CHARLOTTE--- North Carolina head coach Roy Williams and players John Henson and Tyler Zeller spoke to reporters the day prior to the Tar Heels' second round showdown with Long Island in the NCAA Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena.
The Tar Heels (26-7) haven't lost an NCAA Tournament opening round game since 1999.
TYLER ZELLER AND JOHN HENSON
Q. What did you guys learn last weekend and what are you going to do to guard against it happening tomorrow and moving forward?
TYLER ZELLER: I think last weekend we kind of got away from what we were doing very well. Defensively we kind of lacked a little bit until the end of the game and were able to come back. It's more of just recognizing the mistakes we made, and now we just got to correct it and hopefully fix it.
JOHN HENSON: I think these last couple of days we practiced harder, we became sharper on the defensive end. We practiced today and we were looking good, and hopefully we can translate to the game tomorrow.
Q. In practice this week were you able to maybe isolate what happened that caused the three slow starts in the tournament?
TYLER ZELLER: I don't really think it was anything -- it's one of those things that you can't really point out one thing. I think we just got to be more focused from the tip. We were a little relaxed, kind of let them get like do what they wanted to to start the game. It's one of those things I think we all have to be more focused to start the game and we'll be all right.
JOHN HENSON: I think we watched one film of the game and the couple games we saw we didn't start out and do things we usually did when we started games early in the season, and, you know, we just had to get back to that and that's what we're going to do.
Q. Could you tell me what you've seen in the films on LIU, what stands out, what things they do well?
TYLER ZELLER: They have -- actually, their point guard is a very good point guard. He creates a lot of things for his teammates. Their bigs do a great job of getting to the boards and rebounding. They have three or four shooters that are shooting over 40 percent for the year. They're an all-around very good team and their record shows it. We're going to have to be able to play well and not let them do everything they want to do tomorrow.
Q. What do you think about being here with Duke, and why do you think that there's been less tension between the two teams and fan bases have been in the past when Duke and Carolina have been in the same regional site?
JOHN HENSON: I can't tell you that. I think they've had three games to get it all out, and, you know, it's just something that, you know, being two good teams, you're going to be in the vicinity together. I don't know if there's less tension between the fan bases or anything, but if that's what you want to say, that's fine.
TYLER ZELLER: I agree. It's kind of one of those things, I know the ACC Tournament last week, all of our fans stayed and cheered against Duke after our game. There's still a little bit of tension there, but, I mean, it's -- I really don't have an answer for that.
Q. Tyler, you played 30 minutes total in 2009 in the NCAA Tournament. That makes you the most experienced NCAA Tournament guy on the team, which is kind of rare for UNC. Was it enough of an experience for you to be able to impart any kind of wisdom on the younger guys?
TYLER ZELLER: Yes and no. I think most of that was from our first round game when we were up by 30, 40, so that really wasn't -- I didn't learn as much from that game, but just being around it and seeing it, you learn that how important like one or two runs can be in a game, that can be the difference in the game and every play matters. I mean, every play from the tip, the very first play of the game could be determining of the game. You've got to be focused and be able to play all 40 minutes.
Q. What about the process, this stuff, the interviews, the locker room stuff, the timing of kind of sitting around hotels and that whole deal?
TYLER ZELLER: Yeah. We're actually really good at that because as much as we travel, we spend about half a week every week in a hotel or on the road. And, I mean, the media, like all this kind of stuff, I mean, I think everybody is starting to get used to it, and, I mean, I told them all today, lot of them are going to be in the locker room, probably just sitting there watching games. Like some people are playing cards right now. But, I mean, I just told them to come prepared and we've got to be very focused tomorrow.
JOHN HENSON: He's given me good advice. He's like get dressed, things of that nature. Little stuff like that. Kind of funny.
Q. John, could you talk a little about how coming back this year, playing your sophomore year has helped you develop and improve and how big a difference do you feel like you've made in the last year?
JOHN HENSON: You know, it's helped me a lot with weight training and just growing up as a young man and all of that, just kind of coming together, and, you know, I think it was the best thing I could have done for me, my basketball career and, you know, I'm looking forward to this tournament. It's the first time here, so I'm just ready to play.
Q. I'm sorry, when you have -- when you go against a team that has so many players that average about the same, between 12 and 11 points a game, how does that -- how do you approach that from a defensive standpoint? Some teams have one guy who is scoring 20 and that's it, but they've got like four, five guys.
TYLER ZELLER: Makes it very difficult. You can't -- I mean, you can't -- our defense can -- if somebody is averaging 20 points, you can focus on that one player, you can always pay attention to where they're at, support them on drives. But with a team like them, you got to be aware of everybody. Everybody has got to be able to handle their own man and you got to be able to help. At the same time you can help too much. It does make it very difficult. It's kind of -- we're kind of the same way. So I know we just got to find a way to be able to guard them and hopefully slow them down.
Q. I wanted to ask you guys, you talked about lack of tournament experience and this tournament. Last year you guys had a long run in the NIT. Is that valuable? Does any of that translate over at all, or is that just a totally different universe?
TYLER ZELLER: See, it's hard to say, because I think if you ask me after the tournament, I'll be able to tell you, but I think it does help us just cause you are in that win-or-go-home situation and you got to play harder, you got to be more focused, and the teams are very good at that point in time. You don't have any teams that you're going to beat by 30 or 40 just because they're there for a reason.
JOHN HENSON: I think it's, you know, it's a little different, because in the NIT we played a couple home -- we played at UAB, at Mississippi State, so in the sense it was like us playing an away game, and, you know, being on neutral court with neutral fans and spectators. You know, I never really experience thanked to this extent, so I can't -- like I said, I won't be able to tell you until after.
Q. This is not quite a neutral court. Are you expecting that there will be a pretty large Carolina turnout?
JOHN HENSON: Yeah, I think so. You know, they showed up pretty good at Greensboro, and I don't expect anything different here. You come to a school like this, big fan base. Hopefully, that's going to help us out.
UNC HEAD COACH ROY WILLIAMS
"Well, we're happy to be here. It's an exciting time of the year and exciting time for our kids and the majority of them that have never been involved in the NCAA Tournament. So we're anxious to get out and practice a little bit. So I'll shut up and see if you guys have any questions."
Q. Tyler played 30 minutes in 2009 in the NCAA Tournament. He said it really wasn't a whole lot for him to impart much wisdom on the guys. Is this a time maybe where you have to lead certainly in the early rounds because the guys aren't really familiar with what's going on?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: In some ways I think the coach leads all the time by trying to set the tone. Still, I'm not in the locker room with them, and so somebody has got to be able to do it in there. I think somebody came up with it that we had 50 minutes of experience time in NCAA Tournament play when you add Justin Watson, Tyler Zeller both, but we'll try to do some things that we think will be effective with them, but they get just as much, if not more, from that from the players whether they've been there or not.
And I think my own opinion is I think that our experience last weekend in the ACC Tournament will help us a little bit, too.
Q. What about the experience in last year's NIT? The players were kind of betwixt and between as to whether that is going to help or not. Is there anything you can get out of run you made there?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: I think that helped our team, you know, John Henson getting the extra minutes those five games I think really helped our team. I personally don't think it helps any right now in getting prepared for this except that you've played another year of college basketball and you're older and more mature and those kind of things.
But the NCAA Tournament is a different ballgame. It's a different level. We understand that. The attention paid to it is so much more, but it is. What it is, two freshmen, two sophomores, and a junior who never played a full year, that's our starting five. We haven't thought about changing it and trying to get older guys because we don't have any.
Q. Coach, in Greensboro your team got off to a slow start. What did you emphasize to them in practice about getting off to a good start this week?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: Steve Kirschner came up with this, our SID. We didn't talk to them about trying to get off to a slow start before the ACC Tournament. That was not our goal. The 11 previous games before the ACC we had had the lead in ten of the 11 games at halftime, and the only one we did not lead was at Florida State and we were down one.
So we had played comfortable, more comfortably, I guess I should say, early in those 11 games and why we did not at the ACC Tournament I have no idea. And we did talk about it, but we were going to depend on them to come out and play better and see if that works.
Q. Coach, Mark Fox at Georgia had mentioned he was at grad school at Kansas in the middle '90s. You allowed him a year or two to hang around your program. I'm just curious what you might remember about him?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: I'm tell you a funny story. He sent me a letter, asked if I would accept a volunteer coach. I told him no, couldn't do that. He said he was going to be in graduate school, could he just hang around and watch practice. I talked to Joe Holladay, my assistant. He said, I wouldn't do it. I said, it's a young coach, let's try to help him. I decided to let him.
Mark came to every practice, gave me a notebook at the end of the year, you know, with his thoughts and ideas and his interpretations of what we tried to do and wanted to do, and it was extremely thorough, very well thought out. If I would have been a teacher I would have given him an A-plus. After the end of that year, about two months after season was over, he was hired as a full-time assistant coach at Kansas State. It wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done. Joe said, I told you so, that kind of thing.
First time we played Kansas State, we ran an inbounds play and dunked it on the inbounds play. I looked down at the bench and Mark broke his clipboard on the other end. Showed that coaching doesn't make quite as much difference as players do. He's a wonderful guy and we've been very good friends for a long time.
Q. I don't think I asked this question already right. Can you talk about Kendall Marshall, his role in taking over the team in the last however long?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: He's been fantastic. He didn't play very well in the ACC Tournament for him, but he's had as impressive or maybe even more impressive a freshman year than any point guard I've ever had. I've started five or six point guards as freshmen during 23 years. It was a tough time for him last weekend. He got a little frustrated. Hopefully, he'll be able to put that experience behind him and learn from that and be better this weekend. He's a quality, thinking man's point guard. I use that terminology all the time. He does try to make good plays and does try to get the ball to other people, and it's whatever the team needs is what he's concerned with first, not his own shot. And he's really just done a great job for a freshman or for anybody in a lot of ways.
Q. Roy, could you talk a little about the improvement in all areas that John Henson has made this season and how he might maybe serve as an example to other kids who might be thinking of leaving early and the benefits of coming back for another year?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: Well, I think he has gotten better, as you said, in every phase of the game. Last year that run at the NIT we got everybody hurt and John is starting and the extra minutes helped him. This year from the very first day he's been better defensively than he ever was, a better rebounder, bigger, stronger.
Last year -- John and I joked a little bit about this last night. I said, "John how many shots do you think you have blocked, your own shots have been blocked this year?"
He said, you know, "One or two." Because last year he lead the country in attempted dunks blocked by other guys. That right there is a testament to maturity and strength and power and all those kind of things. I think that's been big for him. He's been better in every phase of the game, and he still has a marvelous upside and hopeful that we'll see him get it.
Q. Do you think other kids in his situation might look at that and maybe say this is what could happen if I stick around?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: I would hope that kids would, but I don't think they will. I think it's every kid is a situation, their own individual thing. They'll chose to look at what fits the decision they want to make.
Q. Coach, obviously it's been well-documented about the installation of Kendall into the lineup. Maybe what were some other factors that brought about such a massive change from the Georgia Tech game?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: Maturity. Tom, I think one thing is our team after the Georgia Tech team, they were not nearly as mad as the head coach was, but they were really mad about the way they played, really mad about the concentration that they had. The maturity of bouncing back and doing the important things and leaving those negative things behind us and not wasting any time on something that wasn't important, I think it was huge for your team.
I thought, for example, Harrison was getting better each and every week and I think Kendall, being a pass first kind of guard, perhaps looked for Harrison a little bit more than we had earlier. I think that John and Tyler Zeller both realize that they didn't play anywhere near up to their potential at Georgia Tech, and I think they got a little more serious about it themselves.
I can't put any one emphasis on it more than Kendall's emergence, but I don't think Kendall's emergence was it. I think what the tone of your question is, it was a lot of things that had to happen. I think with each one of those, they added something to it, but I think the want to, the desire, I talk about the want to all the time, I think that was something.
I think that we were embarrassed by the way we played in the second half of that game. And that embarrassment was motivation, force possibly, and I think it was a whole combination of things. Probably the biggest the impact Kendall had on the game. It was not just that, I assure you.
Q. Roy, following up on Kendall last weekend, what did he learn and kind of what maybe adjustments is he going to take going forward?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: You know, that's something that kids, they have to make that decision and I talk to them all, but specifically to Kendall about was there any difference in your preparation? If it was, I would go back to what you did the week before. Is there any difference in your thought process, any difference in what your goals were? If it was, I would go back to what it was the week before.
My guess is there wasn't a lot of difference except for that fact -- and I think this is bigger than I thought it was whatever seven, eight days ago. I think we did get a little fat and happy about winning the regular season, and then it was probably on Friday night being down so big and coming back and winning, you know, that gives you a little more confidence that you can do that about anytime. To do it again on Saturday, then that gives you a little more confidence. And it's false confidence because when you're playing someone like Duke, you can't do that because the other team has to help you.
And in those two first two games, Clemson and Miami both missed some shots or turned it over or did some things that helped, which has to happen in any huge comeback. But I think those are the kind of things for Kendall, we'll have to wait and see what happens when he gets out on the court, but I do believe that he's going through a little bit of a different preparation than he did just because I talked about it and he's a very intelligent young man and trying to change some things.
Q. Coach, what scares you about the Long Island team?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: How good they are. I made this statement and I believe it. I mean, they're a 15 seed and they're really good. I really believe that. It's not coach talk. It's not Lou Holtz is one of my buddies. This is not Lou Holtz up here talking kind of thing. They're really good. You look at their RPI, which I really don't know what that means most of the time. Their RPI is better than a 13 seed, better than all four of the 14 seeds. It's the best RPI of the other three 15 teams. Their RPI is better than four teams in our league in the ACC. They're really good.
They have three perimeter shooters who shoot about 40 percent from three-point line. They have two guys that can take the ball to the basket and score. They have a guy coming off the bench that can score inside and block shots. They have two point guards that have tremendous assist error ratio. One scores more from the perimeter. He does a marvelous job of getting it to people. They're a very good team, and again, you know, you guys going to have every 1, 2, 3, 4 seed say something about that, but I'm saying it, but I really believe it, too. It's fun -- I've watched two of their game tapes, and I am extremely impressed with their team.
Q. Coach, I know you're done with Duke, but as a quasi objective expert on that team, having seen them so much, I'm just wondering if that's your thoughts on what Kyrie Irving's addition to that team at this point might do to their championship hopes?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: I think I have a great deal of respect for Mike. My guess is he wouldn't bring him in and try him if he didn't think it was really going to help them. I know in the preseason in those whatever it was, eight games, ten games, whatever it was, he was phenomenal. I saw Kyrie (Irving) play a lot in high school. Dexter Strickland was a year older, but they were teammates.
I saw Dexter play three, four times his senior year, and Kyrie is one of those guys that I just think is phenomenal. I made this statement to a couple people. He's the closest thing to Isaiah Tom -- not Isaiah Tom from Washington, who is pretty good, but Isaiah Tom from Indiana as a freshman, that I've ever seen.
Q. Coach, aside from a little bit of foul trouble with Leslie last week, he was doing other things other than shooting. Even late in the season he had a defensive stand. How has his game grown this season?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: He's gotten better particularly on the defensive end of the floor and particularly with the idea that shooting the basketball is not the only thing he can do and he can help us in other ways, and you mention several there. There's one game he had five offensive rebounds down the stretch for us, and shooters usually can help you a lot more than they believe, and you got to convince them that they can add some things to the game other than just shooting the ball in the basket, and I think Leslie has been big on that part.
Q. Coach, usually in the Tournament when an underdog hangs around with a higher seeded team, the fans get with that. That's likely not to happen. How much of an advantage is that to you guys?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: I've never been beaten by a crowd or building. I've been beaten by good players. That's what Long Island has. Is it a advantage to us more than an disadvantage? Yes, it is. I don't get too caught up. I love playing on the road. I love trying to shut up those other people. Those Long Island kids and coach may be the same way, but I'm more concerned about their team because they're really a quality team, but, you know, who knows what kind of effect the crowd is going to have on anybody, but -- I try not to get too concerned about that. But I understand what you're saying. It's what it is. THE MODERATOR: Two more questions.
Q. Roy, in the locker room a few minutes ago, the players are kind of crowded around the TV and erupted when Morehead State hit the shot to beat Louisville. Do you ever bring up some of the other games? In the situation you're in, do you ever address some of those other games, anything can happen in this time of event?
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: I say that all the time, you know, about it's a one and done now. It makes no difference how good you think you are. At the end of the game, you have to have more points than the other team. We do talk about that, and there's always going to be upsets the first week, and you just have to hope it's not you.
Q. Can you just talk about how tough Dexter has been through this whole thing. He's been playing really strong even with the knee injury and everything like that.
COACH ROY WILLIAMS: I'm really proud of the youngster. He could have very easily said, "Coach, I do want to go ahead and shut it down, had the surgery and missed the rest of the season. He wanted to play, and you have to admire that toughness.
We just wanted to make sure that we weren't hurting him any more. And he had -- he had also been through the same thing with the other knee in high school, so he knew what he was getting into, but it's bothered him a great deal. He's kept playing, and defensively two games ago was the defensive player of the game and has done some big things to help us.