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Are you surprised that Wayne Ellington’s shooting percentage isn’t higher?
Not really. It’s such an adjustment from high school to college. Guys are bigger, stronger, they are quicker, and they can close on you, to use football terminology. You think you’ve got one wide open and they close on you so quickly. I could show you a bunch of guys, and have shown Wayne, some guys who ended up being pretty good players that their freshman year weren’t nearly as effective as Wayne was, and they’re NBA All-Star kind of guys now.
Have you sensed that Tyler is getting more comfortable with the mask?
I didn’t see the new mask until 10 minutes ago, so he hasn’t had time to get used to it, or not like it or like it or anything right now. We’re going to get him to try it on when he’s out there shooting around this afternoon, but it remains to be seen. We’ll have a shoot-around today and we’ll do the same thing tomorrow and try to get him a little more used to it. The other mask, he got more used to it, but I don’t think any of us would ever even come close to saying that he liked it.
With what Eastern Kentucky does with West Virginia’s style of offense, how does that differ from the Princeton style of offense?
A lot of people try to say several different styles of the Princeton (offense) and there is not really many that are. Young John (Thompson) at Georgetown, when he was at Princeton was still fairly close to it. Princeton would spread the floor a heck of a lot more. It would backdoor every play and I don’t think you see that with Eastern Kentucky. They still get some backdoors. They’ve got some wonderful perimeter shooters, particularly the two wing guys, Leonard and Rose. When I remember Pete’s [Carrill] teams at Princeton, they had a lot of really big guys who were effective 3-point shooters that really stretched the defense. They could also really pass it because you had to come and pick them up, which opened up so many more things. There is some flavor to it like that, but I call it the Eastern Kentucky offense.
Describe what goes on when pupil goes against mentor on opposite benches?
It is more of a hassle than anything. We made some decisions to try to stay away from it, but you couldn’t do it. That part was uncomfortable and we didn’t get a chance to talk about our teams very much. The worst thing was at then end of the game, even though that one was a little more bizarre with coach [Dean Smith] getting ejected at the end. At the end of the game if there is somebody on that other bench that you’re really, really close to, if you win, you look and see the look on his face, it hurts, and if he wins you’re going to have that same felling yourself. In ’93, I think we handled that a little bit better because we were more adamant about just talking about the games.
What is your biggest concern against Eastern Kentucky?
I think two things. They play a different style with their defense than we’ve played all year long with their 1-3-1. The really do a good job because they don’t play it every possession. You think you might be getting used to it and then they’re playing straight man-to-man or zone. Some of those kids were here two years ago, so they aren’t going to be in awe. Some 16 seeds are standing around and looking around and all of the sudden they are down 22. I don’t think that is going to happen here and they really have some wonderful shooters. Hubie Brown said 100 years ago, a shooter is one who makes up for a multitude of sins. They can really shoot the basketball.
Describe your feelings when you first saw Brandan Wright.
We had someone call our office or write us, I forgot which, but coach Steve Robinson said there was a wonderful kid down in Nashville. The first thing I thought of, and you hate to say that someone reminds you of somebody because they’re all different, but I was fortunate enough to coach and recruit Sam Perkins and I thought my gosh; left-hander, long arms really thin, can run like crazy and that’s what I thought. The first time I saw him I fell in love with him. During that time period, you could only see someone five opportunities per academic year. Most of the time I would see a youngster once, and let one of my assistants see him once or twice and the other assistant see him once or twice, but Brandan’s junior year I saw him four times. I just fell in love with him, his game, his potential, his mannerisms, the kind of kid he appeared to be and I thought ‘My gosh if you get a chance to coach that kid you’re going to be a lot better coach.’
Talk about your team’s mindset coming into the tournament.
You never know until the game starts. You may think it’s great and you play poorly and you say, ‘Well, they didn’t have the right frame of mind.’ We tried to loosen them up, tried to do some running, some shooting. I told you guys we did some relay races because I wanted them to try to come down. It’s hard to win a conference tournament on Sunday and all of the sudden you’re playing on Thursday and what you did Sunday means nothing. We tried to let them loosen up a little bit and make sure they broke a good sweat. We came back this morning and had a really, pretty doggone good practice. I feel good about them. They’re a wonderful group of kids to work with. I think it was Reyshawn (Terry) that said something about last year and those guys that are returning understand how sudden the swiftness with which your season is over with. There are no mulligans or anything like that. I think that the upperclassmen, even though the majority of them are just sophomores, will tell the other guys about it too.
Talk the adjustments Wayne Ellington has made recently. Is he doing certain things better?
I think his total game is better than it was earlier in the year. When I said I’m not surprised by his numbers, the only thing I can tell you is every time he shoots it, I think it’s going in. That’s how much confidence I have.
I still think he’s going to be one of the best shooters I’ve ever coached. The best thing to me is that he’s gotten better defensively and if you look at his (not that you should, just take my word for it) the first 10 games his assist to turnover ratio wasn’t nearly what it has been the last part of the season. In fact, in the ACC I think his assist-to-turnover ratio as a two-guard was second in the league. He’s done a better job of handling the basketball and making decisions with passes. He’s taking the ball to the basket more, which we talked about at some point halfway through the season. He’s going to have some games in his career where he’s going to make 5, 6, 7, or 8 threes in a game.
Talk about playing the late game.
It’s the same for both teams, so I can’t go in that direction, but I hate it for college basketball. Why should you start a game at 10 o’clock at night? That’s just silly. I’m not trying to upset CBS or the NCAA Tournament committee, but this is America and I have a right to my opinion and it’s absolutely silly to play a basketball game starting at 10 o’clock at night. Thank goodness Bojangles is open a little bit longer. It’s beside me why you have to play a game at 10 o’clock at night.
Would you be comfortable if Tyler decided not to wear the mask?
Yes, for several reasons. If he decides that he doesn’t want to do it, he’s going to do it with our blessing, or we’re not going to allow him to do it. That includes his family; our doctors, (himself) and I trust the young man immensely. If he tells me, ‘Coach I really, really don’t want to do this’ and the doctors say its very minimal danger, then I’m not going to make him do it. You could get hit by a car trying to cross the street to (get to) Bojangles this evening too. The other thing is that if Tyler tells me he desperately wants to do something I’m going to say okay. He’s a big sucker. I’m not going to mess with the boy.
I think we’re really getting close to everybody agreeing that he doesn’t have to wear it. When they started talking to me about hematoma, and the injury healing, and how many days and all this stuff, I said, ‘Tell me whether he needs to wear it or not.’ He’s at the point right now that he is really right on the border line of it being completely okay with today’s technology. We also know that 15 years ago, he wouldn’t have had a mask on at all anyway. You played with those kinds of things. I do believe that all the doctors, including his dad, who is an orthopedic surgeon, his grandfather, who is a doctor; I think everybody is on the same page and believes he is very, very close to being to that point where it isn’t any more dangerous to have him play without it than it is with it.