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We’ve certainly gotten off to a good start. Really like the way my guys have been playing. Had a real gritty win, defensive struggle against Louisville over the weekend. But our team has shown some different things. We can win a couple different ways, which I think makes us a little bit better than last year. We’ve got 5 guys scoring in double figures, so we have some good depth that way, in terms of our scoring. I think this team has improved defensively over last year’s team, and hopefully that’s part of the reason why we’re playing a little bit better.
On returning players improving in off-season:
Well, I think you’re working every year to add good players to your roster, for sure. But I think for us, a lot of times, when we’re gonna be good is when we’re older. We have some older guys that have been in our program for sure, so they have a pretty good understanding of how we’re gonna do things. We certainly made the summer and the fall a little bit more demanding from a defensive standpoint. We worked on it more, challenged our guys more this off-season than some other seasons to try to get their attention that that was the area that we thought we needed to take the biggest strides in if we were gonna have a successful team this year. Last year’s team was better offensively, and we felt like with the guys that we had coming back that offensively we would be a reasonably good team, and that we had some guys that could score. But to win more close games and give ourselves a better chance to win, we needed to just improve our defense. Getting back to your question, the older guys, having gone through last year, I think they understood that. And it resonated with them. And we’ve had very good leadership, from Donte Grantham especially, Gabe DeVoe and even Shelton Mitchell, guys like that, who played a lot last year, and obviously the seniors, who want to end their careers in a positive way, they’ve taken that to heatr, and I think they’ve helped echo that message throughout our roster.
Yeah, he’s just continuing to improve. He’s always been a guy that could score. And he’s kind of a shot maker. He’s a guy that can make different kinds of shots. You know, he’s just wired that way. But what I think he’s gotten better at, or continued to work at, number one is defending. You know, he’s a guy that’s active with his hands and gets his hands on a lot of balls in terms of steals, but his on-ball defense has gotten better. Just being in our system another year, and kind of being thrown out there a full 30 minutes every game and going at it, and us holding him accountable to defending better, I think has helped improve him. But he’s certainly a very talented player, a guy that can do multiple things on the offensive end of the floor, and I think he’s emerged into a better defender this year.
On Louisville win:
Yeah, we’re proud of the way we won that game because we didn’t play as well offensively, and I thought Louisville had something to do with that. I thought they played well. Certainly their length and athleticism is a factor on the defensive end, and I thought both teams really competed. I thought both teams were geared up and ready to play and played extremely hard. Sometimes you can have games when your offense doesn’t go well, and you’ve gotta find other ways to win if you’re gonna be good. And last year’s team for us struggled a little bit with that, and this year’s team has done a better job of hanging in there and hoping that our offense eventually clicks. It kind of clicked in the overtime, but it really took a long time for it to get to that point. And, again, I think our guys are really defensive-minded in nature in this year’s team, in terms of what we’re trying to do. They understand that it’s what we need to get better at. We’ve done a better job of coaching that. And I think the other thing too is, I think when we substitute, I do think we bring in some guys that defend well. Mark Donnal is a big, strong, physical post player who has experience. David Skara is a very good defender and a big, long wing athlete. Aamir Simms is a freshman that can come in with a big, strong body and is physically ready to play, so I think when we substitute, while those guys might not be as good offensive players as our starters, I do feel like our defense stays strong, and sometimes even gets better.
On NC State:
Well, obviously they played great against Duke the other night, had a phenomenal win. It felt like everybody played well. Torin Dorn made huge shots. Braxton Beverly was terrific off ball screens. Yurtseven, Abu, Leonard Freeman….they have big, strong, physical size. They’re excellent rebounders. Kevin’s got em playing well, playing hard. I just feel like they’re a team that when they’re playing well, they can play with anyone in our league, as evidenced by the way they played the other night. We know that playing at their place, it’s gonna be an electric atmosphere, and we’re gonna have to play extremely well. We’re gonna have to play extremely hard, we’re gonna have to be physical, we’re gonna have to do a good job on the glass to win.
Has any part of this team been a surprise?
Not really. I was optimistic that our guys would work to defend and play defense the way I know that we can. I think they’ve shown very good grit and perseverance to kind of stick with it in certain games for longer periods of time. That’s been encouraging. I don’t think that’s easy to do. And I think that’s the one thing that maybe if you asked me if it’s a point of concern, I think it always is. But I don’t think really much else. I think our other expectations for our players…we thought our guys would play well. Even though Donte Grantham had a little bit of a sub-par junior year in some ways, nobody in our office felt like he wasn’t gonna have a big senior season. He’s a talented player. He cares about our team and our players and our program. He’s the ultimate kid that way. Probably part of his not having as good of a junior year is that he’s such a genuinely nice kid that he wants to help, he wants success for other people, and sometimes takes a step back, I felt like, as a junior with Jaron and the seniors. I think with those guys leaving, it’s opened up the door for him to kind of step forward. His personality’s really shown through to our team. I think that’s been a good thing.
On #6 RPI ranking:
It’s very early. It’s nice, obviously, I’m happy for my players because I know a lot of guys have worked really hard to get some positive publicity and get some nice PR for our program, and understand that all their hard work is paying off, but we also know we have 15 ACC games ahead, and it’s gonna be tough sledding. It always is. But it’s good. We played some challenging non-conference games. We went to Ohio State, obviously, in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, played Florida down in Florida. Went to a neutral site tournament to try to play some other good teams. Scheduled a couple teams in our guaranteed home games that we thought would have good records, so some of those things have happened. And obviously, we’ve played well and found some ways to win some close games, and obviously got a couple wins away from home that have been good. But we also know we have 15 league games ahead. But certainly we’re very pleased with our start, and if we continue to work hard and prepare and good things happen to us, we stay healthy, we’ll have a chance to have a good season.