Many questions remain as men's basketball season opens
That’s when the North Carolina men’s basketball team will open its season with a home game against Oakland, and coach Roy Williams has a laundry list of decisions on his plate before “Jump Around” blares through the Smith Center shortly before 9 p.m.
So far, the Hall of Fame coach entering his 11th season back in Chapel Hill has solidified two of his five starters — sophomore Marcus Paige and junior James Michael McAdoo.
But the final three positions pose a bit of a problem for the 63-year-old coach.
There’s the eligibility of two of his top guards, a battle in the post and a talented freshman point guard ready to share floor marshal duties.
It’s enough to keep anybody up at night, but in his usual fashion, Williams is adopting his “wait and see” method of decision-making.
The most glaring question to solve, of course, is the punishment of guard P.J. Hairston. Since his well-documented summer of traffic violations and rental cars, the junior’s fate has hung in the balance.
Williams says Hairston will play, but the question of when he’ll suit up and take the court remains to be answered. And Hairston’s punishment isn’t entirely Williams’ to decide. Williams told reporters after Friday’s Late Night with Roy that there were still aspects of the players’ situations being processed by the NCAA.
Hairston isn’t the only player whose eligibility is still up in the air — fellow guard Leslie McDonald is also waiting to hear from the NCAA regarding the use of his image to promote a designer mouthguard company this summer that ended with a cease and desist letter from the University to the company.
“They’re going to be part of it, yeah,” Williams said of the NCAA’s involvement with his players’ punishments. “All the rumors and everything that’s been going around since June, we’ve still been addressing those. It’s the kind of thing where there’s still things in process with P.J. and Leslie both, but that is part of it, yes.”
Williams has maintained that he will announce the fate of Hairston and McDonald before the season opener, but for now, the pair has been stripped of leadership privileges and both face the tall task of earning back Williams’ trust .
Hairston’s teammates recognize that he’s turned a corner and is trying to put the summer’s indiscretions behind him in an effort to put all of his focus on the court.
“When he’s on the court, he’s doing what he loves to do,” Paige said. “He gets to not think about all the stuff and just play basketball for a while and it’s good for him, it’s good for everyone to enjoy P.J. the basketball player and not other stuff.”
Some of Williams’ problems are good ones to have — between juniors McAdoo and Desmond Hubert, sophomores Joel James and Brice Johnson and freshman Kennedy Meeks, the Tar Heels have a wealth of talent in the post.
Though McAdoo has already staked his claim on a starting job, it’s unclear exactly where he’ll be starting.
In Friday’s Late Night with Roy, McAdoo played in the three spot, a position usually occupied by a guard. He could stay there or shift down to his traditional spot in the post, but Hairston’s and McDonald’s possible impending suspensions will help determine his position.
James and Meeks are the front-runners for the starting center job, and Paige said even he isn’t sure who has the edge.
“It changes on a day-to-day basis,” Paige said. “You can tell from my answers — one day you think Joel’s got it, next day you see great things out of Kennedy and say he could start at the five. It’s good to have that problem at this point. Two guys playing well and challenging each other for minutes.”
Williams also has a problem he hasn’t had in nearly three seasons — a deep point guard corps. Williams has already named Paige the starter, but freshman point guard Nate Britt could easily take the floor alongside the Tar Heels’ returning point guard.
Williams said he’s had his team employ a two-point guard system in practice, but his strategy and positioning of his players will be fluid and likely to change throughout the season.
“I’m convinced that the first game when we play Oakland you’ll see two little point guards out there together,” Williams said. “I’m convinced in the first game against Oakland that you’ll see James Michael as the small forward. It’s something that will be a continual process throughout the season.”
In 11 days, Williams’ countdown will expire, and the preseason questions will no longer need answers.