ST. LOUIS--- North Carolina players John Henson and Tyler Zeller, as well as head coach Roy Williams, spoke with reporters Thursday afternoon, the day before the Tar Heels take on Ohio in the Midwest Regional. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:47 eastern time Friday night.
Guys, when you take a look at Ohio on tape, what strikes you about them and from I guess a game‑planning standpoint, what do you guys need to do to win this ball game?
TYLER ZELLER: I think their guard play extremely, extremely good. D.J. Cooper is somebody that we have seen that can create a lot for himself and his teammates. And then the rest of their guards, Walt Offutt had a great game last game. So it's something that I think our guard play's going to be very important to us. I think that we can attack them a little bit down low. So we're just going to try to play to our strengths.
JOHN HENSON: That's pretty much sums up what we need to do. Also offensively I think we need to kind of take care of the ball because I think they are Top‑5 in the nation in steals, so that's something else we have to be aware of as well.
How is your family more going to handle the logistics, will Luke be involved in this?
TYLER ZELLER: Luke will not be. He's actually playing in the D league in Austin, Texas, so he's got games and stuff so he can't get away. But my both my parents are going to come to the game. I got actually pretty much my whole family lives in the Midwest, so I got lots of ticket requests. But both my parents are coming here because of seniority, it is my last year, so they will both be here.
Guys, is there anything dangerous playing a team that's playing with such a high level of confidence like Ohio is, obviously a 13 seed with playing with an extremely high level of confidence. Anything dangerous about that?
JOHN HENSON: Yes, a lot dangerous about that. They're shooting better than they shot all year, 3‑point wise. Playing more confident. I mean even in practice when our guys are running their offense, it's tough to guard. So it's going to be a challenge and we're going to play hard and see what happens.
Ohio plays a unique style defensively, have you guys seen anything close to that kind of frenetic, try‑to‑force‑the‑turnover style in the ACC this year?
TYLER ZELLER: I think we have seen a lot of different styles throughout the year. Even preconference we played a lot of teams that like to get into you. But I think Duke does a great job of trying to pressure their guards, get you out of your offense, and then they play this screen on the ball a little different. So them and then Florida State, I think Florida State's a fantastic defensive team.
So it will be interesting to see how it is once you start playing against it, you never really know until you get into it, so it will be interesting.
John, kind of perceived as a bit of a down year for the ACC, but yet here you guys are in St. Louis and there are two ACC schools here. Can you just talk about that?
JOHN HENSON: That's kind of something we want to do, ACC play, people say it's a down year, but I don't think so. I mean we played some tough games, NC State was one of our tougher games and they're here. So it's good to see the teams in your league do well and kind of show the nation that the ACC's a great league and that we have represented well.
I asked (Ohio head) Coach (John) Groce this because it's his first time head coaching in the Sweet 16. You guys started the season on an aircraft carrier and started in front of a president, you've been in the national spotlight all year. Ohio's kind of had to battle for the regional spotlight with a team like Ohio State right up the highway. How much does that difference play into things this far into the tournament?
COACH WILLIAMS: Probably wouldn't give you a good answer because when you're asking me that question I'm thinking, the game's still going to start 0‑0. That's my thought process.
John does a great job. Yeah, North Carolina's been in the limelight for a long time. Before Roy Williams came and after Roy Williams is gone, we'll still be that way and it's just because of our history and tradition that we have of college basketball.
But at this stage, everybody's equal. You still have to go out there and you have to play on game day. John's a good friend and I have a lot of respect for what he's done. We have known each other for a long time. I jokingly say, but it's truthful, that his anniversary I told him the right restaurant to go to in Charleston, made friend with his wife forever.
He's been to see me down in Charleston at our beach house. We have been down there at the same time. Worked for Thad. Thad's one of the guys that I really think he's a great guy in coaching. So I have followed his team more so than perhaps some other teams. But he's got a really, really good basketball team that's playing their best basketball at this time of year, and that's what every coach is trying to do.
When the tournament bracket first came out, obviously you knew the possibility that North Carolina could play Kansas. Now you're only one game away from that if you get past Ohio and Kansas beats NC State. How special would that be for you to play Kansas for the right to go to the Final Four?
COACH WILLIAMS: I'm really being truthful. I love the University of Kansas. My first chancellor at North Carolina said it's not immoral to love two institutions, and I think there's some truth to that. Okay. I love Kansas. This morning I was out on my walk, and this guy says, Rock Chalk Jayhawk. And you know what I said, Go K U.
Okay. And he walked about three or four more steps and he says, Damn, that was Roy. You know, and that is the way I feel about it. But you know what? I'll be ecstatic if we're still playing on Sunday regardless of who we're playing. And I'm a Kansas fan. I'm a North Carolina fan first.
For 15 years I was a North Carolina fan, but I was a Kansas fan first. And I'm interested in what's going to happen tomorrow. That is taking every ounce of my energy, every ounce of my concentration, and that's what we're trying to work on.
Similar note, but you're in here and the regional with Kansas and NC State, this is kind of pulling a couple of your personal friends together.
COACH WILLIAMS: It's the smoothest thing going, that's for sure.
Are you dreading sharing the building with everybody or conflicted about having all these sort of personal things going on?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, look, there's no question that I would rather not have all the personal things going on. I would just like it to be about the basketball game. There's no doubt, no question. And I'm not trying to be humble. I'm being truthful. I would like for it to just be about my team playing against somebody else's team.
But I don't always get what I want or what I like kind of thing. But if it does cause a lot of other questions and different directions and feelings and emotions, but I just hope that we have that problem to be discussing on Saturday.
Roy, when you look at James Michael McAdoo and the way he has gotten so much more comfortable now that he's gotten more playing time, do you see something like that happening with Stilman White, or is it a personality thing as opposed to an amount of time out on the court?
COACH WILLIAMS: I hope that it would happen with Stilman, but it took us three months to get James Michael that way and we don't have three months to get Stilman that way by tomorrow.
You got to go through some adversity, James Michael did. He was discourage, he was mad, any emotions you want to pick in there at different times, but he always kept trying. He always had a tremendously positive attitude. He started getting better in practice a lot of time‑‑ a long time, excuse me, before his minutes started going up.
Now which one comes first: the confidence or the good play or vice versa? But he has really done some good things for us. We really need him to continue to do that. John Henson is not a hundred percent.
Have you kind of seen since Stilman's been taking a lot of reps the last couple days. Have you seen him becoming more comfortable in that role?
COACH WILLIAMS: Stilman is so wacko, I don't know what the crap to think when I watch him. We just try to make sure he has his ID with him so he can get in the building. I wish my players were here because they would think you guys are laughing and they would say, Coach, they think coach is teasing or something like that.
We have a manager that's just responsible to make sure he gets his I D here.
What was it about Stilman that made you pull the trigger on offering him a scholarship and how has he met your expectations?
COACH WILLIAMS: It's a unique situation what happened to us, a player leaving in the middle of the season. And in college basketball, pick a number, 85, 90 percent of the top players in the country sign in the fall. All right. Now then you're talking about late January, we're looking.
We say, Okay. Now we have Kendall, who else do we have at point guard? Well, we have Dexter. Okay. And well next year that's all we have. So we're trying to look around for a point guard. There's not that many players, period, available in the spring because so many guys sign in the fall.
So all of our staff, we're all keeping our eyes and ears open, following up. We're letting people know that we're looking, and I think it was Jerod Haase came in and said, I've heard something about a youngster down in Wilmington.
I said, Well get a tape. And so we looked at the tape and said, Well, he's got a chance.
And so I go down to Wilmington and watch him play in the three‑on‑three game, and a pick‑up game, and he starts getting cramps, you know, and I mean, he look fairly tough because his legs are cramping up and he's trying to walk and instead of laying there whining and crying and everything. But there were not a lot of choices out there, to say the least. But I really liked the kid.
And he wants to go on a Mormon mission, he wants to play for us, and then go on a mission, so everything seemed to fit. He's really a nice kid. I mean he's a little wacko now. Okay. But I mean, no, he's a lot wacko. Okay. But he's really a good kid. And we have enjoyed the dickens out of him.
And now all of a sudden he and Justin Watts (are the guys at point guard in an NCAA game), and it's almost just as scary for J. Watts. If I said well J. Watts is a senior, I mean, he's played six or seven minutes at point guard this entire year in his college career, excuse me. So it's pretty a daunting task for both of them.
John Groce was talking about how one of his main concerns past (Kendall) Marshall is how big you guys are inside and the boards and stuff. What concerns you about Ohio University?
They're a team, D.J. Cooper of course, because he's really a gifted kid who, the last couple games, has really been dominant for them. But they're really a good basketball team.
They guard you, they take the ball away from you, they rebound the basketball, they played some big time opponents and haven't been concerned about the name on the front of the jersey. They have just played.
John really does a nice job. I have a great deal of respect for him. So I guess the total package would be the answer to your question of what impresses me is it would be the total package.
Your NCAA record is unbelievable, obviously, and some of the things that you can boost, making the tournament 22 out of 24 years, you never been in a tournament where you haven't won at least a game. A lot of that is physical talent, but what do you do to get your players ready mentally for tournament games?
COACH WILLIAMS: I would say 99.9 of it is what you said is talent. And I'm not being humble. I'm being truthful. I am comfortable with what I do. I'm confident with what I do. I guess there's a thin line between confident and cocky. But I try to coach my players like I would like to be coached. I would like a guy to push me. I would like a guy to make me understand this is a pretty big stage, let's elevate our play a little bit. I would like a guy to try to get us to focus on the team aspect of it.
That's the one thing I love about coaching is trying to get 13 scholarship players, four walk‑ons, everybody aimed towards a common goal. To me, that's what I love.
My entire life on Saturday mornings I never stay in bed. I can count on both hands the number of times I've been in bed past 9:30. 12 years old, 16, 21, it makes no difference. Saturday morning, I was the guy that was calling all the guys to tell them where we were going to play, in what gym and what time that afternoon.
I got to be an older guy, and I'm a guy saying that we have a tee time at 8 o'clock. You got to be there in 55 minutes. Now, I have distractions from coaching because I set up golf trips, because to me, being on a team is the greatest thing I've ever been involved in. Everybody makes fun of little leaguers when they put on their uniform at noon for a nine o'clock game that night. Because everybody wants to be part of a team. There's no better feeling than that to Roy Williams.
I mean when I was at Kansas and at North Carolina, we have guys that walk together and we used to sprint and then we jogged and now we walk. But you do it because you like to be on a team. We probably do it for all the BS we put up with each other and everybody hacks on each other, but it is. So to me what I love more than anything in the world is part of coaching, and that's being involved in a team for a common goal. I can't think of anything that I enjoy at all in my life other than my family other than that.
With the Final Four being back in New Orleans this year, I was wondering could you elaborate on what it was like 30 years ago having Jordan hit that shot and Coach Smith win his first championship?
COACH WILLIAMS: I wasn't nearly as stressed out at that time. There was a guy named Dean Smith. I let him be stressed out. That's the thing I remember. That was a great thrill for me. Never forget the pressure that I did feel because I wanted to win that game for Coach Smith so people would stop talking about the greatest coach who had never won a National Championship. That was my biggest thought process. I remember hugging coach on the court in the Superdome and I said I'm just so glad because now it will shut those people up.
And his statement back to me, I'll never forget and I used it in this town in 2005, he said, 'I'm not that much of a better coach than I was two and a half hours ago.' And so to me that was my process. Yeah, I wanted to be part of winning a National Championship, but I wanted it for Coach Smith. And that was a desperate kind of feeling for me. But it was a wonderful night, a wonderful game, Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Matt Doherty, Jimmy Black, Coach Smith, myself. It was truly one of the great moments of my life.