PHILADELPHIA – Roy Williams, Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson took the podium on Thursday afternoon at Wells Fargo Arena to preview Friday’s Sweet Sixteen NCAA tournament matchup with Indiana.
Watch the full press conference below:
Quotes are available after the jump.
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson. Questions?
Q. Marcus, how do you plan on facing Yogi Ferrell?
MARCUS PAIGE: That’s not going to be my initial matchup. I think it will be Joel Berry, but I’ll spend some time on him throughout the game. Just try to keep him in front of me. He’s really explosive and quick and he can also shoot a pretty nice pull-up jumper. He’s the guy that’s talented enough to get his over the course of the game. Just gotta contest everything and keep him out of the paint because he’s so good at getting shots for other guys as well that, once he gets in the paint, he causes a lot of problems.
Q. Marcus, I believe you said you played against Yogi since ninth grade in high school. What have you seen from him as far as developing as a college player?
MARCUS PAIGE: He’s always been a good point guard, good lead guard, great passer. But this year and last year, to some extent, he’s become a really, really good scorer. He’s shooting the ball extremely well from deep. His pull-up jump shot has always been kind of his go-to thing. He’s getting in the paint and can finish. He’s expanded his game to become a complete guard. That’s why he’s having an All-American season.
Q. Brice and Marcus, both Indiana and Carolina have had success with players who left early for NBA draft, but both of these teams have a little bit more older guys. What does that mean? Do you wish more players would stick around?
BRICE JOHNSON: It all depends on who you are. I just felt like I wasn’t ready. I don’t think I was a one-and-done type of player or player that could have left early. So I stuck around. It benefited me in the long run. So just depends on who you are as a person. If that’s what you want to do, that’s your decision, but I decided that I needed to get better and college was the best place for me to do it.
MARCUS PAIGE: I think it does depend on the individual. Like you said, both teams have had talented guys that have been able to leave early. And this group, for both teams, has just had people stick around. But there will probably be a wave in a couple of years where the talent gets concentrated with these two schools again and you’ll have guys that can make that jump. So it just kind of depends. But it’s kind of cool to see really good players stick around and you have experienced, talented teams that end up playing each other in the tournament like we are.
Q. For either player, Indiana/Carolina, that’s a historically significant matchup. Has Coach Williams or any of the older Carolina guys told you what those matchups are like?
BRICE JOHNSON: No, I haven’t really heard anything about the rivalry or the matchups between the two schools. I can’t really say much on it.
MARCUS PAIGE: We haven’t really been talked — we haven’t talked much about it as a group or had any specific words about the past matchups, but you know about Michael Jordan playing his final game against Indiana in 1984 and stuff like that. They’ve beaten us the last couple of times we’ve matched up in the tournament, I think. So I know stuff like that, but I don’t think it pertains a whole lot to tomorrow’s game.
Q. Brice, Thomas Bryant, he’s only a freshman but obviously had a big game against Kentucky. What have you seen from him on film, or did you watch that game and what challenges does he present?
BRICE JOHNSON: He’s a very good scorer. He does run the court very well. He does kind of look a little weird out there sometimes, but he’s a really good player. Just being honest. Just watching him on film, it’s not the norm, but I mean he’s a really good player. You just have to challenge him to his weaknesses and not let him get to his strengths. Like I said, he’s a really good player. And he has the potential to probably leave this year if he so chooses to.
Q. Brice, in that same vein, just in general, what did you see from the front court that Indiana displayed against Kentucky and the athleticism, the kind of athletic bodies they had, like Troy Williams and Anunoby, in addition to Thomas Bryant?
BRICE JOHNSON: With those guys in the game, their front line, it’s kind of a four-guard, one-big lineup for them. They do have some good size with, like you said, OG Anunoby and with Troy in there playing the four, but at the same time you’ve got to remember those guys still have the guard-like mentality. And you have to be — like for myself I have to be able to step out on the court and be able to guard those guys. But on the other end I have to be able to impose my will and be able to do what I need to do in the post.
Q. Have you heard anything about the matchup in ’81 for the national championship here in Philadelphia between Indiana and North Carolina?
BRICE JOHNSON: No.
MARCUS PAIGE: I know Indiana won. I don’t know what else we need to hear about that. It’s pretty obvious to look up in the Smith Center and you see an ’82 banner and ’93 banner. You don’t see an ’81 banner. I know it was two of the best coaches of all time coaching against each other, and it kind of that started the rivalry and tournament and whatnot, but that was a long time ago.
Q. Both of you were on the team in 2012 that played at Indiana. Can you talk about what you remember from that game?
BRICE JOHNSON: That was a really good team. That team had a few first-round draft picks on it. They were potentially — they were supposed to win the championship, weren’t they? I mean, like I said, that was a really good team. Had guys like Cody Zeller on the team, Victor Oladipo and those guys are very successful right now in their careers in the NBA. Very good team. For us it was: We were kind of thrown in the fire, after the 2012 season when the guys made it to Elite Eight and they were coming in and you’ve got to go to Indiana and play in Assembly Hall. Very tough place to play. I thought it was probably one of the worst places for us to play as a freshman. So it was weird.
MARCUS PAIGE: Yeah, there’s not a whole lot of positives we can take from that game, obviously. But we’ve got a different group. And that was the different group we were playing against. Just understanding I guess things that pertain to tomorrow that they also like to run the ball and they can score the ball at the same clip that we can. And they could back then.
So I think that’s one thing we talked about is how when we played them up there, they ran the ball back at us. Not a lot of teams like to run with us. So that’s something that we’ll look forward to tomorrow is having a team that’s not afraid to push the tempo, because I think they averaged about the same amount of points a game as we do. In the 80s. That’s probably the one takeaway, other than us losing by like 30 that we can have from that game.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
We’re joined by the University of North Carolina Coach Roy Williams. Questions?
Q. You’ve been to this level so many times at different points of your career. Is this still special for you? And for what reasons?
ROY WILLIAMS: There’s no question it’s extremely special, especially when you say you’ve been through this so many times, sounds like I’m getting older than I think I am. But each and every year you start out late September now, early October, big-time dreams and goals for your team and you try to share it with them. And you have short-term goals and long-range goals. And those dreams that you have sometimes become more reality the closer you get. And so I get excited about it. I love the NCAA Tournament, the pageantry of it, the suspense. When you’re a really good team — and we’ve had some of those in the past — and you go home really early, that’s not as much fun. But the NBA, they get three out of five, five out of seven, generally speaking the best team always wins. But that doesn’t happen in our game, and it’s okay, because that’s what makes it so exciting.
But, no, I really do think for this time for me this is my favorite time of the year, other than those first three or four weeks when you’re just trying to put that team together.
And then one of the other thrills is a day like today we get to come and talk to the media for an hour and a half and only get 50 minutes for practice. Jesus Christ, what else can you need? (Laughter).
Q. Not to dwell on the other side of March, but it’s been, what, seven years since North Carolina has been to the Final Four. Most places, that’s no big deal. North Carolina, second longest gap in like 50 years. Given you’re Carolina, you’re a No. 1 seed and your fans expect a lot, does the pressure ratchet up every step further in the tournament you take?
ROY WILLIAMS: Not really for me, because I’ve been around, as you said, Mike said, a long time. So I’m more used to that part of it. But you can’t let what other people’s expectations and what their thoughts and plans are change the way you think. I put more pressure on me in any one minute than anybody else can put on me in one week. But for us we try every year to start to do the best thing you possibly can. The reason I said that and questioned your 50 years, I was trying to count up here, but I remember I was at Kansas. And all of a sudden in ’91 we’re in the Final Four. And Coach Smith said: Man, it’s been a long time, because the last time I’d been to the Final Four was with him in ’82. So we went from ’82 to ’91, and that was a long time for two old guys. I wasn’t quite as old then and my hair was black then, but so was yours.
And what we have to do is we just have to do it every year and coach and do the best you can, not get too caught up in what other people are saying. Sometimes you have some breaks that really go your way, whether it’s in recruiting or somebody getting hurt or not getting hurt. Guys developing.
But I can assure you that when we started the year we weren’t thinking about last year. And when I’m up here today I’m not thinking about last year at all. We’re trying to do what we can with this team.
Q. Roy, because of the star power on your team Joel might fly a little under the radar in terms of appreciation, but how critical has he been for you this season and especially in this game tomorrow?
ROY WILLIAMS: He has been critical. Joel Berry has been — everybody could make a case for different people. But I’d have to say that he’s been our most consistent — got a hitch in my shoulder this morning — I would have to say he’s been our most consistent player all year long. Star power, Marcus or Brice, they still had some things to prove themselves.
But he had a freshman year where he was hurt, never did really get rolling, growing muscle here, something else there, worked his tail off in the offseason. And I think he’s seeing the fruits of that labor right now. But you look down, and it’s been a pretty consistent goal for him and hopefully he’ll keep that going for a long, long time.
Q. Roy, your team relies on the 3 ball less than any other team in the Sweet 16. But your offense is as efficient as it’s been since the last time you won the title. Do you think not relying on the 3 ball is a better offensive strategy?
ROY WILLIAMS: You know, I don’t think you can say what is the best. It’s the best for my team right now. I definitely thought it was the best — I think in ’09 we had great balance. We made a lot of 3s. We had Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson, Danny Green — Tyler Hansbrough could make some of them. We also had the big rascal inside who fouled out a bunch of people. I think Tyler Hansbrough made more free throws than anybody in the history of college basketball. So the balance is what I’ve always liked to have.
We haven’t been able to shoot it as effectively this year as I thought we would. After about ten games, all the local guys said, boy, you’re shooting so much better this year. Then they stopped asking that question. But for us we do want balance.
I think having balance is the best way, but the last game we played was one of the things that sort of solidifies one of the biggest beliefs I have, is that the end of the game I hope that I’m playing against the other team and they don’t have all their players on the court because of foul trouble. You don’t get teams in foul trouble too much shooting 35 3s in a game.
So we played Providence the other day and Kris Dunn missed nine minutes in the first half and Bentil fouled out at the end. So that gave us a better chance. In 2005, we won it and Sean May fouled out Illinois’s entire front line just about. And as I said ’09, when we won it, Tyler fouled out just about everybody.
So I lean towards starting inside first. But I do think that you’ve got to have a great balance. But for me inside first is best. If you look at teams that win national championships, I think there’s more teams that have won national championships with an inside first outlook than there have been with teams that shoot 35 3s, but that’s just my opinion.
Q. There’s a lot of history in Philadelphia with the NCAA Tournament. Certainly ’81. What is your recollection of that, and how unusual — can you describe how unusual that day must have been?
ROY WILLIAMS: My recollection is not of much because I was about the 73rd coach on that staff. There were only three of us, but I was third, there’s no question. All the communication was going through Coach Smith and our athletic director, as it should have.
But what I remember is that it was just a normal day trying to get ready to play for a national championship, which is not a normal day, I understand that. But we were trying to get ready. And all of a sudden the tragedy happened with President Reagan.
And we’re coming to the game acting like it’s just a normal game. We had our pregame meal at the regular time. We came over, yet everybody knew in the back of our mind, hey, we may not play this; what’s the right thing to do? And it was sort of out of our hands, which I was glad. I wanted some people that had greater access to the proper information making those choices.
So I do remember us being outside in a hallway outside the locker room and all of a sudden, it’s 35 years ago however far it was, it was either C.M. Newton or Dave Gavitt came and got Coach Smith and he and Coach Knight and they went and talked. Coach came back and said president looks like he’s going to be okay and we’re going to play.
And after that moment, other than the moment of silence that I think we had before the game, there was not much about the president at that time. We were all so thankful that he was in good shape.
Q. Can you just describe how Marcus Paige has evolved over the course of this season to be playing as well as he is now?
ROY WILLIAMS: Marcus is a young man who’s multi-talented in every phase of his life. He does so many things on the basketball court. He’s Academic All-American. He’s the best leader.
One of the greatest true student-athletes I’ve ever been around on the basketball court. His freshman year he came in thinking he was going to back up Kendall Marshall play with him a little bit and probably going to get 15 minutes a game. And all of a sudden Kendall was the 13th pick by Phoenix. So now handing him the ball, he plays 32 minutes a game.
It was a rude awakening for him, but yet he fought and fought and got better and better as the season went along. As a sophomore we thought Reggie Bullock would be coming back, and then P.J., we lost him as well, and now Marcus has got to do so much. So now he’s a big-time scorer averaging 17 a game for us.
During that whole time period he was probably our best defensive perimeter player, too. Last year he played the whole year and he was hurt. And this year he came in with such great expectations. He got off to a great start. Then he gets hurt, misses the first six games, and the ball just hasn’t gone in the basket for him.
But even in that time period when the ball hadn’t gone in the basket, he’s been fantastic defensively, still continued to be a great leader and really helped the team in so many ways. And his reputation, or, better term is, his respect that the other coaches have for him has helped him.
I mean, remember, we’re playing Virginia Tech and Marcus goes this way and Justin Jackson starts going the other way and both defenders go with Marcus. We throw the ball to Justin Jackson. He lays it up. So he does do so many different things for us, and I can’t put a value on it just by looking at his points or his steals or his assists or anything, because he’s the leader of the team.
Q. Just your thoughts on the new NBA draft rules, there’s been a lot of talk about it, how it might help some of your players. And did you have any reaction to Coach Calipari saying he’s going to put his whole team, even the walk-ons, into the draft?
ROY WILLIAMS: (Chuckling). I do think it’s something that’s going to help us. What I’ve always wanted is something that would really help the young men make a better decision. That’s period, the end.
I’ll surprise everybody in here: Since 2004, or whatever it was, North Carolina has had more guys leave early than anybody in our league. And everybody acts like, oh, it puts handcuffs on them, keeps them around. We’ve had more guys leave early than anybody in our league.
I’m not against guys leaving early, but I’m really in favor of them getting the best information they can possibly get. And I think this will give them a better opportunity if we can get the NBA to be truthful with them and if we can get the kids, their family, their circle to believe the NBA as opposed to the agents. Because all of us have had guys say, well, you’re going to be a first round choice. That’s not always true with the information they’re getting.
So I love that part of it. I’ve been involved just a little bit with some discussions with the NBA people. And I think that they have the same goal in mind as we do, is allow them to make proper decisions and allow the NBA to make proper decisions.
About Cal. Cal’s funny. Cal is a buddy of mine, Jiminy Christmas, but he’s out in left field sometimes. Get ready, he may say something else this afternoon that’s going to shock everybody. But he’s entitled to a great opinion, and I don’t see that there’s anything wrong with that.
People say he only recruits a certain guy. He recruits the same guys I do. He just gets them, that kind of thing. But I haven’t seen all the statements. I’ve had people say some things just like you did right there, but I would really start get worrying, myself, I will really start getting worried if John applies for the draft himself. So as long as he doesn’t do that, I’m okay.
Q. Coach Brey said he was going to apply for the job, Mike was.
ROY WILLIAMS: I’ve seen both of those guys play. We’re safe.
Q. Going back to the Indiana/Carolina thing, obviously it’s a historically significant matchup given 1981, given 1984. Is it at all important to you that your current players know the history and have a healthy respect for the history?
ROY WILLIAMS: You know, maybe it is. But I don’t know. I haven’t shared with them any of those things. I mean, my guys — you know 10 years ago my guys thought Michael Jordan invented the game. Now they don’t even know who Michael Jordan is, if it weren’t for the Hanes commercials.
I’m going to call and leave him a message, tell him I said that today. Kids are in today’s times. If I were to talk to them about ’81 and ’84, guys, I think I may have a — I started to say I have a coach that wasn’t even born then. I don’t know that my guys understand that. And maybe I’m wrong, but I’m not talking about that to them.
I’m talking to them about this team, this year, how they played, how they’ve gotten better, how they need to get better. But historical significance of the game comes more for us, more for you guys and more for our readers. It doesn’t come a lot for the 17-, 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds.
Some kids are more serious about it than others. But I mean if I tell them I had black hair in 1981, they’d think it’s when the rocks cooled. So I don’t deal with that very much. I could be wrong, but that’s the way I’m dealing with it.
Q. We were asking players and coaches about superstitions, and they all pointed at you as the guy in that department. Can you shine any light on some of the things you need to do on game day or otherwise?
ROY WILLIAMS: You know, it’s vastly overrated, okay? But if it’s okay I’m going to try to do everything I can, what I’m responsible for. There’s a chance that I might wear the same suit that I wore against a team when we beat them. If they beat us, I put it out for the mailman to see if he can give it to somebody.
I do have a routine that I go through a lot. But, guys, if you wanted all my superstitions, hell, I ain’t even going to get to go to practice. I’ve got a few of them. But I have yet to see any of those superstitions win a game, but it certainly makes me pass the time and make me feel like I’m doing the best I can do.
Q. Marcus touched on this a little bit earlier: What’s your plan for matchups in the defensive back court and guarding Yogi Ferrell?
ROY WILLIAMS: I haven’t talked about it yet. We’ll give them the matchups when I write the names up in the locker room before the game. We’re coaching. So everybody on the perimeter knows they’re going to have to guard Yogi, know they’re going to have to guard Troy. Find out as much as you can about those guys. But we’ll make the matchups in the locker room before the game.
Q. I was going to ask, what’s the key change or challenge against them, either defending them or against what you have to do against them offensively, when looking at Indiana?
ROY WILLIAMS: A little bit of both, which is good for their team, because Tom’s done a great job. They’re effective at both ends of the court. You have to cover the 3-point shot. They make 9.8 per game. I think we make less than five.
We’ve got to get out and try to cut their percentage down. They’re going to shoot a lot of 3s. Yogi gives them so much threat with his penetration and pinching that they’re going to get some 3s. Troy attacks the basket as well. Almost everybody on their team shoots — Thomas Bryant, I think, shot 14 of them himself.
So we have to do that. So we’re worried about their offense. But defensively we know they do a good job of walling the guy inside. They trap when they want to. They jam when they want to.
So it’s a two-prong thing. But you think about it this way: If you get to the Sweet 16, the other team is pretty doggone good. So you can’t say, guys, if we do this, they can’t beat us. That doesn’t happen at this level.
We’ve got to try to play a complete game. We’ve got to get some of our shots to fall in and we need to hopefully get them to shoot a less percentage than they normally do.
Q. Roy, you’re just talking about how you had a lot of players leave early, more players than anybody in the ACC leave early. What does it mean to you that you have a team with some veterans? Do you think maybe it’s good for the sport that both you and Indiana both have some seniors?
ROY WILLIAMS: I can’t speak for Tom’s guys, but nobody’s beating down the door for our guys to go to the NBA draft. If you want to go to the prom, somebody else has got to want to go with you.
And our guys are very good basketball players who I think have a chance to play basketball for a living. But last year there was nobody on my team that the NBA or the evaluation people said were going to be a lottery pick. Good news and bad news, some coaches they don’t like it when all their guys come back. I like it that mine came back this year because I like coaching them. They’re good kids.
And someone like Brice I think has gotten better and better. Everybody would take talent. Like I said to the question down here, I recruit the same guys Cal recruits.
And Mike and those guys have gotten more of the one-and-dones the last two or three years. I recruit the same guys. I would like a mix of a couple of guys that are the best players. I don’t care who you are, how ugly you are, whatever, you’re the best player.
But I like some of the guys that stay around that I can even develop a better relationship with. But for us everybody wants talent. Experience would be second. But I’ve said this: You know what you really want is you want experienced talent. In ’09 we had Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson, Danny Green, those guys came back. All of those guys could have left. That was a lot of fun that time.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach.