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Thursday September 29th

Vibe check: UNC's 2019 media day comes with new faces and big changes

Maybe it was J. Cole, the platinum-certified rapper and lifelong basketball lover from Fayetteville, working up a sweat as he took jump shots in a corner goal at the Smith Center.

Maybe it was Kendall Marshall, the former North Carolina point guard, who was announced Wednesday afternoon as the team’s new director of recruiting with a “developing role” focused primarily around social media.

Or maybe it was the reversal of a longtime policy, dating back to Dean Smith’s early UNC tenure, that made first-year players unavailable for interviews with independent media before they played in a regular-season game.

On the heels of last week’s Late Night with Roy event, which featured the head coach himself Electric Sliding in a pink blazer and Air Jordans with a slew of five-star recruits in the audience, something subtly different was in the air at the 2019 UNC men’s basketball media day.

Intentional or not, it was fitting for program that lost six players last season, including its top five scorers and brought in six new ones — most notably, highly touted first-years Cole Anthony and Armando Bacot and graduate transfers Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce.

“Every year, the team dynamic always changes a little bit,” junior forward Sterling Manley told The Daily Tar Heel. “People have personalities. It’s a good thing — it’s always good to have change.”

In a wide-ranging press conference, Roy Williams said he can’t remember ever having a deliberate conversation with one of his teams about welcoming in newcomers.This year was no different. Summer workouts help, he said, as do the famed pickup games that pit former UNC players against the current roster. 

Williams also credited senior Brandon Robinson and junior Garrison Brooks, the roster’s de facto leaders, in terms of experience and playing time, for incorporating their new teammates, which also include first-year guards Anthony Harris and Jeremiah Francis. Not like it’s been a struggle.

“This one's been very easy,” Williams said of the 2019-20 roster.

After a 25-minute availability with the head coach, festivities moved to the Smith Center floor for UNC’s standard player interviews: every returner plus grad transfers. But as the team shuffled out of the players’ lounge and settled into empty seats surrounding the court, it came with a significant change.

For decades, the program has made first-years available only after they’ve played in a game for UNC. It’s a product of Smith’s influential and iconic 36-year coaching tenure. But Anthony, Bacot, Harris and Francis were all available for interviews.

The decision, according to men’s basketball sports information director Steve Kirschner, wasn’t a big deal. His official response to the DTH on the change: “Why not?”

North Carolina has practiced just four times, so Williams readily admits he can’t pinpoint his team’s identity. A closed scrimmage against Villanova and open exhibition against Winston-Salem State will provide more clarity.

Despite the various unknown, optimism among players and fans is high. The atmosphere Wednesday said as much. Robinson, the only four-year scholarship senior on the roster, said he’s taking a measured approach.

“I think going forward, we have a team that can win a national championship,” he said, “but we’ve got to continue to grow and know that we’re not going to win a national championship right now.”


@DTHSports |

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