Terry Holland, coach of Virginia's top-ranked basketball team, which opens its season tonight in its own tournament, was interviewed recently in his University Hall office by Washington Post staff writer Robert Fachet.
Q. The media has made you No. 1 and Ralph Sampson has been quoted as saying you can go undefeated and win the national championship. Does this add a lot of pressure to your job?
A. The No. 1 ranking does somewhat. But there already is so much pressure on any team in our conference, that it is a minimal difference. The first time you're No. 1 there are so many distractions, so many requests for interviews, that it is easy to lose sight of what made us No. 1. The primary task is to play basketball and go to class. When you add duties, something has to give. As far as going undefeated and winning a national championship, I've never had a team here that didn't have those goals, no matter how small the chance of fulfilling them. As far as I'm concerned, we can win them all.
Q. You've had Sampson three years and over the last two, you've had the best record in college basketball, yet you have not won either the NCAA or ACC tournament. Are you disappointed?
A. I am absolutely not disappointed. Very few people win national championships. To win one, you have to stay healthy and be lucky. The last two years, we've had injuries -- Lee Raker in 1981 and Othell Wilson last spring. Even with those guys playing at 100 percent, we'd still have had to be lucky to win. Luck involves not just the particular game, but the time you're playing your best. If we'd played for the national championship in February, after we won at Louisville by 18 and beat North Carolina by 16, I think we would have won it.
Q. The Soviets neutralized Sampson offensively with two 7-foot-2 players (in Virginia's 94-87 double-overtime victory over the Soviet National team). How do you expect most of your college opposition, which doesn't have that kind of size, to play Sampson this year?
A. They'll play him similarly, but not as effectively. Certainly, nobody will have two 7-2 players of their strength and experience. But he's going to see that collapsing defense all the time, particularly when we're not able to control the tempo. A running game is not the best for a man Ralph's size, but for him, a running game is better than the alternative. As our fifth man down the floor, he won't get as many scoring opportunities. That's still preferable to zero opportunities.
Q. Against the Soviets, Sampson appeared to play with more intensity than before. Is this a result of his becoming the team captain?
A. Ralph has always been a very good performer. If they're allowing you to play the way they did the other night, it's easier to play with intensity. If you're being held and double-teamed all night, there's not as much you can do. He's been a very consistent performer. When you're at the top, there's nowhere to go but down, and it's easy for all of us to say Ralph should be doing more. What keeps us sane is looking at a (Kareem Abdul-) Jabbar tape or a (Bill) Walton tape and seeing their fallacies. It makes us realize Ralph isn't that bad (laughter).
Q. An NBA general manager claims Sampson is making a mistake passing up the big money to play here this year. Your comment?
A. It depends on what your priorities are. If it were my decision, I might do it differently. I can't answer that for someone else. If Ralph considers other things more important than money, is that bad?
Q. You frequently have faced stalls for the last two years. Do you think the ACC's 30-second clock will help your club?
A. I think so. Until we played the Russians, I wasn't sure, but now I really appreciate that the clock is a factor. It seems the way to play Virginia is a half-court game, because the slower tempo makes it easier to put pressure on Sampson and our outside shooters. With a faster tempo, the defensive team has to be worried about getting back to cover a man, not whether to sag off and help out against Ralph.
Q. What is the purpose of the upcoming trip to Japan and Hawaii?
A. I don't want to go to Japan. I want to play basketball. From a strictly professional viewpoint, the trip probably is not a great thing for a college basketball team. We weighed that with the educational advantages, and the advantages in recruiting . . .
Q. How do you view the Georgetown game, which is getting so much attention?
A. It should be a great game, and it's good for everybody concerned. The problem is it can't possibly live up to the hype it's being given. It's like Ralph. He can't possibly live up to expectations. I'm afraid everybody will come away from the game feeling a little disappointed.
Q. Sampson occupies the media spotlight wherever you go. Is part of your job soothing the egos of other players who do not receive the publicity they deserve?
A. To begin with, it was a little bit of a problem. His freshman year he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated before he ever scored a point or grabbed a rebound for Virginia. We had returning the leading scorer in the ACC (Jeff Lamp), but the only questions anybody asked Jeff or any of the other players were related to Ralph. The guys made a joke of it. Our players are pretty level-headed and they soon realized there were advantages. Whether Ralph was good or bad, win, lose or draw, Ralph's area was all tied up after a game. The other guys could shower, then go see their parents or girl friends. Besides, it was easy to see this was not something Ralph was creating. This guy is concerned about the team winning, even if he's being double-teamed and scoring six points. It's hard to be jealous of him. Instead, you sometimes find yourself feeling sorry for him.
Q. Do you ever wish you'd gone into another business when you graduated from Davidson?
A. There are times. But if you've ever been part of a team functioning together at the highest level, like coming back against North Carolina at Chapel Hill and going into overtime and winning it, well, if you're part of it, you're willing to spend the rest of your life searching for it again. The moments may be brief and fleeting, but that's what you're constantly searching for.