We've seen the overwhelmingly positive reaction to your hire from the fan base and from the basketball community. What type of reception have you witnessed and received in your first few days since the hire was announced?
It’s been really exciting. My friends and family are so excited for me, my wife, and my three kids. Just being able to get this opportunity is amazing. We were really happy at ESPN. We had been there for seven years. The thing that I loved about being at ESPN was getting to know and developing relationships with the coaches and players around the country, being at games, practices, and shoot-arounds. Given this opportunity to be an assistant coach at North Carolina allows me to be able to do what I loved at ESPN, but I get to do it at North Carolina in a more personal way every day at a place that I have loved since I was four years old. I used to hang out here on campus with my uncle Walter Davis who was an All-American here from 1974-77. Not only do I love this basketball program, I love this university and this community. That’s why I moved back here seven years ago. It’s an honor. I’m very excited and thankful. But I’m ready to go. I’m just appreciative of this opportunity to be around the program and learn from Coach Williams.
How were the players informed of your hire and have you spoken to them as a group or individually?
I talked to them as a group as Coach announced it at his house. Not all of the kids were there but I have called every one of them and told them how excited I am to be their coach. I want to speak to all of them in person and be able to say the same things to them. I told them I’m coming in full-time to the office on Wednesday so that if they get a chance to stop by when they come in for the first session of summer school, I can just sit down and talk with them. I want to start the process of really getting to know them. I called all of their parents yesterday to tell them how excited I am to get to know them and for them to get to know me and my family.
I remember you practicing with the team quite frequently before you took a position at ESPN in 2005-2006. How did that time and experience impact your desire to coach and influence the type of coach you'll be at UNC?
I’m not sure if that will influence me much at all in terms of me coaching at North Carolina this year. But that was a really neat experience when I first moved back to North Carolina and was starting with ESPN. At that time Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green, and those guys were freshman and they didn’t have enough guys to practice sometimes. So it was a neat opportunity to be out there, being able to practice with those guys running up and down the floor, and to be able to be with Coach Williams and see the similarities between him and Coach Smith and Coach Guthridge.
In terms of my role as a coach, it is to help [the other coaches] serve. My job is to help the players become the best individuals that they can be, become the best basketball players they can be, and to prepare them so that whenever they leave North Carolina they can be ready to go out in the real world. My job is to help and to serve them on and off the floor. I want them to know that and I want them to believe that everything that I say and everything that I do is because I am trying to help and serve them. That is what Coach Smith and Coach Guthridge did for me and that’s what I want to do for these players.
You’ve said before that you had always wanted to go into coaching, even though Coach Williams caught you off guard by his offer. Who are the major influences in your life that have facilitated your desire to become a coach?
I have always loved basketball. I have always love teaching basketball. I love developing relationships with the players. The most enjoyable part of my time at ESPN was being able to do that with other coaches and players around the country. An opportunity to be able to do that, to teach and coach, is something that I have always wanted to do but it had to be the right situation. Outside of my faith in Jesus, my family is the most important thing and I want to be there for them and to be around them. I’m a family guy. Even though I’ve always wanted to be a coach, it had to be the right situation. If other great programs like Kansas, Kentucky, or Louisville had asked me to take the same position at those universities then I would have said “no” with no hesitation. But this works. My family and I have lived here for seven years, a block away from Coach Williams. I live in Chapel Hill so to be able to do this not only is a great opportunity for me but it’s a great opportunity for my family as well.
Now that you've gotten the job, where and when do you begin? Did Coach Williams provide any initial suggestions or feedback to help get you started?
Well, there are a number of things. I’ll start this week coming into the office. I want to be able to meet with the players and be able to sit down with them and start the process of getting to know them. I have to study for the compliance test on May 17th and May 31st. I’m not sure which one of those I’ll take. I have to pass that if I want an opportunity to go out and recruit in July. Camp is coming around from June 10th to June 20th. I am going to be helping with the preparation for that and then the kids come back for either first or second session of summer school. So there is a lot of work out there even though it’s the offseason. And then getting to know them and their families is a big deal for me as well. It’s going to be a lot of work but it is all here at home so it’s great.
What about specific recruiting responsibilities, when can you start calling recruits?
That’s a good question. I’m going to have to discuss that at length with Coach Williams. He said that he wants me going out recruiting and becoming familiar with the process and I’m excited about doing that. I’ve never done it before and it is an experience that I have never had. I’m really excited to be able to talk to people about North Carolina and the experience that I had at the university, not only playing but being able to go to school there. It was so beneficial for me to be able to grow not only as a player but as a person. I want that for every child. Every kid that comes here, I want them to experience that at North Carolina. I’m really looking forward to talking about Carolina to different people.
How much has the recruiting scene changed since you were a high schooler and how familiar are you with that scene today?
That’s a great question. In terms of recruiting, I wasn’t highly recruited. The difference when I was coming out of high school was that instead of an AAU circuit, there was a camp circuit. It was more local and the big thing in the summer was going to a number of camps all across the country. Now it’s not about the camps, it’s about AAU. It’s the same thing just a different way.
I wasn’t highly recruited but one of the things Coach Guthridge told me right after I took the job -- well, we talked about a number of things -- but one of the things he mentioned was recruiting. He told me that I needed to just be myself. So I don’t think there is a handbook of what you have to do. I just think that I need to be myself. I’m going to talk about a place that I have loved since I was four years old, the University of North Carolina. So all I have to do is be myself and talk about Carolina. I think that will be more than enough.
Do you have a particular coaching style and philosophy and if so, how might it complement and blend with the other members of UNC’s staff?
I don’t think I have a particular style but Coach Smith taught me a number of things. I don’t have the time to talk all about the impact that Coach has made on me but one thing that’s huge is that he only used the word “win” one time in the four years that I was there. He used to tell me this every day in different ways. He told me that if you committed yourself to practice and preparing to the best of your ability, you won’t have to worry about winning. You will be happy with the results. And I really believe that. So in terms of a coaching style, I believe that whatever you are doing, whether it’s lifting weights, whether you are in school, whether you are preparing for a game, that whenever you are on the floor you need to practice and prepare to the best of your ability. If you do that, you will be happy with the results.
In terms of coaching philosophy, the X’s and O’s of whether it’s zone or pick-and-roll or whatever, I can play with any of that. But in terms of effort and in terms of playing every day, being committed to practice and preparing, I really want these guys to understand that even though there may be problems along the way, they will be happy with the results if they commit themselves every day. Coach Smith taught us that and I believe it.
You were a marksman from behind the arc in your playing career and UNC has recently struggled in its efficiency and consistency shooting the basketball from the outside over the last couple of seasons. How might you use your particular skills in working with Carolina’s guards in helping them to become more consistent shooters?
I think we have some outstanding shooters at Carolina. We have Leslie McDonald back along with Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston. All three of those guys I really like. They have great range and the ability to put the ball on the floor. Marcus Paige is going to be terrific at the point guard in being able to knock down the perimeter jump shot. And then Dexter has one of the best mid-range jump shots in the game. He is really consistent from that area. There is just no secret in how to become a better basketball player. You need to be in the gym all the time shooting and then when you’re tired, you need to keep shooting and then when you are dead tired you need to keep on shooting. Number two, it’s all about the quality of the shot. So, one, are you practicing and preparing and doing everything you can do to get better as a shooter? Number two is, what kind of shot are you taking? Are you taking contested shots? Are you taking quick shots? Or are you taking high percentage and wide open shots? That’s the key. What kind of quality shot are you taking and how hard are you working? Those are the two things that factor in to whether you shoot a good percentage or not.