Young Tar Heels Will Have To Develop Quickly
No matter what time of year it is, there’s always going to be chatter about “next year” in relation to Carolina basketball. Good or bad, there are always expectations. But considering there are so many unknowns going into the next season, Roy Williams spent his summer press conference last week talking more about rule changes and the Olympics than next year’s squad.
When asked what he knew about the incoming freshmen, rising sophomore James Michael McAdoo said, “I know their names. I know where they’re from.” The freshmen will arrive this week, and while they’re usually given time to develop at Carolina, with this unproven roster they will have to play early and play well for Carolina to be successful.
McAdoo wasn’t sure what to expect. “Once we get the freshmen here, we’ll get a whole lot better feel for the team and once we start hitting workouts and practicing, I feel like that’s when we’ll really be able to gauge how good we can be,” McAdoo said. “I feel like if we just work hard and just come together as a team, the sky’s the limit.”
Health is still a question mark. Leslie McDonald redshirted last season after tearing his ACL last summer. He’s back at full speed, but rising senior Dexter Strickland tore his ACL in January and has been released only for jump-shooting. Incoming freshman point guard Marcus Paige broke his foot in March, but Williams said Paige should be ready or pickup games and workouts once he gets to campus this week.
This isn’t unfamiliar territory for Williams, though. Not counting his first season at Carolina, Williams has started five seasons with at least seven significant sophomores, juniors and seniors. He has a 166-24 record over those seasons (2005, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012), which include two national titles and a Final Four. In his three seasons with fewer than seven returning sophomores, juniors and seniors (2006, 2010 and 2011), Williams is 70-35 with just one Elite 8.
The unexpected success of the 2006 team (23-8) made Carolina fans think 2010 was going to be more of the same; instead, that group finished 20-17. The 2011 team (27-10) had a great late-season run but it began the season with some bad losses, including a waxing at the hands of Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
But the 2006, 2010 and 2011 Tar Heels were dependent on their big men. Other than McAdoo, there’s no credible threat down low. While Reggie Bullock joked with reporters about the guards having to carry the team, the 2012-13 Tar Heels got an early taste of what that kind of an offense could be like, taking an 80-59 thumping in a pickup game against Carolina basketball alumni last week.
Carolina’s teams have taken beatings at the hands of the alumni before, and this team was led by NBA regulars Marvin Williams and Raymond Felton. But it also included good-not-great players like Reyshawn Terry, Deon Thompson, Marcus Ginyard, David Noel and former walk-on Marc Campbell. Carolina’s current roster included McAdoo, Desmond Hubert, Leslie McDonald, Reggie Bullock and transfer point guard Luke Davis (who sat out last season).
“We played the pickup game (June 13) against the old guys and they just ran out and guarded (McDonald) and (Bullock) and didn’t let them get an open look. They got their tails kicked,” Williams said. “You’ve got to have some kind of threat inside to make people play you honest.”
“We made it to 40 first. That counts,” McAdoo said with a grin. “And then in the second half, they just kind of enforced their will, imposed their will on us. … We’re still just trying to find ourselves right now. With (Strickland) not being there and then (McDonald) didn’t play with us last year, we’re just trying to learn and come together as a team.”
McAdoo ended last season playing so well that he nearly left for the NBA, but he will need help in the post. Rising sophomore Desmond Hubert is still very raw and incoming freshman Joel James is a big body that lacks offensive polish. “Somebody’s got to give us an inside threat. James Michael is really a good scorer and he himself is a face-up 10-15 foot jump-shooter, put it on the floor. But we’ve got to have James Michael and some other guys to be able to score in the low-post area and make people worry about that part of it, too,” Williams said.
ODDS AND ENDS
-Roy Williams typically has little patience for modern concepts like Twitter or the Internet. But he indulged a question about former Tar Heel Harrison Barnes, who will likely go in the top five of the upcoming NBA Draft, trying to build his brand. “I don’t know how many players think about those kinds of things, but I’ve said since Day 1 that he’s very analytical and a deep thinker, and so I would expect it to be in Harrison’s vocabulary and his thought process more than anybody else. I think he was concerned about winning, and that’s what I’m concerned about it because I think if you win, your brand and everything takes care of itself.”
But when asked what Barnes’ brand is…well, the ensuing exchange between Williams and Andrew Carter of the News and Observer is best (more or less) verbatim:
Carter: What is (Barnes’) brand?
Williams: I have no freaking idea what the hell it means. Let’s be honest. What is the brand of North Carolina basketball?
Carter: It speaks for itself.
Williams: So you don’t know either. (Laughter.) Seriously. I don’t understand that terminology. You hear people talk about it, and I’m not being negative towards anybody or anything, but I don’t know what the North Carolina brand is. It’s one of these logos, that block logo I guess, is what a brand is. I have no idea what the crap that is. I know if you work your butt off and you win, your brand is a hell of a lot better than it is if you don’t or you get your butt beat. Besides that, I don’t know that I can … I’m not trying to put you down, but you couldn’t answer my question. What is the North Carolina basketball brand? You have no idea. It’s something out there like that stock that was out there that everybody thought was going to make people millionaires. You don’t own anything. Which one was that?
A few reporters: Facebook.
Williams: Okay. Tell me what Facebook is? That’s a big brand, though. But I seriously don’t know. I really don’t. To be honest with you: ‘Frankly, my dear….’
And that’s why you can’t miss a Roy Williams summer press conference.
-Williams was asked about recruiting “one-and-done” players. He’s had a few over the years, but they’re more of a rarity for Williams and it’s been five years since a Carolina player went pro after just one season. “I want to recruit Marvin Williams. I want to recruit Brandan Wright. But I don’t want to recruit five (one-and-done) guys. (Kentucky head coach John Calipari) is comfortable with that. I’m not comfortable with that,” Williams said. “I like a mix. I loved Marvin Williams and Quentin Thomas in the same class; Brandan Wright, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Deon (Thompson) and Alex (Stepheson). We had Deon play four years, Brandan left after his first year, Ty and Wayne left after their junior year after winning a national championship and Alex left because of his situation at home with the health of his father. I’d take that every year. But I’m not really comfortable recruiting five guys that are going to leave after every year.”
-This summer, a rule change allows head coaches to work with their team for a total of two hours a week in the off-season. Carolina has been holding two-hour workouts once a week. “We’re doing about an hour and 15 minutes of work with everyone together, more individual stuff during that hour and 15 minutes and then getting them to play four-on-four the last 15-20 minutes, and then using the other 45 minutes strictly as a shooting workout individually or no more than two guys,” Williams said.
-James Michael McAdoo had such a great end of the season that he shot up mock draft boards, but he decided to stay in school. Williams said he spoke with 21 of the 30 NBA teams and while all of them said that McAdoo should not leave early, they also said that he would be a definite first-round draft pick. But McAdoo says that since no one could really promise him anything, he was fine with staying in school. And considering the up-and-down nature of his freshman season, he’s the perfect mentor for the incoming freshmen. “Being a freshman, they might say it’s fun but for me, it was a challenge every day. It’s just something you’ve got to go through. I’m excited to see who’s going to take on that burden and be able to put in even that extra time that’s harder to come by,” McAdoo said.