Held at the gorgeous New York Athletic Club (where they have a list of names on the wall for backgammon titles- I kid you not) due to ongoing renovations at Madison Square Garden, I came dressed in my super suit with digital recorder in hand to get the answers straight from the source.
On recovering from the loss of Theodore and Pope offensively:
"It's never easy losing your top two scorers, especially your point guard whom you relied upon. But having two guys who practiced with us last year and a sophomore-junior class that's more experienced; I think we'll lose scoring but we'll also gain scoring just based on being more balanced.... I don't think we're going to count on one guy every night... we will throw the ball inside more than we did last year."
Inside, you say?
"That's something that (Eugene) Teague gives us- an inside presence. He's going to demand double-teams. You're gonna have to scheme around Eugene Teague. One of the problems we had the last two years is that we haven't had anyone who wants to play inside. Herbie was a power forward playing the center spot. Now we have someone that enjoys banging, that enjoys playing inside. He won't come outside (the paint), and (other teams) are gonna have to try and stop him because we're gonna throw him the ball that much."
What of big Kevin Johnson?
"Kevin not being able to practice with us last year sort of put him behind the eight-ball, but he's had a great summer, and as he keeps progressing, he'll start to see time on the floor. He's sort of more of a defensive player right now, but what he does well offensively are things like set screens, offensive-rebound. He's not going to be Charles Barkley in the post anytime soon, but he's a guy who's effective because of his size."
On the three-pronged point guard attack:
"Aaron Cosby, Freddie Wilson and Tommy Maayan are all splitting time, and they're all doing a pretty good job. What I like about them is that they each bring something different to the table. Tommy runs the team very well, Aaron brings another scoring dimension from the outside, and Freddie can score but can also make plays. So although we'll miss Jordan and his playmaking abilities, we have three different looks we can give teams at the point guard position that will make (us) very tough to defend."
On Fuquan Edwin this season:
"He's gotta grow into the fact of learning how to score now. We do need him to score four or five more points a game than he did last year. He's still gonna get points the same way- steals, deflections, fast breaks- but he's gotta become a more efficient offensive player. He's worked hard on his mid-range game, on his one-on-one game. He's become an all-around player. Now it's just a matter of good shots vs bad shots."
On Brian Oliver and Edwin:
"There are some similarities. Brian's a much better shooter, Fuquan's a much better slasher. He'll probably tell you that, too. But they compliment each other very well... (playing them together) gives us great length, and it also helps with rebounding. We lose a great rebounder in (Herb) Pope, but you replace guys who maybe didn't rebound well with guys that do rebound well (with both on the floor)."
On the leadership on the team:
"I think you always need a leader. We brought in Sterling Gibbs, who has really quickly stood up to the leadership role, and Aaron Cosby, although he's only a sophomore, through his work ethic and improvements in his game is really understanding what leadership is. I think we won't have a direct leader right away- it's something that we'll have to wait and see who steps up."
On graduate transfer Kyle Smyth:
"(He's) been a blessing. He really knows how to play the game, he's played a lot of games, and he gives us great diversity at the two-guard position. I think without him we would be a little weak at the two-guard spot just because of having Cosby at the '1'. He gives us another shooter, a guy who can score the ball, and he's also a great playmaker when guys close out on him. Smyth is a guy who can bang seven threes in a game like he did in Spain, or he's a guy who doesn't have to shoot, but can still affect the game."
On the team in general:
"This is a team that can really grow. I get the whole roster back (next year) except Kyle Smyth, we have Sterling Gibbs who's sitting out; he's already proven how good he can be and he's working hard. So this is a team that is really just scratching the surface of how good they can be. This is by far the biggest and most physical team I've had, and I like it because it gives me a lot of options. We can play really big, we can play small if we wanted to. It's something that will help us match up better in Big East play and make us harder to prepare for in non-conference play. We finally have a full roster."
Also, when a passing acquaintance asked him how his own crossover was, Willard remarked "terrible." In addition, he called his cufflinks (marked with a nice skull-and-swords design, which I complimented) a "Jimmy O'Donnell special." Those who know who he's referring to will know what that's all about. In short, the head coach is just as sharp-witted as ever.
While the coach was prolific in talking of his team, the players were less so.
Now, to Patrik, who seemed less-shy than he did the last time I spoke with him, at Seton Hall Media Day last season (this year, it's on the 30th, so stay tuned for some more quotes). Here's what he had to say:
On his jump shot:
"Coach (Willard) and the staff have been working with me to improve my technique, and it's looking better. I like it. It happened after the trip to Spain because in Spain the three point line was a little longer."
On what the trip to Spain was like personally (Canarias Basketball Academy is located close to Spain in the Canary Islands):
"It was unbelievable. Going with the whole team really helped us as a team. The competition was good, and it showed us what we need to work on. We can now use that in the early part of the season. And it was great for me, too- going back to the place where I spent four years, seeing some of my friends there. We saw the island from a different view. When I was there it was strictly basketball. It was like an army. You get up at 6 a.m., go practice, you get back at like, 10 p.m. and you go to sleep. This time we had some time off to go see the islands. It was a different experience, very good."
Edwin is looked upon by many (including his coach) to transform into a leader this season with his versatile skill set and tenacious, lengthy defense. Here's what "Fuuuuuu" had to say:
On being left out the Preseason All-Big East honors:
"It just puts a chip on my shoulder to work harder. I did see the statistics, but I don't get too down about it. I'd be working harder regardless even if I was on that list.... I guess there's something I'm not doing right that I'll do right this year."
On embracing the role a leader:
"Oh, definitely. I'm the guy with the most experience on the team, so I'm definitely looking forward to doing the same kind of things that Jordan and (Herb) did."
On the presence of new teammates on the court this season:
"Practicing, right now we're looking great. We're playing well with each other. We seem to connect in a good way, so I'm looking forward to it."
On being ranked 14th out of 15 teams in the Preseason Coaches' Poll:
"It just puts a chip on our shoulder. I would love (the team) to be in (a higher position), but we have nothing to lose (in being picked low)."
Annnnnnd there you have it! If those last quotes by Willard and Edwin don't get you pumped for another season in South Orange, I'm not sure what will. Keep it locked to SOJ all season long, Pirate fans. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Pirates won't be finishing as low as people think they will. Happens every year....
HAZARD ZET FORWARD