Do you still have to think about the team’s confidence being wounded from last year?
I think you can have confidence, but the way to really get true confidence is be successful in games. You’re going to get confidence from practice, because you’ve put in the sweat and you’ve put in the work. I can practice putting and the more I make, the more I make. When I get out on the course I’m going to make more. The more shots you take, the more shots that go in, it then helps your confidence. But you’re not really going to get true confidence until you get out there on the court.
Did you have a conversation with Tyler Zeller, this summer, about stepping up and being more of a leader?
I had several discussions with Tyler in the spring when we did our individual meetings and in the summer, about ‘Big fella’ it’s time for you to step up. It’s time for you to be the player I want you to be and I think you can be, and you think you can and you want you to be. It’s time for you to be one of those leaders out there on the court.’ He’s not as quiet as Tyler Hansbrough was, but he’s not Will (Graves), Marcus (Ginyard) or David Noel, or some of those guys who were very vocal. I think people respect what Z does and try and follow that leadership. I think that’s something that he will do. Between he and Larry Drew, since what happened to Will, they’ve both picked it up a little bit.
One writer has already anointed Harrison Barnes as the best player in the country. Is that overboard? Is he capable of doing that? Does that put added pressure on him?
Is that writer very intelligent? God, I hope he is. If he’s the player of the year, it means I’ve enjoyed a lot of his play this year. I think that’s a stretch for any freshman. John Wall, last year, was in a couple of people’s votings. That’s really hard. I think it’s a reach, but some things I say are a reach. He could still do it – he has a chance to be a special, special player.
Does the ACC suffer because it’s all about Duke and Carolina all the time and no team since Maryland (in ‘02) has stepped up nationally?
We (the ACC) haven’t had any of those teams that are just horrible. Some of the other leagues have teams that you’re going to beat regardless. We’ve won five of the last 10 years – that’s pretty impressive. We haven’t had any of those bottom feeders that you can make a living off of. In 2009, I clearly thought we were the best team. When we were 0-2, I wasn’t concerned greatly. I really thought we’d come back, I’d really thought we’d be a great team. We proved that. In the Florida State game, we win the game when Ty Lawson makes a 30-foot, knee up in the air, one-hander and then we play Florida State in the ACC Tournament and lose to them. I don’t think they even made the NCAAs that year and so we win the National Championship and I’m convinced we’re the best team, and we were lucky to beat them one time and lost to them another time. I think that says a lot about this league too. The depth as to how far you go to be a successful team is something special.
In that same vein, this may be the first year in a while that Duke, UNC and NC State end up in the top 25. Is that fun, as someone who’s been around, to have all three of these teams very competitive in the Triangle?
It’s more fun. It’d be more fun if I was convinced that my club was there. Personally, I don’t think North Carolina nor North Carolina State – and this is no blow to Sidney because I’m putting my own club there – is at the level that Duke is. I don’t think there is anybody in the country now that is at the level that Duke is. They’ve got guys who’ve done it. How many times have you seen the guy who wins the MVP at the Final Four come back? You got other guys. You have a guy who led the nation in freshman scoring, who sat out and is ready to play for them. You got arguably the best point guard in high school basketball. You got two 6-10, 6-11 guys that can do some great things inside. You got a 6-9 guy from Raleigh that I tried to recruit like crazy that got no playing time. To me Duke is at a completely different level than North Carolina and North Carolina State – and again I’m not trying to say anything bad about Sidney’s program. It is fun when we’re very good, but it’s more fun when your team is very good. But we’re not that concerned with how good everybody else is.
You said last year’s Duke team was the best you’ve seen since you were back. What leaves an impression that they could be even better?
I think it depends. They had a couple of guys last year that really did a lot of the dirty work. Lance Thomas, (Brian) Zoubek and Jon Scheyer. Nobody realized how good of a defensive player Jon Scheyer was. I thought he was a marvelous defensive player; he didn’t turn over as a point guard and made some shots. So, they had some significant losses. They may have more talent, but it may be young talent, with the exception of Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler - because they’ve done it on primetime, when it’s necessary to do it, on the biggest stage there is. They are a little scary.
Can you comment on the head coach at High Point University, Scott Cherry. Do you guys have a strong relationship?
I’ve known Scott a long time. I’ve been a reference for him on some of the jobs he’s had or attempted to get. Wes Miller was with him last year, so I was even closer to him because Wes played for me. I think he’s going to do a really good job for them and the program is going to get more solid and more solid.
Tyler indicated earlier that this was not going to be a year where you’re not going to repeat things; that you’ve made it clear that after two or three times, that’s it. Has that been a focus?
Enough is enough. If I say you have to do something and keep saying it and keep saying it, eventually it’s not me. Eventually, you’ve got to change your behavior or come over and sit down. We don’t really have the depth to get it done the right way up front, but I don’t worry about those guys as much because they really do listen better than our perimeter people. On the perimeter, I would have no problem taking anybody and sitting them right over there with me and letting them stay there.
What’s the right word? You sound like you’ve changed your attitude a little. Are you frustrated from last year?
Frustrated would be the best way to put it. I wanted us to be more competitive, I wanted us to take coaching more, I wanted us to change more. Part of that is my responsibility to get them to do that. It was frustrating that I couldn’t get that done. In the finals of the NIT, I spent one of the timeouts talking about the same blessed thing I talked about after the first game of the season. There’s no reason for doing that. That old saying is that sometimes you have to understand that bad guys can play on big game day. Well, I want good guys, I don’t want knuckleheads. But I want them to play on game day and sometimes we didn’t do that last year.
To have to again rely as heavily on freshman as you’re going to this year, how scary is that?
It’s not comforting, but it’s not as uncomfortable as it was in ‘06, when I thought we had to rely on freshman even more. Last year Z averaged nine points a game and played 17 minutes a game. Larry averaged about nine points a game; John Henson averaged nine points a game down the stretch. Whereas in 2006, David Noel averaged three points a game and we had nobody else. So that year was even scarier. It’s not as comfortable as it was in 2009 when all those points came back.
How long does it take for a kid to really get adjusted?
I don’t think there is a set period. I was stunned how quickly Tyler Hansbrough five years ago accepted the role - ‘We’re going to throw you the ball and we need you to score.’ He didn’t fret, panic and stress out, he just did it. That was a stunner to me. Yet, I’ve had guys who couldn’t handle that stress of being asked to do something on the first day.
It took John Henson almost the whole season…
That was partially something that was set up by his recruitment of wanting to be a three-man and me telling him he’d be given the opportunity and the tremendous depth we had up front anyway. To me the biggest misread everybody had on last year’s team was that we didn’t have anybody who had ever done it. And the two most highly-touted prospects, John and Dexter, were being asked to play different positions. So there was a combination there that just wasn’t very good. John, once we got him back to the four spot and tried to do a few things with him, he did all right.
You mentioned Dexter – where does he fit? Is he a point guard or shooting guard?
If he uses the skills that God gave him, where it puts him is in the starting lineup. I plan on playing Dexter at the 2 and the 1. In Nassau he started at the 2 both games, Kendall started at the 1. I could very easily started Dexter at the 1 and Justin Watts at the 2. I wanted to see how Dexter would be able to handle that. Then when I took Kendall out, I moved Dexter over so he got time at both places. He’s a tremendous athlete and I think he has a tremendous ability to push the ball and take plays from secondary-break status to primary-break status, which is hard to do. He performed better in the fall conditioning practice than anybody on the team. I challenged him more and he responded better than anybody else. He’s a winner, he likes to complete, he doesn’t like to lose and all those things will help him.
What you say might come as a surprise to people because of his struggles last year. Did things get in his head last year?
He had never played the point guard in his entire life. You guys go to Australia and try to drive a straight-drive car, on the column, left hand. I’ve tried that, that’s not easy. The guy who has been a point guard his whole life, thinking playing the point guard is not that difficult. Dexter Strickland had never played the point and then all of a sudden that’s where he got most of his minutes last year. That year of experience behind him will help him when he’s asked to do that role, but also he’ll get time at the two.
Have you thought about just getting rid of Twitter, for the team, all together?
I struggle a little bit. There are freedoms in the country. You have to understand what you do there doesn’t just effect you when you’re a part of a team. What you do there doesn’t just effect you when you’re representing the University of North Carolina. I’ve given very strong statements to the team that this is where we stand right now and anything else that happens, we’re going to take another step. And there’s not one blessed thing you’re going to be able to do about it.
How hard is it to keep kids from getting distracted, when they have so many distractions?
You’re talking about social networking? It’s their way. We wore bell-bottom pants and flip-flops. It’s their way, their world, their culture, their generation. We’ve got to understand it and try to get them to place values on the important things and change those, and those that aren’t that important don’t worry about that. It’s what kids do now. It’s not something that we should crucify someone because they tweet. It’s not a sin to do that, you just have to be sensible about it. Everything in moderation. Somebody told me it was in a good book.