“It was a good weekend for us or a good Sunday I guess I should say against Florida State. We caught them when they were missing some shots and then we made a bunch of them. So we had two wins last week. Now we getting to play at Duke and at Clemson this week. So this is about as tough as it can get in this league.”
Clearly it was an emotional weekend for you and a little shocking as well. Do you think it had a bigger impact on you and the coaches than it does the players?
”I think so. Kids get over things so much easier and quicker. They don't hold those things in. It doesn't last with them as long. I've even said that. It's not a negative about kids by any means. At the end of the season they can let go of the losses a lot easier than the coaches can. But it was a tough 48 hours for all of us.”
You've made a lot of trips to Cameron Indoor Stadium. Is there one moment that comes to mind for you when you think about Cameron Indoor, Tyler's freshman year? I know you like to poke fun with me. How about the time you were ballroom dancing in there?
“It wasn't exactly ballroom dancing, but you think of that place, and you think of the great Duke teams, that's what I think of. There have been some great games that I've been involved in that were wins, and some almost great games that I've been involved with that were not wins, I guess you could say.
”But I think the great players and the tradition the program has, what Mike and his staff have done. But there's not any one single moment. Just like you mentioned, I remember Gene Banks making that big shot that beat us my first or second year here. I remember Tyler and the freshmen guys going over there and winning. So there are some good moments, but a lot more tough ones over there.”
Of all the teams you've had that have really hit stride in mid-February and March, what are the most important intangibles needed for a team to hit that stride?
”I think the first part's easy. You have to be healthy. You have to have the guys that you think are your best players playing their best. They can't play their best if they're not healthy. We've had some tough times. I can go back to '05 at the end of February when we lost Rashad McCants those last four games. That was a tough time period for us. But everybody pulled together, and in the long run, it ended up helping us quite a bit. The last we're every time I turned around we lost somebody, so that was not a good time.
”Health has to be part of it. The team chemistry that everybody knows about, you don't ever know until your team goes through a lot of difficult circumstances and some very good moments too. And I think that the team chemistry is built throughout the course of the whole season.
So when you get into February, and things are positive and you're playing well, the team chemistry will help you out through tougher times than it would be if you had a lot of injuries and the ball's not going in the basket?”
Dexter mentioned yesterday that since May you've lost four players who he said maybe weren't all in. Over the last 72 hours, what have you noticed about the attitude and the focus of the guys you have left going forward?
”I thought that that last Friday afternoon and Saturday morning we had two really good practices. Everybody emotionally was into it, enthusiastically, working as hard as they could work. I'm hoping we could maintain that kind of thing. We've lost some guys that were surprises to us. At the same time, I loved coaching the guys that we have left.”
With the sudden abrupt departure of Larry Drew, how much do you think perhaps in the long run this will galvanize your team and attribute to your team chemistry as you make a run towards March?
”I really don't have a feel on that. I think the only way you can ever really see that is when you look back and see how well you did. I know that as I just said on Friday and Saturday in practice, my team was really focused. I know yesterday in the game they were really focused.
”You don't like to have those kind of losses of your personnel, because it is a shake-up. But at the same time, I think our kids are really together. I think the chemistry was fantastic Friday, Saturday and Sunday. You hope that it ends up being good for you.
”But I can't personally tell you an answer to that until I look back at it. I have a great deal of confidence in my kids. I really, really felt they would play their tails off on Sunday.
I think that it did bring them a little closer together, which adversity tends to do. You don't want to have adversity any other day because that's difficult for anybody. But I do believe I was so proud of my bunch those last three days.”
Describe the rivalry? The game on Wednesday night against Duke and Cameron Indoor Stadium? The fact that it always has been and always will be the epicenter of college basketball?
”It's been that way for a long time. There is no question that I feel very flattered to be a small part of it myself. But it's two great institutions, two great basketball programs who have been very successful.
In the last ten years they've won two National Championships, we've won two National Championships. Mike has done a great job there doing the same kind of thing that Coach Smith did here. It's a big, big game. We didn't live up to it last year. We didn't do our part, so hopefully we'll do a heck of a lot better trying to uphold our part now.”
What are Harrison and Kendall doing better of late that maybe they weren't early in the season because of their experience for whatever reason?
”I think that you said it yourself. I think just the experience and the change from high school to college basketball is not easy. Everybody doesn't adapt as easily as Tyler Hansbrough did. He would tell you it was a heck of a lot easier as a sophomore, junior and senior than as a freshman kind of thing.
But I think 22 games in, the experience that they've gained has made it a lot easier for them. They understand the speed, the quickness, the jumping ability, the athleticism of our opponents. They understand how some of these guys they've never heard of are really good.
”So I think just 60, 64 practices I guess is what we have had. No, today's 65, so we've already had 64 practices in 22 games. So those two kids are bright and intelligent. What they've done is taken things that were tough for them he, and tried to improve in that area and taken thing that's they did well, and tried to make sure they could expand on that.”
What do you see are the keys to beating Duke this week? Especially without Larry your defense might not be as good as you want it to be?
”Well, beating Duke is not easy, period. There is a reason that they've won all those games there. They're very gifted, talented and very well coached. They play together. I think you have to play the complete game. You can't just have a great night shooting the ball and play poorly on the defensive end of the floor. You can't just play great defense and not shoot the ball in the hole.
”You've got to do everything you can to do a good job defensively. You've got to try to get some easy ones on your break, and you've got to be able to make open shots. You've got to play without turning the ball over. You've got to try to not put them on the free-throw line very often. They're going to make a bunch of threes. You've got to try to guard them and cut that percentage down. You have to play the complete game because they're a really phenomenal club.”
You referenced last year's game a moment ago. So I'm wondering how much more confident or different do you feel going into this game in Cameron than did you last March?
”Last March was tough. Every day I felt like we were being hit right between the eyes. We didn't have a full complement of players. A couple of those players we did have were hurting. We weren't playing very well. We weren't coaching very well. It was not a very comfortable time for me at all. At the same time, Duke was extremely motivated. We had beaten them for four straight years. You add that together, and it was a regular rear-end kicking is all it was.
“Right now I'm scared to death because I know what it felt like over there. But at the same time, I feel more comfortable with my team. I feel more comfortable with the way we're playing. It will be a monumental task, there's no question about that. But I think our guys will try extremely hard, and everybody will be together.”
Several of your players yesterday referenced that game too and said they were flat out embarrassed by that. Do you think that the memory of that game can be an influential factor in this game?
”Talent's the biggest influential factor, I think. You've got to be playing great. I could be motivated to beat Tiger Woods on the golf course, but I'm not going to do it kind of thing.
I think it will be great for us in preparation because we know what happened. We weren't as prepared as we needed to be. The thing that's we talked about in practice two days prior to that game last year, the kids didn't need to believe it or failed to work on it well enough or we failed to coach it well enough.
"But we did not put out there on the court the type of things in practice that we could simulate what Duke was going to do. They were just so enthused, so fired up and on the top of their game, and we didn't respond. So hopefully we'll respond a heck of a lot better this time.”