John Henson said his goal was to improve this year on offense, as much as he improved on defense from his freshman to sophomore year. Do you think that’s attainable?
It was such a major jump for his overall play from his freshmen to sophomore year, so it’s hard to quantitate what would equal out that kind of thing. I think that he can really become more efficient offensively, having a much better understanding of his game about what he can and cannot do. That’s going to be much better – the experience factor is going to help him there. John’s game is still helping us around the backboard, covering the goal, rebounding the ball, running the floor, taking away things from the other team. And, yes, if he makes a 15-footer, that’s great. But the other part of the game is what he has to do for our team to do well.
I think John has significantly gained in his strength and his play shows it. Z even said the other day that when you bang into John now, it’s a much different feeling than it was two years ago. So being able to hold his position on the defensive end of the floor, hold his position on the backboards, that’s big.
What about his free throw shooting?
We haven’t shot a lot in practice so far, but he’s shot them pretty well. Right now, the only thing we’ve been doing is partner shooting or shooting with a gun, trying to get a lot of shots up at the end of practice, doing a little conditioning, shooting when you’re tired type of thing. But we haven’t started shooting all the free throws in the middle of practice and at the end of practice like we always we do.
How much of a difference can James Michael McAdoo make pushing Tyler Zeller and John Henson in practice?
Well, it’s a much different player. Justin Knox was a defender-rebounder, James Michael is a scorer. So it’s a different look that you have. We need him to try to become a better defender and rebounder, just like we wanted Justin to score a little more. It’ll be a difference, but I’m hopeful that when he comes into the lineup, it’ll be like some of our really good teams -- you make a substitution, you add something to your team.
What about Desmond (Hubert), is he going to make an impact this year?
Five practices, it’s hard to say. That’s the reason we get to practice and find out. He’s a wonderful kid that really want to be a big-time player.
How is Jackson Simmons looking?
Jackson’s just like James Michael; his head’s spinning right now. Guys are a lot bigger, a lot faster. We’re throwing a lot more things at him; it’s not the same style that he played for four years and the same coach he played for. We’re running 12 different sets, so right now it’s spinning. He’s a young man I saw player in the summer quite a bit. He came to my camp one year, just loved him as a kid. His parents are great people. We decided to talk to him about coming and being a walk-on. Ended up we didn’t have the full complement of scholarships, so I’m not going to keep one in my pocket. Here’s a kid who passed up the opportunity to go to other schools that were going to give him a scholarship. And so for me it was a thrill to be able to give him a scholarship and now to watch him develop is going to be fun.
The way Kendall Marshall sees the floor, is that something you are born with or is it something you develop?
It’s a little bit of both -- I don’t think it’s coached, I don’t think it’s taught. You can get them to understand, ‘you’re going this way and we have all this action going on behind you that would be where you should be looking.’ We have one of those plays where you dribble off the screen at the top of the key, so many people just throw the ball, well there’s nothing happening over here. Behind us is where the action is. Kendall’s always had instinctively that kind of feel of where things were actually taking place that would be a factor in the game.
I don’t think you can coach it. I think you’re born with great vision. … You have to have the vision, the instincts. Great poker players have that memory and I think Kendall sees the game as a whole. It’s hard – some players never see the game as a whole. Tyler Hansbrough did not. It was ‘give me the ball, I’m putting it in that basket.’ But Kendall sees the whole court and when doesn’t see it, he still has that vision in his head.
Did Ty and Raymond have it?
Not nearly as much as Kendall, but you know they were different point guards. I’ve always loved having great point guards, whether they were “scoring” point guards or Kendall and Jacques Vaughn. Jacques Vaughn was Player of the Year in the Big 12 and was not a great scorer. Raymond and Ty won national championships.
Does speed matter as much if you have that vision?
He is instinctively a passer. He sees the guy and it’s off his hands. One game last year, I think it was Maryland, the ball came across and he just goes and bats it down to the baseline to a guy. Most people don’t even see that kind of thing. I think that’s part of what I’m talking about, the instinctive part.
So, his instincts are his speed?
He makes up for the lack of speed in some ways by his ability to pitch ahead and not pound it and run by people like Ty and Raymond did. So he benefits from that part of it.
It seemed like he really had trouble toward the end of the season when quicker guards like Nolan Smith in the ACC Tournament were able to pin him far away from the basket. What do you see him doing to counter that this season?
First of all, that’s the only time that happened and there are not many guys as good defensively as Nolan was, so it’s hard to do that. But we have talked about it. The easiest way to stop that is to come at it in a run, don’t allow it to happen and go to the other side. I think he understands that now. If you really think about our game at Duke and the game in Chapel Hill, that didn’t happen, it was just the game in the Tournament. It’s something other teams will try to do – and he’s got to understand that - but I think he’ll be a little more prepared to handle it now.
What are the particular challenges of being the favorite in most games?
I’d rather be the best team and be the underdog both. If you can’t choose that, then I’d rather just be the best team. You have to be aware every day, you can’t slack off. We put a lot of expectations on ourselves and they are more valid than the expectations of someone else that don’t have anything invested in it. At least our players and our staff, they have something invested there.
Coaching a really good team, they have to maintain that focus every day. It’s not just going to happen because they it says North Carolina on their chest. You’ve got to do it every day and I think our kids understand that.
With the recent hiring of Dante Calabria at UNC-Wilmington, it seems like the UNC coaching tree keeps growing and growing. Why has North Carolina managed to produce so many coaches?
It’s an attractive thing to people, the North Carolina success. And those people who were involved in it, if you’re looking for someone to help your program, you’d like someone who’s been more involved in it already. One of the other finalists for that job was Bobby Frasor. So, two of the three candidates were our guys. I’m glad that Dante’s in.
If they go to divisions and do-away with a regular-season championship, would you have a problem with that?
Yes, I’ve always thought that what you do over 14 or 16 games is pretty important, as opposed to two or three days. But again, do you think you’ll still be writing when all these decisions are made? I am one of those traditionalists that I like to reward people for what they do for an entire regular season.
I’ve heard people talk about divisions – I said ‘Who would be?’ I have strong feelings that the regular-season champion should get the automatic bid in every league in the country, not just the ACC, but in every league. I think that’s just harder.
I think it’d be interesting to take the standings last year at the end of the season, and see what the difficulty of your own schedule was. I think ours was pretty dadgum strong, we finished first and Duke was second-- we played them twice. Who was third? Florida State, we played them twice. I think you can do that at the end of the season and really get a good read on how the schedules within our own league vary – the strength of schedule in our own league. I think last year, there’s some value that we can’t play ourselves, versus we get credit for playing someone that’s 12. I’d be surprised if we didn’t play one of the top three schedules in the country within our own league.
That’s what we have to do with the new schedule, new teams, new conferences - try to make it was equitable as we possibly can. I’m big on that, that’s my No. 1 thing.
If it goes to an 18-game schedule, what do you take away from the non-conference because the ACC is so tough?
Well, it’s really not an 18-game schedule if you think, you’ve got the ACC-Big 10 Challenge and that’s not going away. So that’s 19, if you play a 19-game schedule then you got that, that’s 20. We’re going to lose some of the rivalries that we’ve had for a long time non-conference wise. I made that statement to a TV guy one time. I said ‘you say you want more inventory?’ Would you rather have the No. 1 team in any league versus the No. 12 or would you rather have the No. 1 team in the league against the No. 1 team in another league. What’s the better inventory? If you keep adding conference games, you’re going to lose games like North Carolina-Kentucky, North Carolina-Texas, North Carolina-Connecticut, North Carolina-Arizona, North Carolina-Michigan State.
Mike (Krzyzewski) has a good saying; he thinks the ACC should be a national league and that we should schedule like that. That’s what I try to do, I try to play a lot of teams everywhere. I think six out of the previous eight years, our schedule has been in the top 20 or 30.
What makes you decide to have a series with a specific team?
I’m weird … I took my team to play at Princeton because Gary Walters sent me a note and said that Coach Smith was the only guy that would ever who come up there and it shouldn’t be like that in college athletics – people shouldn’t be afraid to go play at Princeton.
Lute Olson and I decided under the basket at Las Vegas to start a series. We flipped to see who had the first home game. I didn’t realize until later that he had a former player that flipped for him, that’s the reason they got the first home game. I told him he cheated me.
Rick Barnes likes to come back to North Carolina. We had some great games against Texas when I was at Kansas. We had a 110-103 double overtime game, we had a 93-90 game -- part of it is that. Then I think you need to have a couple of places open so you can take someone back close to your home, too.