UNC men’s basketball players adapt to team’s needs

And for members of the North Carolina men’s basketball team, a lot of that sweat has come from hours of work in the gym as the team prepares for the upcoming season.

“Our team is working a lot harder this summer than any of the summers I’ve been here before,” said junior point guard Marcus Paige.

Sophomores Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks have spent their summers preparing for their expanded roles on the team.

Hicks played hesitantly during his limited playing time at the small forward position — a position he was unaccustomed to. But Hicks said he’s used last year as a learning experience.

“Not everybody is going to get what they want, so you might as well go with it — just get better from it,” he said.

With the departure of James Michael McAdoo, Hicks will have an opportunity to make an impact with a return to his more natural power forward spot.

As for Meeks, the big man has spent the summer working on losing more weight. Having entered last summer at 315 pounds, Meeks said he weighed in at around 270 pounds recently and has noticed the results.

He said he wasn’t disciplined with maintaining a healthy diet before coming to UNC. But he said he’s continued to improve this offseason.

“I think now I’m hungry to win games,” Meeks said. “I’m hungry to be one of the leaders on this team. I’m hungry to go ahead and try to win a national championship here.”

Thrust into the starting lineup last season, J.P. Tokoto made a name for himself on the defensive side of the ball — snagging ACC All-Defensive team honors.

But with limited success offensively, Tokoto has used the offseason to improve on his outside shot — shooting 100 shots both before and after practice.

“I think guys are starting to notice I can actually hit the shot now,” he said. “They’re playing me a little closer, which makes it easier to go around them.”

Tokoto said his confidence grew during his sophomore year after trying to do too much offensively during his freshman year.

“I tried to create a lot freshman year just to kind of prove myself, that I could be out there,” he said.

Sophomore Nate Britt has spent the summer working on his jump shot, now using his right hand instead of left.

Britt said he used to talk with his father in high school about making the switch, but it wasn’t until this summer that he decided to commit to it.

“From when I first picked up the basketball, my natural instinct was to shoot with my right hand — even though I was left-handed,” he said.

Britt said he can shoot the ball a lot deeper, which he said could help him be a more imposing figure on the offensive end of the floor.

“Me being able to knock down the 3-point shot will be a big part our offensive game,” he said.

His improved jumper should also allow Paige, the team’s leading scorer last year, to get more space on offense.

Paige said down the stretch last season, teams started applying more pressure on him defensively, so he’s been working on adding more to his offensive arsenal.

“I understand defenses might try to do different things to me this upcoming year, and I saw a little bit of that last year,” he said. “So just working on being able to do more things and be a little bit more of a dynamic player when the ball is in my hands will help me and help the team.”

Paige said although it’s only July, the team has lofty goals for next season.

“We definitely have our fair share of tests with our schedule, but I think that will help us out,” he said. “And I really think we are a legitimate Final Four contender if we put all of the pieces together.”

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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