Big decisions for UNC
It was a lack of depth — a frontcourt full of such youth and inexperience that North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams felt compelled to do something he had never done before in 25 years of coaching.
A conventional coach who has always favored the traditional style of basketball since his days under Dean Smith, Williams elected to run a guard-heavy lineup that featured four guards and just one big man, James Michael McAdoo, in the post on Feb. 28.
The Tar Heels beat Virginia that day — 93-81, but in the process, the lineup change forced Williams to defy his roots, abandon his background.
And although it often reaped its benefits throughout the remainder of the season, it wasn’t a transformation Williams wants to feel forced to make again.
Now he doesn’t have to.
“I really think our best teams have always been when we’ve had good balance,” he said.
“When we can score inside and score from the 3-point line, score on the break and score in a set offense … that’s our challenge to be able to do all that.”
Enter a fit Joel James, a stronger Brice Johnson, and a raw Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. Couple that group with the experience of juniors Desmond Hubert and James Michael McAdoo, and suddenly that challenge becomes a little less daunting.
What a difference a year has made.
Williams now has a slew of capable post players to fill the void left in the paint, and after Late Night With Roy, the annual kickoff to basketball season, that vision only became more obvious.
Meeks, a freshman out of Charlotte led the White team in the intrasquad scrimmage in Late Night with Roy with a double-double, boasting 16 points and 12 rebounds according to unofficial statistics in his first appearance as a Tar Heel.
A hefty 317 pounds at the beginning of the summer, Meeks has trimmed down to a leaner 284 with the help of strength and conditioning coordinator Jonas Sahratian — a process James said he himself is all too familiar with.
“Kennedy’s accepted the challenge and he’s been doing great with his conditioning and the weight room. I think he’s lost 36, 30 something pounds like that,” James said.
“As a fellow big man I used to carry a lot of weight and seeing what he’s going through, I know exactly what he’s going through. I know his mentality, his mindset, everything.”
Johnson — who received opposite instruction and was asked to add weight to his lanky frame during the summer — said that as a result of James’ transformation, his unmatched confidence is notable on the court.
“Joel looks like an ox — he’s strong,” Johnson said.
“When he first got here you could tell Joel had a little bit of fat on him but now you don’t see any fat — just muscle everywhere.”
James and Johnson both netted 10 points, two of Johnson’s coming from a powerful two-handed statement dunk. Johnson also grabbed five rebounds, while James came down with eight.
Williams said that though the season opener is less than two weeks away, his lineup is still up in the air as he continues to assess the deep group that has become his front court. McAdoo — who once again chose to forego the NBA Draft and registered five points in the scrimmage — is the only definite starter in the post.
Williams will continue to toil with the different combinations of starters in practice before he makes the final call, but regardless of what is to come in the ensuing weeks, he’s absolutely certain of one thing.
“When you play basketball, you need to be a little bit bigger,” he said.
“We do need the big guys to score inside.”