GREENSBORO--- UNC head coach Roy Williams spoke to the media Thursday afternoon, the day before his Tar Heels, the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament's Midwest Region, take the court at the Greensboro Coliseum to play 16th-seeded Vermont.
General Statement from Coach Williams:
General comment in I guess I already had some fun today. The manager gave me my drink in regular Coca‑Cola cup in the hallway. You should have seen everybody jumping around. (Laughter.) Is that a good enough opening comment? Okay.
General update on John Henson?
COACH WILLIAMS: We practiced this morning. John did a little more than he did yesterday. We let him in some live situations. He did not shoot the ball left‑handed a single time. He did not block any shots left‑handed. So I'm extremely concerned about that part of it, because you guys that have seen his play, that's his dominant hand in a big, big way. He did block one shot, it was right‑handed, and he took one jump hook right‑handed and it fell about three miles short.
But he felt like that ‑‑ if the game were to be played today, he felt like he could play. I'm not convinced. But part of it as I said last week, it's got to be a two‑part thing: He has to feel comfortable that he can play and then I have to decide whether his play will be effective. And I am being extremely honest, I do not know. I talked to my staff after practice trying to see if I could get some input from them as to which way to be leaning and I am not leaning in any direction. So I really don't know.
Talk about how you recruited Justin Watts. I don't know how many radars he was on, don't know how many stars he had. Local kid from Durham. And kind of the role that he fills now, which is just about anything.
COACH WILLIAMS: Jeff, that's about the best way to put it. I can almost give him anything and he can handle it. When we recruited J Watts, I called him one night and I just said let's just be very straightforward and honest with each other and not beat around the bush kind of thing. I said, are you pleased with your choices?
And he said, 'Not really.' And I said, 'Well, think about this, that if you're not pleased with your choices, and if you would think about being involved with a great program, think about us. At the same time, it might be very difficult for you to play a lot, but you could because I'll give you a fair chance and you can be part of a great program and who knows what's going to happen. But there are no promises and it might be very difficult for you.'
And that's the way we got started and we have been pretty straightforward with each other the entire time. And it's remarkable that in the same game a guy can play your power forward spot and your point guard spot, but he's been able to do that. And he's just a wonderful, wonderful kid. It's impossible to be more appreciated than he is by me.
I wanted to ask a broad question about Twitter and do you like your players tweeting? Are you concerned about it? Obviously the football team had some issues with it.
COACH WILLIAMS: I don't think it matters whether I like it or not, it's the society today. If it were me, I would probably do what I do and that's not do it at all. I don't think it's that important for people to know what I had for breakfast or anything. But I tell the guys that it's America, you have freedom of speech. If you say something and embarrass me or the basketball program or your family, I'm going be to be disappointed and sometimes that gets to be upset.
But that's what I'm going to do with them if they come up here and say something in front of you today. So we do monitor it; we do check it. Not we. I couldn't. I guarantee you I can barely turn the dadgum computer on. So I do not check it. If there's any problem, they come and tell me and then we discuss what we're going to do at that point. I don't know if it's tweeting or twitting, so you know. (Laughter.)
Understanding that there are several major differences between John and Ty Lawson's situation in 2009, did the experience of having to deal with the uncertainty with Ty help you in trying to kind of decide what's going to happen here with John?
COACH WILLIAMS: I thought it would. But I'm awfully uncomfortable talking about it because I don't know what I'm going to do. Ty's was a little different; Ty hurt it and then came back and played and was very successful and then it ballooned up on him again. So it was almost like a recurrence, but he didn't get it hit again. It's just the swelling went up there.
There is the difference of that and there's also the difference of that with Bobby particularly I knew that we would be very solid at the point guard spot. Bobby is not Ty, but Bobby had played that position before and I had tremendous amount of confidence in him.
We had so many weapons with Danny (Green) and Wayne (Ellington) and Tyler (Hansbrough). We just had a lot of weapons there. But I also know that Ty Lawson came in in the second game against LSU and if he had not played that game, I don't think we would have won that game. His second half performance was about as good as any half I've ever seen a point guard play in any stage. So, yeah, it does, there are some similarities, but it certainly had made me more comfortable in what I'm trying to decide right here.
Can you say‑‑ is this just going to be an actual game time decision with John tomorrow? I would assume you're having a shoot around sometime tomorrow morning? You might watch him and then are you just going to watch him warm up and see how he feels?
COACH WILLIAMS: And it will be‑‑ I think it will be a game time decision, to answer your question. And then it will be a second decision, how effective is he in the first part of the game.
Ty wasn't very effective in the first half of that LSU game. And then you guys may remember, he hurt it and that took him out of the game in the first half. He was scared to death; he had heard a pop. But then he sat there and realized, well, this doesn't feel any differently and then he came back in. So there will be a second evaluation as to how he plays in the game, if I do play him in the game.
And with me, I'm being honest, I really don't know what's the best road to take, because you pick two scenarios. Say you don't play him. All right. What are you saving him for? If you get beat, you're going to go home and start working on your golf game. Okay. All right. Now if you do play him and he gets his wrist whacked again, okay, then that's going to hurt you down the road. So to me it's not an easy decision.
And NCAA tournament play, I never say okay, well, we may be able to handle it without this. That's not the deal. With Ty (Lawson), I didn't play him in the first round because I was so comfortable with Bobby (Frasor). And James Michael (McAdoo) has done some good things, but who is going to take James Michael's place coming off the bench there?
Could you speak to the difficulty of not knowing who your second round opponent would be until last night?
COACH WILLIAMS: For us it's not that big a deal. Normally our procedure is to work on the team we're getting ready to play just the day before we play them. There have been a couple instances if we have five or six days off when we may do something two days prior, but the majority of the time our work is done the day before. All other work up to that time is just work on ourselves.
Can you recall to the best way it went, when Z (Tyler Zeller) came to you last year and said he was coming back? Sort of how‑‑ did that surprise‑‑ I know it didn't surprise you.....
COACH WILLIAMS: Deep down I really didn't think that John or Z would go. I didn't know with Harrison, and Harrison is very analytical and likes a lot of information before he makes decisions. Z's enjoying college life, as John was. And I think that John's case he didn't feel, really feel like he was ready anyway. And Z didn't really think the NBA was going to go away. He wanted to get his degree.
So it was not unexpected, but it was something that if you had held a gun to my head and said what do you think he's going to do, it would have been what I chose. But it was a thrill for me, it would have been a thrill for me if he had said he wanted to go, because I would have the felt like I would have supported him. But there's no question that it's a thrill when you get a chance to coach a youngster like Tyler Zeller again.
Obviously you're focused on Vermont and you don't know what's next after that, but could you just tell me what you see in Doug McDermott, and obviously you're very familiar with him when you were recruiting Harrison Barnes?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, you answered your own question. I went to Ames, Iowa in a two‑year period 11 times. And Doug was there all the time too. Haven't watched their team (Creighton) play this year. I am focused on Vermont. But if you asked me about a young man that I think is an outstanding basketball player, a great kid, his dad and I enjoy each other's company, and I think we will continue doing that for a long time.
I told him last year that I thought he was crazy because ‑ or two years ago I guess it was‑ because Doug had originally signed with Northern Iowa. When he was at Iowa State when Greg, his dad, I said you're crazy. He said, well, I just think he needs to be a little better, a little bigger. And I said he'll surprise you because he will play for you regardless of where you are. And I really believe that. And he just kept getting better and better and better and better.
And then this past summer I'm on the selection committee for USA basketball, one of our‑‑ for our young teams, and Doug was at the trials and he played great. And he is a big time player.
All teams this time of year feel a tremendous sense of urgency but knowing the talent level that you have, knowing that Tyler Zeller will definitely be gone and perhaps some of the underclassmen as well, is there perhaps even an added sense of urgency with this particular group that this is the shot and has that sharpened focus or is this sort of like any other tournament you've been to it many, many, many times?
COACH WILLIAMS: I really don't feel that sense of urgency because I'm going to keep coaching. If I were going to quit and this would be my last chance ever, perhaps that would be different. But I really don't believe so. I think I would be looking forward to getting to the golf course.
Some teams have a chance to win it, and I think we're one of those teams. I've been very fortunate to have had teams like that a lot. And we have won two of them. But some of those years that we didn't win, I loved coaching those teams. I loved the season we had. I just didn't like the way it ended. I look at it that way more.
The Olympics is the only time I ever felt a great deal of pressure, and I was just an assistant coach. That team was put together to try to win the gold medal. And I think Larry Brown has always gotten a bad rap because you think the NBA took a marketing approach instead of getting the best team out there at that time, and yet it helped us because now we got much more serious about the Olympics now after that.
But I really---people say, oh, he's lying, but you can say what you want but I really don't. I don't feel that pressure. I do feel a sense of urgency with every team to do the best we can do, but I'm never going to label one of my teams a failure just because you don't win a national championship.
I'll add one thing to it. I've had two teams that I thought were the best team in the country, and we didn't win, and I still thought they were the best team in the country because I don't think our tournament always identifies the best team.
Do you feel this group is the best team in the country?
COACH WILLIAMS: No.
COACH WILLIAMS: I said the same thing on October 15th, I think there's seven or eight teams that have a legitimate chance. Now I would probably go to 10 or 11. To me, I think Kentucky and Syracuse have separated themselves a little from everybody else. And they lost last week, so‑‑
Did you watch any of the Vermont game yesterday? And if you did, did you watch it casually or do you watch it and scout as you're watching it?
COACH WILLIAMS: A little bit of both. You watch it at the beginning casually because you can't‑‑ it's hard to try to scout both teams at the same time. That kind of thing. But as the game went on, it was a little more of a scouting perspective.
I was extremely impressed with their intelligence on the offensive end of the floor. How hard they worked defensively, you know, they shooting it was over 50 percent. I haven't seen the stat sheet, but I think it was over 50 percent, and held Lamar to 30‑something. But the thing that got me is their intelligence on the offensive end of the court and the right guys shooting the ball and they use the clock and ran it down to the end and got great shots at the end, which is hard to do.
Can you just talk a little bit about the difficulties in playing a 16 seed where they basically have nothing to lose and sort of how you sort of address that as ‑‑ do you just sort of need to bury them early or what's your mindset for playing a team with nothing to lose?
COACH WILLIAMS: I don't think I ever said about any team we were playing, let's bury them early or anything like that. I'm more concerned about how we play, but I think that I've said this many times, we may be more gifted, we may be more blessed, but I've seen some teams beat teams like that too.
The lesser blessed or the lesser gifted team‑‑ the game of basketball is a unique deal. It's not just the biggest, strongest, fastest. The biggest, strongest, fastest may have a better chance, but the biggest, strongest, fastest have lost a lot of times too. But I don't think I've ever said anything about a number 16 seed has never beaten a 1 team. I don't think I ever even mentioned what seed the other team has. If you start looking past that opponent, that's where you're going. I usually say it like this: If you start looking down the road, that's where you're going, down the road back home.
You talked about how difficult of a decision it is with John, and the pain that he is having not being able to be out on the court and help his teammates right now, but have you two other players experiencing that same pain and Leslie and Dexter, how do you as a coach and the rest of your coaching staff and players make them feel a part of this run, apart of this season still?
COACH WILLIAMS: Couple of it‑‑ a little bit of it is naturally because Leslie now is practicing with us full. He went through a tremendous rehab session that everybody appreciates how hard he worked. Dexter started with us and played, and then all of a sudden it happened to him and he's right now going through a very difficult rehab. John, to have that happen in your ACC tournament is just a shame, but those kids have been part of the team since the first day. And that's the way we have acted.
And if I have an opportunity to eat steak, they get an opportunity to eat steak. And if I eat grits then they have an opportunity to eat grits as well. But we treat them like everybody else. The team really takes care of them and makes sure they feel like a huge part of our team.
And if we're sitting here last July, if you would have picked North Carolina's top six players, those three guys would have been in the top six. So it was not comfortable for me in the tournament last week in Atlanta looking over there and seeing those three guys sitting over on the sideline in coat and tie. It wasn't a very comfortable feeling.