Oliver Purnell Basketball Season Wrap-up
Purnell: As I look back and reflect over the season there are a lot of
positives that show me that our program is growing and moving in the right
direction, of course that is my major concern at this point as we move forward.
I thought that Sharrod had an outstanding year and we were able to integrate a
number of our young players into the system and they obviously played prominent
roles. Starting with Vernon Hamilton who got better as the year went along, as a
sophomore point guard, I thought he showed growth. Shawan Robinson continues to
be a guy who could help us win some big games, although we want him to be more
consistent, particularly as a senior. And all four of the freshman played
prominent roles for us, Cliff Hammonds, who was as consistent as anyone on our
team. Then you look at Sam Perry, James Mays and Cheyenne Moore who played
prominent roles at different times, but all four of those guys we counted on
during the course of the year, and I think that's a positive. When you look at
the state of our recruiting, our recruiting being the life blood of our program,
that we are recruiting the right kind of players in order for us to get better.
You want your team to play its best basketball in February and March. I think we
obviously got better and played our best basketball during that period of time.
In that same time we had a decent preconference season with wins over Ohio State
in the Big 10 ACC Challenge, and South Carolina, which is obviously a huge game
in our state, at Clemson University every year, so those are important
benchmarks, and we could go on and on. In most accounts we are moving the right
direction and that gives me cause for optimism and anticipation for next year
and as we move on into the future.
In terms of how the team played, what were you most pleased and disappointed
Purnell: Most pleased with I think the chemistry was good, I think that it was a
situation where it could have very well been a weakness of ours because you have
the new group and the old group and an obvious point of divide there that could
have grown to a point were chemistry was a problem. I thought our chemistry was
very, very good and I thought as we grew throughout the year we became a group
that had a single purpose, which was to win games. They helped each other
through some tough spots and we counted many of those points in the season after
losing some tough games it would have been easy to go in the wrong direction,
and get down on ourselves, but we did not do that because collectively the kids
looked at each other and listened to things that we talked about in terms of
getting better and taking responsibility of what happens to us on the court. I
thought the chemistry got better as the year went on.
The most disappointing would be how things ended. Even if we had won 25 games we
would say the same thing. Obviously would have liked to beat North Carolina in
the ACC tournament, and see what happens there in terms of creating some magic
and in postseason play, then go after Texas A&M. That's a game we played well in
stretches although Sharrod was not able to play a lot that game because of foul
trouble. Any time you don't win that last game it's going to stick with you for
a while, certainly it's stuck with me for about a week.
Did this team achieve what you wanted them to?
Purnell: I think they exceeded my plan in terms of how quickly the young guys
integrated themselves into the team. As far as making contributions, the way
this young team dealt with so many firsts. I thought they would be nervous in
their first ACC Big 10 Challenge, first televised game. I thought they would be
nervous, going up to South Carolina where there are 17,000 fans cheering against
them. They were not nervous and as the year went along they continued to prove
that. That was certainly a pleasant surprise, and then I stopped being surprised
by this young team.
Do you accelerate your plan for next year?
Purnell: I did not put up post season plans. There wasn't anything that we had
to have this year - post season play. As it got late into the season we talked
about me talking to the media, talking to our team and other people. We talked
about post season play being a benchmark that would show to everyone including
ourselves that we are moving forward. Now that we have achieved that we can say
that's great and move forward and obviously post season play is something we'll
look forward to every year and want to be in every year. The next step that we
would like to achieve is to get the NCAA’s and have a chance to compete for the
national championship. When I think of post season play I think of the ACC
tournament, that's the granddaddy of them all, and we went into that and played
some good basketball, but obviously we would like to string us together so that
we had a chance for that ACC championship as well. I think if you are playing
well enough for that then you're playing well enough for the national
What's the most important points for next year?
Purnell: There are a lot of things, free throws and ball handling. In terms of
turnovers we can do a better job of decision making late in the game. That is
certainly a product of being young and youthful. Our ability to making
adjustments during the game, that’s our ability as a team to take a lot of
information on the court. We try not to overload our team. We try not to do too
many things because we want them to just be able to play. Now if we can take it
to the next step where we can play, but also we can do some technical things and
adjust. We have carry over now we're not starting from the beginning. They
should know certain things on the first day of practice. So we should be able to
put in more, do more and make more adjustments. There are a lot of things that
we can approve upon.
Will you be an inside team next year?
Purnell: Well, I think it’s obvious we will not, as I look at our roster it
looks like our offensive fire power is more on the perimeter than inside.
Offensively we'll be similar, our focus may shift some to give our perimeter
guys more freedom to do more things on the perimeter than we did this year, not
to mention that they are older and they should be more improved. We have a
couple of good guys coming in on the perimeter as well, Troy Mathis and KC
Rivers. But defensively I think we should see more of the same, hopefully better
in terms of extending the floor pressure and those sorts of things. At the same
time be able to change the pace a little, play very little zone this year. We're
not a good zone team. Again we did not want to overload the team. We wanted them
to become a little better man to man. I think we do need that kind of in between
defense. We need to be able to make our adjustment and contend with that. We'll
play a lot of the same way but change the pace and those kind of things.
Did you press as much as you wanted to?
Purnell: No, it was not enough for me. I would love to press every second, but
you can't do that in the ACC. Particularly when you are as young as we are and
we can't make adjustments on the fly. We couldn't make adjustments on the fly
when someone would ask from time to time are you going to slow it up, are you
going to speed it up and we couldn't do that. We could play well enough, we were
playing our best to compete with anybody so we did not want to take away from
that by trying to make adjustments that were going to make us worse, if you
will, because we were trying to do to many things instead of trying to do a few
things well. So, no we did not practice as much as I wanted.
Does the University of Washington play the style that you would like to
Purnell: I talk to Coach Romar extensively about the way they play, but to be
honest I watched very little basketball over the weekend. I have been trying to
rest and relax a little bit. I liked the way they played last year, and I am
looking forward to watching them play in the next couple of days.
Do you think Akin Akingbala is capable of being a starter?
Purnell: Absolutely. He's going to be very important to us next year, and he's
the guy we're going to look forward to, and one that we count on the most. It’s
the key of developing more stamina, when he's fresh and ready to go he can do
some things and make some things happen. With more consistent time on the floor
you'll see him do some more things. He's had trouble adjusting to being put in
and pulled out, but again we felt like we had to put the best guys on the floor
at the time and we were getting things done. If you look at our roster next
year, he's the guy we expect to have on the floor a great deal and we're
counting on him an awful lot.
Who is the backup for that position? Allen or Sykes?
Purnell: Who knows? We have several different situations there. Akingbala could
come in there and really be solid and eat up a bulk of that time but if his
stamina won’t give it to him, you mentioned Steve Allen who played really well
out in NIT and hasn't had a whole lot of time to play for a couple of reasons.
One is Sharrod. As a senior it would be great if he could give us some solid
minutes with that big body, he and Akin would give you two different looks. One
is long and angular and the other is more of a power player. We have another
player who redshirted for us this year, Travis Price who is 6' 9" and blocks
shots great. You mentioned Raymond Sykes, who is another shot blocker type of
guy. So we have some give us some different looks in there, with the exception
of Steve Allen, they are long and athletic and shot blockers, where he is more
of a power player. Who knows how it’s going to work out, but there are some
interesting, exciting possibilities.
Are you done recruiting for next season?
Purnell: We're never done, because you never know what's going to happen at the
end of this year but as of right now I don’t see anything immediate.
Do you think all the players will be back?
Purnell: I don't know. Next week we'll sit down and have debriefings and player
meetings where we'll have the opportunity to talk about last year. And obviously
I'll have the chance to analyze the year and give my feedback and then we go
What is the point guard situation for next year?
Purnell: I have always said you need at least three guys in your program that
can play point guard position. You get one sprained ankle and one in foul
trouble and there you are. Vernon improved as the year went on and contributed
heavily to some outstanding wins. Cliff is one of our most consistent players,
played a great deal of point, played a little of three, two and three are really
the same offensively, so he can play that position. Troy has to prove that he
can play at this level, but obviously, we've had a chance to evaluate him in
practice, and he's been very good. I feel perimeter can be our strength. Point
guard we weren't great there this year but it got to be a solid and we can be
better. When you look at Shawan and Cliff that on a given night can get you
twenty points, and Cheyenne, not one to overlook, we want to play Cheyenne some
at the two this year, but his ball handling was a little shaky but got a little
better as the year went on. We have not talked about KC Rivers, who we're really
high on as a prospect and basketball savvy. So there's a lot of bodies there
that I really like and if we can get the normal amount of player improvement
that I expect out of our guys, maybe get a couple of career best years, a couple
of those guys are getting older, look at Shawan Robinson and Vernon Hamilton, I
think we can start instead talking about how young we are, start talking about
How does Troy compare to Vernon?
Purnell: Well, it’s hard to say. We saw Vernon running the team. Troy has been
outstanding in practice running the scout team and sometimes he can break off
and do his thing. He’s been outstanding and hard to guard and all those things.
But my expectation for a point guard is more than that, its having a sense for
what we are trying to do out there and running the team, quarterbacking it and
to play tremendous defense at the point of attack. It's going to be a challenge
for him, and I have been known to be hard on point guards so I'm sure we'll have
our moments. But he does have some outstanding ability.
Who has the most upside?
Purnell: That's really tough. You could go with three guys. Vernon is still
learning how to play the point. His strength and athleticism and gaining
experience, you can see him going from an inexperienced freshman to a very savvy
junior. Then James Mays, he's high school weak, He did an outstanding job but is
still not a very strong kid. I don't expect him ever to be a big boned kid but I
think he'll be a wiry strong kid next year. Kind of reminds you of Levy from
Wake Forest. James handles the ball pretty well but I think we can extend his
range. Cheyenne Moore, lots of talent just needs to fit his game in to the box
we need it to fit in and then kind of jump out of the box after that. He kind of
wants to go the other way. He wants to let his game go then maybe fit it in the
box later. But he's got tremendous talent. Then you could say the same thing
about Sam. He gave us tremendous effort but will always be a junkyard dog type
of player. We are really looking forward to helping him improve his outside
Where will Julius Powell fit in?
Purnell: He's probably more of a four than three. The reason I say that is
that's one of the things we have a need for, and really did not have it a lot
this year is a pick and pop guy. A guy who can set a high ball screen and pop to
perimeter and really cause match up problems because you can shoot the three.
He’s got a really good stroke. He's athletic along the lines of James Mays and
those guys. The big question will be can you get out the high school trot and be
tough and bring energy on the defense, if he can do that he can be a valuable
guy to us.