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Abdul-Malik Abu reportedly ‘seriously considering’ transferring from NC State

The floodgates are already open for NC State, and it appears the waters might be getting murkier. Abdul-Malik Abu, who entered the 2016 NBA Draft without an agent, might transfer from the Wolfpack basketball program.

Abu’s plans are to depart from Raleigh whether he’s drafted or not, according to Jeff Goodman of ESPN.

Last season, Abu developed into a powerful big man who could score and defend in the post. He averaged 12.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 49 percent shooting percentage in 28.3 minutes per game in 2015-16.

Presumed to be the best big man on the court for the Pack in 2016-17, Abu was predicted to carry the load offensively down low. With BeeJay Anya entering his name into the NBA draft, both were expected to see huge minutes next season with a solid backcourt in Maverick Rowan, Dennis Smith Jr., Terry Henderson and Torrin Dorn leading the rotation.

The reaction from Twitter, of course, was fantastic.

Abu was not invited to the NBA Combine — Cat Barber was the only NC State player invited — and has yet to hire an agent. Leaving the Pack would be a questionable move with the likely emphasis that would be placed on him in the paint next season, but not an outlandish one.

Dating back to the 2009 recruiting class, 11 of the 23 scholarship recruits have gone on to play for different colleges. That includes players like Rodney Purvis, Tyler Lewis and Jaqawn Raymond — all three playing in the NCAA Tournament this year.

Abu would just be the latest to leave Mark Gottfried’s program, but likely the most shocking given the opportunity he has to shine with NC State next year.


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Meeks, Jackson declare for NBA draft, don’t hire agents

CHAPEL HILL — Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks will enter the NBA draft but not hire agents, North Carolina announced Friday afternoon.

“Justin and Kennedy have our complete support in taking this step,” head coach Roy Williams said in a release.” Any player who is thinking about playing in the NBA next season should gather as much information as they can about their possible draft position. We will continue to support and assist them over the next month to obtain the information that will help them decide whether they should remain in the draft or return to UNC next season.”

The pair, who were regular starters on last year’s team, had until April 24 to declare for the draft, and they can withdraw their names by May 25 and return to school if they haven’t hired agents. By declaring for the draft, the two are eligible to be part of the 70 players invited to the NBA Combine, held in Chicago May 10-15.

Point guard Joel Berry II and forward Isaiah Hicks are not declaring for the NBA draft, according to a report by Inside Carolina.

Williams predicted that at least a couple of his players would test draft waters in his season-wrap up press conference last week.

“I think that some of our guys will try to go to the combine, will declare and not hire an agent, and see how they play in the combine,” Williams said. “And I have no problem with that.

“If I were the father of some of our players, I’d get them to do the same thing.”

Jackson, a forward/guard hybrid, averaged 12.2 points and 3.9 rebounds in his sophomore campaign while Meeks put up 9.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game during his junior year.

Paige gets Iowa homecoming

DURHAM — Marcus Paige finally got a homecoming game after all.

It might be called the Carolina ACC Barnstorming Tour, but Friday, the group of ACC senior all-stars left the state for a quick trip to Marion, Iowa to play at Linn-Mar high school, Paige’s alma mater, Saturday.

“I think they mentioned it to me at the beginning of the year,” Paige said after a barnstorming stop at Durham’s Northern High School. “I was like, ‘that sounds like a good idea,’ and then I kind of forgot about it until the schedule came out and my high school was on there. I was like, cool. I was pretty excited about it.”

North Carolina coach Roy Williams tried to give Paige a homecoming game during the season when he scheduled a trip to Cedar Falls, Iowa to play Northern Iowa Nov. 22, 2015. But when Paige broke his right hand in an early November practice, he was sidelined for a month and missed his chance to play in front of a hometown crowd.

Thanks to an uncharacteristic trip outside state lines with the barnstorming tour — an ACC tradition that originated in North Carolina 37 years ago — Paige has another chance to not only play in Iowa, but to play in his old gym for the first time since he wrapped up his senior season four years ago.

“I’m just happy I get to go home and see my family, see my dogs,” Paige said.

Paige, Brice Johnson, Joel James, Tony Ebunga, Spenser Dalton and Justin Coleman have played with the group of seniors from UNC, Duke, N.C. State and Wake Forest coached by Phil Ford who are stopping at nine North Carolina high schools.

Every player doesn’t travel to every stop, but all six Tar Heels played against a group of locals in front of a very pro-UNC crowd in Durham last week.

“There’s a lot of support,” Paige said. “We’ve been to some towns and stuff and seen a lot of people who might not get a chance to come to a game. So Tar Heel nation is out here, and it’s very fun to see everyone and travel the state, especially because I’m not from here.”

After five stops in places like Rockingham and Ronda, Paige got a chance to not only go back to his home state, but also act as a tour guide for a couple of his former UNC teammates who had never been to Iowa.

“It’s too far away, none of them will come all the way to Iowa,” Paige said. “It’s hard to convince someone to come to Iowa. It’s not necessarily a tourist location or anything like that. It’s not a tropical climate, but it’s a good place and I’m happy they’re coming with me this time.”

Williams wraps up the season

CHAPEL HILL — When Roy Williams called a press conference Tuesday afternoon, he wanted to wrap up a few loose ends, and he wanted to set the record straight.

“Steve (Kirschner) thinks I’m wacko for agreeing to do this,” Williams said. “One of the reasons I wanted to do it was to bring closure to it. The other reason is we had a team meeting on Wednesday of last week, and I didn’t jump on him, but I disagreed with Isaiah. He took way too much responsibility for that shot. That shot was against North Carolina’s team.”

On April 4, a buzzer-beating shot by Kris Jenkins handed North Carolina a 3-point loss in the national championship, and on April 6, Williams wanted to talk about it with his team.

In the aftermath of the loss, Isaiah Hicks told reporters in the locker room that it was his fault Jenkins hit the shot, that he didn’t close out fast enough or defend the shot effectively.

But, Williams said, that wasn’t the case, and he called the team meeting the day after arriving back from Houston to make sure Hicks knew that he wasn’t to blame for the loss.

“He took way too much responsibility for that shot,” Williams said. “That shot was against North Carolina’s team. I was grading the film, and I gave Isaiah two good defenses during that one possession. Then I read these comments like, ‘I should’ve gotten up there’ and ‘he was my guy.’ It was North Carolina as a team.

“But Isaiah, it was not his man. But he was willing to take that responsibility. He did. If you watch it on tape, he challenged it a lot better than I thought he did. If you look at it in still pictures, it’s not as good a challenge. If you watch it on tape, he did challenge it.”

And, Williams acknowledged, even with a defender in Jenkins’ grill, he still could’ve hit that shot to win the game.

“We just didn’t get to Kris as closely as I would’ve wanted,” Williams said. “And you know what? We may have played great defense and he still would’ve made the shot. It was, As soon as he went up to shoot it, I knew it was going in. I didn’t even follow it, I knew it was going in.

“It was a great moment for him. But I don’t anybody thinking Isaiah screwed it up because he didn’t.”

ICYMI: Williams isn’t retiring this summer

To squelch any shred of lingering doubt, Williams confirmed again that the outcome of last week’s national championship game had zero influence over his retirement timeline.

“If I were going to quit,” Williams said, “I sure as the dickens wouldn’t have seen four (recruits) in an 18-hour period last Thursday and Friday.”

Williams frequently answered questions about his retirement throughout the season and the NCAA Tournament, with his frustration on the topic coming to a head at the Final Four when he got the question a couple times.

When asked to revisit those questions and the impact of the national title game on his longevity at UNC, Williams refrained that he wasn’t retiring any time soon.

“I don’t know what else I can say,” Williams said. “I mean, that (Villanova) game will have nothing do to with what Roy Williams does with the rest of his life.

“I’ve changed: I guess for four years I said I wanted to coach six to 10 more years. And I thought it was silly to say that four years ago and still say it, so I went down one. I’ve said I hope I can coach five to nine more years. That’s what I said in a home (recruiting visit) last week. And so that’s all I can say.”

NBA decisions coming next week

Williams said he expects a decision from his players on testing NBA draft waters next week.
He’s meeting with his team individually over the next couple of days and will continue to advise them before getting a concrete answer on their futures next week.

“I’ve met yesterday, today and tomorrow with our players,” Williams said. “There will be some of those players, where I’m not asking them to give me a definitive answer now, I want a definitive answer next week, but I think that some of our guys will try to go to the combine, will declare and not hire an agent, and see how they play in the combine, and I have no problem with that.

“If I were the father of some of our players, I’d get them to do the same thing. We’re not going to have a release today that says ‘Joe Blow’s going,’ and then tomorrow, [another player], and then the next day Henry’s going and anything like that. When we get through with all the interviews, we’ll make one announcement.”

Under new rules, college players can declare for the draft and go through the NBA combine, but retain collegiate eligibility if they don’t hire an agent and remove their names within 10 days after the combine, which falls on May 25 this year.
“I don’t see any reason, unless you play two minutes a game, I don’t think it’s necessary to do that,” Williams said, “but if you’re a good college player, why would you not?

Williams believes, if conducted honestly, the new process will allow players to get better information before deciding their futures.

“I think this should be better especially if the NBA does what they say they’re going to do,” he said. “If they’ll really be straightforward and honest with the kids, you’ll be top-30, you’ll be top-60 or whatever. In the past, I’ve had some players and, ‘I’ll say this is not a good decision. You’re last of the second round or won’t be drafted.’ But agents got to the parents and said, ‘oh we can move him up to the first round.’

“If the NBA says, and if they’ll be truthful, I think it’ll be great. I don’t see any problems with it whatsoever. I’ve never been against it. I just want guys to go that will be first round pick, where they’ve got guaranteed money.”

Lutz assumes new role at NC State

Bobby Lutz, who’s been a member of the NC State coaching staff for the last five seasons, has been named Special Assistant to the Deputy Athletic Director for External Operations, Mark Gottfried announced Tuesday.

“My family and I have loved our five years at NC State and are very proud of what we have accomplished,” Lutz said in a release. “I look forward to aiding the program in my new role and will continue to give my very best effort.”

Earlier in the day, rumors swirled that Lutz may be headed to a position under new Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner, but with NC State’s release Tuesday, Lutz is most certainly staying in Raleigh.

Lutz’s new responsibilities will include “administrative duties” associated with the men’s basketball program. Those duties include development of players off the court, housing arrangements and logistics associated with the team’s future international trip.

“I’m grateful for all of Bobby’s contributions to our program and am pleased that he will continue to be of benefit to our student athletes,” Gottfried said in a release.

The move opens up an assistant coaching position on Gottfried’s staff and could explain earlier reports from Gary Parrish of CBS Sports that Florida Gulf Coast head coach Joe Dooley may wind up on N.C. State’s bench.
Nothing has been made official, but a decision could apparently be made by the end of the week. Parrish notes that a salary increase might play a huge role in Dooley’s decision.

“We don’t comment on jobs. I’m the coach here,” Dooley told The News-Press on Monday. Talking about it doesn’t really help me or help anything else. I think I’ve been pretty consistent that we’re going to not comment on any other jobs.”

Dooley has spent the last three years at Florida Gulf Coast, making the NCAA Tournament for the first time with the program in 2016. Despite being bounced by North Carolina at PNC Arena, he clearly made an impression on Mark Gottfried and the NC State staff.

During his first head coaching attempt, Dooley struggled with East Carolina from 1995-99. He led the Pirates to two winning seasons in four seasons before serving as an assistant at New Mexico, Wyoming and eventually finding a home for a decade at Kansas.

If Dooley does make the move, he would join Orlando Early and Butch Pierre as former head coaches serving on the Wolfpack’s staff. But he’s not making any promises about his future.

“I could get run over by a car on the way home,” Dooley said when asked if he could guarantee he’d be coach at FGCU next season. “You know the way people in Florida drive.”


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Dennis Smith Jr. cleared for basketball activities with NC State

RALEIGH – The Dennis Smith era has officially begun in Raleigh.

Smith, NC State’s prized recruit in the 2016 class, is officially cleared to return to basketball activities. The Fayetteville native made the news official on Twitter.

Prior to the announcement, Smith told the North State Journal he was fully healthy and ready to get back on the court. He hopes to return to the court even better than he was last August.

“Oh, I’m 100 percent now,” Smith told the North State Journal. “But I don’t want to come back at 100 percent, though. I want to be around 120 after my recovery and playing better than I ever have by October.”

That’s a terrifying statement for ACC fans after the mixtape released earlier this week by Ball is Life.

During his time enrolled at NC State, Smith has rehabbed quicker than expected and said he’s gained 16 pounds in muscle alone. He hopes to use his increased strength and stamina to bring an up-tempo approach to the NC State offense in 2016-17.

For the full interview with Smith in this Sunday’s paper, subscribe to the North State Journal.

Duke tops list as favorites for 2017 championship

Well, now that we’re less than 48 hours removed from the 2015-16 men’s college basketball season coming to a close, there’s only one thing to do: take a breath and reflect — perhaps maybe spend time with our families.


It’s time to starting looking ahead towards next season; yes, that’s right, we’re already predicting who will be cutting down the nets in 2017. And at the top of the odds list, no surprises: Duke (9-2).

The Blue Devils, using only a seven-man rotation, advanced to this year’s Sweet 16. They’ll lose stud freshman Brandon Ingram to the NBA and Marshall Plumlee to the Army, but everyone else, including Grayson Allen and Amile Jefferson, will be back in Durham. Joining them will be the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, which features two of the top five players — Harry Giles (High Point, NC) and Jayson Tatum (St. Louis, MO).

Including Duke, there are four ACC teams inside the top ten for odds to win next year’s championship: Louisville (10-1), North Carolina (15-1), and Virginia (20-1). For a look at the rest of next season’s title favorites, check here: Wager Talk.

Grayson Allen Will Return to Duke for Junior Season

Mar 24, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks forward Dillon Brooks (24) celebrates as Duke Blue Devils guard Grayson Allen (3) and guard Luke Kennard (5) walk to the bench during a West Regional semifinal at the Honda Center. Oregon defeated Duke 82-68. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 24, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks forward Dillon Brooks (24) celebrates as Duke Blue Devils guard Grayson Allen (3) and guard Luke Kennard (5) walk to the bench during a West Regional semifinal at the Honda Center. Oregon defeated Duke 82-68. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a rough week for North Carolina fans. Less than two days after the Tar Heels fell to Villanova in the National Championship, Duke’s All-ACC wing Grayson Allen announced he will put off his jump to the NBA for at least another year, returning to Duke for his junior season in 2016-17.

His coach, Mike Krzyzewski, was pleased.

“We are thrilled that Grayson will be back with us next season.” Krzyzewski said. “Following the season, he put a lot of thought into an important decision that will impact the rest of his life. In the end, he chose to remain at Duke, where he will pursue an undergraduate degree and develop even more as a man and basketball player.”

The 6-4 wing, who hails from Jacksonville, Fla., played somewhat sparingly during his freshman season, when the Blue Devils won the 2015 NCAA Tournament; however, he blossomed in an expanded role as a sophomore. Allen averaged 21.6 points per game while shooting a team-high 41.7 percent on three-pointers. He was named first team All-ACC by the media and coaches while ranking second in the league in scoring, third in minutes (36.6 per game), and fourth in three-pointers per game.

After the season he had, which resulted in an appearance in the Sweet 16 for Duke, many thought he’d enter the 2016 NBA Draft. Allen, however, had other ideas.

“I talked with my parents and prayed about this decision, and I had the feeling that it was right,” Allen said. “I love Duke and I’ve made relationships with my teammates that will last forever. Coming back next season to play with them is important to me. Earning a Duke degree has always been a dream of mine, so I’ll also be working to get closer to that goal.”

Barring a transfer of some kind, Duke will return everyone from this year’s team, minus Brandon Ingram and Marshall Plumlee. Joining Allen in Durham next season will be the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, which features two of the top five incoming prospects: Harry Giles (High Point, NC) and Jayson Tatum (St. Louis, MO).

With Allen in the mix, and the return of a healthy Amile Jefferson, and the Blue Devils look to by the heavy title favorites for 2016-17. For a look at those odds, check here.

A basketball atmosphere in a football stadium

HOUSTON — I didn’t think watching college basketball in a football mega-arena would be memorable — at least not in the way I wanted it to be.

In a giant, cavernous building with more bad seats than good seats, how could there be any kind of electric atmosphere?

Much like the city of Houston and the entire state of Texas, the NRG Center is a sprawling structure. It wasn’t intended for basketball, and yet, that’s just where 74,340 people saw one of the most incredible game-winners in the history of the NCAA Tournament.

I knew no matter who played or what happened, covering a national championship would be an indescribable experience.

But in such a large, cold venue, I didn’t think I’d find half the atmosphere that I’ve felt sitting courtside at Cameron Indoor or in the auxiliary press seating at Michigan State’s Breslin Center or on top of the risers in the Smith Center.

No way could a building that impersonal foster that kind of relationship between the fans, the players and the game.

But from the minute the first note of the hair-raising national anthem was sung and the paratroopers from Afterburner Inc. rappelled down ropes hanging above the baseline and the indoor fireworks went off, I knew I was wrong.

It was a setting far from intimate but every time UNC hit a 3-pointer or Villanova pounded in another shot, the crowd roared and you couldn’t help but get enveloped in sound.

My seat in the end zone of the football field was securely bolted down to the ground, and yet, as Villanova went up by double-digits in the second half, it shook with the jumping and the screaming of everyone around me.

Before the game started, I complained that my vantage point of more than 100 feet from behind the baseline and past the rows of Carolina blue-clad students would keep me from feeling involved in the game, that I would miss everything happening on the court.

And sure, sometimes I couldn’t see who got the rebound on the far end of the floor, but I was fully engulfed in every single second played Monday night.

A lot of things are described as jaw-dropping.

Jaw-droppingly large prices, a jaw-droppingly large engagement ring, jaw dropping finishes.

I didn’t realize how often that phrase is misused and overstated until I experienced the first truly jaw dropping moment of my life, when my mouth reflexively opened and my jaw locked into place.

That happened with 4.7 seconds left.

4.2 seconds later, the second jaw-dropping moment of my life happened.

I couldn’t think. The confetti burst from the sky and the fireworks went off before I could even process what had just happened.

Seconds earlier I was preparing for overtime, hastily rewriting one of the three drafts I had prepared for a buzzer game story and drafting a snarky tweet about one more tipoff to this college basketball season.

Then, it was over.

The finality of the moment seemed impossible, unfathomable. For a minute, the score hadn’t been updated and I thought that maybe it hadn’t happened. Maybe we would get five more minutes in this season.

But as the players dog-piled Kris Jenkins and the Tar Heels walked slowly back to the sideline, I knew it was really over.

I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to my first national championship game, the perfectly improbable ending to a chaotically unpredictable month.

And now, if anyone needs me, I’ll be napping for the next week.

North Carolina comes up a ‘half-step’ short in national title game

HOUSTON — For the last time in his career, Marcus Paige walked through the North Carolina locker room, still wearing his white No. 5 uniform.

As he walked, the cameras followed in a silent procession, cutting through a room that was void of the carefree laughter that filled it just a day earlier.

Most players sat alone in the aftermath of the 77-74 national championship loss to No. 2-seed Villanova, towels draped around their necks or over their heads, blank stares on their faces and eyes still bloodshot. The players who weren’t left alone spoke in uneven sentences, about the improbability of the last possession, the brotherhood from this season that would never be recreated and the love between them and their coach.

As Paige sat down in a lone metal folding chair in the back of the locker room, a massive banner of he and his teammates grinning broadly wearing Final Four hats, celebrating the East Regional championship hung to his left.

He sat down in the seat, breathing hard, pulling at the ends of the towel around his neck.

In that moment, he wasn’t gasping for air because he was out of breath, but because he was out of time.

4.7 seconds before Kris Jenkins’ shot dropped through the net and the confetti fell, Paige thought he had given himself more time. On a night when so many of UNC’s simple shots didn’t fall, a circus shot — a double-pump 3-pointer — tied the national championship and gave Paige a program record 39 career NCAA Tournament 3-pointers.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever had anybody make a tougher shot than Marcus Paige made,” coach Roy Williams said.

The crowd roared. Jaws dropped. Small seat cushions distributed to most of the 74,340 fans flew in the air.

“You’re so close to that moment,” Paige said. “You’re 4.7 seconds away from winning the game because I told the team we were going to win if we got to overtime. All we had to do was get to overtime and the game was ours, and I truly believe that and I think our whole team believes that.”

Amid the chaos, Williams called a timeout to discuss the final 4.7 seconds.

A player does mental math when that kind of thing happens. Only so many dribbles, passes and shots can happen in such a short amount of time. And the odds that those maneuvers change the outcome of the game? Often slim.

“You have a mental clock in your head as Ryan (Arcidiacono) is bringing the ball up the court,” Paige said. “You kind of know. You get caught watching the ball. I think that happened to a couple of us, hoping the clock would run out instead of defending to the end.”

So the Tar Heels (33-7) did the calculations and hoped. Hoped that by Kris Jenkins inbounding the ball, he wouldn’t have time to find a shot. Hoped that by denying deep, UNC could hang on for a fresh clock, an even score and a sixth national championship.

Even without scoring a single transition point, the Tar Heels had erased a 10-point deficit, thanks in large part to two late, improbable shots by Paige. It was fate, it had to have been. A few more seconds would lead to a few more minutes and then they would be cutting down nets.

But their mental math didn’t add up the way they thought.

With 255 made 3-pointers this season, there was no way Jenkins wasn’t taking that shot.

Standing on the sideline, Theo Pinson saw it before it happened, and he tried to yell.

“I had a feeling when Kris was taking the ball out,” Pinson said. “And I was yelling it but I had to stop because they weren’t listening so I just let it play out. That was a great shot by Kris.”

“Good play. Trail man. He let it go.”

When the ball found Jenkins (14 points) to the right of the top of the key, a bad feeling washed over Paige.

A couple of breaths earlier, Paige was on the right side of history — the side of history that kids dream about in front of driveway basketball goals in Marion, Iowa.

But as Arcidiacono tossed the ball backwards to the trailing Jenkins, who pulled up for the shot a second before Isaiah Hicks got in his face, that dream was yanked away just as fast as it materialized.

“As soon as he got it off, all you can do is pray when the ball is in the air,” Paige said. “It felt like it was in the air forever. He just knocked it down and the fireworks go off right then and the moment that you had been clawing for, fighting every day for, hoping for, dreaming about, just goes away that fast.”

Before the points were even on the scoreboard, the indoor fireworks shot off and the Villanova players rushed onto the court as the Tar Heels slumped in disbelief.

Seconds earlier, UNC fans had been throwing orange seat cushions in the air in jubilation. But almost as soon as the last North Carolina-thrown cushion hit the ground, another wave of exuberant tosses exploded through the arena as Villanova fans filled the air with their own cushions, celebrating their first national championship since 1985.

With one 3-point shot, Jenkins fractured a dream that felt only a few minutes away from fulfillment. A group so close to adding their names to the annals of Tobacco Road basketball royalty in front of more than 50 former Tar Heels, instead left the program’s first national title game in six years empty handed.

“Sean (May) and Bobby Frasor talked about getting a seat at the table at Carolina,” Paige said. “There’s only five seats at that table with 57, 82, 93, 2005, 2009. We had a chair pulled all the way to that table and we just couldn’t quite get there.

“It’s something that’ll probably haunt me for the rest of my life. And I’m sure a lot of the guys in here are thinking about what if or what could we have done. But at the same time, we’re definitely going to have a deep appreciation for the run we had and how great of a team we were this year.”

After four years, 141 games and 1,844 points, Paige walked off the court without realizing his ultimate goal. His final season was remarkable as he came back from a broken wrist and a shooting slump to lead his team all the way to the national championship game.

And yet, despite all his success, Paige still fell 4.7 seconds short of ending his career the only way that he felt he could.

“At some point tonight, I’ll have to take this jersey off and I’ll never get to be a Tar Heel again in the moment,” Paige said. “But this group had so much fun. From locker rooms to bus trips to hotels. We really enjoyed coming to practice every day. Being ourselves. Being that loose group, having fun. And just being who we were.

“That’s done. That’s over. We’ll never get that back. The memory now we’ll have is one half-step shorter than the memory we wanted to have.”