“Well, we felt, needless to say, a lot better after the Clemson game yesterday than we did after the Virginia game last Monday night. Our kids had a greater sense of urgency, which is one thing probably that we’ve been pushing more than anything else. I think James Michael [McAdoo] was really good. I thought Marcus [Paige] gave us a big lift in the second half, but we caught Clemson on a day when some of the shots that they normally make didn’t go in. So we felt fortunate, but in this league, you’ve got to put that one behind you quickly. We thought about it until midnight and now we’ve got to move on to Georgia Tech.”
It seems as though McAdoo is playing with more emotion and passion lately. Are you sensing that same thing and I’m wondering if we might be seeing a transformation just in terms of him becoming more of an outwardly emotional leader for your team?
“Well, he’s been a leader, there’s no question about that. Whether its outwardly emotional, we’ll have to wait and see. I think he’s invested a heck of a lot more, not that he was anymore culpable than anybody else, but I think the passion that he played with yesterday was extremely important to our team. I think he did the same kind of thing against Boston College and to a certain degree up at Virginia. We need him to be that leader and the emotion that he shows out there in that positive way I think helps everybody.”
What have you seen out of Kennedy Meeks the last couple of weeks and how close is he to becoming that center that you could never quite find last season?
“Kennedy is a work in progress. He really is. He’s going to be better next week – I’m hopeful – than he was this week. I think the week after that he’s got a chance to be better because it is a growing process for a freshman understanding what it’s like at this level of college basketball in the ACC. The strength factor, how mobile the big guys are, how they run – it’s just been a huge shock for him, not just the size. I think he’s learning more as he goes along. He’s had some big-time games for us and in some of our biggest wins he’s played exceptionally well. And we need that.
“It might have been the Boston College game, [but] I put him in the game and said, ‘You have to score inside going to the basket’ because I felt like all of our post players were shooting turnaround fadeaways and we were never getting fouled. Boston College was driving us to the basket, so they were shooting free throws every possession and we were never shooting any. I think he understands that even more now. Now I’ve just got to get him to make one pump fake instead of 17 and go ahead and get the ball up on the board.
“He’s always been a big-time passer. His outlet passing can really help us. His hands are fantastic and those kinds of things. We’ve got to get him to work much, much harder defensively and I think he’s tried much harder defensively the last two or three or four games. I think at Syracuse he was completely out of it, but since then I think he’s tried much, much harder defensively and that’s helped him, too.”
McAdoo has been a much more efficient player over the last month or so. What do you think is behind that improvement?
“I think you’re exactly right. That’s a lot more important to me than the emotion and the passion that he’s showing, the emotional leadership, because anybody can stand out there and go ‘rah rah rah’ and jump up and down, but the players really respect successful play and being able to do that. I think the efficiency that James Michael has played with, with the exception of the free throw line, has really drastically improved his game.
“In the offseason we talked a great deal about getting better shots, shooting a higher percentage and cutting down on your turnovers. And knock on wood – I’m hitting myself in the head as I’m saying this – I think those are probably the two biggest improvements in James Michael’s game. We do need that emotional leadership, but it’s awfully easy for the guys to ignore it if you’re not doing the simple things and I think James Michael is doing those things right now.”
Meeks has played well for stretches and then fallen off before. Is there anything you can do this time to keep the ball rolling?
“That’s the reason they’re labeled freshmen. I think that’s part of it. The college grind is a grind. It’s a long season; it’s a very demanding season. Having to get your intensity level at a high level and maintain that with a great deal of consistency is something that’s really hard and I think that’s the hardest thing for a freshman when you add in what Kennedy has done. He’s dropped 30 or more pounds in trying to change his body. He’s been trying to do that and he’s got a coach screaming at him to sprint back on defense and to sprint to offense and do this and do that.
“So I think it’s very typical. What you hope for is that they don’t hit the wall, but that they hit the wall of understanding. They get to the point to where, ‘hey, I do understand what he’s saying, I do understand what they’re wanting me to do.’ If they do that and get there a little quicker, then you have more success. So I think trying to continue to push him over the things that he does need to drastically improve, but also give him credit for what he’s doing, I think doing both is the best way to handle it.”