ACC Preview: Virginia

<i>Inside Carolina</i> continues its preview of the ACC wth Q&As with senior Travis Watson and head coach Pete Gillen.

Travis Watson

It seems like Elton [Brown] is a guy that might benefit from you taking him under your wing because you always seem to have your head on straight.

Elton, he's young but he's a year older and much more mature than last year. He came in last year just like a normal freshman but [he was] outspoken. Right now, he's calmed down and we talked all summer about what he needs to do to be an awesome player in this league and overall. Basically, so far, I think he's a big kid. He's going to be a big kid until I don't know when (laughing) but I think his attitude about the whole situation has changed. He has his mind right.

Did you change over the course of your first and second year?

I really haven't changed anything.

How difficult is it being 6-8, 6-7 going up against the bigger guys in the game?

I don't think it's difficult at all.

But, wouldn't you like to not have to guard the seven footers for once, or does it matter?

On one aspect of it, I got to stick him on their end, but then he's got to come back and stick me. I know what I can do. I have the body where I can body up with somebody 6-10, 6-11 or whatever, and go about 240. So it really doesn't bother me at all.

What are you thoughts about [assistant] coach [Rod} Jensen? What's his personality?

He's a real good coach. I like him. He's outgoing, he's funny. He definitely likes what he does and he motivates. All our coaches are motivators.

Coach Gillen said he went outside his family to get somebody [another assistant coach]. Do you think it was a good idea to do that to get some new ideas?

I really don't know. I guess.

Do you get the sense that Coach Gillen and Coach Jensen are still trying to learn about each other out there? I guess he's [Jensen] is kind of the defensive coordinator for the team.

Sometimes I find Coach Gillen listening to Coach Jensen more than the other way around. That defensive mind set. Last year, Coach Gillen taught defense differently. Now, Coach Jensen has another defensive mindset and they learn from one another.

Do you think you were a bad defensive team last year?

I don't know (laughter).

The numbers will say you were a bad defensive team, but while you were out there, did you feel like you were a bad defensive team?

Sometimes I felt, well, I don't think bad, or you can call it bad. But sometimes the intensity really wasn't there in the five players out there. If one player didn't have the intensity to really strap up on his guy the everybody suffered. I think that was the case.

What do you have to do to take the step to the top two or three in the ACC this year?

Last year, we could have been in the top three but at the same time, I don't know what happened (laughing). This year we are going to put out a lot of effort and we are going to do it every night, especially on the defensive side of the floor.

Travis, you have been around this group a long time, people say "Travis Watson, he's the preseason player of the year." You've been here and seen the Dunleavy's and Boozer's and JWill's come through and you have always been there. Statistically, you should be the preseason player of the year. You've been the guy that's the most consistent of all the guys coming back. Has the realization that people are looking at you as THE guy in the league hit you?

It's hasn't hit me yet but right now I am not trying to get caught up in that. If I think about trying to become All-things, a lot can change and go wrong. All I am doing is trying to focus my effort in going out there and playing hard and try to stay consistent throughout the year. If the awards come, that's appreciative too because I am out there working hard. But, I am trying to win an ACC Championship.

When you hit the floor this year, it's almost like you guys need name tags around here with all the new young guys, what do you think?

That's true. I only know a couple players left off each team. You say Wake Forest, I know Josh Howard. Things like that. A lot of people transferred and are gone now. I just look at teams and any team can [win the league].

For the last two years everyone said Duke and Maryland and then everyone else. Now, it's not like that going into the season.

I know what we can do so we have to prove that we can be the elite team in the ACC.

You had back problems at the end of the year. Was that just the toll of the season wearing on you?

Yea, I had a couple nagging injuries but at the same time I tried to play through them. I think I still performed up to my potential when I was out there in straight pain. This year I won't have those injuries I hope.

What were your injuries by the end of last season?

Ahh, I can't even remember I had so many different ones (laughter). I don't know for real, I can't even remember. Hamstring, lower back, side, ribs, all that. When one left, something else came up. You look at my record, I had a lot of them.

How were you able to continue to play?

I don't know (laughing). I just have a love for the game.

What did you do in the offseason to make sure you are in the best condition you can be in going into your last season?

Right after the season was over, I got back in the gym. I was working on my conditioning, my strength. Any and everything I could work on. I put a lot of hard time in over the summer to get ready. Trying to get better.

What did you look at and say, this is my last year, this is something I really need to change and improve on in order to be the most effective player I can be? What one area, or two, that you spent a lot of time on?

Probably my free throws more than anything. Last year I got to the line [a lot] and in some games, I had a good percentage but in some games I missed crucial ones. That's one thing I really worked on because I know I'll get to the line.

Virginia coach Pete Gillen

Who is going to help Travis Watson scoring?

Todd Billet who is a great shooter or whether it's Devin Smith, who's injured and we can hopefully get him healthy in the next two or three weeks. Or, Nick Vander Laan, the kid from Cal-Berkley. So I think we have some good parts to the puzzle. We've got to stay healthy and we've got to be lucky. Though it probably won't be Irish luck since all the Irish luck is in South Bend, Indiana. We haven't had too much Irish luck in Charlottesville (laughter) Not lately at least. There's no Irish luck in Charlottesville I know that. Looking for an Irish bar, I haven't found an Irish bar (laughter). But, I think for us, we have to get balance, besides Travis who's a great player. Other guys have got to step up. We have to defend better. Just be unselfish and play together. I think we have a chance. We only have eleven scholarship guys and with Majestic [Mapp] being in doubt, we only have ten. So we don't have a lot of wiggle room, much margin for error. A couple guys go down or in foul trouble, we are in trouble. We could use walk ons.

What is the situation with Majestic?

He practiced the first week and a half, didn't practice the whole practice, maybe thirty or forth percent. I thought he was ahead of schedule. But unfortunately, the last five or six days, he's knee been sore. He's just resting it. Heck, he's had five surgeries. Two to repair the cruitiates, three small arthroscopic ones. That's a lot of invasion in your knee so who knows. I'm not a doctor. We hope to get him back but whether we do or not, I don't know. It's tough to count on him as a coach, I mean you can't with so many setbacks. I just feel bad for him, that's the biggest thing. I'm just heartbroken for him because he's distraught. He's a McDonald's All American with dreams like any young 19 year old. Now it's going down the sewer. We just feel badly for him and we'll see what happens. It's doesn't look great. It's tough to count on him with so many injuries. We have two other point guards. He's a great kid, he's a good student. So you wouldn't wish this on your worst enemy, to go through what he's gone through as a young man.

How is he dealing with it mentally?

Oh, he's struggling. He's very down. He's very down. He's heartbroken. That's his dream, he's worked hard for two years in the training room to get better. He practices a little bit and he's still not there and now the knee's starting to get sore. We are trying to get the soreness out and hopefully we can get him back. But we just don't know. He's very disconsolate, very down, depressed. Anyone that goes through that, you try to come back and you can't do it, it just breaks your heart.

Five surgeries, how many kids would have even gone through that and even attempted to come back at this point?

Exactly. Having the guts and toughness and the determination. That was his dream, to play ball. Play pro ball like any young kid and young man. He's a McDonald's All American, he's a good player, he had a good first year for us. Was he a superstar? No, but he's a very good player and unfortunately he can't do what he loves to do. So, your point is well taken. He had great courage and resiliency to keep playing. A lot of guys would have given up after last year.

Are you concerned that Travis [Watson] is going to try and do too much?

No. He has confidence in his play and we've got some good players around him. Some are new, but they are good players. I think he has a good feel for the game. He has confidence in his teammates and I think he likes the new guys. So I don't think he'll try to do too much. He's adjusting to a new position rather than just being rather than just being under the basketball all the time, he'll be outside a lot. But we aren't going to forget what he did well. He'll still post up but we are going to have him facing the basket and playing a high post and in the corner. He's worked hard on that and I think he's a special player. I am partial, but I wouldn't trade him for anybody in the country.

Do you have any habitual shooters this year?

Shooters? We had a lot of shooters but no makers (laughter). Seriously, Billet is a great shooter and Devin Smith is a great shooter so we have two guys that can really shoot the ball. Devin's been hurt, but two guys that can really shoot the ball. Last year, Roger Mason was a great player, but not a great shooter, not every night at least. Streaky, great player. We don't have a Roger Mason talent as far as those guys but Billet is a very good shooter and so is Devin. We should be able to shoot the ball a little better. I think we share it pretty well so if we defend, but then again we don't have than many numbers.

What is wrong with Smith?

He had to have surgery on his knee. He had meniscus surgery. He hurt it in Junior College during the season and he hurt it again in Delaware during the summer. He had surgery in early September and has been practicing with us. We hope to have him ready for the first game November 22nd. That's what I was saying, Irish luck in not in Charlottesville (laughter). I think it's an Irish curse. Somebody is out in the county, some lady is going "CHENGA CHENGA!" (laughter) Got a doll, sticking pins in me. Jason Clark's been out, Devin. We had walk on and coaches the other day. But that goes with the territory.

Is Clark back?

No, he's got a sprained ankle. He'll be back hopefully in a couple days but he's been out.

How much did the architects ask you about the new building?

A little bit. I'm like a small spoke in the big wheel of life. I don't get away from my spoke too much. Terry Holland is doing most of that, making the inputs. It's going to be a beautiful state of the art facility. It's going to be gorgeous. I've had little input, not a lot. I've got to worry about coaching and recruiting. I've got more things on my plate. I appreciate when they do ask me. I am not really on the inside.

Did you watch the championship game this past year? Were you thinking Gary's time is finally here?

Yea. I was happy for him. He had been in the vineyards a long time, stepping on the grapes. He finally got a chance to drink some wine. He deserved it. I was happy for him. He's a great coach. He's a very intense guy. People misread him sometimes. He's different with his friends than he is coaching or maybe with other people that he doesn't know. But I was happy for him, happy for the league. Gary's got good kids. We recruited Juan Dixon at Providence when I was there. He visited us. I know Steve Blake from USA Basketball. I was on the committee there and I got to know Steve there a little bit during tryouts for those teams. Tahj Holden we recruited. So I was happy for their team and he deserved. Now, we don't have the players that Gary had last year, but hopefully one day we'll get players like that. We have very good players but not quite the Juan Dixon's and the Lonnie Baxter's of the world.

It's some achievement since a lot of coaches go a long time and never get it [win the championship].

One year at Providence we had a shot in '97. That's probably the closest I've been. The Final Eight, we are playing Arizona and we are losing by ten and cut the lead and tied the game with four seconds and got the ball underneath our own basket. People are coming out from the equipment room with Providence Final Four shirts on, Providence hats. Putting that stuff behind our bench. We see them there. Four seconds to go they are all behind the bench getting ready in case we made the shot. Time out was like three minutes. Guys were like, "Save me that shirt, I want that hat. Give me that gear. I need one for my girlfriend." (laughter) That's the closest I'll ever get. You know, one day, I don't think we are quite ready right now, but hopefully in a couple years we can get a few more players and we can take a shot at it. In this league, if you are in the top three in this conference, you've got a chance. If things break the right way. I think we have a chance, if we continue to recruit well, we've got a chance to be a top three team in the conference. This year we do, whether we make it there or not, I don't know. I think we do though and hopefully we'll get better. I think we'll get better in the future.

Has anyone wowed you in practice?

Nobody has wowed me but I've been very pleased with Derrick Byars, our first year guy. I think he's talented. As I mentioned before, freshmen are going to be up and down like a roller coaster. But he's talented. Nick Vander Laan has done very well. He knocks over people going to the concession stand sometimes. He's very physical and aggressive. He's like a wrecking machine. Elton Brown has scored well offensively. I think those are the main ones. Travis has played well of course. But those are the guys, Derrick Byars, Nick and Elton have stood out the most so far.

Byars is similar to Chris Williams?

Chris was more gliding and smooth. That's a tough comparison because you know Chris Williams was rookie of the year in the ACC and second and third team all league player. If his in the class, he's a great player and I'm not ready to put Derrick Byars in the category. But, he could be. He could be a special player. He's got a chance. I had a chance to marry Demi Moore too but it never happened (laughter). So you have a chance to do certain things. She doesn't even know I'm alive. No, I think he has a chance to be good because that's not fair to Derrick at this time because that's too much pressure on him at this time. But I think he's a very good player.

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