The last time the North Carolina men's basketball team addressed media as a group, the Tar Heels had just lost to Syracuse in the second round of the ACC Tournament. That game on March 11 turned out to be the last college athletics event completed until Aug. 29, "Week Zero" of the college football season, pandemic edition.
Seven months after yet another disappointing, head-scratching loss in a season filled with disappointing, head-scratching losses, the Tar Heels were yet again in front of reporters for the first press conference of the year Wednesday, this time under much stranger circumstances.
Garrison Brooks, Andrew Platek, Leaky Black and Roy Williams all wore masks as they entered the press room in the basement of the Dean E. Smith Center, before taking them off to address a camera linked to a Zoom press conference and an empty room. Brooks made it clear the team was still adjusting to the world of practice during COVID-19.
"I was talking to one of our managers from our freshmen year just last night actually. I was just telling him how everything could change in two days," Brooks said. "It's been tough for us, just tryna plan everything, stay safe, keep everyone in a tight bubble. That's really hard for us, that's a challenge and we've been doing it pretty well."
Despite the less-than-ideal circumstances, North Carolina men's basketball is back. Gone is the disappointing outing of the 2019-20 season, complete with its missed box outs, ill-fitted roster and more losses than Chapel Hill has seen in decades.
In its place are six new scholarship first-years, a (hopefully) healthy Black and a roster that should be better suited to the style of fast-paced, high-rebounding play that UNC is known for.
"My initial impression is that we're going to be a really good team," Brooks said. "We're going to do what Carolina does, get up and down the floor really well, get the ball inside. I think we're going be tremendous at rebounding the ball, I think we're going to be the best rebounding team in the country and not even be close."
The pieces certainly seem to fit together better. The newcomers will bring some offensive firepower behind Caleb Love, RJ Davis, Puff Johnson and Kerwin Walton, and much-needed rebounding off the bench with Day'Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler. Brooks has been working on his jump shot, Platek is confident in his shot and Armando Bacot has improved in practice at finishing around the rim.
Black, who struggled with his ankle most of last season, said he's worked on his game more than he has since middle school and is ready to take the next step forward.
"I feel like I'll be more of an offensive weapon," Black said. "Just getting up with Doug (Halverson) every morning right after treatment, I'm on the court with coach (Hubert) Davis every morning too, for an hour, hour and half. Just individual, working on my skills."
With a better-constructed roster, the goal for the returning Tar Heels is simple: be better than last year, learn from it and compete for a national title again.
"I think we learned what not to do pretty well, seeing as it was probably one of the worst seasons in history," Platek said. "I think we're just coming into this year learning from what happened last year and all the mistakes that we made, and how we can fix the mistakes that we did have."
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