It's good to have the earlier practices, and a few more practices enables you to do that a little more. I think we'll have that in a game. I'm convinced that the first a game when we play Oakland, you'll see two little point guards out there together. I'm convinced in the first game against Oakland, you'll see James Michael as a small forward. It's something that I think will be a continual process throughout the season.
You think James Michael might have not played his natural position and these big guys will allow him to do that?
I think he's played his natural position because he's more of a four-man than a three-man because of his abilities, ball handling and everything. The only time he's had a five-man in there to play the post defense and post up was his freshman year those few games after John was out and he played with Tyler Zeller and those were pretty doggone good times. It's been a shame that he hasn't had that low-post presence to play with and enable him to do some other things. But in some ways it's given a greater variety to his game. The good thing with James Michael is I still don't know how good he's going to be, but I know it's a pretty doggone good problem to have.
James Michael has said he was more focused this offseason. Have you seen that?
After the season was over, his back was hurting so he didn't play for quite a while. Man, when he started back in June he was very disciplined, very devoted, working hard with Jonas in the weight room, working hard with Coach Davis on his shot, working hard in practice. But practice doesn't make perfect, it's perfect practice. I think that's been the biggest change that he's really tried to do all those things that makes you a better player.
How has Hubert Davis matured as a coach?
I think Hubert took the year and used it wisely. Understood what's important in the college game, what to do about recruiting, what to do about practice sessions. First of all, he's very intelligent and he's seen ways that he can do more things to help us and he's done those things. The year's experience has been very good for him, but he was sensational last year and I think each and every day he gets to be even stronger.
How will coaching the JV team help him?
I think it's great. I coached it for eight years. I had two practices every day for eight years and I thought it was great for me. I got to make decisions and not just suggestions. I think that'll help him in his development as a coach.
What do you think of the new rule changes?
I like anything that can give you better freedom of movement. I've not liked the physical game and I've always said that for a hundred years. The block/charge call, it's going to be interesting to see how it's called, number one. And to see how people like it - me, players, everybody. That's one I'm concerned about, but I like the freedom of movement, not being able to hand check people as they're trying to make cuts and hopefully that's the way it'll evolve.
Do you have to change the way you coach because of these new rule changes?
There's some questions there. You still need to be able to teach somebody to take a charge because everybody can't block a shot. So you don't want the guy to just turn around and say, ‘OK get to the rim on your own' kind of thing. It is something, you have to get to that spot quicker, you have to be set quicker, so you hope that you can still take some charges. In my mind, there's going to be a lot more blocks called earlier and we have to wait and see how it happens after that. Every team doesn't have a 7-footer or a John Henson around the rim to block the shot. So you got to think of some different way to try and defend people and in the past drawing the charge has been part of that.
How much does P.J.'s situation impact the lineups you're using?
Not really at all, right now. The first two weeks of every season I never put the five best out there against the other guys. I mix them up and I change them every day. The white team changes from one day to the next. Now, Tyler Hansbrough never went to the blue team after his freshman year, OK I understand that. But I do play a lot of combinations all the time at this time of the year. So far it hasn't been any factor, none whatsoever. But it will get to a point that it will, there's no question.
How confident is J.P. with his mid-range jumper now?
I think J.P. is more confident with that and he should because he's shooting it better. But I also want him to understand great players understand their strengths and their weaknesses. I don't want him going out thinking that he's going to shoot five or six threes every game and never go to the offensive rebound, because that's not very intelligent. I think that he'll understand that, too.
The players were talking about how James Michael took too much on his own and forced too much of the action last year. Is he going to be able to play more of a balanced game this season?
I think there might have been some misinterpretation on how they meant that, because what I hope they meant is that he turned the ball over too much. So you've got to stop turning it over, there's no question he needs to do that. We needed him to try to score last year. We had three-point shooters, we got to try to find somebody that can do something somewhere else than the three-point line. This year, as I said earlier, he may even spend some time at the small forward. But he can't do that if he turns the ball over, so the ball-handling part of it has to get better. I have seen a more focused player than I've ever seen and a guy that's having a very, very good preseason. I really hope that James Michael is my biggest worry - that means I'll be in good shape.
Do you look around the locker room and think you might have one of the better teams in the league and in the country?
I look around the locker room and see a bunch of kids that I'm really enjoying coaching through 12 or 13 practices. I look around the locker room and see a bunch of kids that want to learn and want to get better. If they continue doing that, we'll be able to compete. Now are we as gifted and talented and experienced as some of the other teams? Maybe not. The good thing about basketball is you get to play it on game night. I've never been one of those coaches that says ‘OK, I can be first or second or third.'
John Wooden told me one time that he used to take his schedule and write down every game that he thought he was going to win or lose, put in an envelope, put in his drawer and get it out at the end of his season. I said ‘Coach, I can't do that.' I feel like if I look one game past the next game, I'm nervous as all get out. I don't try to determine what we're going to be in April, here in October.
What have you seen, physically, from Joel James?
What he's done from the first day he came on campus last June, he's really done a great job working on his body and trying to put himself in a position to have the strength and stamina to be a big-time player. He had a pretty doggone good summer, July and August; I think he played, very, very well. All the pros were talking about Joel and the nice things he was doing. Now he's got to do it with this team. If he does it with this team, I'll be as happy as all get out.
Having coached Harrison Barnes and the hype that came with him, what are your thoughts on Duke's Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood?
Well, Rodney is a little different because he has done it at the college level. He was very successful at Mississippi State. Jabari was like Harrison, with all the accolades and the whole bit. It's good; it doesn't hurt you as long as you go out and do it on the court. I can assure you, 12 practices and sitting here, I can assure you I haven't been too worried about Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood.
Does the competitor in you look forward to the new look of the league?
Yeah. It's a little scary. You've really got to understand that it's a big-time league every night. The depth of the teams in our league, evaluating their ability is really pretty doggone impressive.
How would you describe Nate Britt?
A point guard, truly a point guard. A distributor, a guy that tries to get everybody else involved. Trying to do exactly what I'm asking him to do. I mean, he's really forcing the pace of the game and now he's just gotta be able to make the successful play at the end. He's a guy that's going to really help us.
Does he have a consistent outside shot?
Not as consistent as I would like for it to be. Marcus, last year, you heard me say 50 times ‘he's a big-time shooter.' Yet the numbers didn't really show that. I think Marcus's numbers will show a heck of a lot more this year. And I think that Nate's going to make some jump shots for us as well.
Do you think his drop in the rankings the last couple of years was a motivator?
You'd have to ask him that. I never questioned his ability. If I like a guy, I don't care what everybody else thinks. I never started disliking him. I thought he was a guy that was going to be a very, very good basketball player for us, allow us to be a better team. Every kid reacts to ratings, every kid reacts to what people say about them. I tell them, if I like them I don't care what everybody else says. Nate's looking forward to the season to be a very important part of our team.
Who's the player that's going to benefit the most in P.J.'s absence?
I think you would definitely say JP and Leslie. It'll give Marcus more time with Nate; it'll give James Michael more time as the three man. So those four guys more than anyone else.
J.P. said he went back and watched every game and he had an impact in 13 of them. Is that about right to you?
I have never evaluated it like that, so it'd be hard to compare it to that. I can easily say he's going to be more of a factor in a lot more than that this year.
Check back tomorrow for Part III...