I'm looking forward to getting back on the court Thursday against Vermont. It seems like it's been forever since we played. The guys have a bad taste in their mouth, they're looking forward to playing a basketball game. It's been a tough stretch because we've had a lot of injuries and because of exams.
We've had more concussions then I care to deal with. David Noel got hit in the head in practice, the first practice after the Kentucky game, and hasn't played since. Noel and Raymond Felton were in a car at a traffic light and got hit from behind. Gave Raymond a bit of a concussion/whiplash type of thing. Then Sean May got hit on the bridge of his nose by Damion Grant and has missed the last few practices. Rashad McCants practiced about 50 percent of the time the last two practices. And Grant turned his ankle two practices ago. And it's kind of like, ‘Besides that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?'
We've just tried to make due with what we have, and it's been tough. We've not had a lot of practice time, and the time we have had, we haven't had all the players and obviously there is a lot of emphasis on exams.
Today is the last day of exams. I think everybody will practice today.
Has it been tough for the sophomores to perhaps be overshadowed by the freshmen?
I think Jawad has been awesome with it. He's really been unselfish and really improved his defense. He talks about ‘we want to win – would you rather be 8-20 and top dog or be a Top 25 team?' It's all about winning. I think it's been harder on Melvin, because he hasn't played as much as he'd like, but again it comes down to winning. Jackie's been fantastic in his role – he's as important as anybody on this team. When people write about this team, they usually talk about the leading scorers, but I'm glad Jackie got recognized as All-Tournament Team in New York mainly for his defense.
I'm going to post a quote from Jordan today. He had two points the other day and said, ‘The thing I want everyone to understand on this team is that you don't have to score to be an impact player. My sole purpose was to rebound, assists and move the ball around.' It takes everybody to make a team.
This long break after two losses could have been tough on the players – what's their mood and attitude like?
I think the first two days after the Kentucky game, there was a little confusion about what's going on, why did we lose. Once we started getting back on the floor, it cleared their minds a little bit. Yesterday I showed them clips from the Stanford and Kansas games. I said ‘That's us, that's you, we're a good team.' If we had played like we did against a mid-major team instead of Kentucky, we probably would have won by 10-15 points and we still would have had things to improve on, but everyone would feel great about us being 6-1. So our schedule has been brutal. Nobody – I don't care what the Sagarin ratings say – has played a tougher schedule then ours.
Talk about the team defense, and making adjustments now that other teams have seen you play?
I don't think so much it's people adjusting to our defense as much as it is matchups. Kentucky and Illinois are big teams and they're going to score points. We did a heck of a job against Kentucky in the first half and then they made a conscious effort to get the ball inside, then Sean got his fourth foul and Estill had a big half. So I don't know if it was people adjusting to our defense, as it was that we happen to play two teams that had quality four and five men who were over 6-10.
When we face a team like that in the future, you can press to make the game a little chaotic and have those [big] guys 20-30 feet from the basket, you could double the post – those are probably two ways – or you could play zone – to adjust to that.
In light of the aforementioned injuries, how are the players with playing in pain?
Some kids can handle it better than others. I think that's a maturation process for some of these kids, too. Playing with pain, dealing with discomfort – how much can they handle? Hopefully having the ability to play with more pain as they get older.
What's the status of Rashad's ankle?
He's fine. His ankle will be fine.
How do you deal with playing or not playing injured guys in light of the ACC opener next week?
If guys can play, they're going to play. We're dealing with three head injuries, and those you don't play with. When you're talking about the head, if there's any question whatsoever, you don't mess with that. If it's an ankle, knee or something, you can deal with that – but a head injury, you don't risk that at all. So, if guys can play, they're going to play. I want to beat Vermont. At the end of the year, come NCAA tournament time, a win is a win.
Vermont's good. Montana beat Stanford at Stanford last night. Davidson beat us at home last year. Vermont's 3-4, but if you watched the Providence game, they were up 10 at half at Providence. Ended up losing, but then played Drake to two overtimes. They lose to Utah State and Hawaii, pretty good teams. This is a good Vermont team, and I don't care who were playing after Vermont. We're going to try to beat Vermont.
Would you say the biggest issue with Vermont is that they are an unknown?
For our players, yes. It's always a concern for a coach to face a team like Vermont. I have a lot of respect for Coach Brennan and his team. He's been there 16 years now and has done a heck of a job. They've got some talented kids. Coppenrath – averaging 22 points a game. Whether Sorrentine plays or not – right now they're saying he's not –they're a sound team. And they're coming in here with nothing to lose. So it is a game that scares you as a coach.
Taking into account what you learned last year, what have you done differently after losses?
I think I've been pretty patient after these losses, pointing out mistakes but not getting on them too bad – just pointing out their mistakes. After the Kentucky game, I didn't even show them film. Just said, ‘Trust us, we weren't very good defensively, we don't need to go over this film again. Let's just move on and get better.'
His ankle injury you mentioned earlier is another setback, but do you envision Thursday being a chance to play Damion Grant more?
I'd like to, but he's got to be in shape. Damion's not in great shape right now. He cannot play major minutes because he cannot run up and down the floor for a long period of time. Until he can do that, he can't play major minutes. I'd like for him to do that, but I think the biggest thing keeping him from playing more is conditioning.