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Transcript: Chris Mack previews ACC tournament

Virginia v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

You can find video of Tuesday’s presser here

What do you want to do better in the postseason than you did in your 19 games so far?

Well, I think you’re always trying to improve, trying to learn from last game. We made some mistakes in the Virginia game that if we’re going to advance both in the ACC Tournament and any type of postseason, we have to clean up. We have guys that haven’t played college basketball a lot. You get exposed on a straight-line drive or you miss a blockout or you foul a jump shooter. We need to clean those things up and be at our best and that’s what we’re aiming to do.

Can you take us back to the hotel in Greensboro last year when the tourney came to a halt and share what that was like?

At the leadoff to the actual announcement of the ACC Tournament being canceled, there was a lot of speculation if you remember. The night before, with the Rudy Gobert situation, the NBA canceling games, everything happened so quickly. By the time the Carolina-Syracuse game was over and we really started to prepare for Syracuse, the word was out that there weren’t going to be fans allowed and that was sort of difficult to wrap your mind around. One or two of our coaches said they’d bet a dollar to a doughnut that we weren’t going to play games, that the tournament was going to be canceled. I remember thinking, ‘Get out of here, no way.’ And that’s exactly what happened, one conference after another. If memory serves me correctly, I think the ACC was one of the last tournaments to cancel. Clemson and Florida State were actually on the playing floor. We had not gone to our shootaround yet because that was a noon game and we didn’t play til later on.

So it was just hard to believe and then you’re trying to figure out travel fans and wondering what’s gonna happen with the NCAA Tournament. Are they gonna try to figure out what we can do to salvage that, and very quickly in the next 2-3 hours we got word that was canceled. I didn’t find out til seeing it on the bottom line on ESPN and that was really hard to swallow. Yeah, it was a very tough few days. I’m surprised we’re going back to the same hotel to be quite honest.

How do you reconcile having a team still trying to find its potential and now you’ve got the conference tournament? How do you guide them through it?

As best we can. We’ve got to be able to learn from our past experiences, both positively and negatively and get ready to play the winner of Boston College and Duke. Not necessarily think back to what we’ve missed, what we could have done. We’ve got to be ready to go on Wednesday. We had a really good practice on Wednesday and I’m hoping for more of the same, and then we’ll get on the plane and get tested and be ready to play tomorrow evening.

As well as you know Duke and Boston College, what goes into scouting of today’s game?

We definitely pay really close attention to their game. You can’t scout in person this year, which is something really different this year, unless those two possible teams are playing in your same session. So we opted to, instead of leaving two days before the tournament, to leave one day before our first game to lessen our exposure (to covid). We have different coaches who have scouted Boston College and Duke, so it will be sort of a refresher for our guys later on tonight after the game. We’ve sort of prepared a little bit for both teams in the two days leading up to tomorrow.

Will you assign a specific coach to watch one team or another?

We do that earlier in the year so that the same coach doesn’t have three games in a row. I try to keep coaches on the same programs from year to year, but that’s not always possible the way we do it. Those scouting assignments are set prior to the first game of the year. For instance, Coach Gaudio had the Duke scout, he knows them inside and out. He covers personnel and the things we expect to see on the offensive and defensive end. Coach Mike has BC.

Do you think your team is as at a disadvantage because you played fewer games, only 19?

It remains to be seen. But I think tournament play is all about being connected, playing your best. I think we have a very close-knit group. I think we have a hungry group.

So we’ll figure that out on Wednesday. I can’t worry about the number of games we’ve played and whether that equates to enough experience. We’ve got to go out there and be the harder playing team. That’s something we can control. We can’t control how many games we’ve played or how many minutes we’ve played. So I don’t really worry about it a whole lot.

Samuell Williamson seems to be responding from that mid-range spot. Are you pleased with how he has come along?

Sam has done a great job for us. I think every on in the year he wasn’t finding his way very well. To his credit, he’s never stopped believing and he’s never stopped working. I’ve said it in other press conferences, he’s as hard of a worker as I’ve been around. He’s a guy that gets in the gym in the morning. He’ll stay after. If we were to open up the gym all through the night, he’d be back here at 9 p.m. if he could be. He puts a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of hard work into his game. And it’s really paid off in a big way the last couple months.

We’ve got to continue to find ways to get him in that spot because he’s certainly really effective. And he’s doing a lot of other things, like rebounding and defending that have really helped our team as well. To get anybody to be really consistent is a plus for any team. And that’s really who Sam has become. He’s become a consistent guy for us.

If you remember back at one point, we brought him off the bench because he wasn’t playing very well. I love the way he responded. He’s kept responding. Put him back in the lineup and nothing’s changed. I think he’s playing with a lot of confidence. He’s a big part of our team and I’m happy for him.

Why was Carlik Jones overlooked?

I think Carlik would probably be the first to tell you that he wasn’t a slam-dunk to qualify for college. He obviously had to sit out his freshman year at Radford.

So to say we’re going to take a guy that we don’t know is going to qualify, we weren’t willing to make that gamble. Having said that, I don’t want to put it all on the academics because basketball, he’s 6 foot 1. There’s a lot of 6 foot 1 players around the country that have really good high school careers and don’t have nearly the career that Carlik has had in college.

So it’s sort of the combination of the two, monitoring the academics and not necessarily seeing something that really stood out. Obviously he had a great senior year, terrific senior year. Then he turned that into a great first playing season at Radford and then a great career.

We were recruiting other guys — Quentin Goodin and Paul Scruggs, guys that had really good careers at Xavier. I don’t know if we necessarily made the wrong decision. It’s really worked out for Carlik. He had an unbelievable career at Radford. Got his degree. He’s first team all-ACC. I think everybody’s path in life is a little different. But I don’t have any regrets in how we handled it because no one had a crystal ball at the time.

How has Carlik’s game improved?

When you take a step up in competition you’re going against bigger players, stronger and more athletic. You’re not necessarily sure how a guy will respond.

Carlik just really understands how to play, how to use his body, how to keep guys off balance, better than most. Although you could see those things in high school, it was against high school competition. He’s been able to continue to do that, no matter how big someone is. No matter how strong they are. It’s not just the value of a guy’s shooting ability or his vertical but his understanding and IQ of the game. And a lot of times you don’t necessarily see that against the higher end competition. AAU a little bit but it he wasn’t like he was playing on a big AAU circuit, big AAU shoe deal.

It’s a challenge. That’s why I think sometimes those needles in a haystack happen. He’s a humble kid and he’s been unbelievable to coach. I keep saying how humility he has for a guy who’s first-team all-ACC. He’s been a huge part of our team.”

Is it conceivable he could come back next season?

It’s conceivable. What he’ll do, like all of our seniors, he’ll sit down and see what his options are. He’ll talk through it with his family, people who are close to him, as well as his coaches. He’ll make the best decision that he can for himself. I think he’s open-minded. That will be visited when our season comes to an end, hopefully not for another month.