Via ASAP Sports.
Q. What did coach tell you that he needed you to be for the team this year?
JUSTIN JACKSON: You know, just be more confident, be as aggressive as I can, whether that's offense or defense, scoring the ball if I need to. Rebounding the ball is a big thing that I need to do better at.
And then defensively, I just really need to take more pride on the defensive end.
Q. There is a giant leap that people take from their freshman year to their sophomore year, not basketball related. What is it about you that you learned during that transition?
JUSTIN JACKSON: The biggest thing for me is confidence. This time last year, I was nowhere near as confident as I am now, on and off the court. And I think that will really help me individually and help the team, as well. And so for that, I think I'm really looking forward to how the season will play out for me and then how the season will play out for the team. We're really looking forward to it.
Q. What has Marcus done this off-season to kind of get you guys ready to play and ready to maybe win a championship, him being the leader of this team?
JUSTIN JACKSON: Obviously Marcus is a leader for us, but I wouldn't say it's just Marcus. Everybody has come in with the mindset that we can really do this. And so with that mindset, I think going into the off-season everybody tried to work on their weaknesses, everybody tried to do whatever they could do to make themselves better to make the team better.
With that, Coach always comes into practice and says if we do all the little things, do everything we can, we have a chance to be really good. And for that, it just gives us all motivation to keep doing everything we can, to work as hard as we can.
Q. You guys have really bonded well, it seems like. Seems like you like each other. Where does that come from?
JUSTIN JACKSON: You know, honestly I don't know. When me, Theo and Joel stepped foot as freshmen on campus, we all just clicked. I think that'll be a big aspect of the team this year as far as staying together through tough times and just being able to do everything for each other. I think that's a big thing for us is everything we do, we try to do for each other, whether it's on the court or off the court. So being as close as we are, I think it'll be really good for us.
Q. Who is the most competitive guy on your team during practice?
JUSTIN JACKSON: During practice? That's tough, honestly. I'm going to have to say Joel or James can get a little heated. He can get a little heated sometimes. Maybe it's just him being so big, it's kind of intimidating for me. But I think everybody honestly this year, it's a whole different level of everybody wanting to win, all the competitions, everything we do in practice. If we lose, everybody is upset. And so I think whenever we step out there on the court, if everybody can keep that same fire, it'll be really good for us.
Q. It's not often in college basketball anymore that you have so much upper class leadership and the kind of players that you guys bring back. From your perspective as a sophomore, how does that manifest itself day in and day out?
JUSTIN JACKSON: It's huge. We've got guys that have been there before, and with that, even me as a sophomore and the other two sophomores that we have, we've even been to the Sweet 16, and with that, we know what it takes.
Last year we didn't have it all the way, but now we know what it takes to be one of those great teams in the country, and so that'll really help us.
Q. You sort of smiled and laughed it off when you said that Joel intimidates you a little bit. Are there things that really do intimidate you?
JUSTIN JACKSON: No. I mean, when it comes down to it, there's not really things that intimidate me. Obviously Joel is a big huge being, one of the biggest guys I've ever been around. But there's nothing really that really can intimidate me on the court.
Q. Do you think Roy sending you to this event was giving you any kind of a nudge of what he expects from you this year?
JUSTIN JACKSON: You know, a little bit. I think part of it was Marcus and Brice didn't want to come. But obviously Coach definitely has confidence in me. I started seeing that a little bit more last year.
So to be here is definitely a blessing, definitely an honor to be able to represent the University. We're just looking forward to the season.
Q. Kennedy, talk about the spirit of this team coming into the season ranked as preseason No. 1 and how it's changed from last year.
KENNEDY MEEKS: I think it's different from a lot of our teams that we've had since I've been here. We come in with a lot more confidence, a lot more intensity. Just taking things a little bit more serious as far as sticking together. Like Justin said before, just being there for each other as much as we can, because when it gets tough on the road or when it gets tough in the tournament, we're going to have to be there for each other.
So I just think right now, why not practice, why not execute those plays, why not play hard on the defensive end, with the competitions we have in practice and those types of things.
Q. Kind of the same question I asked Justin, you've got so many guys he says that have been there, and what you ultimately share was the sting of going down earlier than you wanted to. How do you carry that feeling of pain over to maybe this year where you have the chance to end on top?
KENNEDY MEEKS: I think it's fuel to the fire. I just think for us right now as a team, I mean, the rankings don't matter. With Carolina, we're always going to have the target on our back, like Coach always says. We've just got to be a big-time team this year.
We worked so hard in the off-season to really get to where we want to be as far as conditioning and all those things that go into having a long season. So I think for right now, our main focus is our execution in practice, whether it's a three-hour practice, two-hour practice, whatever it may be, we just need to go hard the entire time.
Q. You guys at North Carolina are all really highly recruited athletes. We're kind of doing a story on recruiting. What's the craziest or nicest thing that a coach did for you to try to get you to come to their school?
KENNEDY MEEKS: I mean, I would say for me, I think pretty much all of them were the same as far as home visits. On my recruiting visits, of course, me and the teams had fun. That's a part of college.
But I think from the basketball aspect, I mean, every coach is pretty much the same as far as trying to rule me in to get to their school. Some players text messaged me or whatever it may be to try to convince me to come there.
Q. Kennedy, once January gets here, how much of a grind is this league night in and night out?
KENNEDY MEEKS: Someone said earlier that this is probably the best conference in the country, so I mean, night in and night out it's going to be a great competition ahead of us for any team, I think. I mean, from the bottom team to the top team, it seems everyone is coming with their best effort, no matter what team you are.
So I think for right now, North Carolina basketball, we have to focus on us, and when the games come, everything that we worked hard for in the off-season will come.
Q. You mentioned the fact that obviously at North Carolina, you guys are used to being a target but still being a preseason No. 1 or just being ranked No. 1 altogether, does that present a different type of pressure? Even though you say rankings don't matter, are you expecting it might be a little bit different this season going into a year being ranked No. 1?
KENNEDY MEEKS: Like I said before, I really honestly don't think so. I think a target is a target. A team is a team. Like Justin said, there's always going to be teams on the hunt for us, no matter if we're No. 1, No. 60, whatever we are. They're always going to try to beat North Carolina. I just think that comes with the respect of coach, the respect of our school. No matter what we've been through lately, I think everyone still has the type of respect for us to bring their A game every time.
Q. It's no secret you guys had trouble closing games last year. What was the reason for that? Is that a confidence issue, a mental toughness thing? And is that something that can be fixed? You obviously aren't anticipating that being a problem this year.
KENNEDY MEEKS: I think one thing we can fix would be a lot of running for us. We try to stay away from that as much as we can. Coach has a poster in the locker room that says we have to be tougher. With the games we gave up in the second half where we had leads, I think he's constantly reminding us of the opportunities that we could have had last year.
I mean, being up at Duke by 10 with three minutes to go, whatever it was; being up in Wisconsin by nine with 10 minutes left in the game, both of those teams played for the championship. I mean, why not us? It was a great opportunity for us and we let it slip away.
I think right now, like I said before, it's a fuel to the fire for our team, just trying to execute as much as we can so we can be there at the end.