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(Photo by Sara D. Davis for theACC.com)
ACC Staff Writer Steve Phillips Blogs from the 2013 ACC Operation Basketball #ACCMediaDay
2:40 p.m. - A PLAYERS’ COACH – NATURALLY
Virginia Tech struggled last season in terms of wins and losses, but first-head coach James Johnson earned the respect of his team.
“When I first met James, he was an assistant coach (at Virginia Tech),” forward Joey van Zegeren said. “ When he got the job, I thought he was right in spot for that. Knowing him as a person, he doesn't try to be a players’ coach. It comes natural to him.
“I have seen him change, but I think he brings a lot of experience with him from the assistant coach job. He knows how to deal in certain situations and certain players.”
Freshman guard Ben Emelogu, who was named a team captain for the upcoming season, says Johnson’s care for his players extends beyond Xs and Os.
“He loves us like sons,” Emelogu said. He doesn't have a family. He treats us just like his kids. Every day he asks us how we're doing. We know that he loves us.”
2:25 p.m. - THE BUZZ: NO TWEETING
Don’t expect an abundance of action from Georgia Tech basketball players as you scan your Twitter account this winter. In fact, given the stance taken by head coach Brian Gregory, be shocked if you see any at all.
“He doesn’t think very highly of it,” forward Kammeon Holsey said. “Actually, I don't tweet. I'm not a Twitter person, so that's a good thing. We're not allowed to tweet during the season any time.”
According to Yellow Jacket center Danny Miller, Gregory does recognize the importance of having his own account and getting the word on Georgia Tech’s program out via social media.
“He met with us to make sure he had one to promote the program,” Miller said. “He tweeted a picture of us at the airport yesterday. He's actually enjoying it. He's telling us about his followers, things like that.”
2:15 p.m. - OLDER AND WISER
Wake Forest senior Travis McKie admits that it was sometimes difficult for head coach Jeff Bzdelik to maintain a cheerful demeanor as the Demon Deacons’ young team struggled while posting a 13-18 record in 2012-13. But McKie fully understood why.
“Seven freshmen make you grumpy,” McKie said. “ It made me grumpy. When Coach came down on them, he was also yelling at me and C.J. (Harris) because we didn't tell them what to do,”
Harris graduated following last season, but McKie is back as the Wake Forest team leader and says he – and Bzdelik – are dealing with a more mature and improved cast.
“They've grown up,” McKie said. “They know where to go now, what to do. A lot more is expected of them. I think coach is more relaxed because he has a comfort level and confidence level. I think going into their sophomore year, (Bzdelik) knows what to expect out of them.”
2 p.m. - SEALED DEAL
With Pitt moving over to join the ACC after its three-decade stint in the Big East, the Panthers’ Lamar Patterson believes his team’s arrival – along with that of Syracuse and Notre Dame – closes any question as to which league is college basketball’s strongest.
“It's definitely the ACC,” Patterson said. “With us coming in, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Louisville next year, it's kind of hard not to say it's the best conference when you add to the teams that are already there. Now we just have to live up to it as a whole, get as many teams in the tournament as possible, just win as many games."
1:45 p.m. - WATCH OUT FOR JAMES
When asked who could be North Carolina’s most improved player this season, point guard Marcus Paige cited fellow sophomore Joel James. At 6-foot-10, 280 pounds, James is already physically imposing. Paige looks for more consistency in on-court production.
“Last year whenever he was in the game, he would struggle with foul trouble,” Paige said. “The system didn't quite click for him in terms of running our secondary break, things like that. He shaped up his body even more. He has a year under his belt. He knows what to expect. I think we're going to see a huge improvement out of him. That's going to help us establishing a big presence inside. I'm excited for what he's going to bring to the table this year.”
1:30 p.m. - EYEING ELITE STATUS
The loss of all five starters and several key reserves from last year’s ACC Championship team hasn’t deterred senior Rion Brown short- or long-ranged goals for the program.
“I I think it definitely raises the bar for us as a program,” Brown said of last year’s ACC title. “We don't want to have a letdown. We want to continue to be one of the best in the ACC. I definitely think we helped our cause with recruiting. Everybody being able to see that we can be a force, we can go out and get those great players who end up going to Duke and Carolina every year.
“I think that's really going to help us in the future and also this year. We had a lot of great freshmen come in this year kind of under the radar. We've been under the radar since we've been in the ACC. It worked out for us last year. Coach L (Jim Larrañaga) has been doing great with those guys. We look to continue.”
1:10 p.m - ADDED INCENTIVE
A year seemingly has made a lot of difference for NC State, which was picked to win the ACC at last year’s Operation Basketball and went on to post 24 wins and earn an NCAA Tournament bid for the second straight year. The Wolfpack lost four starters from that team, lower expectations for this season among many observers.
“The expectations are a little bit different,” sophomore forward T.J. Warren acknowledged “ With this new team, there's a lot of question marks for the media. We know what this team is capable of. In games, we'll show you guys.”
Sophomore guard Tyler Lewis discussed the upcoming year with a sense of realism, but also with a sense of optimism as the new-look Pack strives to carve out its own winning niche.
“It's going to be hard to replace the four thousand‑point scorers,” Lewis said. “At the same time we have a great group of guys who can obviously step up and get their roles, do their roles very well. People that we rely on, we have a lot of confidence in them.”
One of those in which Lewis expressed the most confidence was Warren, who ranked second among ACC freshmen in scoring at 12.1 points per game and became only the fifth-ever freshman to lead the league in field goal percentage (.622).
“T.J. is such a great scorer,” Lewis said. “I have to put him in positions where he likes the ball. He's one of the best scorers in the ACC, if not the country.”
12:30 p.m. - DEEPER AND BETTER
Virginia senior guard Joe Harris was asked to carry a huge load last season. That load feels lighter this season, as a strong returning cast and a stellar recruiting class have the Cavaliers optimistic they can improved on last season’s 23-12 effort.
“It's huge,” said Harris, whose 16.3 scoring average from last season is tops among ACC returnees for 20013-14. “Last year going into the season, I don't think we had a true point guard at all. Now we have four. It's a good problem to have that depth. I think there will be a much more balanced attack offensively. We have a number of guys that can contribute and score in different ways. It's exciting going into the season with added depth and talent on the team.”
Senior forward Akil Mitchell senses the difference as well.
“It's really going to force us all to compete against each other, but we know we have each other's back,” Mitchell said. “ It's a team mentality. I think that's the biggest difference between this year and last year, the maturity, understanding of what we have to do to be successful. “
11:55 a.m. - BACK AND FORTH … AND BACK
Maryland junior forward Evan Smotrycz, a transfer from Michigan, will compete one year in the ACC before returning to the Big Ten when the Terrapins join that conference for the 2014-15 season.
“I kind of have an interesting perspective, said Smotrycz, who averaged 7.7 points per game for the Wolverines two seasons ago and had to sit out last season at Maryland due to NCAA transfer rules. “It doesn't really matter who we're playing against. For me personally, I'll just be happy to be playing, period. Game days are the worst, watching games you could be helping in, feeling helpless.”
Smotrycz anticipates some less than warm welcomes for the Terrapins in opposing ACC arenas this season, but believes that would be the case regardless.
“I think no matter where we're playing, who we're playing, ACC road games are going to be tough,” he said. “ We're looking forward to getting tough road wins and using it as résumé builders. I don't think that because it’s our last year in the ACC anything will be crazier than usual.”
11:50 a.m. - PACKING THEM IN
February 1 still seems a ways off to most, but not to Syracuse basketball fans looking ahead to their first ACC meeting against Duke at the Carrier Dome.
Tickets to the game went on sale Monday, and only a handful remained as of Wednesday. There is talk that final attendance may eclipse the arena’s basketball record attendance of 35,012 that saw the No. 8 Orange battle No. 11 Georgetown last winter.
“We heard yesterday the dome is sold out,” senior center Baye Moussa Keita said. “ It's going to be a good game. Just like we played Georgetown and the dome was always full. It's going to be a good game. Every time we play a big team, there's a lot of excitement.”
North Carolina also visits the Carrier Dome this season (Jan. 11). Syracuse standout forward C.J. Fair said he climbed to “nosebleed” seats with a reporter on one occasion last season and was moved by the fact Orange fans would purchase those seats to watch their team.
“You want to honor them by playing your best, playing hard,” Fair said.
Fair, who last season became the 58th player in program history to surpass 1,000 points, foresees the Orange and their home crowd being as revved up for ACC games as they were for matchups against Big East rivals.
“You hear a lot of talk about Duke and North Carolina, Tobacco Road, stuff like that,” Fair said. “'m excited to be facing new teams. That's really what I'm excited about. “
11:25 a.m. - STEP BY STEP
Boston College forward Ryan Anderson endured a 9-22 season two years ago as a freshman. Last season, the Eagles improved to 16-17 and went into the ACC Tournament still clinging to hope of postseason play.
Now, as a junior, Anderson senses the proverbial corner is in sight. And based on the questions he and teammate Olivier Hanlan were fielding from media members during Wednesday’s ACC Operation Basketball, Anderson senses those watching the program from the outside sense it, too.
“I think that there is more of a sense that we belong here this year,” Anderson said. “I think we gained a lot of respect from what we almost accomplished last season. But you can’t hang your hat on what you’ve almost accomplished. We’ve got to go out and be better this year because we want to do it. The main thing for us will be to keep on having the mentality that we’re the hunter, even when somebody else may be hunting for us.”
11:05 a.m. - PREGAME PREDICTIONS
ACC Operation Basketball was the forum for a couple of football predictions on Wednesday – specifically the outcome of Saturday night’s much-anticipated conference showdown between third-ranked Clemson and fourth-ranked Florida State.
Clemson forward K.J. McDaniel called a 35-27 victory for his Tigers, but FSU’s Okaro White was quick to offer a detailed rebuttal.
“41-28 … Florida State, of course,” White said. “Jameis (Winston) is going to throw for 400 yards. James Wilder is going to have a 3-yard rushing touchdown. And Kenny Shaw is going to have two touchdown catches.”
Insider knowledge? Not really, White said.
“I just have class with all of those guys,” White said. “I’ve got to pump them up.”
White even foresees a “pretty good” game for Clemson star quarterback Tajh Boyd.
“Tajh? He’s going to throw for about 270 yards,” White said.
10:55 a.m. - SEEKING AN ENCORE
Florida State’s White was part of an ACC championship team in 2012, and he still gets chill bumps as he recalls the Seminoles’ march to the title in Atlanta.
“We beat Duke in the semifinals (of the ACC Tournament) and I remember (Duke head coach) Mike Krzyzwewski coming in and congratulating us and wishing us well in the NCAAs,” White said. “And then the next day when we beat North Carolina (in the finals), Roy Williams came in and did the same thing. It’s just an unbelievable feeling, knowing that you are seen as the best team in this conference, and achieving something you’ve worked so hard for.
“I’d like to go out that way (as a senior), having that same feeling again.”
10:25 a.m. - ACC BLOODLINE
With Notre Dame set to make its Atlantic Coast Conference debut in 2013-14, a reporter threw an impromptu pop quiz at Irish senior forward Jerian Grant during Wednesday’s ACC Operation Basketball proceedings.
Could Grant name all 15 of the ACC’s current member schools?
Hepassed the test with flying colors, even mentioning one school (Syracuse) twice. But perhaps the Bowie, Md. , native isn’t the best guy to try to stump when it comes to league history.
Grant grew up following Maryland basketball. Both his uncle (Horace Grant) and older brother (Jerai Grant) played at Clemson. His younger brother (Jerami) currently plays at Syracuse.
“ I know a little bit about the league,” Jerian Grant perhaps understated. “ I’ve been to Littlejohn (Coliseum at Clemson) when that place was rocking. I am looking forward to being part of that this year.”
Grant, who led Notre Dame in both scoring (13.3 ppg) and assists (5.5 apg) last season, obviously views several upcoming games as personal challenges.
“My brothers are going to be talking a lot of trash,” he said. “The only way to quiet that is to get that ‘W,’ get the best of them.”
10:05 a.m. - EYE OPENER
The Duke Blue Devils just competed a Northern tour that included visits to New York City and West Point. Sophomore forward Rodney Hood, a native of Meridian, Miss., and a transfer from Mississippi State, found the experience enlightening – to say the least.
“Being from the south, I had never spent a lot of time there,” Hood said. “Just seeing some of the people walking on the street was a little different for me. It’s not Meridian.”
Stops included the Word Trade Center site and the historic Apollo Theatre in Harlem. But Hood may have learned the most during the trip to West Point and the U.S. Military Academy, alma mater of Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“We know now why we have to run if our locker isn’t clean, and why everything is about detail and precision,” Hood says. “Just seeing what some of those guys go through, we understand now why Coach does some of things he does.”
9:40 a.m. - TIGERS A TIGHTER UNIT
Clemson guard Jordan Roper felt the Tigers became a closer team during their tour of Italy back in August – and he credits a lack of access to cellphones and text messaging.
“No one wanted to pay those international phone fees,” Roper said. “So there were no cellphones and no WiFi. Guys weren’t off to themselves. We just had each other. And just experiencing Italy itself –we will never forget those moments. We were together a lot. We stayed up late almost every night, just hanging out and talking. We got to know each other, and I think you will see that translate onto the court.’
Roper led Clemson in made 3-point field goals with 41 last season and became the first freshman since 2004 (Vernon Hamilton) to lead the Tigers in steals. But he sees his role changing somewhat heading into his sophomore season.