N.C. State should prepare to be turned down by several leading candidates for its vacant coaching job. North Carolina is the best team in the nation – when it plays good defense. The academic scandal in North Carolina’s athletic program was “profoundly wrong” but still doesn’t justify the widespread call for “a pound of flesh” from the Tar Heels.
Those thoughts and more came from ESPN analyst Jay Bilas in a provocative interview Friday with a small group of reporters inside the Smith Center. Bilas, a Charlotte resident, was in Chapel Hill to cover the North Carolina-Virginia game Saturday night for ESPN. Here are a few excerpts.
Q. What are your impressions of N.C. State’s announcement that basketball coach Mark Gottfried will be fired at season’s end?
A. I’m a realist that we all serve at the pleasure of our superiors, so I understand the decision. ... It’s different everywhere. People’s sensibilities are different. What they want is different. But this seems like every five years that N.C. State is going through this.
To me, at some point, you’ve got to say “Well, who’s making the decisions there?” That’s part of it too. But this is pro sports. Players go to school but it’s pro sports. Guys are making a lot of money. They’re going to get fired. I understand it. I might not agree with it.
N.C. State is a good job. It’s not a great job, but it’s a good job.
I do think last time they went through the (basketball coach) hiring process their top candidates all said ‘No.’ And I would be prepared for that again.
Q. Where does the N.C. State basketball job rate in the ACC – middle of the pack?
A. Yeah, something like that. It’s not a hard analysis. Look, is it a better job than Duke? Is it a better job than Carolina, Louisville, Notre Dame, Miami? ... It is a very difficult league now. You can be really good and finish ninth in this league now. There are other jobs out there that are a lot better. I know people don’t want to hear that, especially fans in red don’t want to hear that, but it’s true.
(On Gottfried) I’m not saying, “Give him another year.” If they want to fire him, fine. I’m not arguing with the decision.... The numbers are the numbers. In 20 years before (Gottfried) got there, they went to five NCAA tournaments. And he (Gottfried) went to four in six years, and that’s pretty good. ... He’s had a couple of rough years and I’m not going to argue that. They can fire him, and they did fire him. I’m not storming Raleigh with torches and pitchforks.
Q. Who do you think is the best team in the country right now?
A. I think it’s North Carolina when they play their best. They’ve got a brutal schedule down the stretch. Of the remaining schedules, North Carolina has the toughest in the country. But I do think that, healthy, they are the best team. Losing Kenny Williams – he’s probably their best perimeter defender – that hurts. But (Theo) Pinson is back so that’s helpful.
In November and early December the (Tar Heels) defended at a really high level and I think they’re trying to get back to that where defense is a bigger factor in their success.
And then Gonzaga is really good. I know that people may not see them play as much and they might think: “I’ve heard this before, and they lost in the Sweet 16.” But that’s the kind of stuff people said about Villanova last year. Gonzaga is legit. They’ve got big-time talent and they can really defend.
Q. What does a possible NBA future look like for Justin Jackson and Joel Berry?
A. Justin is an NBA player. His first couple of years he didn’t shoot it as well as people thought he would. ... He didn’t make shots at as high a rate as high school. And this year he is really making shots. He’s got a great middle game. Like everybody, needs to get bigger and stronger and all that stuff.
Joel is a terrific player in today’s game, with his speed and his ability to handle the ball. Would he be a starter at the next level? Maybe not. But can he play in the NBA? He can absolutely play in the NBA. He’s a much better shooter than he was, and very quick.
Q. How closely have you followed the North Carolina academic scandal and the NCAA’s investigation of the school?
A. Very closely. I’m on record as saying, “Look. My following this is not an issue of passing judgment on what happened here as right or wrong. What happened here (at North Carolina) was profoundly wrong.”
But under the rules of the NCAA and their bylaws, there’s a reason why the notice of allegations doesn’t say academic fraud, because the NCAA doesn’t recognize that as academic fraud. ... A rules-based organization is not allowed to violate its own rules to get the result it wants, and that’s exactly what’s happening. ...
The decision-making authority there, the Committee on Infractions – I don’t think the system is very well-run. I don’t think a sitting commissioner (SEC commissioner Greg Sankey) should be in charge of the Committee on Infractions. That’s a conflict of interest that you cannot waive and – no matter how good your judgment is – you cannot get past. ...
The (arguments North Carolina used in defending itself) are correct, based on rules of NCAA. ... But people don’t want to hear that. They want a pound of flesh. And it goes beyond what the rules are and goes to a sort of moralistic argument. It is: “Who cares what the rules are? Hit them with a bag of hammers because I don’t like this.”
But that’s not the way the system works. I think the NCAA should follow their own rules.