Tar Heels Try To Turn The Corner After Boston College

Many won’t see a regular season win against the team with the worst record in the ACC as a major victory — But Theo Pinson says otherwise.

“Last game was really huge for us,” he said. “I don’t think people really realize how big it was for us.”

Down one with 2:22 to go and without the services of their head coach, the Tar Heels squeaked out a three point victory to halt a two-game losing streak. Assistant coach Steve Robinson took over for Roy Williams after he collapsed during the game.

Roy Williams on his struggle with Vertigo

“We were in a packed house and we were down,” Pinson said. “Everything was going their way and Coach Rob just told us ‘play how we taught y’all in practice.'”

Marcus Paige found his shot at the end of the game, scoring six of the team’s nine points in the final two minutes.

“We did it,” Pinson said. “We got stops and we converted on the other end, we executed and that was huge. It just goes to show that they say things just work out.”

The Tar Heels hope to put a rough stretch of games behind them on Sunday when Pittsburgh comes to Chapel Hill.

“I think now it’s just being consistent with our concentration and effort defensively,” Williams said.

Before the start of the Boston College game, he made an unusual change in his starting lineup, sitting regular starters Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson.

Williams said he sat Meeks and Johnson because they had the two lowest defensive grades against Notre Dame the previous game.

While Jackson responded to the benching with a 20 point game, Williams said Johnson was upset with his play.

“He and I have had a good talk,” Williams said. “He’s an unusual dude and I love him to death. I’m just trying to push, push, push.”

After five consecutive double-doubles, Johnson finished with just nine points and five rebounds, due in large part to foul trouble.

“Brice is Brice,” he said. “But he’s just gotten better and better and better and I think everyone knows that. If I can get him to concentrate a little more on the defensive end then he’s got a chance to be a big time player for a long time.”

Williams said he has not yet thought about whether the three players benched will return to the starting lineup on Sunday.

Tipoff is at 1:00 p.m., make sure to tune into WCHL starting at 11:30 with UNC Health Care’s Countdown to Tipoff with Aaron Keck.


Roy Williams Doesn’t Like ESPN’s Green Room

The green room is a reference to where the top college players gather on draft night, waiting for their name to be called. ESPN, along with other channels broadcasting college basketball games, have used players pro potential to market broadcasts.

In a press conference held Friday afternoon, UNC basketball coach Roy Williams was asked a question about the schedule.

He took that as an opportunity to express his frustration with ESPN frequently mentioning the green room and the NBA during college games.

Hear the full rant below:



UNC Looks To Recapture Shooting Touch

The Tar Heels will try to break out of their shooting slump in Saturday’s game against Boston College.

Despite being in the midst of a 10 game winning streak, UNC head coach Roy Williams said he is concerned about his team’s shooting over the past three games.

“It’s frustrating, it’s disconcerting, it’s questioning what we’re doing,” he said. “I learned under Coach Smith we’ve always wanted to get good shots and have the better shooters take more shots, but right now we’re really struggling trying to put the ball in the basket.”

The Tar Heels have shot under 40 percent from the field in each of the past three games. In the 17 previous games, UNC never shot under 40 percent and made at least 50 percent of their shots 13 times.

“I should say it’s surprising because before these past three games I think we were first or second in the ACC in shooting percentage for the year,” Williams said. “And then all of the sudden we haven’t been able to throw the ball in the ocean.”

The team will have a six day break before the start of the Boston College game. Williams said he is planning on lightening the load to give his players a mental break.

“We’ll get a lot of shots up,” he said. “That’s about all you can do. You can’t get a crystal ball and start humming to it.”

If the Tar Heels want to keep this win streak alive, they’ll have to rediscover their shooting stroke.

After Saturday they will face hostile environments three times in eight days, facing Louisville, Notre Dame and Boston College for a second time.

“You’d better be ready to play every night regardless of who you’re playing and where you play,” Williams said. “I know that’s cliche but that’s the truth.”


UNC Winning By Committee

If you ask UNC men’s basketball coach Roy Williams about his team’s identity – he’ll tell you it doesn’t have one.

“The identity of this team is that we have no identity,” he said. “It just changes game to game who we’re going to depend on and who’s going to get it done.”

Through 18 games this season, the Tar Heels have had seven different players lead the team in scoring.

Brice Johnson is the team’s leading scorer overall, averaging 16.1 points per game, but five other players are also averaging double figures.

“If I had to pick one thing I think it is our depth,” Williams said. “So far, and let me knock on wood, we’ve been able to withstand foul trouble or injuries.”

Most recently, it was junior center Kennedy Meeks who led the team with 23 points to beat in-state rival NC State.

The Tar Heels won despite the lack of production from their three leading scorers.

Marcus Paige, Justin Jackson and Brice Johnson combined for 15 points, something Williams said frustrated Paige.

“During the game on Saturday he came to the bench one time and said ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me,'” Williams said.

Paige finished with three points on 1-9 shooting, but Williams said he was happy that other players stepped up.

“The other guys had to pull them up this time and that’s always good for us,” he said.

Paige will look to get back in form against the reeling Wake Forrest Demon Deacons Wednesday night in Chapel Hill.

Wake has lost four of their last five games, while the Tar Heels look to push their win streak to double digits.



Brice and Roy: A Love Story

It’s become commonplace among Tar Heel basketball fans over the past four years to ask themselves a similar question before each game.

Are we getting “Good Brice” or “Bad Brice?”

Perhaps nobody has asked that about senior forward Brice Johnson more than his head coach, Roy Williams—creating a fascinating relationship between them.

Thrust into the conversation recently as one of the nation’s best players thanks to his 39-point, 23-rebound game against Florida State last week, Johnson has shown steady improvement all season long and is the main reason this year’s Tar Heels have made the leap to NCAA title contenders.

Brice Johnson's recent hot streak has the nation taking notice. (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson’s recent hot streak has the nation taking notice. (Todd Melet)

Despite the growth in his game, Williams knows there is still plenty of potential out there—so he treats Johnson as tough as he always has, almost like a son.

For Johnson, it’s just what he knows. His high school coach, Herman Johnson—his father—treated him the same way.

“It takes a lot for someone to get under my skin,” Johnson said. “My dad did a pretty good job of that sometimes. Coach Williams does a pretty good job of pushing me. He does just about the same as my dad.

“But my dad is my dad, so he kinda did a little bit more,” he continued. “He didn’t want me to be the golden child.”

In recent years, it hasn’t been uncommon for Johnson to appear emotional and distraught during his postgame interviews with the media—even after wins. Many times it’s clear that Williams has just finished using him as an example in front of his teammates—making sure Johnson is never the golden child, whether he scores four points or 40.

“I guess sometimes you can step over the line, and I’m sure I have,” Williams said about the way he pushes Johnson. “But if I’m trying to help you be the best you can possibly be—I sound like an Army commercial—if I’m trying to do that to you, then I don’t think that needs any apology.

“But he’s such a wacko kid,” the coach continued, with a smile. “”He comes in [the room] and I start laughing.”

While the majority of the Williams/Johnson love affair comes behind closed doors, there are times when it spills over into games.

Against Tulane earlier this year, Johnson drew laughs from the bench when he patted Williams’ head as he approached to take his seat.

This reaction is typical for Roy Williams whenever Brice Johnson makes a mistake. (Todd Melet)

This reaction is typical for Roy Williams whenever Brice Johnson makes a mistake. (Todd Melet)

The next game, against then No. 22 UCLA in Brooklyn, Williams benched Johnson for using profanity out on the floor. Held out for close to nine minutes during the first half, Johnson responded with a then career-high 27 points to lead UNC to victory.

“He does every little thing that he can,” Johnson said of Williams. “I can’t say exactly what he says, but he has said some very motivating things that probably hurt my heart a little bit, and kind of got to me—forced me to play a little bit better.”

Williams has done the same thing since Johnson first arrived in Chapel Hill from his home in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

Push him to get a little bit better each day, whatever it takes.

Now the scrawny 6-foot-10 185-pound freshman–who wasn’t on anyone’s high school All-American team—has bulked up to 230, added a mean right-handed hook shot to pair with his explosive dunks, and established himself as the go-to guy for a traditional college basketball powerhouse.

“Joe Holladay told me after [Johnson’s] freshman year—the first day of workouts—he didn’t know if [Johnson] would show up for practice,” Williams said, referencing his former assistant. “He said he thought [Johnson] would go home that day. Brice said ’I thought about it.’

“It’s been a gradual process,” he added. “I keep pushing him, and pushing him, and pushing him. And I’m gonna keep doing that.

“But he’s made some very significant progress there.”

Although Johnson has had a couple off-nights this year, like his three points on 1-for-8 shooting against Clemson, his level of consistency has been the most notable aspect of his improvement.

Johnson's emergence has fans in Chapel Hill thinking big this season. (Todd Melet)

Johnson’s emergence has fans in Chapel Hill thinking big this season. (Todd Melet)

Naturally a quiet personality, Johnson admits that the expectations that come along with his recent hot streak do scare him a bit.

That’s where Williams comes in, always preaching to him what he’s capable of—regardless of whether he’s in the mood for it.

“It does help for him to say a couple of things that’ll motivate me to get me into the right frame of mind,” Johnson said. “But I don’t necessarily need him to do that.”

As the season goes on and the Tar Heels continue to win, Johnson’s star will continue to shine brighter.

And with it, Williams’ chances at his third—and the school’s seventh—national title will continue to grow larger, potentially cementing this odd couple in UNC history forever.

No matter what happens though, there’s one thing you can always expect Williams to say about his big man, given what they’ve been through together.

“With Brice, you gotta understand,” he said. “Brice is still Brice.”


Roy Williams Remembers Dean Smith

As Chapel Hill and the nation mourns the passing of former UNC Coach Dean Smith, tributes from notables are pouring in from far and wide.

Current Tar Heel Head Coach Roy Williams reflected at a press conference on Sunday.


The Tar Heel “Circle of Life”

The sun rises bright and high each morning over the African desert, much the same as it should hang over our own Dean E. Smith Center this winter. As King Mufasa once ruled over all of the animals while nurturing his son, Simba, so Coach Roy Williams will resume his quest to once again rule the ACC Kingdom by preaching the UNC Point Guard “circle of life” to his own Simba: point guard extraordinaire Marcus Paige. The question lies in whether or not Simba can get a little help from his friends this year, with the departures of James Michael McAdoo and Leslie McDonald.

Coach Roy Williams (UNC Athletics)

Coach Roy Williams (UNC Athletics)

It may be the easy conclusion to say that it all starts and ends with number five for the Heels, but that kind of pressure is unwarranted for Marcus Paige. Recent history under Roy Williams and his fast-breaking offensive style has proven time and again that yes, he needs a star up-tempo point man, but that player, whether it be Raymond Felton in 2005 or Ty Lawson in 2009, is not going to win a conference or national title alone.

In order for Paige to avoid passing out in the desert like Simba, and for him to reach the lofty goals set out for the team this year, he’ll need some help from his Timon and Pumbaa. J.P. Tokoto and Kennedy Meeks will each need to take a big leap forward to ease some of the burden on their leader. If Paige is going to take on the Felton/Lawson role in Williams’ scheme, Tokoto and Meeks should aim to fill roles previously filled with names like Rashad McCants and Danny Green or Sean May and Tyler Hansbrough. Tokoto has the size and athleticism to be an NBA wing player, but is still lacking confidence and consistency with his outside jumper. Meeks also looks to be a prototypical pro-level stretch power forward. With the 6’9” 270 pound body and strength he possesses, he should increase his rebounding production this season, but it’s his offensive potential, and his three-point range, that gets scouts talking about what this kid could grow up to be. The exact statistical production won’t necessarily be replicated simply because each season’s team is different; but it seems that for Roy Williams, his title teams have adhered to a distinct blueprint.

Roy’s national title teams had a few clear factors in common. Point Guards Felton and Lawson had each spent their first two years on campus proving their talents while failing to meet tournament expectations. Each of them was also surrounded by proven and talented players all over the floor, just as experienced. Seniors even earned significant playing time with those squads, which seems to be becoming rarer by the year in college basketball. By the time of each point guard’s junior year, their respective teams were both talented and experienced enough that opponents essentially had to pick their poison every time they played the Heels; production could come from anywhere on any given night. There was just that much talent and consistency on the court.

Marcus Paige (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige (Todd Melet)

Fast forward to this year’s bunch, and what we have is one element that lines up and most others that don’t quite fit. We have Paige, the talented junior point guard, ready to make the leap and seize control of his kingdom. However, as talented as we know Tokoto, Meeks, and Brice Johnson can be, they have yet to demonstrate consistency throughout a full season. Incoming high school McDonalds All-Americans Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson will also play key roles on the wing. Jackson, a talented and rangy 6’8” offensive player from Texas, and Pinson, an athletic 6’6” small forward hailing from nearby High Point, are without a doubt high class talents. Talent does not always replace age and experience, which is the main ingredient this group will lack.

As the season progresses the key for the Tar Heels’ run at the ACC and potentially national crowns will rest with Mufasa’s development of his cubs. Coach Williams will teach and Simba will lead. Whether or not expectations are met will likely be determined by how well the rest of the pack learns and develops together.

Meanwhile, across the triangle in Durham, Mufasa’s brother Scar seems to have grown jealous of Simba’s potential claim to the throne. Coach Mike Krzyzewski has added his own uber-talented protégé this offseason in center Jahlil Okafor from Chicago, and the Blue Devils appear to be reloading.

Although Louisville and Virginia may have other plans, the ACC crown looks like it could easily end up mirroring a couple of alpha-male lions dueling it out in the desert (or on Tobacco Road) at the very end. It would only be right to have it all come down to Simba versus Scar, March 7th inside the Dean Dome. We’ll all hope for our sake that it plays out just like the movie, with Simba on top looking down at his kingdom (and returning for a senior season).


Drug Case Delayed For Ex-UNC Player Will Graves

HILLSBOROUGH — The misdemeanor drug case against former North Carolina basketball player Will Graves has been delayed until July.

Graves was scheduled to be in court Monday, but Orange County assistant district attorney Jeff Nieman said the case was continued until July 1 because Graves is playing professionally in Argentina.

Police in Chapel Hill cited Graves with simple marijuana possession and drug paraphernalia on Dec. 6 while he stayed at a residence owned by Tar Heels coach Roy Williams.

A team spokesman said at the time that Graves was paying rent to stay there while working toward his degree and as a part-time video coordinator for the team during the fall semester.

Graves, who wasn’t arrested, issued a statement apologizing to Williams, the school, family and friends.


Will We See The Old McDonald?

It’s difficult not to notice that as Leslie McDonald has gone of late, so have the Tar Heels.

McDonald, who returned to the lineup on Dec. 18 vs. Texas after missing the first nine games of the regular season for receiving impermissible benefits, had a solid game vs. the Longhorns with 15 points.

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications

Like his teammates, however, McDonald struggled through a 3-of-8 effort at the free throw line in the 86-83 loss to the Longhorns. The Tar Heels were a dismal 24 of 47 at the charity stripe.

He went on to play fairly well in the next three games, netting a total of 34 points in wins over Davidson, Northern Kentucky and UNC-Wilmington. McDonald hit a respectable 11 of 23 field goal attempts, including 5 of 12 trey attempts.

McDonald has slumped severely in his last three tilts, though, failing to reach double-figure scoring in ACC setbacks to Wake Forest, Miami and No. 2 Syracuse.

He totaled just 19 points in all while hitting just 7 of 30 field goals. McDonald hasn’t stopped launching three-pointers, but hit just 3 of 17 attempts.

McDonald recently said he won’t be afraid to shoot, however, despite his struggles.

“You’ve got to keep looking forward and keep being aggressive. That’s the one thing. If your shot is not falling or you’re not very confident, keep being aggressive. As a team, we need to do that,” McDonald said.

McDonald, the lone scholarship senior on this season’s North Carolina roster, averaged 7.2 points and 2.1 rebounds in a reserve role in 2012-13. He was suspended for three games during his junior campaign for academic reasons.

UNC vs UNC Pembroke 001McDonald seemed contrite about his actions for the most recent ban, but was excited about his return.

“I feel blessed to play again for Carolina,” McDonald said in a UNC release at the time. “I truly regret putting my family, UNC and my teammates and coaches through this. I apologize to everyone who cares about the University of North Carolina and will do what I can to make up for it. You never know how much you love to play the game until you are not allowed to…”

Although head coach Roy Williams lost P.J. Hairston for the season in a similar matter when the program didn’t seek his reinstatement, he was pleased to have the talented McDonald return.

“Leslie has been a sensational teammate and worked hard in practice to help our team. He understands what he has already lost and wants to really enjoy this second chance. Leslie has one more semester to contribute to our team and finish his degree. I feel sure he will be truly dedicated to accomplishing both of those goals.”

The Tar Heels will need more from McDonald and his teammates as they take on Boston College Saturday afternoon at the Smith Center and hit the road for Monday’s tilt at Virginia. UNC returns home the following Sunday for a matchup vs. Clemson.


Chansky: The Fed-Up Factor

Frankly, who could blame Roy Williams if he got so fed up that he quit after the season?

Fans who are quick to criticize Ol’ Roy and those inside the university who have made his job harder and his life miserable ought to think about that.

royWhere would UNC be if another casualty of the three-year scandal was losing its Hall of Fame coach who is as sensitive as he is hard-nosed? He has enough problems with a 10-6 basketball team whose talent level is lower than in any other of his previous 10 seasons at Carolina, with no apparent pros on the roster.

It is conjecture, but how the P.J. Hairston story unraveled sure looks like Williams took one for the team in the decision to bounce his leading scorer for good. Both Williams and Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham had said publicly that they expected Hairston back sometime this season, but they could no longer fight the mounting evidence.

After the announcement that UNC would not apply for Hairston’s reinstatement, Roy said he could understand the various points of view. And P.J.’s family expressed displeasure with the university’s decision. Both of those reactions would support the theory that it was not merely the NCAA’s call.

A more plausible explanation is that Hairston was heading for a substantial suspension until more damning evidence came to light while the UNC Board of Governors kept pushing for a stronger stand to demonstrate it was getting tough on athletics. So it looked like a Carolina basketball player was thrown out of the program for the first time in more than 50 years.

Then, of course, came the regrettable hyperbole by UNC learning specialist Mary Willingham that one of Williams’ players could not read or write. While most Tar Heel athletes are not Rhodes Scholar candidates, one of them being completely illiterate seems patently impossible. UNC admissions director Steve Farmer said as much.

On most campuses, there is a segment of the faculty that is either over-protective of the academic mission or anti-athletics, or both. At UNC, that segment has a louder voice than at many schools playing Division I sports, perhaps because former Athletic Director Dick Baddour came from the faculty side and did not do much to control the volume.

A constant push-pull between admissions and athletics does little to underscore the fact that big-time college sports is really a self-sustaining corporation that, in UNC’s case, balances a $75 million budget without financial help from the university. In fact, athletics often sends money across the street to South Building.

In its worst iteration, such an ongoing conflict can chase coaches away. That is NOT what UNC wants to do with Williams and Larry Fedora, whose high-profile programs are seen as the front porch of the university that help fund-raising, the applicant pool and branding through national exposure to the largest subculture in America.

When Willingham and faculty members like Jay Smith, who apparently have been concerned for years, take their cases to the regional and national media instead of trying to affect change from within, the question of motive arises.

Willingham supposedly gets off on being “ranked” on several whistle-blower websites. And Smith seems to like the role as ad-hoc spokesman for the faculty, appearing on sports talk shows and as one of the first sources the media contacts. Now he says he’s writing a book.

At the heart of this matter is the small percentage of “less prepared” athletes who are mostly black male football and basketball players. All schools who want to compete at the highest level in those sports must take some of these special admits.

And it seems logical they would be drawn to African-American history, like Jewish students take courses at the Center for Jewish Studies, musicians major in music, burgeoning actors take drama classes. It is their heritage, so why not study it?

What is wrong with admitting these kids, most of whom are being given the chance of a lifetime and come from communities that help them become great athletes but do not prepare them for college? Where would they go if they never received college scholarships? Probably nowhere.

There are likely as many 4.0 students who don’t graduate as these less-prepared kids who might have undiscovered learning disabilities or who just test poorly. With the proper help, they can improve their lives dramatically by getting athletic scholarships. A few will become pro athletes, but others will benefit from the socialization they receive on campus and make alumni contacts that could lead to good jobs when they get out of school. Some may even go back to their communities and help the next generation of kids get better prepared for college.

Isn’t that a mission of a state university?

So what do we have here? Some academic procedures and principles that were violated and have since been corrected. And a continuing controversy that the national press has jumped all over to report on issues they really know very little about. Mostly, a prevailing feeling that the story will never end and keep hurting our reputation and attempts to move beyond it.

Photo by Todd Melet

Photo by Todd Melet

About this time in Roy Williams’ 15-year tenure at Kansas, he had some problems with an administration that had turned over. It led him to break his pledge to remain at KU and eventually come back to UNC, where he has had even more success as a coach than he did in Lawrence.

At 63, he is unlikely to go to another school or an NBA team. But with grandchildren he adores, more money saved up than he could ever spend and on-again, off-again health issues, Williams could reach the point where he feels under-appreciated and decides to walk away.

A long shot, probably, but a scenario worth thinking about for some people who are letting ego, grandstanding or their prejudices toward athletics and athletes dictate some destructive actions.