NEWARK--- The day before his North Carolina team takes on Marquette in an NCAA Tournament East Regional semifinal, Tar Heel head coach Roy Williams touched on several topics.
UNC is looking to advance to the Elite Eight for the fifth time in the last seven seasons Friday evening in the Prudential Center. Gametime is set for 7:15 pm on CBS.
Roy, Dexter Strickland this is a homecoming for him. Can you talk about the progress that he made over the past year to become the player that can make those big plays at the end of your last game?
"Dexter is a youngster that committed to us as a junior in high school, and his senior year he was going to be a point guard for them and he had never really played the point guard and that's what I recruited him as. And a guy Kyrie Irving moves in so he doesn't play then. And then last year as a freshman we tried to get him more accustomed to the point guard spot, and it was bit of a difficult thing for him."
"He's wonderful kid and a wonderful athlete. And he did some really good things for us.
And then this year started, we played him at the two spot. He started for us every game, I think. He developed into our best perimeter defender. Uses his speed and quickness to really be a good player for us on the defensive end of the floor. When we get out and run, he is unbelievably quick with the ball. Can fly up and down the court.
"But defensively is where he has made his biggest impact for us. And then in the middle of the season when we lost Larry Drew it put him back in the mix as a point guard a little bit more, and he has really done a really nice job with that. It is a huge transition for him in the middle of the season to have to make that change and to be able to do that position and know the different plays."
"And then all of a sudden he tweaks his knee and he has some problems with that, and they're going to do some surgery after the season is over with, but he is such a tough kid. He said, "I want to finish the season. I want to play." And he had done the same thing in high school with the other knee. And it is a similar injury to this knee. And he's just been a warrior for us. And each and every game I see him getting better and bet better."
"When he scores it is a huge plus for us, but he affects our team in a number of different ways."
Yesterday on an ESPN teleconference Jay Bilas said although a lot of people say freshmen are no longer freshmen this time of year, he thinks they are freshmen more so than ever because it is a new environment, a new experience. Where do you come down on that? And what difference can experience make at this time of year?
"I would probably come down somewhere in the middle. The kids are so much more, I use this terminology, I don't know if it is good, but I use it anyway. They are so much more worldly now. Not in awe of being in the NCAA Tournament, not in awe of playing on national television. They played on national television in high school. And travelled and done those kind of things. But there is still the experience and how valuable it is when you get in the NCAA Tournament play."
"I said many times what you really want to have is experienced talent. If you have to choose which one, you would probably take talent, okay. But I do believe that you gain valuable insights into what goes on. You learn how sudden your season can be over with, so you know the finality of it. You understand that the intensity level of each game goes up a little notch each and every game. So I think the experience factor is still extremely important."
Coach Williams, do you think Marquette is playing for pride in the heart of Big East territory against you guys tomorrow, being 11 teams are in the tournament and now only 2 remaining?
"I am not sure I absolutely understand but if I don't get the answer, then tell me. There's something about pride of the Big East. They probably love the Big East and I love the ACC but by golly, we are playing for North Carolina and I got a feeling their kids are doing the same thing. They have great deal of pride and a great deal of confidence in their team. We are in, quote, Big East territory but I think they would be playing with just as much pride and just as much intensity and just as much hunger if they were playing in Tampa, Florida right now. I think that's the kind of coach that Buzz is. I think it is the kind of kids that he has."
"You know, whatever happens whether 11 Big East and two left or four ACC and three left, you have a sense of feeling about your league. But right now you are thinking about yourself and there is nothing wrong with that. And I think that if it comes out and they play well and somebody else plays well and at the end of the year they can brag about their league, that's great. But it really, in my opinion, and maybe I say it differently, I think you are thinking about doing well because you want it, not because you are trying to do something for somebody else."
I think a lot of people always associate North Carolina basketball with Dean Smith. I am curious, how is he doing? Do you still have contact with him regularly about the team and about basketball?
"I think there is a good reason that it is always associated with Coach and I think it should be, and as long as I am around and kicking, I hope it always will be because he is so important to me. But he is important to the university, the community, the program, the history and what we have."
"Coach (Dean Smith) turned 80 on February 28th. I jokingly said to everybody, but it is true, he has had some memory loss problems that everybody else starts to have at 50, you know, and that's the biggest difference. He has such an incredible mind. He is maybe the smartest person I have ever known in my life. I did an interview with Coach John Thompson, big John, and we talked about Coach Smith and he said the same thing, maybe the most intelligent guy he had ever known."
"He can talk about so many different things and such a wide variety of basketball. Some guys talk slow and some guys about fast paced and Coach Smith can talk about everything. There is some change going on there. But he is 80 years old. And I saw him last Monday I think it was, Monday or Tuesday."
Marquette made it to the Sweet 16 with five guys who are junior college transfers. What does that say about the job that Coach Williams is doing getting these guys ready and formulating the chemistry needed to get this far?
"Buzz is a big-time coach meaning he did a great job. The game changed a little bit. Just about everything is coaching junior college level players. By that I mean most -- my first seven years back at North Carolina we lost eight guys early to first-round picks in the NBA draft. So we're coaching our guys, a couple of years is about what we are getting out of it, too."
"I think the best thing is the camaraderie, the team chemistry and the feeling those guys have for each other and that's directly related to the job that Buzz and his staff have done about making it mean -- talking about the name on the front of the jersey and not the name on the back. Those kids are hungry and they bought into it. And they're really a fun team to watch how hard they play."
Coach, one more thing about the talent versus experience: As you go deeper in the Tournament, I assume you're facing teams that have both more likely.
How much of a hindrance, what sort of a hurdle is that to get over if you're the young, inexperienced team?
"Well, I am not saying it is anything that you can't get over, but it is awfully hard. There's no substitute for it. You know, we saw the documentary the last couple of weeks about the Fab Five making it, never getting over the hump to win it. You see Pervis Ellison lead his team and Carmelo lead his team. But those teams also had that guys with a great deal of experience."
"There has been some great freshmen in college basketball the last several years, but most of the time the teams that get to the Final Four and win it are those teams that do have a little more experience. You know, I won't try to go back too far. In '02 we went when I was in Kansas, a junior-dominated team."
"In '03 a senior-dominated team. In '05 a junior-dominated team. In '08 we were a little bit younger. '09, senior-dominated team again. And you know, Florida won a couple in a row and Kansas won and all of those experience really had some experience. I don't think you can replace that. But if you were to put me and you and three other people on the court, hell, we're about as experienced as we can possibly be but can't play worth a darn, so won't do very well. Talent still has to come out, unless have you a better game than I think you have got."
Marquette really seems to be stressing to the team your team's speed. Have you seen a lot of teams try to slow you down? How do you combat that when teams use that strategy?
"Yes, a lot of teams have tried to slow us down. Some have been successful at it, too. Not as many as they probably wanted to be, but that's part of the game. I've always said that I would rather win playing in the 80's and 90's because I like that. I think the fans like it, players like it. More so because I just like to coach that way. But we have to be able to win in the 50's and 60's."
"And we even won when we scored 48 and I didn't think that would ever be possible for one of my teams. But teams do try to slow us down. They try to play the game at the tempo that is best for their team, and that's what it's all about."
"But Marquette, they run some as well. If they have an advantage, they're going to take it to the basket. They have athleticism. They're going to try to take away some of our easy baskets. But that is something that we face all the time. But, you know, some people are more successful at it than others. And what we have to do is try to focus on how we can get what we want."
"And all the time I hear, it's not intended to be a cut at football coaches, "we took what they gave us." I don't want to take what they give, I want to take what I want. If you play zone it doesn't mean I have to shoot the ball from outside, I am still going to try to get the ball from the inside. The saying taking what they gave us, I don't like it. I still want to take what I want."
Coach, I'm curious, after the Washington game I'm curious what you said following some of the mental lapses in the final seconds. And also if you think it may help going forward in avoiding some similar situations?
"You know, I don't really know what mental lapse you are talking about. John Henson dropped the ball."
He could have let the ball go out of bounds in that situation and potential goaltending.
"If the ball is being thrown to you, if you look at the play, he starts to try to catch it and it is going through his process, his brain as well. And some don't make decisions in one half of a second. That didn't bother me. I said, why didn't you just catch the ball? And somebody else said, why don't you just let it go? There were three choices and hell, he chose the wrong one."
"But he's 18, 19 -- no, I think he just turned 20 recently. You have got to understand that part. But the mental lapse, he thought the ball would be completely short. If you look at it on tape, it could have easily, if a referee throughout of goaltending, they could say it had no chance to go in, which it didn't."
"But you also talk about mental lapses, he was also so sharp that he immediately, without the help of replay, said well, Coach, it was a two-pointer. I said, are you sure? He said, yeah, I saw where his feet were. So that is a guy that is thinking quite a bit. I said this before, you have a 20-year-old guy that acts like an 11-year-old and I love that part of him."
Coach, the Marquette team and the Marquette coach talk a lot about their quality of toughness. If you look at their stats, they don't necessarily force the lowest field goal percentage. So how do you define, quote, toughness and how do you think Marquette has it?
"I do think Marquette has it, but most of the time when the teams get to the Sweet 16, then most of the teams have it as well. I look at it, if you want me to look at the stats I use, their shooting percentage is a little better than ours from the floor, from the three-point line and foul line. Their rebound margin is a little bitter than theirs."
"There is a different way to look at it. But to me, toughness is not just being willing to stand up there and fight you. It's not just being willing to stand in there and take a charge. Now they would probably do those kind of things, and I hope that our guys would, also. But toughness to me was Odom making the big three, being willing to take the big shot and being able to make it and not think of the consequences if you miss."
"The toughness is in the -- I just watched it this morning, the West Virginia game in the Big East Tournament they were down 10. And you know, it was no panic, they just kept playing. To me that is toughness, too, regardless of what's going on they kept playing, kept coming at you. And I was really impressed, really impressed by that."
"And in answer to your question here, I told John if anybody throws you the ball, catch the frickin ball and that's the easiest way to take care of it. One way we will try to stop the mental lapses."
Coach, Jae Crowder called his coach little Bobby Knight. He talked about his energy level and everything that he brings to the table. First of all, do you have any relationship with Buzz previously? Also, what do you think of that energy level on the sideline?
"I think he definitely has a tremendous enthusiasm for the game. I think I have a tremendous enthusiasm. Most people call my a passion more than an energy level. Buzz is very different on the sideline and that's who he is. I really like him. I enjoy him. I have gotten to know him a lot better over the last couple of years. We spent some time together this summer. We've shared a few laughs and a few opportunities to do some things together. And I really do enjoy him."
"Most of the time the teams take on the personality of their coach a little bit. And they have a tremendous enthusiasm, a tremendous energy level themselves. But, you know, Coach Smith was always the greatest example. Coach Smith everybody saw as reserved, but deep inside he was churning and that's the way his teams played. And I see Buzz as doing a great job with his team and a guy that I really enjoy."
Roy, after last season did you re-evaluate yourself as a coach? And did you change?
"You know, I think every year I try to re-evaluate myself. I did it in '05 and after winning the championship in '09 because I didn't want to get fat and happy. My wife asked me is it something because I went recruiting more after the '05 and '09 season because I was scared. She thought I was trying -- I said no, fear of failure is what it is with me."
"I think last year I looked into as many things as I possibly could. The most in-depth I have ever done that type of soul searching was after the 1997 season when I thought we were clearly the best in the country and didn't even get to the Final Four. I have been doing it a long time now. It's hard to, you know, evaluate everything you are doing over and over and over and over."
"But I try to do it a little bit every summer. And over the course of the summer you get a little more excited about what might be able to happen in the coming season and I think that's good for everybody."