Who are some players that you’ve seen a noticeable difference from last year to this year as far as improvement?
Marcus is so much more confident, is bigger, is stronger. I still need him to get bigger and stronger. Shooting the ball with more confidence. Brice is stronger rebounding the ball. He’s always been confident in his shot, but I think he’s making shots. James Michael is defending better, not gambling as much. He had more steals on the perimeter and go down and dunk last year than anybody, but he gambled probably more than he needed to be. Joel has a confidence level with his game.
Desmond hurt his ankle and has missed the last four or five practices. I think he’s been more of a threat around the basket and also more of a defender around the basket. P.J.’s really had a good preseason. Leslie is trying to become a shooter and not a streak shooter. It’s crazy, we’re standing here and in year’s past we’ve had two or three practices and today we’ve had 12. I think we’re far, far, far ahead of where we’ve ever been at this time of year. But so is everybody else, because they’ve been practicing too. I’d like a rule if they let North Carolina have 20 more practices than everybody else. It is a comfort level and I’ve talked it over with the coaches and everybody says we’re really way ahead of where we usually are on Oct. 15. The teams you’re playing are ahead too.
Would Kennedy Meeks be able to be here on media days since we’re in Charlotte?
No, I don’t give the freshmen that option. James Michael was going to come, but James Michael had a huge presentation in one of his classes. I said ‘no, then don’t go.’ We sort of talk through the side of our mouth, the ACC, the NCAA, everything, says ‘oh gosh we have to do this, we have to do this academically.’ Then on media day, they approve two players from every team to miss classes all day long.
We go to the NCAA tournament, what we do we do? You have to get there a day early to practice in front of the public. Well, everybody is missing classes. And then yet, the next day you get up on your soapbox and say we’re not doing a good job academically. Kennedy had no choice today and it’s not because he’s doing a bad job academically. He’s just a freshman, he doesn’t need to be up here talking.
How have you scheduled practices?
We went five of the first six days and then we gave them three days off. Then we practiced three days and gave two days off and now we’re practicing two days and gave them the day off. Now we’re going five straight days. There hasn’t been any set routine, which I think is good. I’ve also looked at a lot of syllabuses; see when guys are having tests. I’ve talked to a lot of coaches that have done the same kind of thing, there hasn’t been one particular pattern that everybody has tried to do.
Where do you come down on the debate about paying players?
Paying players? I sort of sit on the fence. I do believe, strongly, and that’s not as strong a word as I need to use, that a basketball player who helps makes so much money for our university should get the best scholarship on campus. You have academic scholarships that say room, book, board, tuition, fees, and $3,000 miscellaneous expenses, well we don’t get that. I think the full scholarship should be at least the equivalent of the best scholarship on your campus.
We you start using people’s likeness, and the suit that’s in the courts now, I’m interested very much to see how that’s going to come out. When Peyton Manning – I knew it at this time because one of my buddies was coaching at Tennessee – the first game Peyton’s last year, they sold 70,000 Peyton Manning jerseys at $76 apiece. And I’ll bet you that Peyton didn’t have any better dinner that night then he would have the night before.
Philosophically you have different issues there too. I do really believe that men’s basketball at North Carolina, we make a lot of money, we profit a lot of money that pays for 28 sports. It’s sort of like the NCAA/NBA one-and-done, there’s no great rule that’s perfect. But I would strongly like to see the scholarship be really, truly a full scholarship.
Do you think all the sports should have the same financial deal?
I fight with myself over that. I love to play golf. There’s a golfer that may come from a different breed than his teammates, so I wouldn’t mind that kid having it. But at the same time, my deal is coaching men’s basketball. It’s a whole different thing and every basketball player is held much more accountable in every area – and again I’ll use golf because I love golf – than a golfer is. I struggle with that one. I can’t say no-no, it should only be the football and basketball players, because I don’t really believe that. But then I say, gosh they have so much more pressures on them. ‘OK, after a game am I going to eat two cheeseburgers or just eat one so Joe Sagula’s volleyball player can have one.’ It’s a battle that I fight myself.
I will say this, I think every scholarship athlete should be a full scholarship. If you give someone a full scholarship, it should be the equivalent of that best academic scholarship. If Davis Love, when he was at North Carolina, if he were on full scholarship, I think his scholarship should be just as good as the Morehead-Cain scholarship. When you start talking about giving people money and everything, that’s where I really struggle with exactly what I would like to have.
You have those sports where they get partials, I don’t know how you would do that. I had an art student, a very good art student who’s still making his money selling his art, at the University of Kansas. He had $111 worth of art supplies that were required by one class and his NCAA scholarship wouldn’t pay for it. That’s ridiculous. $111 and this guy was as poor as any player I’ve ever coached. That’s a sin right there to me.
What are the strengths of your team?
Right now the strength is their attitude, the youthful exuberance they have, the willingness to do what every coach is asking them to do every day. We do have with James Michael, P.J. and Marcus three guys that have been there in crunch time in a game. Hopefully they can transfer some of that experience to some of the other guys. I just love the attitude of everybody on our team, everybody on our team. It’s been a fun group to coach.
What have you seen out of J.P.?
An improved jump shot, an improved responsibility with the ball, not turning it over and just throwing it everywhere and anywhere. Still a phenomenal athlete and phenomenal rebounder on the offensive boards. So I’m hoping that all that transfers. I would say he’s been one of the more impressive guys we’ve had in preseason.
What do you think about J.P.’s potential on the defensive end?
He has a marvelous ability to keep you in front of him and take your ball. He has good hands, now we’ve got to make sure he doesn’t reach all the time and get fouls. He will be one of our leaders in steals, hopefully not one of our leaders in fouls because of that. I think J.P. can really be a big-time defender.
Did it get tiresome reminding people that Marcus was a good shooter last season?
I think everybody doubted it. I’ve seen him make so many shots and I thought he second half of the season, I don’t know what game it was or if there was a defined difference from 13 to 15 or something like that, but the second half of the season he made a bunch of big-time shots. The first part of the season he led the country in in-an-outs. Not “In-and-Out Burger,” but the ball goes in and comes back out kind of thing. But I do believe that he’s a very, very good shooter.
(Question about P.J. Hairston and the NCAA)
I feel very confident about the NCAA question, I really do. But I don’t understand, too, why a decision has to be made -- I guess that’s the biggest hang up … I’ve never understood why I’ve got to make a decision how many games a guy is going to play in August. I really do believe deep down that’s my biggest holdup. Why? What are you going to buy your best friend for Christmas? It’s not Christmas yet.
I’ve been amazed on why so many people have an insistence on knowing today. That’s just been, as you can tell, I’m very seldom at a loss for words. But I’ve never understood that part of it.
Do you follow casually the decisions the NCAA makes as far as suspensions, such as Manziel?
I followed that one because I love to watch SportsCenter every night and I get to hear those guys talk about it. Everybody asks me about all these programs. … If it’s not on ESPN I don’t see it. I watch SportsCenter all the time. That’s where I hear about Johnny Manziel. …
A lot of coaches say they don’t read papers and don’t pay attention to the media. With your program being so high profile as it is, that doesn’t impact your decision to watch?
I can’t control it. If it seems like they’re saying something I don’t like, I’ll turn it to ESPN2 or something like that. I don’t read a lot of papers. I read nothing off the Internet. I’m a big golf guy; I like to see who’s winning the golf tournaments. I’m a big New York Yankees fan, I want to see how the Yankees do, I want to see how Jeter is doing. The President’s Cup, I watch that all day. So that’s just me. I do a lot of reading. You guys are in the media world; I would be shocked if any of you have read as many books as I’ve read in the last one month. … I love books where good guys win at the end. …
What do the new guys, Meeks and Hicks, bring to the team?
Kennedy is a really, potentially, fantastic passing big man. He is a guy that can score in the low post better than anybody we have right now, especially if he continues to get in shape where he gets the explosiveness, gets the lift. Just because he can score in the low post against a 6-3 walk-on doesn’t mean he’s going to be able to do it in a game against Duke, Syracuse or Maryland or somebody like that. But if he gets the explosiveness, that’ll give us that.
Isaiah Hicks is an athletic 6-8 guy who can rebound, who can run, who can help defend around the rim, who can take it to the basket and is a very good player. I think both of those guys are going to help us.
With the new teams joining the ACC, does playing teams you haven’t seen change your preparation?
No, because only in the second half of the season do you play someone you have familiarity with anyway, when you play those people the second time around in your league. It doesn’t transfer that much from the year before because the personnel changes so much more. But playing somebody for the first time ever is different, but you have that with your non-conference games. We almost never say anything about the opponent until it’s the day before the game. We’re trying to improve North Carolina, play on our principles, work on our principles and then the day before the game start talking about Syracuse or Notre Dame or Pittsburgh or Duke. So it’s a little different for me.
What excites you the most about this team?
This particular team, I can’t over emphasize I have really enjoyed coaching this team for 12 practices. And I think that I’m going to feel that same way. It’s really a good group of kids; it’s a group of kids that we have some fun. James Michael McAdoo didn’t come here because he had a group assignment, academically, and it was smart for him not to come.
Monday or Tuesday at practice, Luke Davis is coming at him so hard and James Michael is trying get his feet, he gets his feet crossed up and he goes down right in the middle of the lane. And half my team starts yelling “sniper.” Everybody was just laughing their rear-ends off. This is going to be a team that I’m really going to enjoy coaching.
The kids who grow up near schools like North Carolina and Kansas and then go elsewhere. Can you think of any particular games or individuals that have come back to haunt you?
I talk about it with our staff all the time. I say ‘he’s probably mad at us so let’s make sure we guard him.’ I try to make sure we give them a little extra attention defensively to start with. Randy Rutherford chose to go to Oklahoma State and I wanted him badly and he lit us up for 45 one night – but that was his decision not to go. Anthony Peeler had 43 or something like that. I’m sure if I really thought about it there would be somebody that we “turned down,” that came back and really haunted us, but it doesn’t jump out at me right now.
When you announce P.J.’s punishment, how do you decide the number of games?
I suspended a youngster at Kansas for a whole semester and it did no good. I suspended Will Graves for a whole semester. I didn’t take Adonis Jordan on a trip, he was late for the bus and it was about strike No. 3 so I didn’t’ take him with me to Oklahoma State. We lost the game in overtime. My backup point guard is on the line with the score tied and the clock said 0.0, with two shots and he missed both shots. But I still thought it was the right thing to do even though we lost the game.
There’s no prescription, there’s no formula to go through. It’s got to be a gut feeling of what you think is just and what you think is fair. And be willing to understand that everybody is not going to agree with it and maybe nobody will agree with it. I’m the only guy that goes in the home. I’m the only guy that goes in the home and says ‘I’m going to try to treat your son like I’d want you to treat mine.’ I’m going to be in his corner. I’m going to try to protect him. I’m going to try to take him from a kid to a young man. The other people that aren’t in that room, they don’t fill that same responsibility. Right or wrong.
Whether it’s you, whether it’s an athletic director, chancellor, president, board of trustees, board of governors, they don’t have that responsibility. So I’m never going to make a decision that’s going to be perfect. I’m going to make a decision that I think will be just and fair. I’ve already been the executioner, so I might as well be the judge too.
Do you think you have the capability to be better this year (than last season)?
Marcus is going to be better; James Michael is going to be better. Who replaces Reggie as our most prolific, successful three-point shooter. The best rebounding wing player. The best ball-handling wing player and a very good defender. That’s what we don’t know. One of the big guys has got to step forward and say ‘I’m going to do this.’ If one of the big guys steps forward and we stay healthy, we can be pretty doggone good. Last year, we needed some good things to happen and the big guys that had to come through were basically freshmen. At least this year a couple of them are sophomores.
Have you run into any problems scheduling-wise?
Just trying to make sure you get enough home games to satisfy our budget. Right now we have 18 home games. Right now we only have 15 scheduled for next year, that’s a tremendous budget problem for us. We’re always having an opportunity to play in big-time tournaments and I like that because I like the competition, I like the attention, I like going to Maui… But so far we haven’t had any problems other than being concerned that you’re overscheduling your team.
Because in reality it’s not an 18-game conference schedule, it’s a 19-game schedule because of ACC-Big 10. If you’re playing in a sanctioned event, there’s a great possibility you’ll have two or three big-time games. Now if you have a series with Kentucky and you got a series with Texas and you’re doing those kinds of things, you just have to be careful you don’t overschedule a young team. See, I even look at it that this team is just as young or if not younger than last year’s team in some ways, I think that’s the biggest thing in scheduling.
What’s the long-term status of the Kentucky series?
We play them this year at home and next year at Kentucky and that’s all we have right now.
Would you like to see it continue?
I guarantee you I’m not answering any question about scheduling because we may be in 16 different leagues between now and then. This league may have 66 teams between now and that schedule. … We have two more years on the Kentucky thing, we have two more years on Texas… but I think somebody that schedules more than that and makes decision on schedules now is silly. You have so many opportunities to do that after the fact.
I know you thought you were under-seeded last year. Does that impact how you’re going to schedule moving forward?
The scheduling does hurt or help your seeding. Last year, our schedule, in my opinion, should have helped our seeding drastically. It did not. I don’t care what anybody says. I can give you all kinds of figures, I’ve done it before. I’m not going back to it. Look at our strength of schedule compared to and our RPI against somebody else whose RPI is not as good and strength of schedule is not as good except they got a better seed. I’m throwing my hands up on that junk.