CHARLOTTE — At North Carolina basketball's media day last week, the team made a move toward the future by making players Cole Anthony, Armando Bacot, Anthony Harris and Jeremiah Francis available for questions. It was the first time in decades, dating back to Dean Smith's tenure as head coach, that first-year Tar Heels spoke to independent media before their first game.
But at Tuesday's ACC Operation Basketball, the conference's kickoff event for media before the 2019-20 season, the UNC rookies were nowhere to be found. Instead, it was senior guard Brandon Robinson and junior forward Garrison Brooks, who, amid six new faces, figure to lead the Tar Heels this season.
"So far, Garrison and B-Rob have been two of our best players," head coach Roy Williams said. "They're two of our most experienced players. They're trying to drag the other guys along with them."
The team's only returning starter, Brooks averaged 7.9 points and 5.6 rebounds a season ago. Robinson came off the bench to add 3.4 points per game in 2018-19, and shot 46 percent from 3-point range on 50 attempts last year.
When asked about what it will take to make a jump this season, both players mentioned one thing: details, details, details. While Brooks mentioned simply showing up on time to team events as a point of pride, Robinson made sure to emphasize "the little things."
"Coach always preaches about the little things," he said. "Definitely, like Garrison said, leading by example, and me always trying to get in extra work in the weight room, trying to get guys to come with me in the weight room and get extra work in."
According to Brooks, the adjustment to a leadership role — and transition from defensive specialist last year to the team's leading returning scorer — came almost immediately after the season ended.
"For me personally, it's been a learning experience since we had Luke (Maye), Kenny (Williams) and Cam (Johnson) leave campus," he said. "I think that they kind of instilled the things that are important — being on time, working real hard and learning how to talk to everyone. Me and B-Rob just kind of keep on with what they've already taught us."
Still, while Brooks said he would like to emulate Maye's lead-by-example style, Robinson made a distinction between the leadership of this year and years past.
"Each and every year since I've been here, it's been different types of leadership styles," he said. "As the years go on, you see these different leadership styles change based on the team that we have. I think me and Garrison's leadership styles are different from Kenny, Luke and Cam, just based on the team that we have."
The six new players – graduate transfers Justin Pierce and Christian Keeling, along with the aforementioned first-years – undoubtedly change the calculus for Williams and his veterans. There is a lot more teaching than in past years, a lot more starting and stopping in practice.
But what the Tar Heels lack in experience, they make up for in talent. Pierce and Keeling were all-conference talents for mid-major teams a season ago. Bacot and Anthony were 5-star recruits; the latter is perhaps the best point guard prospect of the decade.
Thus, for Williams and his veterans, the goal for UNC this season is the same as it is ever been: a national championship.
"That's all we ever expect," Brooks said.
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