Have you seen anything different from Larry Drew? He talked about how he’s motivated because he feels like he has something to prove.
Well, I think he is motivated. I do, honestly, believe he got way too much blame for last year. He had 222 assists without Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green. Ty Lawson had 260 with those guys. Now, Ty Lawson was the greatest performance by a point guard I have ever seen in a fast style of play. We played so fast that he had something like 260 assists and 66 turnovers – that’s incredible at the pace we play at. And so now all of a sudden the guy that takes his place is supposed to do that? So, I thought it was unfair. But, I don’t like point guards having over 100 turnovers. His whole thing is making decisions and that’s one of the things we talked about in the offseason - I wanted him to play pickup games and make better decisions. As soon as you make a play, if it’s not successful, ask yourself: why was it not successful? Then try to do a better job of it the next time.
At Media Day you said you hadn’t seen Justin Knox play other than a couple of tapes. Now that you’ve seen him in practice, what do you think?
I’m ecstatic with him. He’s a wonderful kid and been a great asset for us in practice. He has set some screens the way screens are supposed to be set - he’s buried some people. He’s rebounded in a crowd and shot the ball better than I thought he would shoot it. He’s been a welcome, welcome addition.
From a leadership standpoint, I’d imagine that a kid that has played three years of college ball, who is a little older and has a degree – he has a guy that sets a pretty good example…
Not really… (laughter). In one way, he does set a great example. You start talking about being a leader, I’m just thinking, you could put Tyler Hansbrough and Justin Knox in a hotel or in a thimble for 24 hours and never get one tape out of them, because they won’t say ‘boo’ to anybody. They’re both so quiet, but Justin, he doesn’t say much at all. Tyler wasn’t terribly vocal but a wonderful leader, because he just played his tailed off and people followed. I’ve been ecstatic about the way Justin just competes and just plays.
Speaking of leadership by example, Dexter Strickland was talking about how Harrison Barnes will stay after practice with shooting drills. It’s like he’s embarrassed that he isn’t doing it and that makes everyone else work a little harder…
And that’s the way Tyler Hansbrough was. For one, they were afraid to screw up because he’d get so mad at them. But I do believe, in Harrison’s case, he has a tremendous amount of respect already from the older guys. I think that’s pretty unique for a freshman.
All three of your freshmen won state titles last year. Is there a value in having completed a championship quest like that?
I think so. A lot of the best teams I’ve had – Tyler Hansbrough won state championships; Wayne Ellington was on a great team. Ty Lawson won 40 games his last year in high school. You go back, Raymond Felton was a winner, Sean May was a winner, Rashad McCants was a winner. I do like to bring in those guys that have won.
Harrison Barnes has been named ACC Preseason Rookie of the Year. How do you think he’s going to handle all of these expectations?
I think he’ll handle it exceptionally well. He’s just that kind of individual, it doesn’t bother him. He wants the expectations. He takes a great deal of pride in people thinking he’s going to be pretty good. Then that drives him to work hard enough to do that.
You also finished third in the poll, with one first-place vote. What’s your thought on that one?
It had to be a North Carolina graduate that hates Duke (laughter). I’m always pulling for the American against the guy from the foreign country, regardless of who it is. That had to be that situation right there. Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, somebody like that. I say that affectionately, because those are two of my favorite guys, listening to their music. Last year we left here and it was a tie vote and I thought that was the most asinine appraisal of what was out there that I’d ever seen.
So this is a little bit better you think?
It’s not as weird as it was last year by any means. It boils down to guys stepping up and guys staying healthy - that’s the bottom line.
When you look around the polls, it always seems to be Duke and North Carolina and then everybody else. No one seems to know where the depth in the conference is…
I think Virginia Tech has a chance to be a great basketball team. They have five starters back and all their guys have been through the wars and some tough times, with no one appreciating what they’re doing. Now, they have a chance to step up and show them. North Carolina State, I think those returning players and the three freshmen that they have coming in is exactly what they need. Tracey Smith, the experience he got and how difficult he is to guard up front helps with them. Florida State, everybody on their perimeter back. Singleton is about as gifted a player as there is in our league. Michael Snaer is a guy who can score like crazy. There are good teams in this league. Man, I have to admit I’m a little surprised by that. We’ve had some major adversity to handle and some major problems. I’m a little surprised by being No. 3.
What would you have voted yourself?
I never… I voted in the USA Today poll for a couple of years and hated it. After those two years I did it, I said I’ve never doing that again. I prefer to evaluate a team right when we’re getting ready to play them.
Do you look at N.C. State as getting back to the good old days of what it used to be like?
The freshman guys they have coming in are really gifted. But Tracey Smith is the guy that’s going to drive the boat. He’s such a load inside and he’s hard to guard – he gets you in foul trouble. I hate to think about how many fouls he’s going to draw from John Henson, Justin and Tyler Zeller. I think Sidney’s done a great job with him. If these come through and these freshmen really play, they have a chance to do some big-time things.
How well do you know the new coaches in the league?
Brad (Brownell), he was at UNC-Wilmington. We played them my first two years, I know him better than the rest. Jeff (Bzdelic), he coached Raef LaFrentz in the NBA. I had talks with Doug Moe when Jeff was with Denver. Steve (Donahue), not quite as familiar with him as the other two.
Do you ever think about how different last season would have gone if you had won that game at the College of Charleston?
Well, there were two games. The College of Charleston is one, because that really shook us. But then the other game was Georgia Tech. I kiddingly told Paul (Hewitt), that was the reason he didn’t take the St. John’s job, is because I wasn’t in the Big East, since they beat us three freaking times out of three last year. The Georgia Tech game is a game that we had always won in the past. Four or five plays at the end of that game that if one of them goes our way, we win the game. It was a great comeback and that’s how North Carolina had always done. I think the Charleston game and the Georgia Tech game both come down to a last second shot, we didn’t make one, they did. I think that was huge on our season. To answer your question, I’ve never thought what it would have been like, but I know deep in my soul, that (the season) would’ve changed drastically.
Do you think you have a player this season that can step up and take that shot in the last second?
Yeah. Larry made a big play against Mississippi State. Guys who can score in multiple ways are usually those guys that make that shot. Harrison and Reggie for example, they can shoot, they can both drive and pull up, and they can take it to the basket. Z is going to have an ability to score with his back to the basket, slashing to the basket and facing the basket. Those guys are usually the ones who make those kinds of plays.
Will Graves was going to play a little for you at the “4”…
No, he was going to play a heck of a lot at the four. He would’ve played more at the four then he ever saw at the three-spot.
Do you have any other guard/wing type guys that can help you out down there?
So many times in the past we’ve been a double-low or high-low set. We don’t have the personnel to do that depth wise this year. So, we’re trying to do more open-court passing game, more high and wide kind of stuff. Offensively, I don’t think we’ll be that concerned about it. Defensively, we’re extremely concerned. Can we have two guys in there that can guard the other team’s two post players?
How important was it for Harrison to see this program as high as it was and as low as it was, kind of from the outside and to come in with that perspective?
I had never thought of it like that. He did see us win a national championship. A few months later commit to us, sign with us and then see us struggle. Some kids, and I’d put Harrison in this, he’s confident enough to feel that he can make a difference. If we had won the national championship last year and had lost everybody or had everybody coming back, I think he’s confident enough to know that he still would’ve made a difference.
Some of the players were saying the freshmen are just as motivated as they are because they took a lot of heat back home during the season…
I don’t that that’s the cause. I just think that inside those three kids is a desire and need to succeed. A desire and need to be successful. And a belief that the way they do that is through extra effort and extra work. Reggie’s a little more happy-go-lucky and not quite as serious as the other two. They’re dragging him along and being a good example to him too.
Did the practices before the Bahamas help these opening practices this month with the freshmen?
Yeah. It would’ve been even better if we had Justin or Larry, or both. But yes, I think it’s helped them make the adjustment to me on the floor. Give them a little bit more experience. Your freshman year you come in and all of a sudden, the season has started. You’re still fighting the academic side and you’ve got practice and coach is running you to death. The summer school experience, the academic side and the Nassau trip has helped them.
Tyler was telling us you’ve run a lot this offseason. Was that by design?
Tyler Zeller, one of the best things he does is run. So, we have to have him have the stamina to run from the first play to the last play. Having the stamina to play more minutes – I think he averaged nine points a game last year and played less than 18 minutes. He wants to play more minutes, it goes back a little bit to the question earlier – I told him, ‘Big fella’ it’s time for you to step up. I think he likes that. His sophomore year in high school he was OK, his junior year he was a heck of a lot better and his senior year he was fantastic.
How much do you think his injuries have set him back over the last couple of years?
A great deal. Dexter played more minutes in his one year than Z’s played in his two. I think that’s true. So, I think staying healthy would’ve helped him out a great deal - fighting those injuries off has been so much more difficult for him.
Roy, do you school your guys at all on the potential for agent problems? Do you allocate time at the beginning of the year, as a routine? We started talking about things like that because of agents in football. Is it the coach’s responsibility?
See, I think that’s hideous to even think that. We have 800 student-athletes, 1,600 parents, how in the dickens can we police 2,400 people? We can’t be held responsible for that, because there’s no way to police it. But, we have to try. We bring in some FBI. I talk to my players every week about agents. I check every ticket list on the road, I stuff the envelopes myself. I know who’s sitting where. If a strange person starts showing up, I know about it. One thing we do after the game, we look around the locker room – who is there that we haven’t seen normally? If there is somebody there, then we try to research them. I don’t like the profession of being an agent. There are some guys that do a great job and they have a small minority of people who have ruined their profession and give them such a bad name. I don’t think they’re even needed. It saddens me that we can say a coach is responsible for doing this, when he has no way of being able to do that successfully. But, you’ve got to try.