Q. Coach, just what can you say about what you took away from last season at Louisville, coming in, just what you saw from the program walking into it and now what you see moving forward as you progress?
CHRIS MACK: Sure. I couldn’t be any more grateful and thankful for the guys that we have and had in our locker room a year ago. I think to be able to add Akoy Agau, Cristen Cunningham, and Khwan Fore, three guys that had been through the wars, so to speak, of college basketball and wanted to be at a second home, and then the guys that, you know, didn’t get recruited by me. I said in the very beginning, hey, this was never going to be “Wait until Coach Mack gets his guys in,” and they were all in.
I thought we exceeded a lot of expectations. It also left a bitter taste in our mouth losing eight of the last ten, whatever it was. So despite all the fanfare, all the preseason prognosticators and the cover of magazines and all that stuff, I try to tell our guys: Don’t drink that poison. We haven’t done anything yet, and we’re the same team that felt as low as we did in the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year.
We’re excited about the year, I think our guys are working their tails off to try to have a memorable season.
Q. The league has gone through a great deal of turnover, most of the veteran players have moved on. You’re blessed to have a number of players back from last year as well as new players. What are your expectations for this year’s team?
CHRIS MACK: Well, my expectations, I’m not going to sort of throw the whole season out there, but I’ll talk about just be at your best each and every day. I think these guys will tell you that I want our practices to be ultra competitive. I think having 13 scholarship players as opposed to 8 or 9 healthy scholarship players a year ago has made a world of difference.
We have had a couple of guys go down, unfortunately, in the preseason. I would like to think that our team, you know, certain individuals will have opportunities, maybe they wouldn’t have if David or Malik had been healthy. So when we get those guys back, we become a whole team, a deeper team, I would like to think that makes us a better team. You know, my expectations are to come to practice ready to go, to be as competitive as we possibly can, and to win every game that we play. It is not always going to work out that way. We have to figure out how to deal with adversity. I wouldn’t want to be around any other group than these guys.
Q. This question is for Coach. Not every team in the league has one big man, let alone two, you’re blessed to have a couple of big bigs and Jordan is a top rebounder returning to the league. These guys, when they’re able to play, what do they mean to the program? What are the skills? They bring a little bit different things, I think you would agree?
CHRIS MACK: They’re definitely unique in terms of what each brings to the stable. Steve is a very, very gifted scorer, a guy that’s just as comfortable facing the basket at 21, 22 feet as he is with his back to the basket. Equally on the block, he’s very comfortable going over his left shoulder, his right shoulder. You don’t often find that in a big guy.
I give is Steven a lot of credit. The strides he’s made from last year to this year have been more in the conditioning and stamina. I don’t say this about any player usually, Steven doesn’t have to get any stronger. He’s as strong as he’ll ever need to be in his life. He does have to be able to sustain his play.
It is great to hear him use the word consistent. I think that’s what his team needs him to do, is be a consistent guy each and every night with his production, with his defensive intensity, with his effort, but you can’t do that if you’re getting too winded three and four times up and down the floor. That’s where I feel he’s made the biggest change from last year to this year.
You know, Malik, to me, Malik is one of the best defensive big guys in the country. He affects the game at the rim. He has great anticipation. Although not a tremendous athlete, he has great timing, he can block shots, he’s got the versatility to move his feet on the perimeter against a guard.
At the same time, he’s tough enough and stronger now to battle an inside, you know, presence. If the ball is on the floor, I think anybody on our team would tell you that Malik is the first guy with his nose on the ground diving for a loose ball. It is part of the reason why his teammates voted him unanimously as a captain this year, I think that says a lot about how people feel about Malik on the team.
Q. Chris, I know that there is a lot of little things that you probably want to fix, looking especially at that last stretch of games from last season. If you had to pick the one big issue that you think is facing your team this year, what is it?
CHRIS MACK: I talked to our team a lot about the word “finishing,” being able to finish a practice, finish a drill, finish a game, finish a season, which I know may seem like a far-reaching or a broader way to look at things, but I think that’s important that our team really focus on that.
So you know, being able to finish a possession might mean, you know, making a better decision with the ball, being stronger with the ball, being able to finish through contact and get the and-one, being able to inbound the ball against pressure. Those type of things I think they have to be really, really important to our team during practice because you are in the game who you are in practice every single day, and the fortunate thing that I have is guys that have been with me now for over a year along with an infusion of energy with our six freshman. That, to me, I don’t want to say is the biggest issue, but something that we talk about every single day.
Q. You talked about Malik, him and David Johnson have both been injured. Can you give a health date on them?
CHRIS MACK: Sure, David Johnson, a freshman from Louisville, Trinity High School, Mike Szabo did a great job coaching him. He got injured, I don’t know the date, sometime in June — or, sorry, sometime in July, tore his labrum in his left, which fortunately for us was his non-shooting shoulder.
He’s far ahead of schedule. They gave us the timeline of four to eight months, and I think it is going to be closer to four. He saw a doctor the other day, and the doctor said six weeks from today we think he can be back on the court playing for us. You can get the calendars out, check when that is. I’m not really quite sure.
That’s really good news for our team. David has great size at his position. I think his IQ for the game is really terrific and will help us on both ends of the floor.
Then Malik broke his 5th metatarsal and had a surgery to get a pin in it. Was given the timeline of six to eight weeks. I think he’s just finished with week two from the surgery. You know, when we get him back, we’ll probably be — if he was on the six-week timeframe, would be a couple of days before we play Miami. I highly doubt he’ll be able to go by then. We want to be very cognizant of making sure we bring him back at the right time.
Both guys are doing well. Malik is in a boot. So it is hard to really judge his progress so far.