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PART I (24:26)
PART II (25:02)
There's been a lot of talk about Michigan State being a team of destiny. They're a very good basketball team in and of itself. How do you fight against both of those?
"We don't fight one that you can't control, and that's what people say and think. But we're going to try to fight and compete against Michigan State's team out on the court. I said yesterday, I love what they're doing, the positive feelings they're putting across this state. I love the people of North Carolina and the positive feelings we can put across that state, too."
I know you have a great respect for Tom Izzo. He just said in the game in December, if they have Suton and play perfect, they still lose by 20. Buying it?
"No. But Tommy can sell. Doesn't mean I have to buy. We did, we caught them at an absolute perfect time. Again, three games down in Florida, come back here, one day, play us the next day. Didn't have Suton. Delvon [Roe] wasn't full speed by that time. But the bottom line is, I personally don't think that that game will have much, if anything, to do with the game that we play Monday night."
Fairly or unfairly, how much do you think Tyler's career will be judged to some degree on tomorrow night?
"I think it would be unfair if that's the only thing that people judged it on. You got to judge it on the body of work and what the young man has done. There have been some great coaches who haven't been able to get to a Final Four. There have been some great players. Did Ernie Banks ever win a World Series? There's been some big-time things out there. That's probably older than most of you guys are. I could probably come up with a more recent example.
"But I don't think you can do that. I don't think it would be fair. I would have trouble agreeing or even carrying on a good conversation with anyone that would look at it that way."
A lot of people are talking about that Dec. 3rd game, that Michigan State is a lot different. How is your team different now than it was back in December?
"I think we're better. I think we're better defensively. We also are healthier. I think we're playing our best basketball of the year. Ty is the only one I stay concerned about health-wise. But, you know, at this point there's only two teams left playing. All that other stuff is a bunch of hogwash. Every time I say that, Ty Lawson says, 'What is hogwash?' I do believe that's all it is.
"Whoever plays the best on Monday night, that will determine the outcome of the game, not what happened in December. I didn't know Ty was in here, but he probably grinned when I said that."
Programs have institutional memories. I'm curious how you see your role as caretaker of the Carolina program. In what ways do you see your own personality and your own beliefs reflected in this particular team?
"Well, to be the caretaker of North Carolina's program, I'll probably sit back and reflect on that a lot more when I stop. Right now, I just feel very fortunate to be part of it, even if it's a very small part.
"It's been my life for 10 years as an assistant, now six years as a head coach, and five years as a student. That was to get my Masters degree. I didn't take me five years to graduate. Let's get that straight.
"But, you know, looking at the team, I think every team does have some personality of their coach. I think I'm fairly competitive, demanding. I think our players understand that part of it. And I'm hopeful they'll be that way the rest of their lives, that they can get something from me other than just basketball. I hope it's something more important than a term like 'hogwash.'"
When you recruited this senior class four years ago, you didn't know where the journey was going to take you. When you started this year you didn't know. Now you know you have one more practice, one more game. Talk about that.
"You know, I tell the kids all the time, Snap your fingers and that's how quickly your four years will pass. When they're freshmen, these guys, Danny and Tyler particularly, they look at me and say, Yeah. Right now they would understand it. Right now they agree with it.
"You know, I'm corny, there's no question about it. I'm emotional. This senior class has been really, really important to me. These guys came in after the championship year. We didn't have a lot coming back. They competed from the first day. You know, you can't say which child you love the best because you don't ever think in those terms. That's the way it is with players.
"The classes that I've recruited in 21 years, this is one of those that is special. Tyler to keep coming back, his work ethic, focus. Bobby, through the stress fracture, the foot, the ACL. Marcus, the trouble he's had this year. Cope, who every day has tried to help us, been such a comic relief off the court, a generally good person. For Danny Green to go through the things that he's done and be a sub, giving us great help, being a starter, doing the things.
"I do realize that today is gonna be the final practice. You know, in some ways that's hard. But I'm gonna remember the great times. I mean, these guys, I think, think they tied Quentin for the most wins for a four-year class in North Carolina history of 122 games, 123. I'm going to look back on all those good times. It's going to be sad for me, but I'm corny."
On how fast his career has gone by:
"Yeah, it's definitely gone by quick. You know, I'm glad we're ending it the right way instead of, you know, my last practice being last week or something like that. I'm just glad we're going out on the right note.
"You know, it does go by quicker than you would think. I'm glad we're all pretty close, not just the seniors. So, you know, when I leave, I'll still feel a connection with the program. So it's a good way to, you know, kind of see myself going out."
Talk about how confident this team is right now. Do you feel the team is playing its best basketball of the season right now? Are you peaking at the right time?
"Yeah, I think we're peaking at the right time. Early in the year, we was playing together, but I think we was lacking a little bit in defense. Right now we're playing real well in defense, rotating, helping each other out. We're talking. I feel like right now we are peaking at the right moment. No better time than the NCAA tournament and the championship."
On this final chapter of his career:
"Yeah, I'm definitely happy to be in this position. I don't think it's hit me yet that it's my last practice or my last game. That's because of how focused that we have been, and coach has had us. We're focused coming in to breakfast, shot fake, stay down, just remember the principles defensively.
"I mean, for me to be in this position, the biggest game of my college career, the biggest game of the NCAA season, it just means a lot. Hopefully we can end it the right way."
When you ran onto the court, Tom Izzo is giving his postgame speech, the crowd is going crazy. What is the building like to you? It's the stadium seating from last time. Floor raised a little bit. How do you like the stadium?
"Yeah, I mean, I like it. To us as basketball players, it's a basketball court. You know, you don't really pay much attention to other things. You're so focused on the game that you don't really see what's going on around you.
"We know that it seats a lot of people and it's a huge crowd. At the same time we're so focused on the game, we're losing ourselves in the game that we don't pay much attention to that."
When you walk on the court, do you take a second to look around, kind of let the atmosphere soak in and grasp the whole scene?
"Definitely when you walk out there, it's hard not to notice, see all the people, the crowd. You definitely do take note and sit back and be like, Wow, look at what you accomplished. Me coming from Torrance, California, one of the biggest stages, college basketball is big. You definitely have to enjoy it. Once the ball is tipped, you still got to play your heart out."
How is it knowing that this will be your final practice of the season?
"Yes, because every time you play or practice, you're like, 'Okay, let's make sure we can have one more practice. Let's make sure this isn't our last game.' Now, we can't say that anymore. We all know this is going to be our last game, so it is a little different feeling. You're excited, you're happy, you've got a million thoughts running through your mind, but once the game starts, everyone's focus will be on the game."
Is this bittersweet for you?
"Absolutely not. It amazes me when people ask me that, because I don't see how your team can be playing for the national championship and you feel bitter at all. I'm very excited for this team, for everything they've accomplished. I'm just happy to be a part of it."