In the weeks leading up to the start of the 2009-10 men’s basketball season, Roy Williams did a series of double takes.
North Carolina’s head coach looked at three magazines that published preseason rankings, and in each one, there North Carolina sat: No. 4 in one, No. 4 again and No. 5 in another.
Williams didn’t know what to think.
“It’s unbelievable to me,” Williams said. “That was where I would expect us to be picked in our league, and that’s where we were picked in the nation.”
That’s a North Carolina team that lost four starters — its top four scorers from last year’s national championship squad.
The leading returning scorer is Deon Thompson, with just 10.6 points per game.
After UNC won the national championship in 2005, the national media predicted that the Tar Heels would experience a massive championship hangover the next season.
In that season, the Tar Heels had even fewer returning — an unproven Reyshawn Terry, a David Noel who had never shown scoring potential, and some freshman named Tyler Hansbrough.
Picked sixth in the ACC to start the season, the Tar Heels went on to share the ACC regular season title.
With that memory still fresh, many publications are putting expectations on UNC that Williams wouldn’t.
“I told our kids it’s probably because we made everybody look so bad in 2006 that they don’t want to get caught that way again,” Williams said
Maybe ol’ Roy’s just mad he won’t get to use the low expectations of the national media as a motivational technique.
“It’s really hard to beat that drum when you go in there Saturday morning and say, ‘Alright guys, nobody thinks we’re going to be any good. We lost four starters,’” Williams said.
“And some freshman says, ‘Coach I thought we were ranked fourth in the nation?’
“I used that card a little bit in 2006, but can’t use that card anymore.”
And while Williams plays down his team’s considerable talent, that talent overshadows his dismay at the high expectations.
“I mean, people respect us regardless because we’re North Carolina, and just the program has that respect,” Larry Drew II said. “And I mean we’re young this year, but we’re still going to go out and play Carolina basketball, and we’re going to compete.”
Thompson returns as a double-figure scorer, Tyler Zeller is back as a seven-footer who showed real promise before breaking his wrist early in the season and Ed Davis spurned a possible lottery pick in last year’s NBA draft to come back for his sophomore season.
Marcus Ginyard, a lockdown defender and senior who redshirted last season with a stress fracture, returns for his final year.
And there’s also a talented five-player freshman class of shooting guards Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald and three long and capable forwards in John Henson and twins David and Travis Wear.
All told, things look surprisingly similar to 2006 — except with the tremendous talent of Davis in the post thrown in.
And it helps for certain that Ginyard is still around. The fifth-year player was one of the freshmen in 2005.
“There’s no doubt, to hear from someone who’s been through pretty much exactly what they’re going to go through, it probably makes it a little easier for them to see some of the things that we’re going to try to tell them and try to get in their heads” Ginyard said.
“And to see that coming from someone they know has been through it is always good.”
But at any rate, it is probably safe to say that North Carolina won’t be underestimated by any opponent this season.
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