“It's an exciting time to get ready for conference play, and you don't ever know if you're ready until they get out there and start playing the games. We've played a good schedule, played some good teams, played some games on the road, so I think we've done about everything we can to get prepared. I would have liked to have played better in some of those games, there's no question about that. But I think we're looking forward to it.
“We had a nice game yesterday against St. Francis, but we're more gifted and bigger than they were, but I was pleased with some of the things we did. I've been pleased the last couple games where a lot of guys have played well and guys coming off the bench have given us some positive things. We're still a work in progress, and hopefully we'll keep getting better each and every day. But we're excited to start the ACC play.”
Where would you say that your three freshmen that you're relying on a great deal are on their learning curve so far?
“Well, I think they're still at the bottom of it. It's a long, long year and long career, so hopefully it's the kind of thing that I think kids really get significantly better from one year to the next. From their freshman year to their sophomore year is I think always the biggest jump in their learning curve. But they are coming along, they are getting better.
“Kendall is getting a little bit better defensively all the time, which is something that -- that's where he needs to work, particularly his on-the-ball defense. Reggie, same kind of thing, doing a little better job defensively. Harrison is getting a little better defensively. Reggie can give you some scoring. Kendall is doing a really nice job of distributing the basketball and moving the ball quickly and trying to find holes to get to and then create things for his teammates. I think Harrison is getting more comfortable each and every week, each and every game, and I think that'll show up as the season goes along.”
With all three coming in with such high expectations, and particularly Harrison regarded as the No. 1 recruit, how have they handled those kinds of things and reactions from people who think, well, maybe they're not playing as well as they could, et cetera, and so on?
“Well, everybody is going to say that. Every team has got some of the greatest fans in the world and some of the most negative fans in the world, so you're going to hear that. Harrison was one of the top, I'm not going to say that he was the top recruit, because one poll would say him, one poll would say Jared Sullinger and another poll would say Brandon Knight. But Harrison had by far the most unrealistic expectations, but he's a very bright young man and realizes that he's got to please himself, please his teammates, please his coaches, and we're never going to please everybody else, and they understand that.
“As long as they're doing the job every single day trying to work extremely hard in practice and trying to improve, then I think we'll see -- that prior question about the learning curve, I think we'll see them get better. But we can't evaluate just the way everybody else's opinion is because those opinions aren't very realistic.”
Do you feel that this team has kind of turned the corner in the last four or five games with the consistency you've been talking about here the last few minutes?
“Well, I would feel that way if we had finished out the Texas game, but we just didn't finish the Texas game, so you always have that in the back of your mind wondering if you've gotten rid of that completely or if it's still lurking somewhere over there. But we are getting better. The work ethic has been there. The desire has been there. The efficiency of our work has gotten better, the intensity of our work has gotten better, the concentration of our work has gotten better, so as long as you have those things then you have a tremendous opportunity to improve throughout the course of the year.
“I don't know that I would say we've turned a corner where we want to be by any means, but I do think that we are getting better, and I think it's showing up on the court.”
Maybe I'm making too much out of this, but when you have travel plans that go haywire and people have to get there in different ways and that sort of thing and you show up and you play so well as your team did against Rutgers, was that a great sign for you?
“Well, it was a positive, there's no question, to handle all the things, especially a young team has a difficult time handling adversity sometimes. Regardless of whether people want to admit it or not, we're playing three freshmen quite a bit, we're playing three sophomores quite a bit, we're playing three juniors quite a bit and one senior, and even one of the juniors missed half a year both his first two years, and we're talking about Z. It is something that I think the maturity level of our team is getting better, and we're pleased with that progress for sure.”
When you look at your team this year, one of the things that I think you're trying to strive for is consistency in the backcourt. How would you say that has improved since the beginning of the season?
“Well, it has gotten better. That doesn't mean it's been perfect by any means. Yesterday with Larry being 3-0 and Kendall being 8-3, your point guard, 11 assists, three turnovers, you'll take that all the time. I think in the Rutgers game we had good assist ratio up there, as well. But Larry has gotten so much better defensively. He can make us sort of hang our hat on giving him the time because of what he's doing there. Yesterday and at times in the Rutgers game and especially the Long Beach State game, two of his last three games have been his best games offensively. He's been doing better.
“And then Kendall started back on an upswing. I think starting the season Kendall started out the first two or three games and then hit a lull for three or four games and then I think he's started back up. Dexter hasn't been as consistent as we've wanted but he's had some great plays and some plays not so great, even in the same game. So we need to get his consistency up there.
“Leslie has gotten more consistent coming off the bench and putting the ball in the basket for us. They've all got jobs they need to improve on and they've all got different things they give us and that's what they should be concerned about. We're feeling better about it, but we're not where we want to be by any means.”
When you look at Harrison Barnes and all the accolades he had coming in, preseason AP All-American and the struggles that he's had this season, if it was one thing that you could pinpoint, what would you say it would be?
“Well, you know, it depends on what you call struggles. You take anybody else in the country and say his freshman year he's doing that kind of thing, you'd say, well, that's not too bad. But it's just everybody's expectations. So when you look at it in those terms and use the word struggle you can see what everybody is talking about. But again, other people's expectations can't drive you. It's got to be playing the game every single day.
I think the big thing for all freshmen, and I don't think Harrison is any exception, is all of a sudden realizing how good everybody else is that you're trying to guard and the guys that are guarding you. And I think that's a big shock for everybody.
“But Harrison Barnes, am I concerned about Harrison? Yes. Am I concerned about him more than anybody else on our team? No. If that was my biggest worry I'd say I'm in pretty good shape.”
A big picture question: I think for the last five weeks the ACC has only had one ranked team and there hasn't been a stretch like that in 30 years. Is it a sign there's some serious problems in the league this year, or is that just something we're over-blowing?
“Well, in my opinion it would be something we're over-blowing, but at the same time you guys have a job to cover the ACC and look at it more on the big picture. I think we as coaches have to be concerned about our team and how our team is doing. We want the league to do well and the whole bit, but the bottom line is we've got to get in games and play well and win. I mean, we did some really nice things in the Texas game, but we needed to win that game. I'm sure each and every coach you talk to might be able to say the same thing.
“But it depends on how you play and how we play in the conference season. But you guys have a job to do. You've got to write things every day, so you've got to come up with more things to write about and more things to look at than we do as coaches.”
Is it, though, a danger that with the lower rankings and the lower RPI ratings that it's going to hurt the league as we get closer to tournament selection?
“Well, it's going to hurt if we don't start winning more, there's no question about that. But again, we've won more National Championships, we've had teams in the Final Four, and the problem we've been is that one or two or three teams have played very, very well, and some of the other teams haven't won many games in the tournament.
“Now, right now we could go in here and stink it up through the regular season and let's get five teams, six teams, seven teams, whatever number you want to pick, in the tournament, and if we play great in the tournament then everybody is going to say, God, the ACC was great. It's something that we can't control.
“But again, you guys have got to write about something. But I'll guarantee you one thing: I don't lay awake at night thinking one dadgum thing about the RPI of everybody in the league. I've got enough [darn] things to worry about without having to worry about that.”
Is it different at all trying to meld a graduate student like Justin Knox into the program compared to a freshman? Is it harder or easier or different at all?
“Well, it's different, but it's different in a positive way. I've been shocked how much easier it has been because he knows what that competition is like out there. He knows the level of intensity. He knows the strength and the speed and how good those other guys are that you've never heard of. And I'll go back to last year. I asked all our guys have you ever heard of Andrew Goudelock, and nobody had heard of him. Well, you can probably ask Tennessee the same thing before the game, but he kicked North Carolina's rear end last year and halfway did it this year and kicked Tennessee's rear end the other day.
A guy like Justin knows that there's a lot of really good players out there that may not have that big-name recognition and may not have McDonald's All-American after their name but can really play.
“For us it's been easier by far because Justin is just more experienced. You could probably say part of it, he's just more mature. He's not 18 years old. So for me it's been much, much easier than it has been for a freshman by far.”
We're all still getting to know him. What's his personality like off the court? How would you describe him?
“He's a wonderful kid. I mean, wonderful kid. I've enjoyed him so much, it's off the charts. He came in two minutes late for shoot-around the other day, and I was really ticked. That's the first thing that he's been late for, the first appointment he's been late for, whether it's tutor, class, I mean, that's the first slip-up that he's had. And then I read in the dadgum paper and Coach Holladay comes in and starts telling me about some phone glitch, that everybody's phones went out and stopped working and the whole bit.
“The kid had the alarm set on his phone, and I don't know if it was Sprint or Verizon or AT&T because I don't know what they were talking about, they were telling me about it this morning, but it's supposedly been in the papers and all over the news, and that's the first thing -- he's just been fantastic, absolutely fantastic.”