Roy Williams thought he was set in his team’s backcourt play in February for at least another year.
He had a junior point guard who played a small role in North Carolina’s 2009 championship and led the team through the worst of times the following year.
Williams also had a freshman point guard who showed great promise off the bench and contributed to the Tar Heels in ways the starter could not.
But after Larry Drew II left UNC in the middle of the night on Feb. 4, just a couple of weeks after Williams demoted him to the bench in favor of Kendall Marshall, the Hall of Fame coach was left to play the rest of the year — and the next season due to how late in the recruiting season Drew’s departure came — with only one true point guard.
The expectations of a third national title in eight years weigh heavily on all of the Tar Heels, but on none more than UNC’s backcourt and its leader, Marshall.
“I’m concerned about our health, which means I’m concerned about our depth,” Williams said. “We’ve already lost (shooting guard) Leslie (McDonald). But the greatest challenge is developing the top quality person to be the point when Kendall’s out of the game.
“We’ve got to have some good backcourt play. Dexter (Strickland) has got to spend some quality time at the point and I think he will and embrace that.”
McDonald suffered an ACL injury during a summer Pro-Am game when routinely bringing the ball up the court. The non-contact injury puts him on the shelf until at least January, and puts a strain at the shooting guard position, which is currently occupied by Strickland.
The starting backcourt of Marshall and Strickland will shuffle to put Strickland at the 1-guard and Reggie Bullock at the 2-guard when Marshall takes a breather. Bullock is also coming off an injury but will be healthy by the start of the season.
Williams intends to play Bullock at the small forward position when Harrison Barnes is out, which will also open the reserve shooting guard position for freshman P.J. Hairston. His range will draw opposing defense out of the middle and help the frontcourt be more formidable around the basket.
But the undeniable leader of the team is Marshall. When inserted into the starting lineup last season, the production of Barnes, a preseason favorite for national player of the year, and others increased dramatically.
“He knows where everybody’s supposed to be and he knows where everybody’s supposed to go,” forward John Henson said. “He gets the ball to the right positions, and that’s what a good leader does.”
In order to be effective though, Marshall knows he’ll have to take some breaks during games. And that’s a foreign concept to the point guard.
“Coming out of high school, I never understood people asking to come out of games,” Marshall said. “But once I got to college I was definitely putting that fist up because the game is so much faster.
“I do want to be on the court as much as possible, but at the same time, I don’t want to hurt my team. So if that means me playing 30-32 minutes instead of playing 36-37 and being more efficient in those 32 minutes, then I’m all for it.”
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