How did this game come about? East Carolina has never played here before. Obviously there is the Jeff Lebo connection.
“It was really easy. Jeff called and so we talked about it and I said okay. They had some interest in us coming down there. A great deal of interest, but I just think you just open up your schedule to a point we can’t do anything if we do those kind of things so most of the time I’ve said if you’re opening a new building that I will do it.
“Coach [Dean] Smith had a policy that we didn’t play anybody within the state that we didn’t have to play, because he said you can’t play everybody. My deal is that we’ll play, but I’m not going to go play on your court because we can’t do that for everybody unless, like I said, you’re opening up a building or something like that we’ll try to help you, but I just told him we can’t do that, but we did decide they wanted to come here and play and it was pretty easy. It was a 15-minute conversation.”
What do you remember about Lebo as a player?
“Tremendous savvy. Great ability to shoot the basketball. A guy who really was a combination guard that could set guys up or he could be the guy that could run around the screens. Five three-pointers in the second half against Georgia Tech in like a matter of minutes or something. It was probably three days but it seemed to me like a matter of minutes. Just a coach on the floor. A guy who could do a great job with kids in a camp situation because that’s what he had done with his dad so many times. Nothing but really positive things.”
How hard is it to learn things about your team against the likes of Mississippi State and East Tennessee State that have struggled?
“There is something to that, there is no question about it, but you guys have heard me say before everybody wants you to play the Oklahoma City Thunder and then the Celtics and then the Lakers, who knows? Things like that, but you can’t, because you've got to have your kids get some confidence, but I’m not ashamed of our schedule. I think and I’ll emphasize the word ‘think.’ I think eight of the previous nine years we’ve been in the top-25 in the country strength of schedule. When we made the game with East Tennessee State, they had four guys that were pretty doggone important to them that were on their team at that time. I do get tired of people saying negative things about a team when they don’t know what the crap they’re talking about. Mississippi State, the same thing. When the agreement was made we didn’t know what was going on and Chaminade was in the tournament and we’ve played them before, but you can still learn some things. You really can.
“Now I don’t know if you’d learn things if you had last year's team, because we were so experienced and so talented, but when you’re inexperienced and hoping that the talent will show up at some point, I think you gain a great deal by playing and getting them out in front of somebody else. Again, people like to talk about schedules. I don’t worry about them. Why are you playing College of Charleston and who the crap is Andrew Goudelock? Well, Andrew Goudelock made a hell of a lot more money in the NBA than everybody that was criticizing those kind of schedules, but you do put them in different scenarios that you can’t do in practice so that helps you. You do put them in front of a crowd. That does help you. They’re trying to run things that the other team does not know what they’re doing like they do in practice so that helps you, but I’ll go back and say again you can’t play everybody like the Celtics and I say it from experience. I know what the crap I’m talking about regardless of what somebody else may say.
“One year we played Georgia and Indiana the first two games and I lost two players for two months before I could get them to play worth a darn and it’s just because they lost so much confidence in those two games. They were borderline shooters and Hugh Durham’s team and Bobby Knight’s team backed off of them. We’d be on one end shooting and the guys defending them would be at the concession stand. One guy shot an air ball and another guy missed three in a row and we couldn’t get them to shoot the dadgum ball again until January so I know what the crap I’m talking about there, but you do need to have some games where you give them a little confidence.
“You do need some games where you challenge them. You do need some games where they’re going to play one style and you do need some games where they’re going to play another style. I do think you still get some things, but, again, when we scheduled them it was a different look that we thought we were going to get. I’m sure people that scheduled us a year ago didn’t think that Kendall Marshall would be in the NBA either, but to answer I think you can get some things that you can’t get in practice and yet we had a stretch there where it was a total mismatch and I understood that, but you also challenge them to see if they can maintain that because that’s hard to do as well.”
What are you looking for specifically in the games and practice in terms of trying to see improvement from the freshmen and inexperienced players?
“Coach Smith used to always talk about ‘game slippage.’ That you do something during practice and it looks so great and then you do something in the game and ‘oh my gosh have we ever even worked on this’ and it is some of that part too so what we’re trying to do too is to see things that we’re doing in practice and can we do them the same way in the game? Can we make adjustments the same way that you have to during a game and with younger and inexperienced kids, whatever you want to call them, that’s hard to do and you do need more opportunities to get out there.
“I really believe we’ve benefitted a great deal over the last couple of years, because we scrimmaged Vanderbilt and we scrimmaged Georgetown and only played one exhibition game, but now I’m starting to lean towards maybe you’d be better off playing two exhibition games regardless of what kind of competition it is. Just getting them out in front of a crowd and in a game situation and see how much ‘game slippage’ that you do have, because I think both years we gained some things, but the first game as opposed to having an exhibition game and then one game or as opposed to two exhibition games and another game, I’ve seen a great difference in our performances starting out. I really have.”
Where do you think Marcus Paige is as far as his confidence?
“I think his confidence is okay. I think that he’s not playing the way he wants to play or the way he thought he was going to play, but I think that happens to every freshman and his has been really strange. His junior year he had ten seniors with him and he was still the best player, but he sort of led them around and made baskets and the whole bit and then last year all of a sudden he was the only senior and he had to score 30 a game for them to have a chance. Now he’s back doing some things with some older guys at a much higher level, quicker, faster, all that kind of stuff, so his last three years have been widely different for him, but I think he’s a confident youngster. I think he realizes that he’s getting better and better every day. I think he’s been amazed at how little he did know and that kind of thing, but I said this the first day, he’s going to be really good.”
Brice Johnson has been effective offensively. What is he missing defensively and how far away is he from where he needs to be?
“A long way. He said it himself the other day. He played zone most of the time in high school. It’s two things. You have to learn all the principles, which is really hard. It takes a long time and then they become second nature. You say ‘why did it take me so long to learn those?’ The other thing, and I said this the first day and I’m not being disrespectful to the kid, but he’s got to get his intensity level way higher than it is and then maintain it. We showed one play in one game, it might’ve been the Indiana game, and I said how did you feel when you watched that and he said ‘embarrassed’ because you don’t know that and you see it on tape and that helps you understand it, but he’s getting better. He really is. He’s not getting better as fast as I want him to and I’m sure not as fast as he wants to, but he’s trying and trying to get better and I’ll take that.”