What are your thoughts on playing Maryland before it departs for the Big Ten?
“Well, I still think of Maryland as an ACC school and I’ll always think that way. I’m old fashioned, old schooled. We’ve had some great, great games with them. I was here as an assistant for 10 years when Coach Smith was head coach and Lefty was the coach up there. We had a great rivalry. I hate to see them leave the league, but their administration made the decision that they think is best for their school. We’ve got to focus on playing a team I think has won three in a row and a head coach that I have a great amount of fondness for and play in that game and not be concerned about the ACC or Big Ten.”
What are your thoughts on Kennedy Meeks’s handling of his weight throughout the season and just how much of a challenge that might be for him?
“I think Kennedy should be congratulated. He’s lost over 30 pounds. He’s understanding nutrition, he’s understanding the value of losing that weight that was not muscle, that was just the kind of weight you don’t want to have. And it’s not easy. I’ve never been one to have to diet very much, but everybody that I talk to talks about how hard it is. I know people are telling me the truth. Sometimes if I decide I’m going to skip a meal it bothers me. I think someone – a youngster in particular – that can have that discipline and do what Kennedy’s done says a lot about him. And he understands it. He’s got to go down some more so that he can become more explosive, because right now, becoming more explosive is the big thing that’s holding him back.”
One of the first things people talk about is Kennedy’s weight. Did you have any concerns about that because I imagine it can be tough on an 18-year-old kid?
“No, I really felt like he wanted to be a big-time player and that he would be disciplined enough and pay the price and do the very difficult part of it. He’s done a really good job and yet if he wants to get down there a little bit more – each step they tell me is a little more difficult. I do believe that he’ll do it and I’m very proud of what he’s done so far.”
You’re facing another former assistant in Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon on Tuesday. What’s it like to compete against people that you are close with?
“It’s difficult; it really is. I enjoy seeing them before the game and visiting with them. I watch the scores each day with a great deal of interest in all of those programs – UAB, UNCG, UNCW, Maryland. Mark Turgeon was a guy I trusted a great deal. I hired him when I first went to Kansas. When you hire a guy, you’re putting a lot of your own professional career and life in his hands. He did a wonderful job for me for four years. He’s been a great friend.
“It’s a little different with Mark than it was with Wes [Miller] and Jerod [Haase] because I coached those guys as players and coached Buzz Peterson as an assistant coach when he was a player. But Mark is just a great guy that’s done a great job and I love him and his family. I’ve known them it seems like forever. But it is difficult. As I said, you enjoy visiting with them before the game but then during the game and as soon as the game is over, if you win, you feel that elation and all of sudden you realize who is on the other bench. And if you lose, like we did against UAB, you feel bad because you’ve got some guys on your bench you care a great deal about. But they’re great people and I feel very fortunate to have them in my life and in my career.”
Leslie McDonald has had his three highest scoring games over his last three outings. What are your impressions of his play lately?
“I think with each and every game he’s getting a little more comfortable with it and I hope so. In practice sometimes he just makes almost every shot he takes. I think he’s going to get better and make more of those shots. And we’d like for him to, but not nearly as much as he would like for himself. But I think with each game he’s getting more comfortable and that usually means better play.”
Has it been difficult in the league this year with so many teams combining good defense with the desire to play at a much slower tempo?
“It’s whatever a coach feels comfortable with. I want to play a lot faster than we’re playing right now. It’s frustrating to me that I can get us to play any faster even though the other team has a great deal to say about that. When they want to spend more time with the shot clock because they value each possession more, than it does make it more difficult. And if they’re better players, higher caliber of teams, then it’s harder to get them out of their pace.
“So what you want to do is you want to get them going, but you can’t try to speed up just by speeding yourself up because then you end up taking bad shots and having turnovers. It is a thin line that you can try to get over there to try to speed them up without getting yourself going so fast that you spend five seconds on offense and then 30 seconds on defense. Five seconds on offense and 30 seconds on defense all of the time is going to get you beat.”