Any update on P.J. Hairston’s status?
No, what I’ve said continuously and consistently is that there is a process that we’re going through. He’s been assigned some things that he has to do. He’s achieved some of those already, he’s got some more. I promise everybody we’re not going in on game night and say ‘Oh, yeah, P.J. you’re not playing tonight.’ We’ll make an announcement before that. Right now, he’s still going through the process. We’re going through the process. And we’ll what and see what happens.
You said at media day that he’d gotten 18 days of extra preseason conditioning work. Has that continued or stopped now that practice has begun?
That’s some of the things he had to do to be put back on the team, so he could participate in practice. When I suspended him indefinitely – which I think is silly to be honest with you, because what was I suspending him from because he wasn’t him in school, but I it satisfied some people so I guess that’s all right – but I did tell him that he had to do all these things before practice started. If he didn’t do them he wasn’t going to be part of the team. He’s taken care of those. Since practice has started, I don’t think I’ve asked him to run one sprint more than everybody else. I’ve had the freshman run a little more, but not him.
Marcus and Brice said they think you guys are going to run more this year, even with traditional bigs in the lineup …
That’s what we’re trying to do. I think if you were to ask all 16 guys on the team, the No. 1 emphasis has been pace. We wanna go fast, we wanna go fast, we wanna go fast. Part of it has been because three freshmen, who will play a lot for us, they have to get used to that. Part of it is because Joel’s got to be able to go, you can’t be lagging behind. The other thing is I love playing that way and I like to score more points.
How are Joel and Kennedy doing getting in shape and to be ready for that?
In the spring, Joel skipped some time because both knees were bothering him, did a lot of rehab. Once June got here, he’s worked his tail off. He’s in great shape; he’s an impressive physical specimen. Kennedy was the other direction. He was 317 when he came in, he finished practice on Monday at 281. Both of them are running better. Joel understands it a little bit more, Kennedy is still going through that process of understanding. They don’t have to outrun the other team’s point guard, but they have to outrun the other team’s big guys. So that’s something that they’re understanding better.
Has the P.J. situation and process been a burden on the team?
It’s a little unknown because I haven’t gone completely through the process yet. I don’t think about that all the time, every day. The players understand – I would bet if you ask Marcus and Brice here today if it been a distraction, my guess is not a one of them said yes. We’re practicing and working as a team and we’re still going to make that decision later on.
What’s it like to see Jim Boeheim and Mike Brey and these new faces, and what that represents for the league?
For 60 years the ACC has been the best conference in college basketball. There would be two or three years or four or five years that somebody else would be better, but for that time period we’ve been the best. There may have been a little lull here and there where the Big East or Southeast or Big 10… I don’t see anybody being the best – any better – than us now, I don’t care what year it is.
Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pitt are great programs. Syracuse for such a long time with Jimmy there, that’s another guy in the league older than I am, I like that part. Our league now, the depth of the league, the tradition, the history, the success that all the programs have had is unmatched.
Is that a little scary though?
It is. Everybody picks up those magazines and they pick Michigan State, Louisville, Duke and Kentucky as probably pretty much the top four and we play all those guys. It is a little scary trying to figure out if I can win a game. As a coach you’re always worried about that.
What have you seen from the freshmen so far in practice?
Nate gives another true point guard that we haven’t had the last couple of years, so I love that. He’s really understanding pushing the pace, now we’ve got to get him to get under control when he does get there. But he’s really pushing the pace very well. I will play two little guys together sometimes this year. Luke Davis has done a nice job. I don’t think I’ll ever play Luke, Marcus and Nate all three together. That’d be like a team full of jockeys. I’ll play two of the little guys together and Nate has done some really good things.
Isaiah, a guy that had 30 rebounds in the state finals, that’s as big as it can get in high school basketball, so if he can rebound it like that on that stage then we expect him to do the same thing. Very athletic, right now just sort of roaming around trying to figure out where he’s supposed to be.
Kennedy has really had a successful preseason, he really has. Gives us an inside scorer, a strictly low-post, inside scorer that we didn’t have last year. So, all three of them will play a lot for us.
Is John Henson a good comparison for Isaiah Hicks?
Isaiah is not as much of a perimeter player as John could be, and he’s not the shotblocker John was. I had a guy this summer tell me that he thought Isaiah Hicks reminded him of Kenyon Martin, so I’d say somewhere between those two. A wonderful, wonderful kid who’s going to be a big-time player.
How shocking was it to hear about Sylvia Hatchell? Can you sympathize with what she has ahead of her?
I heard about it on Monday and I called her yesterday morning. She called me back; I called her back and then visited with her yesterday afternoon. Then someone told me that orange was the color of leukemia, we have pink, we have purple for pancreatic cancer. To me it was important, I asked the secretaries yesterday to see if they could find some ribbons so I could wear this today for her. She’s a fighter.
It truly rocks your world. People told me for years if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. I didn’t understand that nearly as much until last Sept. 10 when somebody told me I had kidney cancer. For 24 days I thought I had cancer. If you haven’t gone through that, you have no idea. So Sylvia and I had a good discussion about that yesterday. She’s a fighter. Hopefully they caught it really early, hopefully things are going to be OK, hopefully everybody will remember her and what she’s going through and her family is going through in their prayers.
How do you handle it as a coach?
It’s not just about points and rebounds. I tell all our kids in recruiting, if the only relationship we have is me talking to you about changing your jump shot, it’s not a good relationship. We do look at that side of things that are happening off the court a great deal. We emphasize it a great deal. Yesterday at the end of practice, I pulled the team together and we talked about Sylvia and what she’s going through and asked everybody to keep her in their prayers. Life throws you a lot of adversity, and I’m one of those corny guys that think athletics and sports teaches you how to handle some adversity. Hopefully our kids will do a good job with that too.
Were you surprised by the level of negative reaction to P.J,’s situation?
Surprised by the intensity, probably some. It’s a different world than it was 10 years ago, 20 years ago. Social media, the culture that we’re in – media, period. It’s been almost a hatred kind of thing at some points. I’m not saying he didn’t’ do anything wrong. But the intensity of the disagreement of every maneuver has been very hard to handle.
How is Jackson Simmons doing?
Jackson is doing really, really well. He’s one of those big guys that’s gotta step up and play for us. He’s a unique young man. Came here without a scholarship, had scholarship offers other places. He’s ended up being put on scholarship all three years. He adds a great deal to our team. Last year he was very significant in a couple of games and I think he’ll be very significant in more games this year.
Does it give you comfort knowing you can throw the ball inside this year and be playing the Carolina style of basketball?
We do need the big guys to score inside. Reggie was by far the best three-point shooter percentage wise. We need P.J. and Leslie and those guys to step up. Marcus has to shoot a better percentage for us. I really think our best teams have always been when we’ve had good balance that we can score inside and score from the three-point line. Score on the break and score in set offense. So that’s our challenge to be able to do all that. Kennedy, Joel and Desmond, if we throw them the ball to them inside then they need to be able to convert. We spent a great deal of our time in preseason and will continue doing that too.
Do you expect P.J. to become a target of other fan bases?
I think he’s already been that. But I’m not worried about game days. I haven’t been to many arenas where they cheered for us when we went on the court.
Has anyone taken lead for the center position?
Nobody has stepped up and taken it yet. Desmond sprained his ankle and has missed the last three or four practices. Joel missed a couple of practices. Kennedy hasn’t missed practices yet. I think that that’s going to be not just a couple of days, it’ll be a couple of weeks and maybe even longer.
Where have you seen the biggest growth in Marcus?
If you put a freshman at the point guard and say ‘here’s the ball,’ you’re thinking so much more than you’re doing something instinctively. Hopefully after a year he’ll do those things instinctively and bypass the thinking part and that’ll make the decisions smoother, quick and more successful. Nate’s going through the same things now. Nate, top of the key, I say ‘go as fast as you can possibly go’ and he’s done that. And I’ll say now ‘get under control and make a good play.’ So it’s a maturation of play and it’s something that’s constant. You have to go through it every single day.
How have you seen Brice evolve and improve?
To me, Brice has been a scorer, a guy who can shoot the ball in the basket. I think he can still do that, we need him to rebound it more, need him to defend around the rim more. He does have an ability to score and different stages of the game you need that more than you need the defensive play. He is stronger, he doesn’t necessarily look much different than he did last year but I think he plays stronger and more effectively.
Can he be a good defensive player?
I think so. He has the quick bounce to be able to block some shots. I think he’s shown some of that in practice and hopefully he’ll show it in the games, too.
Check back tomorrow for Part II...