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Q&A with Coach Paul Hewitt

July 22, 2010

Your team is quite a bit smaller and more perimeter-oriented that the last couple of teams you’ve had. How would you characterize your team and the makeup of your roster?

“I think you have to go back a long time to find a group of talented and experienced guards like we have on this team. We have a guy like Iman Shumpert who is one of the best defenders in the ACC, and maybe in the country. Moe Miller is a senior, Mfon Udofia, Glen Rice and Brian Oliver are sophomores, and then we have Jason Morris, a very talented freshman.

“This should be a team that takes very good care of the ball and play a very fast-paced, high-scoring, exciting style of basketball.”

Your 2004 Final Four team had a 7-footer in Luke Schenscher and no one else taller than 6-7. How much does this group remind you of that one or ones before that?

“I haven’t thought about that comparison, but I really like the fact that we have experienced guards. When I look at our inside guys – Daniel Miller, Kammeon Holsey, Nate Hicks – I see guys that are willing to do some of the little things. Maybe they don’t give us as big a punch off the bat offensively, as the year goes on, they’ll bet better. They’re a core of guys who will screen more, facilitate things more, and as the year goes on, they’ll become more of a presence scoring the ball.”

Does that automatically mean Daniel Miller or Holsey must start?

“It doesn’t automatically mean that. Anthony McHenry was our starting four-man on the Final Four team, and he came here as a point guard. So you could see us go to a somewhat unorthodox lineup.”

How does the makeup of your squad change what you plan to do on offense and defense?

“It changes a lot. Offensively, we’re going to play more motion, play a more open, penetrating style. I think we have a chance to put a lot of pressure on perimeter defenders, because we have guys with the ability to take the ball to the basket, so the floor will be a little more open.

“Defensively, we’ll get back to pressuring a little bit more. When we were as big as we were, you want to keep the floor a little more contained and protect the basket. It worked, because we were one of the best defensive teams in the country last year. Our field goal percentage defense may suffer, but I would imagine we’ll get more turnovers and more run-out baskets.”

You spent practice sessions in the spring re-installing the 4-out, 1-in motion offense. How did that exercise go?

“I thought it went well. We couldn’t spend as extensive amount of time as I would have liked because of the time constraints we’re under, but I felt it was good just to get them immersed in the idea of how this team is going to be different. Guys like Glen Rice and Brian Oliver are so versatile that, in a motion-type offense, you can create matchup problems either scoring from the outside or posting up.”

You have plenty of experience among your perimeter players, particularly your primary ball handlers – Shumpert, Miller, Udofia. How advantageous is that for your team?

“It’s a great luxury, especially when you think about how important guard play is in college basketball. I thought last year we made great strides. This year, I’d like to see us turn those strides into consistent play. At the end of last year, Moe and Iman were playing very well. Mfon got off to a great start, and then hit the freshman wall, but we saw what he’s capable of doing early in the year.”

How much of the scoring AND playmaking work falls on the shoulders of Shumpert?

“It shouldn’t all fall on his shoulders. Mfon and Moe can both create scoring opportunities and make some plays. Then you’ve got Brian and Glen who have proven to me that they can put up big numbers. Then you’ve got a wild card of sorts in Jason Morris. What I’ve heard from our players in summer games is that we have no one like him in terms of his athleticism and versatility. He shoots both with his right and left hands very well, which we saw when we recruited him. He’s probably the best leaper we’ve had here since Jeremis Smith or Ismai’l Muhammad. I’d put him in that category just in his ability to get off the floor. Whether he’s ready to guard at this level, fight through screens and things like that, remains to be seen. But he has some natural gifts that are unique to this team.”

Miller provided a relatively steady hand off the bench late in the year. What do you need from him in the coming year?

“I give him a lot of credit. He hung in there, and over the last 12 to 15 ballgames, he was a difference-maker for us. In the ACC Championship game against Duke, he made some big plays down the stretch to get us back in that ballgame. He fought through some adversity and the competition that he got from Mfon, and he’s a better player for it.

“He needs to keep playing with the confidence level he displayed at the end of last season. His talent level has never been in question. He just needs to play through adversity, which is what you expect from an upperclassman. He can be a guy who can really help control the ballgame for us.

Conversely, Udofia began the year on a roll and then diminished as the ACC schedule came on. What have you asked him to work on this off-season?

“He’s worked all summer on his flexibility. He needed to work on his ability to change direction, whether on offense of defense. He has worked hard all summer with our strength and conditioning coach, Scott McDonald, and our athletic trainer, Richard Stewart, as well as our yoga instructor, in order to try and make him a more flexible, quicker athlete and improve his balance on the floor. When people take away something from him, he needs to be able to adjust and do the next thing that needs to be done.

“There is one thing I know about that young man. He’s an unbelievable competitor. He took what happened to him at the end of last year and used it as great motivation this summer.”

Your two wing players, Rice and Oliver, were great contributors to your team last year without drawing a lot of attention. What do you expect from them?

“They’ve got to become prime-time contributors this year. I’m confident both those guys can become major players for us. That means getting into shape to play 25 to 30 minutes a game. They’re both talented enough. It’s just a matter of raising their conditioning level so they can sustain their level of play throughout, maintain their ability to make plays effectively.”

Is Oliver your best shooter?

“That’s a good question, because Glen Rice proved that he’s a very good three-point shooter last year. Iman is a very good three-point shooter, and Moe Miller started to shoot it very well at the end of last year. If you had to point to one strength on this team, I think it is the ability to shoot the three. Is Brian the best? We’ll see. The key difference between a good shooter and a bad one is taking good shots.”

What’s your evaluation of Daniel Miller in practice during his redshirt season and in the spring?

“It was a wise decision on his part to redshirt. Practicing against the big guys we had really helped him. It was an adjustment from playing high school ball to playing against two guys who were poised to play in the NBA. He’s a smart player with good athleticism and good hands. His conditioning level needs to improve, and I think it has.”

Holsey is fully recovered from his knee injury and participated in post-season practices? What did you see from him, and what do you expect this year?

“He’s a versatile player who rebounds the ball well. I don’t think we’ve had a guy who can rebound the ball like he can and have the ability to put the ball on the floor and make passes. This kid is a big-time rebounder.”

Last year’s team was a tremendous rebounding team. Is that a concern with this team?

“We can be as good a rebounding team, but obviously don’t have as dynamic a rebounder as Favors and Lawal both were. As a group, we can do a good enough job, and even a better job. It can be a complete and total team effort.”

You have seen Jason Morris play and recruited him very hard? What does he add to this team?

“Tremendous athleticism. He’s a very good all-around player who is a big, strong kid. He’s a guy who can contribute immediately in the ACC, because physically, he will not be overmatched. He can slash and get to the basket. He’s shooting the ball better. At a private school like the Hotchkiss School, he has a lot of opportunity to go in the gym and get shots up when he had down time. Over the time we recruited him, he really developed a better-looking shot, more fundamentally sound. He has the ability to shoot with either hand when he gets in the lane. That’s another example of how much time he had to get in the gym and work on things.”

Conversely, Nate Hicks is a late add. What can you tell us about him?

“For a young man that size, he’s an outstanding athlete. You look at his 100 times, 200 times, his high jump, and watching him on tape. He has the ability to defend the basket, block shots, rebound. And he can really run.”

What’s your attitude about this team?

“It’s going to be a fun group to coach. I’m really going to get back to my roots with this team. It’s similar to what I inherited at Siena, and to what we had here when I started. Tremendous three-point shooting, a lot of scrapping and hustling from the perimeter guys. It should be an exciting, high-scoring team.”

You have a new member of your staff in Robert McCullum, a former head coach at two schools. What does he add to your program?

“I’ve known Robert for a long time. I met him back in the mid-1990s when he was on the staff at Florida. We both have someone who is very influential in both our careers in George Raveling. He comes highly recommended because he’s been around for a long time. I wanted somebody with a lot of experience on the staff. I think he will be a great addition.”

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