Nineteen losses, 14 wins, nearly eight months in a pandemic, six new scholarship first-year recruits and six practices later, the North Carolina men’s basketball is making its return.
After the first losing record in the Roy Williams era, the UNC head coach joined the first press conference of the season on Wednesday to talk about the expectations for a new season amid the unprecedented challenges brought by COVID-19.
Williams expects limitations on locker room access, mask-wearing at all times and the Dean E. Smith Center probably not having over 20,000 fans in 2020. But he's optimistic for the season despite the onslaught of changes.
“For me, it’s the adjustments that we have to make by being more intelligent that we can have a safer world,” Williams said. “I loved the old normal. I’m going to figure out a way to love this normal, as well.”
Williams believes the season is coming back despite the trepidations of playing sports indoors. The team already has a plan for spreading the bench out, and Williams is adamant that his staff will not forgo wearing masks.
Basketball is set to come back. Just differently.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to the normal we knew,” Williams said. “My gut feeling is we’re not going to get back to that normal for several years.”
Besides just practical and logistical changes, Williams will be working with a highly talented, albeit inexperienced, roster this season.
Senior forward Garrison Brooks, sophomore forward Armando Bacot and junior guard Leaky Black combine to give UNC three consistent starters returning from last year. With a reliance on unproven players while reeling from last season, Williams is balancing his coaching style to ease the young players into their new roles. He's also absolutely refusing to allow his team — veteran or not — to make the same mistakes of last season.
“Oh yeah, he’s pissed,” senior guard Andrew Platek said of Williams’ thoughts about last season.
But Williams assured everyone that out of the multiple practices already held, he’s only lost his mind at his team once, with one of his main frustrations being UNC’s enduring box-out struggles.
“I’m not against bringing those things (from last season) up if it’s because of mistakes,” Williams said. “I don’t walk out on practice and say, ‘OK, guys, we stunk last year, so let’s get better today.’ But if we have the same type of behavior that hurt us last year, you’re darn right I’m going to bring it up to them. If I see them when they’re 78 years old, I may still remind them of those box outs.”
Aside from the one moment where he went “stone dead crazy” on his players, Williams is vocal about his belief in this year's team.
“If I tell you something, you ought to take it to the bank because I’m going to tell you the freaking truth,” Williams said. “I think we’ll rebound the basketball this year like North Carolina teams usually rebound the basketball: better than last year. I’m hopeful that the ball will go in the basket a heck of a lot more.”
Whether it was the fear of reparation put into the team or Williams' contagious optimism, the team leaders are also adamant on correcting the errors of last season.
“I think we will be the best rebounding team in the country,” Brooks said. “And it will not even be close.”
With so many changes in both the state of this country and the state of the team, there’s a lot of uncertainty for UNC men’s basketball. With the pandemic and unusual offseason putting limitations on just how well the coaching staff can decide what roles players will fill, Williams and his team are just looking to forgive – but never forget – the disappointment of last season.
“The positive is how pissed off it made me all summer,” Williams said. “I’m hungry. I did not enjoy that.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.