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A TRT Exclusive with Michael O’Connell

I recently wrote about how important Michael O’Connell will be to the Wolfpack come November, and I discussed some of the reasons why I believe he is a big key to the upcoming season. He is a seasoned point guard who will be called upon to be a leader on and off the court. I recently had a chance to talk to him, and this is how our conversation went.

TRT: Hey Michael, how are you doing?

MOC: Doing well, how are you?

JCS: I'm doing good.

I appreciate you talking to me.

MOC: Yes sir, of course.

TRT: So, my first question, what was the determining factor in you deciding to come to NC State?

MOC: Yeah, I think there are a lot of different reasons.

When I went into the portal they reached out to me and it was definitely a program and a coaching staff that had the same things in mind that I wanted to accomplish.

I wanted to come to a program that wanted to win a championship and wanted to make a run in March obviously because I hadn't done either of those before.

So that's something that was definitely a goal of mine and trying to find a program that I thought had a great chance of doing that was something that was a top priority.

And also just having a coaching staff that really, really believed in me and what I could be as a player and what I can contribute to the program was something that was huge.

So just from talking to them on the phone and on the visit, talking to them, the vision they had for me and the confidence they had in me to continue to build all the aspects of my game and just kind of get better overall was a huge emphasis.

And obviously just like the history behind NC State, the dedication the fans have, the support, everything was super cool for me to kind of get that real feel of coming to a basketball school.

TRT: Now, you mentioned the fans.

What does the fan support at NC State

mean to you as a player?

MOC: Oh, I mean, it's huge.

You know, especially in those games when you go on a run and the fans go crazy for you and they bring that energy, and on the other side when the other team is getting hot, they still bring the energy and try to give you that confidence and that support that you need even in times when you're down and maybe not scoring as a team or are giving up some shots, so having the fan base that's behind you and when they get excited and bring that energy to the gym, it makes the game a lot easier for us.

TRT: from the outside looking in as a fan and as someone who's writing about NC State, it looked to me like you guys were very close as a team.

How long did it take to get to that point?

MOC: Yeah, it's definitely something that's never going to happen overnight.

Obviously we had eight new guys on the team.

So from the summer, you try to just build that, you try to build that chemistry, whether it's just going out to get food, playing video games, chatting, or even just after workouts like we've been doing today with some of the new guys, we just sat in the locker room and just talked.

Knowing you don't have to work out or that you dont have to be anywhere right away.

So we just sat down, we just kind of, you just kind of ask questions, tell stories, and you start to build that, being able to be comfortable with each other and that chemistry off the court which will translate to on the court which I think helped us down the stretch.

TRT: As far as like when you were in the ACC tournament and after you won the first couple of games, what was the attitude of the team like at that point?

MOC: Yeah, I mean we just had a lot of confidence kind of going to the next game each time.

We always felt we could be a really good team and play against really good teams and win games.

It did not obviously go our way every time during the season, but when we kind of started to go on a roll, we felt we could do this and we felt that every game we had, it was one matchup at a time and the coaches always gave us a great plan.

So all we had to do was execute it and I think the team really came together and focused on what we had to execute and then we kind of just went out there and played our game with the most confidence.

TRT: You guys believed that you could beat anyone all year long didn't you?

MOC: Yeah, like going into a game we were never, no matter what someone was ranked or if they were higher or lower than us, it didn't really matter, we always thought we were going to win the game.

You know, we always just had that confidence in ourselves and then each other on the court.

TRT: I'm going to ask you this question.

You've been asked this a hundred times, probably, but when you let that shot go against Virginia, did you think it was going to go in?

MOC: You know, when I take any of my shots, I always have the confidence that they are going in and you know, you work on those day and night just to make those big-time shots and just routine shots.

So when I let it fly, I mean, I just, I had confidence that it was going down and thankfully it did go down.

TRT: That's a great answer.

Also, to me, it seemed like as the season went along, your confidence just grew and grew and you started shooting the ball better and scoring more on offense and it seemed to me like toward the end of the games, you really wanted the basketball.

You wanted to make plays.

MOC: Yeah.I mean, if anything, I'm just going to try to do what I can to help this team win, but you know, that's, that's why, you know, everyone does what they do in training.

Like, like I said before, late nights and early mornings getting up and putting in those extra reps and, you know, kind of one of those big time moments, you know, I want to be a player who's able to knock those shots down to help my teammates, so just kind of always preparing and being ready to get all those reps and to be ready for those shots when they matter.

I'm just glad I was able to step up and knock them down.

TRT: I was a senior in high school the last time NC State went to the Final Four when they won the National Championship so

I'm a little older, but a lot of people that are fans now, you know, didn't get to experience that, but what was the experience of being in the NCAA tournament and the run to the Final Four, what was that experience like for you personally and as a player?

MOC: Yeah.I mean, it's something I've been, I've been dreaming about since I was a kid.

You know, I had, I had a hoop in my driveway and, you know, growing up as a little kid, even the whole way until middle school, high school, you're always just out there envisioning yourself on the court, making those plays, hitting those, you know, step back threes or floaters and all those to win the game.

So it's really just like a dream come true, you know, you, you've been thinking about it your whole life.

You in a way have been preparing about it your whole life, you know, that's all those countless hours in the gyms, you know, giving up on going out with your friends on the weekends to really get in the gym, waking up early, staying up late to get those shots of extra reps.

So the fact that I was able to actually experience that, it felt, you know, it felt rewarding for sure, after all those hours and stuff like that.

And then the fact that I was able to go do that and then not even just make it, but win games and make it to the final four is something many people might not do in life.

So it was just a surreal experience and it's a dream come true.

TRT: It certainly was a magical thing for us as fans to watch and it was just certainly something that I think NC State fans needed.

You know, it had been a long time since they had made a good run in the tournament like that.

And so for us as fans, it was really, really fun to watch.

And next year, you know, I'm really glad you came back because I really think you're going to be huge to the success of this team next year. There are some new guys, and I know you haven't gotten to know them well yet, but do you think this team has a huge potential next year to maybe go back to the final four?

MOC: Yeah, I think, I think the coaches did a great job of putting together a great team again, put together, fill in the roles and the pieces that we needed.

You know, it's obviously tough to tell right now at this moment how a team will be, but I think, I think with the pieces we put together and if we continue to, you know, build that chemistry and build that confidence in each other and really lock in throughout the whole season like we did during the end of the season, we were, you know, defensively getting little stops and executing plays on offense that we can have a pretty good chance of making it, you know.

So I always have confidence that we're going to win the games and hopefully make that run.

TRT: Your court vision is incredible, the passes that you make, some of the pocket passes and some of the skip passes, it's just, it's amazing to watch.

Is that something that you've worked on, you know, specifically over the years?

MOC: Yeah, I think, I think one of the biggest things too is that you're playing a lot of sports, you know, playing lacrosse and football, you have to be able to see the field and see the court.

You know, it's something that your constantly working on. I wasn't just thrown into playing lacrosse and football and especially basketball.

And then, you know, it was in the gym, like when I first, when I first got to college, you know, I was, I definitely wanted to get better at it.

So one of my player development guys, Cam Crocker, when he was there, we would go, we'd go to the gym and we'd work on just pocket passes, different feeds to the bigs.

And that was something I put an emphasis on because that's obviously one of my, my roles and something that should be a strength of mine is to be able to make these passes to get guys shots.

As you know, being a point guard, that should kind of be an emphasis and then obviously just continue to work on since that, you know, it makes me always want to get better.

Passes aren't going to be easy anytime, you know, especially in a college level, there are athletic guys everywhere.

So to be able to lock in and make those, you know, little tight pocket passes, stuff like that, or skip passes to guys for threes is something I take pride in.

TRT: It seems like you and Ben Middlebrooks had a really good connection as far as that pick and roll and he must have been really good at slipping off that screen because you guys, you guys did a lot of that this year and were very successful at it too.

MOC: Yeah.Yeah.

I think, I think one thing that helped me too is he's had a great feel for the pick and roll.

He was pretty good at, you know, knowing when to really set it and hold it so I can get around it or you know, if the big man was hedging out a little too early, he was able to slip it.

Or when I came off the ball screen, he rolled pretty fast, got his head up and turned around.

So I give a lot of props to him for being able to help me make those reads and make my life easier.

TRT: You guys were really locked in defensively during the ACC tournament and the NCAA tournament.

Was it something that, was it a different philosophy than the regular season?

Did they change things up as far as the game plan?

MOC: No, I mean, I wouldn't say nothing really changed too much.

We just, I feel like as a team, we really just came together and locked in on what we had to accomplish.

You know, it was, at that point at the end of the season, it's kind of do or die.

When you lose, you go home and we went to the film room, stuff like that.

We learned from the mistakes from the previous games, obviously, because we played some of those teams before.

And coming into each matchup, we took one game at a time and just really focused on what we need to focus on.

And I think especially last year when we played our game, it was, it's hard to, it's hard to beat us.

And especially when we were able to capitalize on other teams' mistakes, it makes it easier for us to win.

So I don't know if it was necessarily a different mentality than we had all year, but we were definitely locked in on things we needed to.

TRT:I got one question that's kind of not as serious.

What flavor ice cream do you get when you win?

MOC: Um, I'm a plain vanilla guy. I stick to the simple basics.

His favorite ice cream might be Vanilla, but his knowledge of the game is anything but. I am very excited to see him play one more year at NC State, and I hope Wolfpack Nation realizes just how important he is to the program. Go Pack!


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