You’ve mentioned how Dean Smith told you that you took losses too hard. Could this health scare possibly change that?
What Coach (Smith) said was that I took the losses too hard as an assistant. He said that he’d never seen an assistant that handled it like I did. I have a desperate passion to be successful, to win. When we lose it really – I was in a funk for three days after the Ryder Cup. I was going to go up and talk to the Ryder Cup team on Thursday night, but had to cancel that because they wouldn’t let me get on the plane, because it was seven days after surgery.
I don’t think I’m going to change on the court, except for one thing – I am going to try to smell the roses a little bit more. I’ve been back, starting my 10th year and you’ve heard me say I wish our fans would enjoy the journey. I wish our players would enjoy the journey. In ‘05, ‘07, ‘08, ‘06, 2011 and 2012 we had a wonderful journey that I didn’t enjoy as much because as soon as the game is over, you’re thinking next game. I’m going to really try. I really am going to try to enjoy the journey.
Coaches reached out to you – was that meaningful?
It was the most amazing thing. Wanda, my wife, Scott and Kimmy our two kids, Katie our daughter- in-law, Aiden and Court the two grandsons, they were the best you can possibly be. The North Carolina fans were off the charts; my team was off the charts. But the most flattering thing was the people in the coaching profession that reached out, and what they did was just off the charts with the emails, the text messages, the calls, the letters, the cards, the fruit, the ice cream, the whole bit. To be honest with you, it blew me away.
How much is on James Michael’s shoulders this year?
The biggest challenge is James Michael and Reggie to be able to do it when the defense is going to be aimed at them. The other three post guys, Desmond Hubert hardly played at all. Then Brice Johnson and Joel James are freshmen. Point guard spot worries me to death, the post spot worries me to death. At least the other positions we’ve had some guys who have had some success.
Did you learn anything you can take from that 2009-10 team? Or was it just bad luck and injuries?
It was not just the bad luck and injuries. We had some guys that didn’t play up to potential. We never had a smooth flow with the guys playing together. “Z” was out then Ed was out. David’s out then Travis is out, then Marcus is in and then he’s not back in. It was just a hard, hard year. Every morning at 9 a.m. when I got the injury report it changed what I was going to do at practice that day.
The other thing is that we needed some guys to play at a higher level and play closer to their potential and we didn’t get that done.
Do you feel like you have a more talented group collectively this year?
We had a pretty talented group there. Again, the 13th and 17th pick in two different NBA drafts… It just wasn’t a very smooth running team. Again, we have a guy who started a couple games at Gardner-Webb, a guy who has never started a game and never been a point guard, or a freshman. So you have concerns there.
Then with the big guys, Desmond Hubert got no time. Then other two guys past James Michael are freshman. So there’s much more concerns with this year. That time we had Deon coming back, Larry had played a little bit, Marcus was coming back and he had been extremely important to us but he never got healthy that entire year. Ed had been a big time part of our championship team, so we had more parts that year than we do this year.
Could you see those issues early on that year?
Not after four practices.
That team was like 12-3 at one time. We had beaten Michigan State at home, lose to Texas when we had a chance near the end to tie the game. We lose at Kentucky, if I’m remembering right, we had a chance to tie the game. Then that’s when everything went to pot. Guys started going down right and left then.
95 percent chance of cancer that means five percent chance it’s not. Well I hit the five percent that year. That year against Georgia Tech, five continuous plays we only needed one of them to go our way and we win the game, well they didn’t. College of Charleston, they score the last 10. We’re trying to foul on the last one and he shoots a prayer. If you look at picture in the newspaper, it’s geometrically impossible for that shot to go over his hands, but it went in. So, everything that could go wrong did go wrong with that team too.
On the opposite end, 2006 – what was it about that team?
Two things that are most important: David Noel is one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around and there was a freshman big guy in there that I thought was as good as anybody, and he didn’t mind showing it as a freshman.
The confidence that we had in him as coaches, and the confidence his teammates had in him was hard to replace. Because that big fella’ in some of those games, just carried us. David Noel stepped up, Reyshawn Terry stepped up, Wes Miller stepped up. And that was a fun, fun year.
Chancellor Thorp announced that they’re going to start proposing more stringent academic requirements for athletes starting in the spring. Do you feel like that’s going to impact your recruiting?
I’m not so sure that everything that appeared was exactly what Chancellor Thorp meant. I personally don’t think that anybody in the ACC is going to try and do any of those new measures before everybody else does them. I’m not trying to criticize my chancellor here, because I love him to death, but there’s some things that can’t be done. It’s just not right, not fair if you’re not giving somebody time to prepare. I don’t know that that’s going to be done. I think North Carolina always has some high standards, we’ll always have, and I’m not against those whatsoever.
But I don’t see, in my own mind, I don’t see us just jumping out of the window and doing something crazy now. We’ve had a problem, we’re trying to fix the problem, we’re making a lot of changes for the problem. I think that we’re trying to move ahead. The whole NCAA has got some new entrance requirements that are going into effect. I think North Carolina will go along with those. If something is done earlier, I don’t’have any idea. Nobody’s told me we’re going to do those things.
In that conversation we bounced off about 10 different things and some things were put together. … Four months ago, guys, I was wondering if I was ever going to freaking coach again, you think I’m going to worry about what the hell we’re doing in 2016?
Are the rivalries in this conference as big as they used to be?
To those of us involved, they’re just as big. I hurt just as badly when that (Austin Rivers) shot went in as I did in 1980 when Gene Banks made that one from the top of the key. No, I hurt worse last year – I was the head coach.
I think the rivalries are still extremely important to all of us. Those of us on the inside still feel that rivalry. But there is one little thing that’s a huge difference. More than one team makes the tournament. So one game is not going to kill you, whether it’s in the ACC Tournament or one game that knocks you from fourth to fifth or from first to second. The expansion of the tournament has not been bad for basketball at all, but it has taken a life and death approach away from that final game in the ACC Tournament.
Is N.C. State more of a solid third leg in the Triangle? Where is that rivalry and how close is to being what it was?
They deserve the accolades that they’re getting right now. They had a great run down the stretch. I’m old enough that I remember where Duke and North Carolina State and North Carolina were all three really, really good teams and I think that was good for all of us. So, to me, we’re getting to the point back to where it used to be and I like that. I really do.