Heading into its season opener against Notre Dame Wednesday night, the North Carolina men’s basketball team has a number of question marks, including an injury bug and a lack of experience in its starting lineup.
Head coach Roy Williams and junior big man Garrison Brooks addressed these concerns in a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s been the most difficult preseason for trying to get your team ready that I’ve ever had,” Williams said.
And with the first game of the season being a battle against a conference rival, this inexperience could be a significant issue for the Tar Heels. Williams is unsure how the Tar Heels will fare against an ACC opponent in the opening game of the season – not exactly ideal for Williams and his young team.
“I think there’s more of a sense of urgency than there would be if it was somebody else,” Williams said. “And that’s uncomfortable. I don’t like it, but it’s the schedule. Every year, we have to play what they put in front of us.”
The inexperience of the team was clearly a cause of Williams’ concern, especially compared to a veteran Irish team.
“I think (Notre Dame senior guard T.J. Gibbs) has 69 starts,” Williams said. “And that’s more than all of our guys put together.”
The only returning Tar Heel with any significant experience in a starting position is Brooks, who has started 52 games in his career. The loss of senior guard Brandon Robinson, who suffered an ankle injury in an exhibition game against Winston-Salem State Friday, surely doesn’t help.
“Our most experienced player, highest field goal percentage from three last year and all those things. He’s also our third point guard,” Williams said. “Losing him was more than just one player going down. It’s getting really unsettled.”
Williams says Robinson’s injury is “really serious” and that he’s expected to be out at least a couple weeks. This leaves the burden of almost all leadership responsibilities on the only other returning player who’s played meaningful minutes in ACC games: Brooks.
“It falls on me,” Brooks said. “If I don’t have the right energy, talk right and try to get everyone involved, it won’t work out very well for us.”
Brooks said he hopes leading by example will be enough to help encourage UNC's talented young players to overcome their nerves for their first regular season game, especially one with so much importance behind it. First-years Cole Anthony and Armando Bacot had strong showings in the exhibition game on Friday, both finishing the game with double-digit points.
Williams doesn’t doubt the talent of his young players, but he fears the team’s lack of experience will pose problems against a veteran Notre Dame team.
“Talent always wins,” Williams said. “But experienced talent really wins.”
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