Back in the post, James Michael McAdoo thrives

The forward scored 21 points in UNC's 84-61 win against Oakland.

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North Carolina junior forward James Michael McAdoo (43) attempts an acrobatic layup in the first half of UNC’s 84-61 win against Oakland Friday.

A day before the No. 12 North Carolina basketball team’s season-opening win against Oakland, forward James Michael McAdoo politely told reporters he was given the green light to play at the three spot, a position he played in the exhibition game a week ago.

His face was void of expression answering the question, but after being told coach Roy Williams planned to start him in the post, the junior broke into a wide smile.

“I feel like I haven’t been there in forever,” McAdoo said Thursday, laughing. “Just from the exhibition game, dating back to the end of last year. I love playing the four, it’s my natural position I feel like. I’m definitely excited for (Friday) to get to play that.”

And McAdoo channeled that excitement into an offensive explosion Friday night, scoring 21 points, including 15 points before halftime.

McAdoo scored the first points of the game seven seconds after tipoff, banking a jump shot off the glass and drawing a foul in the process. McAdoo rattled off the Tar Heels’ first seven points in the game’s first three minutes.

“He took one bad shot, and that was it,” Williams said. “He was active … There’s not too much that I didn’t like about his game.”

McAdoo’s season debuts have been historically strong — he recorded career highs in points, 26, and rebounds, 14, in last year’s opener against Gardner Webb.

But McAdoo, who moved to center late last season, never surpassed his early season numbers and finished second in scoring, averaging 14.4 points per game.

In the exhibition game, McAdoo played on the wing and finished with 19 points. But the forward said afterward he wasn’t yet comfortable scoring away from the blocks.

Friday, McAdoo looked at ease down low, dominating on both ends of the court. He connected on nine of his 13 shots and corralled nine rebounds.

“He was great because he was under control,” Paige said. “He was making a lot of plays that last year he might’ve turned over. You could see his game matured a lot, and it showed today.

“He was under control, knocking down little jump shots, attacking the rim, and that’s what we really need him to do. We need him to be that guy consistently.”

With the futures of Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston still uncertain, Williams isn’t done tinkering with the lineup, and McAdoo’s position could shift again. But after a performance like the one he turned in on Friday, the team would likely be content if the big man stayed in his favorite spot.

“Sometimes you don’t realize how big of a difference it makes for somebody to play their natural position, especially somebody like (McAdoo), who’s such an explosive player when he’s in his comfort zone,” Paige said. “You see tonight that when he gets to play and relax and play his game, he’s a beast.

“That’s the James Michael McAdoo we need.”

sports@dailytarheel.com

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