Tar Heels set to begin Maui Invitational

LAHAINA, Hawaii — In front of a backdrop of the clear blue Pacific Ocean, Roy Williams and the other basketball coaches representing the field of eight teams in the EA Sports Maui Invitational kicked off tournament festivities Sunday by teaming up with local youth basketball players for a free-throw competition.

Williams, like his No. 11 Tar Heels (3-0) as of late, wasn’t too successful from the stripe, missing all three of his shots. It’s one competition this week he doesn’t mind losing.

“I’ve never won it,” Williams said with a wide grin. “It’s like the par-3 contest at Augusta — you don’t want to win the free throw contest. Nobody that’s ever won the free-throw contest has ever won the tournament.”

In both of UNC’s appearances in the tournament under Williams’ direction (2004 and 2008), the Tar Heels won it all. Each of those seasons also ended with a confetti shower and another NCAA title the following March.

Williams isn’t expecting an easy road. With his team scheduled to play games Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Williams said he’ll have to spread out the playing time more than he usually would.

Williams is looking forward to using the opportunity not just to hopefully build his team’s confidence, but also to learn about the makeup of his young squad.

“Doing three days in a row without a lot of scouting time, preparation time, we’re going to see how they make adjustments on the fly, because that’s what you have to do in this kind of thing,” he said.

In today’s opening round, UNC will play Mississippi State (1-1). The Bulldogs, who are making their first ever appearance in the Maui Invitational, will open their first campaign under new coach Rick Ray.

“I noticed we were playing in the Maui Invitational, and that’s a great experience for our guys,” Ray said about his first look at the Bulldogs’ schedule. “Then the second thing I noticed was we were playing a small school called North Carolina in our first game, so that’s always adventurous there, too.”

Depending on today’s outcome, the Tar Heels will play either Butler or Marquette on Tuesday. After three days of competition, the team will have the opportunity to enjoy some sightseeing on Thursday.

But first, despite the possibility for distractions in paradise, the Tar Heels are focused on the ultimate goal.

“(We’re) just trying to see how our team continues to grow,” Reggie Bullock said after UNC’s win against Florida Atlantic last week. “Basically, we’re just going over there to handle business. We’ll get to do some things off the court, but at the same time, it’s a business trip and we’re trying to win.”

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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