DETROIT --- The day before North Carolina takes on Villanova in the national semifinal at Ford Field, UNC players Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington, along with head coach Roy Williams, spoke to reporters.
Tyler, when you look at (Villanova's Dante) Cunningham, what does he bring to the table as far as comparing him with some of the other big guys you've played against? What's different and similar about him?
HANSBROUGH: Well, I think what kind of sets him apart is his face-up game, his ability to make some jumpers around the 15-foot area. That's a little different than what I usually play against. Yeah, the way he attacks the boards.
The other three teams that are here all have picked some sort of underdog identity. Michigan State, a lot of people didn't expect to be here. Villanova is the 3 seed. Connecticut feels like it's been through a lot on and off the court. You are the favorites. Do you embrace that role? Are you comfortable with being the team to beat?
HANSBROUGH: Well, before you say that, I mean, we had a lot of injuries beginning of the year, so it's not like we haven't gone through our share of problems either. We started off the ACC play 0-2. I went down about an injury. Tyler Zeller went down with an injury. Marcus (Ginyard) went down with an injury. I think Ty had his toe. So I'm not really sure if you consider that, I mean, we haven't been through some things like that.
But, yeah, I don't really know if the favorites or what y'all think is really going to change the way we play.
ELLINGTON: Yeah, I mean, I guess you're saying that people expect us to be here. In a way, you know, we always had those expectations. That's part of being a North Carolina basketball player. You know, people have those expectations of us. This is what we work for. So, you know, we don't mind being the favorites, we don't mind people saying we're supposed to be here, because this is what we worked so hard for.
Wayne, obviously you have the connection with Coach Chambers on Villanova's staff, the familiarity with Jay Wright. Do you have enough of a sense of what they do, Villanova, where it could make a difference, you can give your teammates insight?
ELLINGTON: I don't really think so, no. I mean, I have connection with those guys, but I'm not aware of their plays, anything they do on the court. There's nothing there that will give us any type of advantage or anything like that.
Can you address last year's semifinal game and what are your memories. How often do you think about that? Is that a rallying cry this year?
HANSBROUGH: Yeah, I think it was a motivating factor for us the whole off-season. Definitely not the way we wanted to end our season last year. We felt like we came out and didn't have your best performance, didn't play like Carolina. When we did come back, we didn't have enough energy to pull it out. It was very frustrating for us.
Different year, but does that game give you any kind of advantage, extra motivation, good, bad, or indifferent?
ELLINGTON: I think it definitely gives us a lot of motivation. We got to this point last year. We didn't play the way we were capable of. We wants to come out this year and show that we're ready, well-prepared. We're going to leave everything on the court. I don't think it will give us any type of advantage. This is the Final Four. I'm sure everybody will be psyched and motivated to play as well as they can at this level.
Going into last year's Final Four, you were getting pulled in a lot of different directions with awards and things. Is there anything that you take from that experience in terms of mental preparation that you can use tomorrow night?
HANSBROUGH: I'm not really sure. But, you know, I think one thing what we learned from last year is you have to be ready to play when you come out. I think maybe we were a little tight because we weren't used to being on the big stage like a Final Four. But, I mean, now I guess we'll be more prepared.
The way you guys get out and run better than anybody in transition, whether it be a missed or made basket, what's the key to that and how much do you want to emphasize that tomorrow night against Villanova?
ELLINGTON: We want to emphasize that every game. That's our style of play. That's what we practice all year long. I think the key is just getting out in the transition lanes and running, run as hard as possible. You know, with a point guard that pushes ball like Ty, it's a lot easier for us to get in transition and get easy baskets like that.
HANSBROUGH: When you have a point guard like Ty that can get the ball up and down the court, that says a lot. It's something we've done the whole year. We're not trying to emphasize it more this game. We just try to do it every game. It's just, you know, part of our play.
I know you don't know their sets or can't help with strategic coaching, but you watched the Villanova program over the years. How would you describe the personality of how that program plays basketball and what kind of challenge the teams going up against them have to face?
ELLINGTON: Well, they're very perimeter oriented. Their guards like to get in the lane, just make plays. Coach Wright, he's usually about his guards making plays. They're a tough team. They're going to play us as hard as they can until the time runs out. I think that's what we're going to expect tomorrow.
I know you said you try not to pay attention to what people say you should do. When you knew you were coming back, everybody was coming back with you this year, was there any feel that, with the amount of talent that you knew you had on the roster, it would be kind of a disappointment if you couldn't at least get back to where you were last year?
HANSBROUGH: Yeah, definitely. I mean, when we knew everybody was coming back, you know, our team had high expectations and goals to get back to the same position we were last year. That was kind of our mindset the whole year.
When Coach Wright was in here, he said he thinks they have a pretty tough team, physical team. A lot of people might not realize that. From what you've seen, do you think they're basically perimeter oriented or are they physical inside, too?
HANSBROUGH: Yeah, I think so. Watching them on film, for a big man, what we've been talking about, be strong with the ball in the post, because they're physical and they're strong. I think, you know, that gets under-looked when you look at Villanova and some of their guard play. Some of their toughness down low, it gets kind of overlooked.
With what happened to you against Kansas last year, have you changed preparation at all this year or is it same as usual?
COACH WILLIAMS: It's basically the same as usual. Last year we had a great run. We won the last three or four regular-season games. We won the conference tournament. We won four games in the NCAA. We didn't change anything before we played Kansas. We just played poorly.
This year, whatever routine we have, whether it's changed from last year, it probably has changed a little bit. But what routine we've been following in the end of the regular season and through the NCAA tournament, we've continued the same thing here.
I'm positive that I've said it one time, and it may have even been twice, but no more than twice, that I've reminded our guys that last year we were happy to be here. When we went out against Kansas, we looked around and said, 'My goodness, we're in the Final Four.' They hit us right in the mouth. It took us 15 minutes before we realized we were playing a game. I know I've said that once, perhaps twice, but not any more than that.
Yourself, Coach Izzo, and Coach Calhoun have been here several times, won national championships. Talk about Coach Wright getting here for the first time.
COACH WILLIAMS: I think Jay is one of the elite coaches. The job he's done, in a very, very difficult league, has been one that he should be very proud of.
Jay has been around. It's not like '91, my third year of coaching, I'm in the Final Four playing on Monday night. I was starry-eyed, bushy-tailed, scared to death. Jay at Hofstra, what he's done at Villanova, he doesn't have to take a backseat. I'm positive he's very confident, and rightfully so, because he really has done a great job with that club and got them in a great position.
Aside from the players saying "motivation" clearly from last year, what do you think they learned that they can apply tomorrow night?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, I'm hoping it's just what I said. I mean, I've got some crazy sayings, and one of them is that you can't go out there and tiptoe through the tulips. You have to be ready to plant your feet and make a stand. Last year we didn't do that. I'm hopeful they understand that part of it. Hopeful they'll be ready to go before the referee tosses the ball up. I expect they will be.
It was a horrible first half. We made a great run (in the second half). If Danny Green's three (pointer) stays in, we cut it (the Kansas lead) to one. I was extremely confident at halftime. I thought we were going to come back and win the game. But we dug too big a hole against a very good team.
One of the beauties and burdens of being at Carolina is that there's a certain level of success that's expected year in and year out. A lot of programs thrive as underdogs, figuring out a way. How do you handle coaching at a place and coaching in games like this where success is expected?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, first of all, I love that because that means we've been winning a lot. So I like that part of it. As coaches, sometimes you do relish the idea of being the underdog. Our second year at -- third year at Carolina, after we lost all the players, during the national championship team, it was a role that we didn't have very often. It was a fun, fun time. But I like that idea of people expecting you to be pretty good because you are good.
You have to prepare every day. You have to do the job. You can't be too concerned about people saying things, particularly if they don't really know what they're talking about. And I demand an excellence of myself more so than anybody from the outside is ever going to demand.
I've been very fortunate coaching at Kansas and North Carolina. There's a tradition and a history at both places that needs to be successful. But also realize I was Coach Smith's assistant for 10 years, and he said one year we ought to go 10-20 just to show our fans what it's like. I said, 'Coach, I don't want that to happen when I'm around.'
A couple years before we got there, it did happen. I think our fans, our people understand that that can even happen in North Carolina if you don't get lucky and have people that work very hard. We're very appreciative of where we are, as well.
When it comes to your philosophy on timeouts, how much does that come from what you learned from Coach Smith? During the LSU and Gonzaga games in the second half, you called key ones at times when sometimes you might not have. What was it about those moments that made that work?
COACH WILLIAMS: 95% of my philosophy probably in coaching completely came from Coach Smith. The idea about timeouts, as well.
You go by a gut feeling. I can remember before some of you were born, 1990, second year as a head coach, we were picked last in the Big-8. We ended up winning 30 games, playing in Vegas. Vegas won the national championship, but they lost one game that year, that was to my club. Second half, I stood up, called a timeout, I'll never forget it, I think it was 12:14 on the clock, Kevin says, We'll have a free one in 14 seconds. I said, "Another 14 seconds, I'm going to be ready to kill somebody." So it's what you feel at that moment.
I've been criticized greatly for not calling more timeouts last year in the Kansas game. I told you guys to go check. There were seven timeouts in the first half. Every time we left a timeout, we stunk it up anyway.
For me, my philosophy is usually to hold 'em till the end of the game. Even last year in the Kansas game, they had used their timeouts in the second half. If we had been able to get it to a one-possession game, the last five minutes, they had no timeouts, we had all of ours. I never felt like in that second half that I've got to call one now. I never felt like in the first half that a timeout is going to change something.
In the LSU game and the Oklahoma game, I think it was, I felt like if I called a timeout at that specific moment, I could change something. Whatever it was that I wanted to change, I know one of them was just sloppy play, that if I could change it right then, it would help us in the outcome of the game.
You've seen us play. I've been down 10-0 in our own building. We were down at halftime 20 against Georgia Tech in our own building. We won both of those games. We're at Boston College, we're down 800, and Tyrese Rice made 27 threes, whatever it was, in the first half. I never called a timeout. I think we had confidence that we were going to win the game. We won all three of those games.
One of my assistants (at Kansas), Mark Turgeon, who is at (Texas) A&M, last year was sitting with (Gonzaga head coach) Mark Few during the Kansas game, we were going off the floor, and Mark Few looked to Mark Turgeon and said, 'What do you think coach is thinking now?' Mark Turgeon said, 'I guarantee you, he's thinking he's going to win the game.'
So timeouts to me down the stretch can make that easier, and that's why most of the time I hoard them.
When Jay was here a little while ago he was talking about he thinks Villanova is more physical, more tough than people may give him credit for. As you watched them this week on film, do you see that?
COACH WILLIAMS: You know, I think they are really tough mentally and physically. I'd be surprised at any coach that plays against them would characterize them as anything other than that.
They don't give you easy baskets. They rebound. They box out. They dive on the floor. They're willing to take charges. You know, those things are things to me that are tough.
Somebody that will push somebody or run up in somebody's face, that doesn't mean very much. I mean, I've never seen a good fight in a basketball game. I like those guys that will be willing to fight you on the playground, not in the middle of the game with 20 referees, coaching running out there separating people.
I really think Jay's club is really tough mentally and physically and very impressive in that area to me.
Jay took a moment at the end of his remarks to the crowd at the end of practice to mention the coaches sitting up in the stands, the guys that are here for the convention, to hang out, watch. I'm sure this doesn't get to be old hat for you, but could you harken back to some days before you had gotten here, where you sit up there and think, That must be pretty good to be down there, maybe you find an interesting drill watching.
COACH WILLIAMS: I've got two things. First, I think it was 1990 at the Final Four, after practice in front of the public, Bobby (Cremins) is coaching at Georgia Tech, he has a legal pad that hasn't been looked at in 88 years. He's looking through there trying to find some drills to do. We laughed about it later.
As a coach, to me, this afternoon is the greatest day at a college coach because there's four teams out there practicing, and a bunch of other coaches that are sitting up in the stands that would like to be out there and dream about being out there, just like I have, just like probably Jay has.
And it's one of those very satisfying feelings, but it's also - I like the way you said it - it will never grow old. The thrill of getting your team to the Final Four means that team is always going to be talked about differently, okay?
North Carolina, their Final Four team of 2009, that's always going to distinguish. Villanova, their Final Four team of 2009. So I think the thrill of it is something that it will never get old. Every year I say, Gosh, I hope I can just go one more time. I hope I'll be saying that for about 10 more years.
Detroit is obviously not viewed as a gambling mecca. I want to find out if the casinos were something that you had addressed to the team before they came, if anything has changed?
COACH WILLIAMS: Didn't talk about it before we came. We've had two of our guys go to the casino, Ty Lawson and Marc Campbell. I talked to them before they left. They're both old enough. It is legal. I find it humorous that somebody would want to ask. Not necessarily you or Associated Press, it's strange, if we don't want those kids doing it, don't put the Final Four in a city where the casino is 500 yards from our front door. And they got a great buffet in there. I mean, come on.
To answer the question, no. I talked to my team. The other thing is, guys, you know when we got here? Wednesday. I mean, I'm not gonna tell my guys they got to stay in the room and watch Bill Cosby reruns for four days, c'mon.
Those two kids, we talked to them. One of my video coordinators went over there with them, not that he needed to. I would not have any problem. I just told the kids, If you think you're going to do something questionable, talk to me about it first.
I have zero problems with Ty doing it. I went and gambled myself. The reason I did was not the same reason that Ty did. When I came here this year to play Michigan State, we stayed at MGM. And I went down and shot craps, we lost, and we won the game. I go to Nevada, Reno, to play Nevada Reno, and I stayed in a casino, and I went downstairs and shot craps and we lost, and my team won. So you got to be halfway idiot if you think I'm not going to go gamble and lose money before this game.
I have gambled and I have lost. I'm doing every daggum thing I can do to win the game, including give Detroit my money (laughter). Please understand, I wasn't aiming any of that personally towards you.
I've seen Road House seven times in the last weeks of the NCAA tournament. You know where the coach's headquarters is here? You know where I was supposed to stay if my team hadn't come? Caesar's Palace. The dunk contest last night, three-point shot contest. Who is it sponsored by? A casino. What a great country we live in.
I know earlier in the week you were saying, Let's get away from this warm and fuzzy idea they all came back to win another championship. Could you maybe go through some of the conversations you had with the players last year when they were making that call. Once they do all come back, does it become sort of a disappointment if you don't get back to this level, given the talent?
COACH WILLIAMS: There's no question it would have been a huge disappointment if we hadn't gotten back to the Final Four. We set our dreams and goals. I think I've said this a couple times, we deal in those dreams and goals, not other people's expectations, because they don't have anything invested in it.
It would have been a disappointment. But I've been disappointed before, and we still get to coach the next year, still get to play.
I'll go four kids. Tyler Hansbrough, thought about it for two weeks. In his mind, never really made the decision, close to going. We never got to the idea of him of working out for anybody. He just wanted to stay because he enjoyed, loved college life, college basketball.
Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green 'tested the waters.' Ty, I talked to the 31 teams in the NBA, I talked to 24 teams, and every team I talked to about Ty said, I think he's going to be a No. 1 draft choice, but none of those teams said they were going to take him. The teams in the top 20 told me they would not. So I gave Ty and his family that information.
Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, they would not be a first-round draft choice, possibly they could be drafted in the second round. So when the decision was made for them all to come back, I called in all three of the kids. Two of them, Wayne and Ty, had their parents with them. I said, 'Let's make sure we're making this decision, it's what you want to do. Please understand, if you decide to come back, it's not gonna be about you. I'm not gonna get you 30 shots. I'm not gonna try to figure out how to make you the leading scorer. If you're interested in coming back and being part of a great team, helping our team win, that's your primary focus, I want you to come back. If you don't think that you can do that, then I think you should go ahead and go to the NBA.'
The greatest thing for me was two things. Every kid looked at me like, Coach, what are you talking about? We're here, this is us. Secondly is, not one single day, not one single play have I been concerned that they've been thinking about anything other than our team. So that to me has been one of the nicest things that I've ever been around.