How has the team handled all of the distractions and how have you handled it?
“Well, the team has really done a nice job handling it. I think our staff has done a nice job with the club. We talk all of the time about there’s only so many things that you can control. You know how I am with sayings – there’s one that says I cannot direct the wind but I can adjust the sails.
"We talk about there being things that we can control, so let’s work on those. And the kids – 18-19-20-year-olds, they have a mind of their own in many different directions. And everybody understands that if you have children or grandchildren. But they have really done a good job. It’s been a hard time for our staff, but the kids are sort of our savior. We get out on the court with them and that’s what you enjoy doing – coaching.”
Has it been difficult for you?
“Oh yeah. It’s the toughest offseason I’ve ever had, there’s no question about that, but I must be living a pretty charmed life because I’m coaching at North Carolina. I’m watching basketball every day for a living. It’s a pretty good deal.”
Given the guys that you were missing, was that as uncertain as you’ve been going into a season opener in knowing how your team would respond?
“Well, that uncertainty is still there. But, boy, it was fun in the first half. It really was. They caught me on TV one time in one of the shots and I was just grinning. I can remember one mistake out of a hundred good plays, but it was fun with the kids.”
You seem to really like this group of kids on your roster.
“They’re a fun group to be around. They really are. They’re teenagers or 20 or whatever – they can make mistakes. But they’re a fun club to be around. It’s a fun time. I keep using the same word, but that’s what I want to do. If I wasn’t coaching, I don’t know what I would be doing, but I wouldn’t be having as much fun as I am now. But you’re with 18-19-20-year-olds and you’re trying to get them to make sacrifices for a common goal.
"With today’s culture in basketball, making sacrifices is not something that everybody is comfortable with. It’s a me, me, me society; it’s a NBA-driven world in college basketball, especially at this level. So getting your kids to make sacrifices and care about the common goal, that’s who I am. That’s what I do. So these kids accept it. As I said, they’ll still mess it up in a heartbeat sometimes, but I have two of the most wonderful things that have ever happened to me and Wanda and that’s our grandchildren. I would love to take anybody on my team and say, ‘You’re in charge of these kids for the next three or four hours.’ And I would feel very, very good. And that’s about as good as it can be.”
Did you like the start of practicing beginning earlier this season? Was that a benefit for your team?
“I loved it, but I would have loved it a lot more if we had been the only one able to do it. We’re farther ahead at this point than we ever have been at this point of the season, but so is everybody else. My worry is that college basketball is really a long year. It’s one of the few sports that goes over both semesters. It lasts a long time from when you start practice. You hope you play a long time in the spring.
"It’s really, really demanding on the kids. Our kids don’t get fall break. They don’t get Thanksgiving. At Christmas, where everybody else gets 15-20 days or more – I don’t know because it’s never involved me – our kids get 3-4 days. We don’t get spring break. It’s a long, long season. So we’ve tried to spread it out and give them some days off, give them some weekends off. We have gotten a lot of things covered, but as I said, so has everybody else.”
On Monday’s practice and practice rumors:
“Today, we were doing some things pretty well in practice and then all of a sudden I go ballistic. It’s an ugly scene, which is okay. That’s what it’s all about. But at the end of practice, I could pull everybody over and talk to them about some things. There was something said the other day that I kicked somebody out of practice, which shows you can’t believe everything you hear or read because the media now, social media, said I kicked a guy out of practice. I’ve never kicked a guy out of practice in my life. I said, ‘good luck with your review session’ and patted him on the rear end as he left. And that’s what it was. But you’ve got to put up with the junk.”
On the win over Oakland:
“We had the kids’ attention. They knew that they had to play very well or they weren’t going to win. I think we got off to a great start. If we had played like that the whole game, we would have gotten to 100. But our team, through the first 29 [practices], our team is halfway between the first half and the second half. That’s the realistic thing. Now, I hope we can get a lot more of those first half performances to show up during the course of the season.
"We had James Michael playing a lot of the game at the 3-spot, we’re playing Nate and Marcus together, we were playing Luke and Marcus together. There are some people playing out of position right now that we hope they’ll develop into being able to play that position and we hope we can get some other guys back, too.”
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