North Carolina may not be the best team in the nation this year, but it will be one of the tallest.
The Tar Heels’ towering frontcourt has an average height of a little more than 6-foot-10.
To accommodate the loss of forward Tyler Hansbrough and forward/guard Danny Green, UNC has brought in a trio of forwards to add to returning players Deon Thompson, Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis.
“We sat here last year, and half of the questions were, ‘How are you going to make everybody happy because of all the players?’ And we needed every single one of them,” coach Roy Williams said.
“I told you I didn’t mind having all of those players, and I would much rather have too many than not enough.”
Depth is not an issue for UNC’s frontcourt this season. Joining the returners is a talented group of freshman headed by John Henson, a top-five prospect according to many scouting sites. Alongside Henson are the 6-foot-10 twin towers David and Travis Wear.
Henson will likely start at small forward, and at 6-foot-10, he’s a matchup problem for any team. Both Henson and the Wear twins have a variety of skills — some of which extend to the perimeter. All three have the ability to play small forward, and it’s likely all three will.
“The big key is who can slide their feet defensively to guard the 6-foot-6-inch, 6-foot-7-inch guy on the other team,” Williams said. “I think all three of those kids potentially could do it offensively, but who can play it on the defensive end?”
Many questions surround the abundance of new faces this year, but the freshmen are just a portion of the UNC frontcourt nucleus.
In the absence of Hansbrough, Thompson, Davis and Zeller will anchor the paint.
Zeller, a 7-foot sophomore, scored 18 points in his first game last season before injuring himself in the following game.
“Ty Zeller gets up and down the court,” Thompson said. “Those long legs, and he uses his little baby hook that’s so quick to score the basket.”
Thompson, the 6-foot-9 senior power forward, emerged last year during Hansbrough’s injury as a double threat, and many will expect the same from him for the whole season this year.
He is also likely to take a leadership role this year alongside fellow senior Marcus Ginyard.
Thompson averaged 10.6 points per game while shooting slightly less than 50 percent. But in Hansbrough’s absence, he scored 16.8 points per game and made 60 percent of his shots. He also raised his rebounding total from 5.7 rebounds per game to 6.8 with Hansbrough out of the game.
Also returning is 6-foot-10 sophomore Davis, the swat-team captain who passed up a potential top-five pick in the NBA draft to return.
Davis’ long arms and reach enabled him to lead the team with 65 blocked shots last season, and his role should increase this year as a starter.
UNC may not have a national player of the year on its team this year, but there will be no lack of talent in the frontcourt.
Although it’s unclear who will take the reins as the leader in UNC’s frontcourt, the team will certainly have quite a few options.
“With Deon and Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis and even with these young guys, the Wears and John Henson, it’s going to be great to see all those guys working together out there on the court, and they’re going to be able to do some big things for us,” Ginyard said.