What did you learn last year that you don’t have to re-learn going into this year?
That I can play at this level. That I can be one of the best players on the court when I step out there. Last year, I think I was just trying to fit in and help my team and not do too much. I feel like this year, I can go out there and be aggressive. I’m not saying score every time I touch the ball or that the ball has to be in my hands. It’s just knowing that the player in front of me, I can go out there believing that I can outplay him to help my team win this game.
What do you think is a reasonable expectation for this group next year?
I think a reasonable expectation is that it’s going to be a very memorable year. I’m not going to sit here and guarantee a national championship. I’m not going to sit here and guarantee a Final Four. You have to be a great team, and you have to have great players. But along the way, you have to have some luck, too. I remember Carolina in ’09, they ran up against LSU, a great team, in the second round with Marcus Thornton. If Tywon [Lawson] was still hurt and didn’t play that game, maybe they don’t get past it. In ’05, when they played Michigan State in the Final Four, Shannon Brown and Maurice Ager, that was a great team. Maybe they don’t get past them. That would be another national championship we don’t have. We’re not focused on ‘win it all or bust.’ We’re just focused on making strides throughout the year, enjoying the season as we go along and being successful.
How surprised are you that Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller all came back to school?
I’m not surprised at all. I know what kind of people they are. They’re very unselfish people, they think team first, they care about winning. So to see all three of them come back, it didn’t surprise me.
Have you thought about the next step in your own career and how long you’d like to stay at Carolina?
First of all, winning. That’s the biggest thing for me. That’s all I’m thinking about this coming year. Of course, our goal is to win a national championship. We want to get to New Orleans. But I haven’t focused on anything past that. Right now, my biggest focus is just getting better so I can help my team out. As far as playing at the next level, I’ll worry about that when the time comes. I know I’m nowhere near ready right now.
What have you been working on?
The main three things, I would say: Defending on the ball, keeping the opposing point guard out of the lane. My shooting, just becoming a knockdown shooter so that our big men have more room to operate and the defense has to respect me. And the third thing is just taking care of my body and becoming more durable, having to play 30 minutes a game and being able to do that.
How much did you enjoy the campus pickup games?
The outside pickup games? It was a lot of fun, being able to compete with students and get to see them on a more personal level. They can go and watch us play and maybe they see us walking around campus, but they never actually get to interact with us. It was a lot of fun just to be out there.
Whose idea was that?
I think Harrison and I started it. Me, Harrison and Reggie were walking back from dinner one day, and there were some kids shooting around outside, so we just started shooting with them. More and more people came outside, so me and Harrison put an announcement on Twitter, and it became a hit. So we just kept playing. We’ll try to pick it back up next season.