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Transcript: Chris Mack, Samuell Williamson preview Wisconsin

Some team updates were dropped as well.

Wake Forest v Louisville Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

You can find video of today’s press conference here

Head Coach Chris Mack

(On what led to the pause and the circumstances surrounding the resumption of team activities)

Well, as you know, everything is unusual this college basketball season and offseason. So, when we learned that we had an individual that was a positive test on that Thursday night before we faced Greensboro, through contact tracing, we made the decision, and rightfully so, not to play the game. Over the next couple of days, both student-athletes and staff, there were a couple positives. I think there was a little bit of a misunderstanding out there. We’re trying to protect our players in terms of health to the public, but at the same time we’re also trying to be transparent with what’s going on in our program. We decided that we just simply couldn’t play the game against NC State. We didn’t have enough available players. So, I think when people see well, “Why? Why not? You resumed practice?” Doesn’t mean all your individuals are back to practice. It just means the ones that are back, were determined to be not direct contacts and had enough negative tests in order to return to the court. So, we didn’t return as a whole unit when we began practicing this past Saturday. We’re still in the process of getting players back at various stages, I’ll leave it at that. It’s been unusual, it’s been crazy, but we’re not the only team dealing with that in this season.

(On Wisconsin, and if his familiarity with guys on the roster helps)

When I was a head coach (at Xavier), when we faced them (In the 2016 NCAA Tournament), they were freshmen. As typical with Wisconsin type players, they’ve all improved greatly throughout the course of their career. They’re veteran seniors now. It’s amazing, from an age standpoint, their team looks a lot like our team did a year ago. They have five or six seniors, several which are fifth-year seniors. That’s so unusual in today’s game, especially guys that, as a fifth year senior, aren’t necessarily coming from other places. I know Micah Potter did, but all those other guys started right there at the University of Wisconsin. We have great respect for their talent level, their experience, their system, their style of play. I feel like they play a little bit freer on offense. I think with the veterans that coach (Greg) Gard has, he allows those guys to make more decisions and attack in transition. Maybe more than I’m used to with a Wisconsin team. But, again, their identity doesn’t change despite names and faces changing over the years. They’re going to post you, they’re going to shoot the three, and they’re going to play very physical man-to-man defense.

(On what Samuell Williamson’s return means for the team, and if he’s back to where he was before his toe injury)

Sam’s return means a whole lot. He’s one of our better scores, he’s a guy that plays with extreme confidence, he takes the pressure off some of our perimeter players, he has the ability to create his own shot and get to his pull up, he’s a really good rebounder, and I think one of the most important things, he’s extremely competitive. We weren’t sure how long he was going to be out when he went out against Prairie View A&M. We knew that he was not going to play against Western (Kentucky), it was sort of up in the air for Greensboro, and he’s responded extremely well here over the last week or so in practice. We’re confident that Sam sort of turned the corner, and he does give us a lot

(On how important it is to get back to the court, and if the long pause makes it feel like they are resetting the season)

I don’t know, maybe. The biggest challenge was trying to get our team back in shape. I think the longest break that I’ve ever given a team has been four days over Christmas. Again, none of those guys during those Christmas breaks were sick. So you ask them to get in their high school gym, ask them to do a little bit, they come back. You generally give as many off days over Christmas as you can afford, knowing whenever your next game is. Here, we took off nine days basically, and didn’t practice. Some of those guys weren’t allowed to leave their rooms. So it was a challenge just to get our guys back in shape. I’m sure we’re not 100% there. It doesn’t necessarily feel like we’re starting the season over, but it certainly feels a little awkward trying to get your guys back in shape mid-season.

(On if they’ve implemented new protocols and precautions)

Well, we haven’t necessarily implemented anything new. Traveling for our team is new, and there are several different procedures, and things that we’re going to have to do, that’s going to be vastly different. From testing the day of, the day before, to how we sit on the bus, to after the game. Not allowed to eat the meal on the bus or the plane. Roommate situations, how often we can meet. It is what it is. That’s just sort of part of it. I felt like our guys did an incredible job in the Galt House, staying there for nine or 10 days. Again, who knows how it was contracted, but I know it wasn’t because of our guys’ foolishness, or breaking curfew, or anything like that. By in large, our guys have done a great job. Knock on wood, 90% of our team’s had it, and recovered thankfully. Unless something crazy would happen, I think the better part of the team has already had it, and doesn’t have to worry about it from here on out.

(On how many scholarship players will be available vs, Wisconsin, and the status of Josh Nickelberry)

My guess is seven or eight scholarship players will be available against Wisconsin. Josh Nickelberry’s status, he is beginning to turn the corner. He’s doing more in workouts, and I’m hopeful that we can get him going in a week or so depending on how his knee responds to those workouts.

(On if he expects the postponed NC State game to be rescheduled)

Absolutely. I mean, it’s a conference game. We have plenty of time, we’re in the middle of December. I’m sure there are going to be cancellations and postponements as we move throughout the conference season. But our intention, just like it was with Wisconsin, was to reschedule the game at some point. I’m sure our administrations are doing everything they can to figure out the date.

(On if the early playing time from younger players or reserve players will give Louisville a long term advantage)

I sure hope so. I think that one guy’s lost opportunity becomes another guy’s opportunity. They’re going to get to experience some things in games where failure happens, and they get to learn from it. They don’t necessarily just have to sit on the sidelines and learn what Dwayne Sutton or Jordan Nwora’s doing, and if they were out there, what would happen. So, yeah, they’re getting great game experience. I’d like to think that as we move into different months here over the winter, that we become a fuller team roster-wise, and those guys now have greater experience than they would have, had they had those opportunities.

Samuell Williamson

(On how he is feeling, and if it’s almost like resetting the season because of the long layoff due to the pause)

First off, I feel a lot better. That was one of the positives of the situation, of us getting shut down for a little bit. It allowed me, it allowed my body, and those of us that are banged up, some extra time to kind of get healed up, and get with our trainer Fred Hina to get better. So that was a positive situation.

It does feel kind of weird. You know, for me personally, even though I’ve played a game and a half, it almost feels like I’m haven’t played any games at all. Almost feels like this game on Saturday is going to be the first game of the year for me. So it’s a weird feeling. It feels a lot different, but I think we’re all excited to get out there and play on Saturday.

(On how he actually dislocated his right big toe)

I went up for a dunk, and a guy came over to try to take a charge. So on the way down, I was kind of bracing myself, and I put my arms down, and I was falling parallel with the floor. When I was falling, I kicked the floor really hard on my right foot. It kind of took me a minute to kind of tell what was going on, because my foot was just completely numb. So we went straight to the media timeout and everybody’s telling me like, ‘shake it off, you’ll be alright. You just jammed your toe.’ Then they’re asking me if I was alright, and I was like, ‘I need a second, let me wait until this numbness wears off’. So after the media timeout, I stood up to walk back onto the court to shoot my free throws, and I was like, ‘yeah, something’s not right’. Fred, our trainer, pulled me to the side, and then look looked at my toe. It was pointing in a direction it shouldn’t point. So, I knew it wasn’t good.

(On the performance of the younger guys in his absence)

Really not only my absence, Malik (Williams)’s absence, Charles (Minlend), Josh (Nickelberry). It’s a lot of guys to get some minutes early in the season, and I think that’s only going to benefit us down the road. Last year, we had a pretty deep team, and a lot of our freshmen really didn’t get that experience that early in the season. So, I think it’s a great thing having DeAndre (Davis), JJ (Traynor), Gabe (Wiznitzer) and those young guys. Even guys that didn’t play a whole lot last year, get some more you valuable experience at this point in the season. I’ve been really impressed with JJ (Traynor) as well, and I think the future is very bright for them. This season and past the season, too.

(On if he’s at full strength)

Absolutely, I’m ready to play. Like I said, that time off has given my body and time to kind of get right. I wouldn’t say - I mean there’s still a little bit of soreness in my toe, but it’s nothing that I can’t really play through. When I get out there on the court, I won’t even be thinking about it because adrenaline will be going and stuff like that. So, I’m good to go.

(On how anxious he is to get back out and get the season rolling again)

I think we’re very anxious to play Saturday after this little two week layoff. One of the things we talked about this season is adaptability, and being able to adapt to schedule changes, cancellations and all that type of stuff. All across the country, it’s going to be a very unique season, and I think our ability to just kind of stay together and keep pushing through some of these tough times, we get to canceled game or postponement, I think it’ll benefit us.

(On how Gabe Wiznitzer has adjusted to the next level)

I think he’s been adjusting pretty good. Initially, me and Gabe, we’re in the same lifting group, and we both really enjoy lifting. That was kind of our first connection when we first got on campus, because he was pretty strong. Not as strong as me, I will say that. I always kind of give him a hard time about that, so I think that was our initial connection. Just kind of pushing each other in the weight room, keep going strong and stuff like that. But I think Gabe’s gonna be a really good player. He’s had some nice flashes in practice, and I think he just gotta stay the course. Keep working hard, and keep learning every day. He’s gonna be a good player.

(On home court advantages this season with limited amounts of fans, and if it has been impacted)

Absolutely. That goes for us in home games, and on the road. Not having fans there definitely makes an impact. You’ve already seen that with some games across the conference. Guys losing home games that they rarely lose. But as far as Wisconsin, they’re a really good team. Watched a lot of film on them, Real disciplined team, they take care of the ball. Tough, gritty team, and they play together. We’re all looking forward to this big opportunity on Saturday, to go to Madison and get a little bit of a statement win.