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ACC Call: Williams On Pitt, Puff, Rotation, Improving & More

North Carolina Coach Roy Williams met with the media Monday morning during the weekly ACC Conference Call to field a variety of questions about his team, Tuesday’s opponent Pittsburgh, his rotation, Puff Johnson’s health and more.

The Tar Heels have one game currently scheduled for this week, as they travel to Pitt on Tuesday night.

Above is the full conference call for Williams and below are some notes and pulled quotes from what he had to say:

*Pitt forward Justin Champagnie might be the front runner for ACC Player of the Year, as the sophomore is averaging 19.9 points and 12.4 rebounds per contest. He scored 31 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in Pitt’s win over Duke last week, went for 24 and 16 in a recent win over Syracuse, and had 20 and 20 in a tough road win at Northwestern earlier in the season. What are the challenges UNC faces in having to deal with Champagnie, and what growth has Williams seen from his game?

"Well, I don't see the growth because he kicked our butts both times we played them last year,” Williams said. “I thought he was pretty doggone good last year, but he's really playing at a high, high level. You're averaging 20 a game and in double figures in our league, you're really doing something. I saw a graphic, but they're only like five guys who have averaged 20 and 10 in our league over the past 10 or 12 years, maybe even more than that. But he's really, really playing at a high level.

“But he did, he kicked us. He was extremely important to the game here. He made a couple of threes, and I don't have the stat sheet in front of me, but I know he was successful against us in both games. So, what everybody else is seeing I felt like I saw last year to start with. Let me see, I just got out, he had 22 against us last year here and got in foul trouble at Pitt and only had five.

“So, I saw him get 22 last year against us and it was a very impressive 22. Four-of-seven from the three-point line and had eight rebounds and two blocks, so he had a big-time game against us last year.”

*UNC freshman Puff Johnson did not dress for the NC State game and was wearing a boot on his right foot. Williams was asked about Johnson’s injury and if he might make the trip to Pittsburgh, which is where he’s from.

"Puff has done well and he's gotten better and better and he's going to be a really, really good player for us long term,” Williams said. “I don't know if it's going to be this year, but he's going to be a really, really good player. His older brother, Cam, was what you'd call a late developer, late bloomer, and who knows if Puff is going to do that at that level. And he may develop even quicker than Cam did, but he hurt his foot, jammed his toe or something.

“I think he's jammed it. I think they're calling it a sprained toe, but he was in boot during the game. Yesterday, he was not in a boot, but he did not practice. I don't see him practicing today. We will still take him to Pittsburgh unless our trainer tells me this afternoon that would not be the proper thing to do. But (I) love him to death as a kid and he's going to be a big-time player."

*There are signs Williams has started tightening his rotation, which is something he annually does as February approaches. But this is a different season in so many ways, so the coach was asked about his rotation and how it is a bit unique from other seasons.

"This is a different year,” Williams said. “I've been saying six freshmen in our top 10, now we have seven in our top 11 because Anthony Harris only played four games last year and is able to get a medical hardship. But it depends on how you play in games and it depends on how you play in practice.

“I even had Garrison (Brooks) out of the lineup a couple of games and no one else has done it consistently enough that they can feel secure. I mean, when Marcus Paige was a senior if somebody beat him out, I would have thought we were qualified for the NBA because he had deserved that for all those years. But it's how you play in games, how you play in practice.

“I did something Saturday against NC State that I don't do a lot of. I was taking guys out on turnovers because you've just got to stop turning that daggum basketball over. But the guys know they're going to play, they just don't know who's going to run out early and we mix it up every single day in practice.

“I'll say, 'First five whites, second five whites. Okay, now mix it up.' And we do that every day. So, the only thing that helps in starting lineup is some places do still announce the starting lineup, but I've got a lot of things I'm concerned about, the starting lineup is not one at all.”

*Carolina’s current freshman class was ranked No. 2 in the nation as a recruiting class for 2020, and so far, four of the six true freshmen have started at least one game. Add redshirt freshman Anthony Harris to the mix, and it’s a deep group. Williams, however, was asked about a comment he made following Saturday’s win over NC State about this being his best freshman class. He clarified that comment Monday morning.

"Well, they're doing well, and you have to understand when I say that you're talking about six guys. I mean, the best recruiting class I ever had in my life was Nick Collison, Kirk Hendrick, and Drew Gooden. All three committed to us early, started as freshmen for the most part. Drew stayed three years, Nick and Kurt stayed four and they were all three drafted in the top 12, 13 picks.

“Then we had Wayne (Ellington) and Ty (Lawson) and Brandon (Wright) and those three guys were the best point guard, shooting guard and power forward in the high school rankings and they were fantastic for us. All three played in the NBA, but this is a six-man class. Like I said in the last question, if we add Anthony Harris to them, it's a seven-man class.

“But we needed a big class coming in. We lost several players, lost some seniors, lost two grad transfers. Two or three of these guys have started at times during their freshman year, maybe four of them, I guess. Caleb and RJ, Kerwin, and Day'Ron have all started games, so it has been a big-time class for them. But I don't think you can fully compare a six or seven-man class to a three and four.

“But again, those classes that I talked about earlier with one from Kansas and in the guys here with Ty and Wayne and Brandon were higher rated. We don't have anybody in this class that was rated as high as Ty, Wayne and Brandon were collectively or the Tyler Hansbrough class, but it is six guys. And so, the numbers also make it something appealing because we needed numbers and four of them have started at one point and are going to be very, very good players."

*With so much attention given to the blue bloods that are struggling this season, and UNC lumped into the conversation each time as a result of having five losses and playing so many freshmen, does Williams think his team might be flying under the radar some?

"Am I happy about us getting better? Yes. Am I happy about us being under or on top of the radar? I really don't know,” Williams replied. “I think that it is hard for a Kentucky, a Duke or a Kansas or a Villanova or a North Carolina's. It's always hard to be under the radar... Like (Miami Coach) Jimmy Larrañaga, you've got five guys sitting over there in street clothes or something and that's a problem we had last year.

“But I do think we're getting a little bit better each day, a little bit better and I want it to be at a faster pace, but I keep going back to the same thing but it's very truthful with seven freshmen in our top 11. Guys, we have to be much more meticulous about what we're doing and take our time a little more, give them a little more instruction.

“So, I think if you go back and look at that, and I haven't done it, people tell me in it where I was sort of thinking about it and remember it, but our teams have most years really gotten better as the season has gone along. We've had a 12-game winning streak few years in the league few years back we've we've done some good things. Our oh nine team started out losing the first two conference games and I think only lost to two more games the whole season. So I think our guys do get better.

“But the idea of the Blue Bloods I really haven't thought about that Kip and it's Today's game with kids leaving so early. And in today's games with transferring B, being so easy, and there's no negative to it whatsoever. Teams are going to change dramatically each year. And if you get a group of freshmen that are going to be really good if they stay around, or if you get a group of freshmen who are really good right now, there's a big difference there.

“And so I think that what's going on with the guys not sticking with their plan, staying with places sort of surprises you a little bit. We didn't have anyone transfer that started except for fact, I think Jeremiah Francis started maybe one or two games for us last year. But things changed dramatically, I think from year to year, so much more than they used to.

“If you had a six-man class seven man class like we do this year, you would be concerned about the number of scholarships that you could give out the following year. I don't care but I'd like to give out 13 more and see what happens.”

*Jacob Turner contributed to this report.