I hoped our depth up front would cover some of those areas; pretty soon we started losing guys so we didn’t have the depth up front.
I did think last year’s prognostications on that team were very unrealistic. I think this year’s a little unrealistic too. For me, I think we have a chance to be better and we’re working at it each and every day. It does help to be able to score. That’s the bottom line. Coaches love to talk about guys who dive on the floor and draw charges, but that thing that drops down from the ceiling and hangs on the wall is the scoreboard. And you better be able to put the ball in the basket.
What are realistic expectations for this year’s team?
I’ve said this for 23 years - I never look down the schedule. I had a conversation with Coach Wooden one time and he told me personally that he would figure out what he thought his record would be, put in an envelope and put it in a desk and at the end of the year pull it out. I’ve never done that. I think that we have a chance to be better than we were last year. It remains to be seen what the record is going to be at the end, because I never even concern myself with that.
How much of a big blow was the situation with Will Graves to reaching that potential, what you thought was going to happen two weeks ago?
It’s a big loss, there’s no question. 228 is what he weighed, seven or eight days before I dismissed him. He hadn’t been that since he was a 7th grader. He had done a great job leading our team through the summer, through the Nassau trip, through the early stages of the conditioning program. I spent a great deal of time this summer, planning on playing him at the “4” almost exclusively. Think about the pressure that would put on the other team’s four-man to come out and guard Will as deep as he could go. He was strong enough and quick enough to run around and front the low post, so I wasn’t that concerned about him defensively. Then all of a sudden that’s out the window. I took my staff down to Wrightsville Beach on Oct. 9, 10 and 11 and half of our time was spent talking about depth in the frontcourt and what we can do, because we’d been counting on Will to be a part of that. That’s out too.
Was it a bigger blow losing him (Will) or the Wear twins?
Will. It’s a big blow losing all of them. Losing Ed Davis, losing the Wears, losing Deon and losing Will too. The Wears was such a problem because it was so late that we couldn’t do anything about. And I expected those kids to be such good players for us and be important to us. Ed, if you got a guy that’s the 13th pick in the NBA Draft, it’s a blow to lose him. Will had gone on so long and we’d been counting on him and it was such a shock. But, it’s what it is.
Given the frontcourt attrition, will that force you to change your approach from such a fast tempo?
I think if you don’t have a Sean May and a Tyler Hansbrough that we’ve had several years, some people would say, ‘Well you need to slow it down and not have that many possessions.’ I go the other direction. I think that we’re going to try and run it even more and try to score as many as we can before the other team gets their defense set. We’ll still go inside. Z’s doing a nice job in these early practices scoring the ball inside. I feel like you have to attack inside-out, so we’ll still do that. But, we’re going to emphasize running the basketball up and down the floor.
Is there anything that Tyler Zeller can do – I guess some guys have some bad luck with injuries -- has he always taken care of himself the way he needs to?
Very much so. He’s one of Jonas’s best patients. For us, I think it just goes in cycles. In 1996 in Kansas, we started the same lineup every game. In 2005 at North Carolina, Rashad McCants missed the last four games I think, and no one else missed a game. You’re going to have some years like that. The last two years, even the championship year, when all we’re talking about at that point, this time of year, is what are you going to do with all those players? Don’t you have too many players? We lose Zeller for a long period, we lose Tyler Hansbrough for a while, we lose Tywon and we lose Marcus for the entire year. All those too many players worked out well. Last year it was even worse, our top eight players missed 48 games. You hope that you don’t have to go through that. Hopefully it’s time for us to have a good cycle.
What kind of improvement do you expect from John Henson this year?
I expect a great deal of improvement from John. A bit more consistent on the offensive end, not being a jack of all trades and a master of none. We need him to get a go-to move that he can score with more consistently with and then the defense tries to take that way, something else he can do. But he is an unusual player, he’s not a guy that you can put down on the block and say never leave here. And he’s not a guy you can put on the perimeter and say you want him to be a three-man because he’s not. Bigger, stronger. Last year I think he set a record for getting the most number of dunks blocked – ever. I don’t think that’ll happen this year, because he’s stronger. We need those to go through, it’ll be two points.
What are you looking to get out of Justin Knox? How will he fit in?
You have to have personnel and you have to have some depth. We have to have somebody who can handle the muscle on the other team. He didn’t go with us to Nassau, Tyler Zeller and John Henson get three fouls in the first quarter. They’re sitting with me, so our five-man is Will Graves and our four-man is Justin Watts. That’s not the kind of team that would be successful in our league. Now we have to add Justin to the mix and get some time out of him. He can rebound the ball; he’s a big physical presence. He sets screens and everybody knows which screens he set, because his guy is usually laying on the ground. And he can score. I told him we’re going to throw him the ball more than anybody has ever thrown him the ball, so we expect him to score.
The players have talked about the heightened intensity of the strength and conditioning program this offseason. What were your orders from above and what was sort of your mission with that?
Well, the only order I get from above about my basketball team is Wanda and the Lord and neither one of them gave me anything (laughter). I just told them that I thought they were a bunch of pansies and we’ve got to get tougher. I gave them a conditioning program that I thought would really challenge them. I did the same program with these guys that I did when I ran, I blew the whistle, I had the stop watch in 1982 with Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and James Worthy. It’s difficult. Jeff Lebo comes to the Carolina-East Carolina football game and says ‘Man I’ve heard you’ve gone old school.’ I was ecstatic with the majority, there were a couple of cases that I didn’t like, but for the majority of the cases I thought the kids did remarkably well.
What all is included in that?
It’s run, run, run, run. The final test is 12, 220-yard sprints with 90 seconds rest in between. We give everybody an individual time. If they make their tough times, then they’re out of wind sprints at the end of practice for the first week. And we gave them a mile time and if they make their tough time there, they have an opportunity to get out of sprints at practice the second week.
Is that meant to make them as much mentally tougher as physically tougher?
Mentally tougher and to get them to know that I don’t care how they feel. There was a little grumbling. I went in the locker room and told them, you think I just pulled that out of the air? This is what I got guys to do in 1982. I looked at Leslie, he was the culprit, I said ‘You want to be like Mike? Then be like Mike. Get your butt out there and do it.’ John Henson, he’s over there panicking and about to stress out. I told him to shut up and run. He did it successfully. Now, if you ask John what a big key to running is, he’ll say ‘Shut up and run.’ And it is, it’s just everybody is pampered so dadgum much. One exception, in 1982 they ran 15 220’s. I’ve mellowed in my old age and cut it back to 12.
How long had it been since you had done something similar?
I hadn’t done it at North Carolina. When I went to Kansas we did it the first several years. You know, modern day thought processes, the stretching and this new wave of everything that you do. We’d gotten away from it. It’s not necessarily directly conducive to basketball conditioning, because you don’t run 200 meters on a curve in a basketball game. It was tough. I had a couple of players say it was the toughest thing they’ve ever attempted. It’ll be even better next year, because we’ll make it a little bit tougher and they’ll be more experienced with it. They’ll realize what they can do and hopefully they’ll get that kind of attitude during the game.
Can you compare the attitude of your title team to the one you had last year? How’s it different?
The 2009 team was so confident. They really felt like they could do everything. Last year, we got shook about halfway through the year and the team was not very confident. The ‘09 team was extremely more talented than the 2010 team. The ‘09 team had six guys that played professional basketball last year and three of them were No. 1 draft choices in the NBA. The talent-level was the difference in night and day. But the experience level was even more than night and day, whatever the dickens that is. You can’t compare those two, that’s like comparing apples and oranges.
Did you have a bad taste from last year and do you still have it?
I still have it. I told our guys, I hope you have that bad taste in your mouth all spring, all summer and all fall, to help motivate you to work even harder. It’s not something I enjoyed. I’ve been very fortunate to live a charmed life. 19-12 was the worst record we’ve ever had. We’d not only gone to the tournament 20 years in a row, but we’d won a game 20 years in a row. Of all those stats that Steve (Kirschner) reads out, that’s the one I’m more proud of than anything – the excellence over such a long period of time. We lost eight guys in seven years early, as No. 1 draft choices in the NBA and yet we’ve still been pretty doggone successful. So I’m proud of all those things, then all of a sudden last year to have that, it was something I’m not proud of.