How confident or concerned are you about your team’s conditioning, timing and rhythm after such a long layoff?
You always worry about everything when you’re a coach. While I’ve been away the assistant coaches have done a really good job of trying to keep our guys’ conditioning where it needs to be. Ultimately, the true test will be tomorrow night in a game situation, but I think in my position, you worry about all that stuff.
How did you spend your quarantine and what was it like to try and coach your team from afar?
I let the assistant coaches coach the team. Certainly, I watched the practices, offered feedback with the staff and tried to plan the practices as best I could. But I spent it in the basement and first 3-4 days pretty sick. So I’m just trying to get back to being myself here. It’s been weird just sitting here in the basement for 10 days and don’t see the light of day. Yeah, it’s been strange.
Did you have more of a chance to watch other teams more than usual?
No, I don’t think I watched any more of the league than I normally would. My focus was making sure our team would continue to try to get better and get back in shape from the layoff, not necessarily evaluating the other teams in the league. We sort of know who they are and like I’ve done every year, when they’re on TV, you have a sense of what they’re doing and my focus was on our team and more or less Syracuse.
Is there anything from your first pause before Wisconsin that will help you this time around?
Having Carlik. I don’t know, I think our medical team did a really good job to allow guys who were quarantined to still get in the gym. We obviously had to have heavy protocol in place for guys to be able to get on the floor on their own and really be the only person in the gym at that time. But that wasn’t something they had the opportunity to do first time around. So when we were off prior to Wisconsin our guys were not in the gym for 8 or 9 days and so that was a little bit of a change last time around and hopefully that pays off for our guys.
It feels like when you went on pause that it was sort of the middle of the season and you’re coming back into basically the homestrech. Does that give you more urgency, is it a different feel knowing it’s kind of a sprint now to the end?
Yeah, and I think as a coach you always have that sense of urgency. Obviously, the spotlight grows brighter. We’ll talk about the tournament, talk about the end of the year a lot more. But as a coach and hopefully the players, you always have that sense of urgency. It really is hard to believe we have only six regular season games scheduled right now, which is strange, but this whole season’s been that.
What was quarantine like? Did you spend much time catching up on shows, movies, things like that. How difficult was that time?
I think the first three or four days really had nothing to do with anything other than trying to get better. I could’ve been anywhere and I didn’t feel very well. The last maybe four or five days drove me stir crazy a bit. Fortunately my wife went out of town with the kids for volleyball, so I got to come up from the basement, which was a welcome relief. But I didn’t really catch up on any shows. Like I said, I tried to dedicate my time to preparing fo Syracuse and preparing for practices and worrying about the next one, and quite honestly just trying to get stronger.
About Syracuse — they lead the conference in steals this year. I don’t remember them being this aggressive in their zone. Are they doing anything different?
I think they do a really good job of just sort of knowing the passing lanes and playing for you trying to get the ball in certain spots, whether it’s the short corner, whether it’s the logo area, they generally know where you’re trying to get the ball. They have really good length. I think Kadary Richmond does a terrific job. Obviously Boeheim is very, very well-schooled in it, has long arms and quick hands. Dolezaj is really smart in the interior. It’s what they do for 40 minutes of the game. They understand who they are and they do a great job of reading passes, getting hands on passed balls and blocking shots around the rim. It’s what they’ve always done.
Do you have any idea whether conference will reschedule any games you missed? And secondly, can you tell us who won’t be playing tomorrow night?
The administration has been in talks with the ACC, but nothing has been concrete. There’s just not a whole lot of days to shove games. So I don’t have really anything else to add at this point. As far as the players that will be out tomorrow, we’ll worry about talking about that tomorrow.
Coach Brownell said yesterday you talked to him about his experience with the layoff. What advice did he give that you thought could be helpful?
Just trying to keep your team’s spirit, I think, was the biggest message from Brad. I think he felt like his team was on a really good uptick and were heading to North Carolina. They already had that monkey off their back from winning the previous year at North Carolina. And then the wheels sort of fell off and he felt like his guys kind of lost that spirit. So he kind of talked about things that we could do, and having a good temperature of your team, how they feel coming in, and doing things to keep that spirit up. It’s a challenge, when guys think they have a game on the schedule, and it’s postponed, and then the next two or three are as well. It’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge that a lot of programs around the country have faced.
What can you do to keep the spirit up?
Keep practice short, keep it very meaningful, get some individual improvement in.
One more on Syracuse. They keep at least three really good shooters on the floor at anytime. What challenges to they provide with those guys and everything else?
I think their players play with a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. I think Alan Griffin is a terrific one-on-one player, can basically create his own shot. Elijah Hughes did that a year ago and I see a lot of similarities. And obviously Boeheim and Girard can really, really shoot the ball from distance. They put you in a bind with hand-offs and pin-downs form their big guys. And Guerrier has had a really good year and a guy that provides a lot of versatility at his position. So it’s a big challenge when you defend Syracuse for sure.
(On how the layoff has gone for him)
It’s been a little bit tough. Obviously, we want to be out there playing. We’re excited and ready to play Syracuse two weeks ago when we got the call that somebody had tested positive, and we had to return home. But you got to find the positives and negatives and every situation, and one of the positives is guys that are banged up, we’ve had an extra couple of days to get our bodies right leading into this game tomorrow.
(On if he’s worried about losing his edge)
Absolutely not. Absolutely not.
(On how much time it will take to get his wind back)
I think, the last week or so, conditioning has been one of the main priorities that we’ve been talking about. The coaches have been stressing (it) during practice. When we were off for a few days, the guys were running on treadmills stuff like that just to keep their wind. We think that was the biggest factor in the Wisconsin game earlier in the year, just not being in great enough shape. We knew that was going to be a huge key for us over this two week layoff, was to just stay in shape and be ready to play.
(On how they’ve progressed cardio-wise since resuming practice)
Huge difference. I think the best way to get him basketball shape, is by playing basketball. The last few days, we’ve been playing a lot of basketball trying to get our wind back. That first practice was a little tough, I’m not gonna lie to you. But, I think we feel fine now.
(On what to expect vs. Syracuse)
We’re gonna expect a team that’s got a lot of guys that score the basketball, a team that leads the conference in both blocks and steals. We were prepared to play them on two weeks ago, and it made it a little bit easier for our preparation this time around, because we were already kind of familiar with the scouting individually, and what they do as a team as well. I think it was a benefit for us also playing Syracuse tomorrow.
(On what kind of effect that all the starts and stops have on them)
It was a little bit draining mentally. Like I said, we were excited to play Wednesday. We’re always excited to play, and like I said a few weeks ago, this season - it’s a lot of ups and downs. You never know where you’re gonna play next, and when there’s gonna be a pause. So you can’t take any game for granted. It has been a little bit draining mentally, but we’re ready to go tomorrow.
(On what he could do during the pause)
Thankfully, we were able to come to the gym - two guys at a time, workout on separate separate sides of the court, and then there were coaches leading the workout from the balcony up above. It was a lot different. We couldn’t have anybody rebounding for us, we had to rebound for ourselves, or shoot on the shoot away gun machine that rebounds for you. It was a lot different, but we were fortunate enough to be able to get to the gym, unlike our last pause that we had in December, so that was good.
(On how long he has been comfortable playing at the elbow and on the foul line, and how that will help against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone)
I think I’m very comfortable in that area, in the high post. I actually love playing against 2-3 zones. I want to say I’ve been comfortable there for a while, though. In high school, I always want to play on the perimeter and shoot threes in the 2-3 zone. Once I figured out that was I probably the most effective of the inside of the zone making plays, whether it being a dumped down pass to my big man, me shooting the mid range shot, or kicking it out for three, I realized that’s probably the place I can be most effective in a 2-3 zone. I’d say last year or so. once I got to college, I realized that I can be pretty effective in that zone.
(On being the ‘third go-to guy’)
I’m not necessarily worried about being whatever. I just want to go out there, and do everything I can, to help my team win. I think I can speak on behalf of most of my teammates, all my teammates actually. That’s all we want to do. We’re not worried about how many shots each guys gets, and how many rebounds these guys get, we just want to win.
(On how much urgency there is)
It’s a ton of urgency. I think we’ve got five or six left scheduled in the ACC. This is where it gets fun, towards the end of the season - the homestretch. Like I said, one of the positives of these last couple of weeks being off, is we’ve been able to get our legs under us a little bit, and have a little rest, which could be a good thing heading into this homestretch. We’re excited. Like I said, this is where it gets fun heading into March. This is where we work our year for.
(On if he anticipates it being a busy homestretch with scheduling)
I don’t know what the plan is for our games, I don’t know if they’re gonna make some games up. I don’t know if we’ll play six more games, or I think we have 11 that we should be able to play, to get us a 20. I think it’s going to be kind of hard to do so. I think we got to understand that, each and every game is going to be important, because other teams might play more than more games and we will. So down the stretch, each and every game is gonna be extremely important, especially that we’re one game behind Florida State or Virginia.