UNC basketball's big men take over

North Carolina men’s basketball guards Leslie McDonald and Marcus Paige were choosing teams for a friendly game of pickup among UNC players when they found themselves in an unfamiliar situation.

The majority of the people playing were used to setting up in the paint, and each team ended up with three big men — surprising forward Joel James.

“That’s never happened as long as I’ve been here,” James said.

“It was weird because all of us wanted to post up. But somebody’s got to get out of the paint.”

The Tar Heels likely won’t throw three big men on the court at a time during the 2013 season, but their ability to do so shows how much their personnel has changed since last year.

With the departure of guards Dexter Strickland and Reggie Bullock to graduation and the NBA, the UNC roster became lighter at the guard position at season’s end.

And with the addition of incoming freshmen bigs Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks, the Tar Heels’ roster is now dominated by frontcourt players.

“Since Kennedy and Isaiah have gotten here, it’s been a lot more crowded,” rising sophomore Brice Johnson said.

“We’re all competing for the one spot or two spots.”

Though last year UNC was able to make a late-season push by starting small forward P.J. Hairston instead of Desmond Hubert, this year the Tar Heels will likely stick with a more traditional lineup.

Having six players standing in at 6-foot-8 or taller, coach Roy Williams has a plethora of options when it comes to finding someone to play alongside returning starter James Michael McAdoo.

But despite the seemingly endless possibilities for the Tar Heels in the paint, James said he is confident he’ll be one of the starters come November.

“I’m going to be the starting center. That’s going to be a lot of expectations,” James said. “I don’t want to be sitting on the bench anymore.”

With confidence and variety, the new Tar Heels’ frontcourt boasts an assortment of players with different styles that could prove to be frustrating for the team’s opponents this coming season. James said with “bangers” like himself and “slashers” like Johnson, UNC has a large enough frontcourt to simulate a game experience — even in pickup games.

“It’s definitely a plus for us,” James said.

“(There’s a) big-man mentality starting to be formed.”

Even the Tar Heel backcourt likes the move toward a bigger lineup.

McDonald, a senior, said with fewer guards on the roster, there will be more opportunities for him to step up and play a major role.

Though McDonald played 30 games last season, he started just one game and averaged about 18 minutes a game.

“By Reggie leaving, and Dexter, we’re a little limited in the guard play,” McDonald said. “There are going to be more minutes for me, J.P. (Tokoto) and P.J.”

McDonald added that UNC’s mixture of size and speed could give the team an edge they need.

“Being able to run the floor, and being that type of size, gives us an advantage,” McDonald said. “When we match up with a lot of other big men, I don’t think they’re as versatile as our big men.”

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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