Is Coach Williams doing more to get this team fired up this year?
Yeah, I think so. This team is a unique team, because no one is really expecting us to do much, but Coach Williams sees so much potential in us that he’s not going to let us quit. He’s not going to let us put our heads down. So he has to be a little more animated. He has to get into us a little bit. We need to feel like he feels so we don’t have any lapses during the game.
Coach said this team can be better defensively this year than last year. Why is that?
Because we have so many guys that can get out and defend. I think that’s something big. If we can get to the maturity level this year that the team had last year, then I definitely think we have the capability of being that good.
That situation when Coach got in the official’s face—did that fire you up?
I think so. That helped us out a lot. It really got us going, and we were able to get some defensive stops after that. We were able to blow open the game after that. It just kind of let us know, Coach is in it this hard, then we need to get into it that hard.
Talk about this next stretch of games.
These next two teams that we’ve got are good. Illinois was there in the national championship. They’ve got Dee Brown and James Augustine returning. They have a nice squad. But at the same time, we have some guys with talent on this team, and our team is balanced. I think if we can go out and play Carolina basketball and the style we need to play, have the defensive intensity, then I think we’ll be alright.
We know they’re going to have a chip on their shoulder, but at the same time we have to go out with a little chip on our shoulder, because this is a completely different team. It ought to be something fun to watch.
Talk about the defensive stretch where you came in and helped the team pull away in the second half.
It was just important to come in there and try to give a spark, try to put a little pressure on the ball. Because I think we were a little lackadaisical out there. When I came in the game I just tried to pick up the energy a little bit. When you put pressure on the ball out front, it kind of encourages your teammates to pressure all over the court. And that’s what we did. Then offensively we came together and put up a little run to give ourselves a nice little lead there.
Talk about practice the last few days and how you’ve been feeling. It seems like you’re playing much more confidently.
Yeah, I think things are going real well. Our goal for the team is to improve every time we step on the floor, whether in practice or a game. I just try to improve every day. I feel confident right now, and when I go in the game, I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team win.
Talk about the team defense. You really ratcheted up the intensity.
I think that really has to be a signature for our team this year—team defense, really focusing on the defensive end. Coach has been preaching all year that we have to be a great defensive club to be a good basketball team. We really want our team to be known as a great defensive team.
Talk about the development of the freshmen.
The freshmen have been coming along since the Bahamas. You’ve seen them progress in every game since Gardner-Webb. They’re really talented, all five of them. I think everybody is seeing they’re not scared, and they’re playing a lot older than their age.
How is Tyler Hansbrough doing holding down the middle?
I think he’s doing a great job. I don’t know what his numbers are every game, but just being out there with him, he seems to make a huge difference down in the paint. He’s a big presence. He plays harder than any big man I’ve ever played with. He really goes to the boards hard. And he can score when he touches the ball down there. He’s done a great job so far.
How does tonight help give you confidence going into a big game against Illinois?
Good wins the last two games—comfortable wins, by twenty-plus points—gives us some confidence. I think we’re just real fired up to go play Illinois on national television. It’s a big time stage. I think we’re ready for it.
When Coach got into it with one of the referees—did that spur you guys on?
I noticed it. Coach is probably the most intense person I’ve ever been around. It was an intense moment. I don’t know what they were arguing about, but it kind of pumped me up. When Coach gets intense that like, it really rubs off on all of us. It really rubs off on me. It just made us want to play a lot harder.
What do you think about your first college double-double?
It feels great. I’m glad I got more boards. That’s the thing I think I need to work on, getting more boards. Being the big man inside, that’s something I need to concentrate on.
Did it affect you when they got physical with you inside?
Yeah, it got me fired up. Anytime a guy’s going to push me, I’m not going to back down from him. It makes me just want to take it right at somebody.
How’s your toe?
It feels a lot better. It didn’t hurt until into the second half. It’s healing pretty quick.
Three games in, what’s surprised you about playing at this level?
The physical play. It’s a little more physical, with way more contact. That’s basically it—that and everybody being a lot bigger.
What about Illinois coming ahead?
It’s going to be time for us to play some really hard competition and see what we’re about. I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m not going to back down from anybody.