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The Tar Heels appear to have a stacked lineup of scoring options that includes transformed returning players in Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks and uber-talented freshmen like Joel Berry and Justin Jackson.
And although UNC’s best player remains Paige, ironically, the Tar Heels may end up a better team come March if Paige’s scoring average takes a drop from last season – that would mean other big-time offensive threats have emerged.
A decline in his stat numbers isn’t an issue for the humble Paige. He says he would enjoy not feeling like he has to force the issue with the ball in his hands.
“I feel less pressure. I still think I need to be aggressive and try to create because it helps our team and offense. Coach has been telling me that’s what I should do. I’m going to listen to him. But I feel less pressure to force the issue as much. There will be times that I have to call my own number. But with Brice being a year older and hopefully, getting ready to make a jump in production and Kennedy looking a lot better, we shouldn’t have to have me forcing a lot of the situations,” Paige says.
Head coach Roy Williams has hinted at the possibility of playing multiple point guards at once this season. He’s done it before. His 2002 Kansas team featured a trio of point guards in the lineup and that year, the Jayhawks reached the Final Four.
Paige has heard about that Kansas team on more than a few occasions from Coach Williams. He says he wouldn’t be surprised to see a few “little guys” running around the Smith Center soon.
“I’ve heard that story like a million times. It’s definitely a possibility this year. We’re going to have to find minutes for Joel and Nate. They’re too good to keep off the floor. Obviously, I want to be on the floor too. There’s going to be times we’ll have multiple little guys out there, but I think we can make it work,” Paige says.
Despite Coach Williams’ adamant reminders to his players that Paige is the premier player on the Tar Heel roster; he says Paige has handled it well.
“I know I’ve repeated this at least three times, ‘that is our best player, and don’t everybody forget that.’ And if that’s the case, we should give him more opportunities to do some things. He handles that really well. There’s not a conceited bone or selfish bone in the boy’s body,” Coach Williams says.
But Paige is looking for the supporting cast to move into starring roles this year. Since he’s stepped foot in Chapel Hill, Paige says he’s never been a part of a more balanced team.
“My freshman year we shot a lot of threes with Reggie [Bullock] and P.J. [Hairston]. Last year, we either threw the ball inside or I was creating from the outside. There wasn’t a whole lot of flow and balance in that regard. This year, we have a little bit of everything. I think we’re going to run more, which should help that balance. Guys get running and it opens up the perimeter. I would say this is definitely the most balanced offensive team,” Paige says.
Despite all his accolades and accomplishments, Paige has a glaring hole in his collegiate resume – a Final Four appearance.
“Personally, I have set the goal of at least making it to the Final Four. That’s something I’ve wanted to do since I’ve got here. This team is capable. We have the players and chemistry. We just need to apply what Coach has been teaching us and enforcing in practice,” Paige says.
The ultimate team player, Paige would no doubt gladly accept a drop in his gaudy statistics if it meant the Tar Heels were still dancing in Indianapolis come April.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/less-paige-reduced-pressure-score/
The preseason college basketball rankings are out, and UNC is in the top 10.
The Tar Heels are No. 6 in the USA Today coaches’ poll, released on Thursday. That’s the 40th time UNC has been ranked in the preseason top 10 – and if you’re wondering, the Tar Heels finished the season in the top 10 in 31 of those previous 39 years.
The USA Today coaches’ poll began 1950; this is the 65th year of the poll. Of those 65 years, Carolina has been ranked somewhere in the top twenty-five 61 times and somewhere in the top ten 52 times.
The ACC is well-represented as a whole, with four teams in this year’s preseason top 10: Duke is No. 3, Carolina is No. 6, Virginia is No. 8, and Louisville is No. 9.
As per usual, this year’s preseason No. 1 is Kentucky. UNC will face the Wildcats on Saturday, December 13.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-6-preseason-coaches-poll/
October is Roy Williams’ favorite time of the year. In preseason practice, the UNC basketball head coach says he can spend time truly teaching his players and sculpt a team identity for the season ahead.
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In 2012, Coach Williams says his Tar Heels were a broken Kendall Marshall wrist away from a sixth NCAA Tournament championship.
Since then, UNC has been mired in off-the-court issues, most prominently featuring P.J. Hairston. Coach Williams says the last couple years have been tough, but it has reaffirmed his love for the game.
“In 2012, we were a broken wrist away from what I thought was the best team in the country. The last two years, there has been more junk than I would like to deal with. It’s made the job not as much fun. But one thing that it’s done is to confirm what I truly love is being on the court with the kids. The last two years, that’s been my salvation,” Coach Williams says.
The last two seasons, UNC has struggled to put both inside and outside scoring together. But Coach Williams says this year’s bunch of Tar Heels has the potential to be much more balanced.
“I think there’s more balance. We have to play like it. I want the perimeter guys to play really well, and then you have a really good team. We do have some people in there. Now they have to step up and do it,” Coach Williams says.
Despite the enormous potential and numerous media outlets placing the Tar Heels inside the top 5 of their preseason rankings, Coach Williams stops short of calling this year’s lineup “ideal”. He has another All-Star squad in mind.
“It’s not ideal. If it was ideal, I would have Marcus, Marvin, Tyler, Tyler and John. That would be ideal because we could do everything. This team hasn’t shown yet on the court against other teams that they can do everything. We still don’t have anybody that’s proven they can be an inside scorer,” Coach Williams says.
It remains to be seen who may emerge as that dominant force under the basket. A beefed-up Brice Johnson and a fitter Kennedy Meeks serve as a couple of the prime candidates.
But it has been made clear by Coach Williams, as if it needed to be crystallized any further, that Marcus Paige is the best player on the floor.
Paige, a preseason All-America pick, will be hoping to have more offensive support in his junior campaign. Coach Williams says he wishes he had a full roster of Marcus Paiges to play.
“He’s a complete basketball player. He’s our best shooter, probably the best driver and best defender. If I had five of them at the same size, we would be really good,” Coach Williams says.
For now, Coach Williams is embracing the preseason – an opportunity to develop and mold his Tar Heels into the Final Four team they all say they want to be.
“I love this time period – the teaching, trying to mold the guys. Trying to mold a team is trying to get everybody aimed at one objective and make sacrifices for the common goal. That’s a big challenge. Getting everybody to make sacrifices towards a common goal is one of my thrills,” Coach Williams says.
UNC opens Smith Center action Oct. 24 with a 7:30 p.m. exhibition game against Fayetteville State.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/roy-williams-relishing-molding-season/
UNC junior Marcus Paige has been busy picking up some tips from past Carolina legends over the summer and is expecting a Final Four-caliber team to hit the hardwood in the Smith Center come November. In a recent interview with GoHeels.com’s Adam Lucas, Paige discussed his preparations.
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“We have lofty goals, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t. We have a lot of the same guys coming back and incorporated three guys that I think will help us out a lot. We need wings and guys that can score, and I think those guys can do that. I think we have the pieces. We just need to put them together,” Paige says.
With Paige’s return, the Tar Heels welcome back one of the nation’s premier point guards to Chapel Hill.
A season ago, Paige was named a second-team All-American and voted the ACC’s most improved player thanks to his team-leading 17.5 points per game and a conference-leading .877 free throw percentage. He was also the first Tar Heel point guard to earn first-team All-ACC honors since Phil Ford in 1976.
Paige says he’s learned invaluable lessons from former Carolina stars Raymond Felton and Kendall Marshall. It just so happens, that duo happens to play the same position.
“I pick up little things like how they’ll tell the big guy to adjust the ball screen, how they read the top foot of the defender, and which way they want to attack. You can pick up a lot, especially from them, because they’re both so crafty. They use their skill set more than their athleticism, which is similar to what I do,” Paige says.
But there’s another more recent Tar Heel who Paige credits with preparing him to be more of a vocal presence in the huddle this season.
“Seeing James Michael [McAdoo] do that a lot during our winning streak last year – he became more vocal and you could tell he really matured and got comfortable being that leader. Seeing him do that has helped me adjust my leadership form more of a ‘lead by example’ to being able to get on guys. I think the fact that my teammates respect me enough to listen to what I’m saying definitely helps that,” Paige says.
As far as head coach Roy Williams’ expectations, Paige says Coach wants him to continue to hit the gym hard and become stronger at driving the ball to the basket.
“He wants me to do a lot of the same things that I worked hard on last summer, in terms of making strides in the weight room, getting stronger and getting ready to handle thirty-plus minutes a game again. Also, he wants me to work on my skill set as far as finishing around the basket and becoming even more of a consistent jump shooter,” Paige says.
Paige isn’t kidding about improving his accuracy. He’s aiming to shoot at least 50 percent from the floor in the upcoming season.
There’s also been a notable change in offseason motivation for the team as a whole. Paige says his workouts haven’t been as lonely lately. He’s noticed an abundance of “gym rats” this year.
“Every time I try to get in the gym, somebody else is in there, whereas a lot of times in the past, I’ve found myself in there by myself or maybe one other person. Now, we’re working out together. This team has more gym rats on it than we’ve had in the past,” Paige says.
A combination of fresh, eager talent and a healthy belief in the championship mettle of the squad have seemingly led to a more focused summer for Paige and the rest of the Tar Heels as they prepare for promising season ahead.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/primed-paige-maturing-unc-leader-accompanied-gym-rats/
Sophomore UNC forward Kennedy Meeks will be a whole lot lighter when he takes to the Smith Center floor in 2014. A now fully fit Meeks says he’s grown into a smarter and more physical basketball player heading into year two in Chapel Hill.
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Meeks has rededicated himself to the game of basketball in the offseason. The talented forward says during his maiden Carolina campaign, he didn’t always understand how hard he needed to work to compete at the elite level.
“I think for my freshman year, learning that is not easy. Everything is earned, not given. It’s a pretty long season. You have to work hard every day in practice – even off the court. I think that’s very important to our team this year. I think we learned a lot of lessons from last year that we can carry over to this year,” Meeks says.
But now, Meeks appears to be putting in the hard yards and embracing the rigors of college basketball. And that starts with his body. Meeks is sculpting a new body image for himself. The sophomore big man has dropped nearly 45 pounds in a year.
Last summer, Meeks weighed in at a whopping 315 pounds, but these days he’s checking in at a trim 270.
The drop in weight has allowed Meeks to begin throwing down windmill dunks. In fact, he recently saved his teammates from running wind sprints at the end of practice when he displayed his newfound move to Head coach Roy Williams.
Meeks says his greater explosiveness is not only due to his loss in weight, but his stronger mind as well.
“It’s not easy. I think it’s the mental part. It’s really going out onto the court and being a demand on the inside. I think that’s what I’m trying to do right now,” Meeks says.
Meeks credits determination and more intelligent diet choices for his ability to transform his body and get into prime playing shape.
“Eating right, working out, and being determined. Being a sophomore, I just eat better and am smart with my food choices,” Meeks says.
Even with the excess baggage, Meeks was a big-time performer in high-profile contests as a freshman. He saved his best for last in the Round of 32 NCAA Tournament loss to Iowa State. Meeks posted 15 points and 13 rebounds in 31 minutes of play.
However, Meeks only averaged 16 minutes per game for a reason. He struggled to keep pace with Coach Williams’ track-meet offense, often finding himself gasping for air.
But Meeks says his game continues to be taken to the next level this summer with help from former Tar Heels like Sean May.
“Sean May’s just telling me to keep playing hard, defend, make smarter plays on offense, and get farther out from the basket and shoot. I think he’s really been a good influence this summer,” Meeks says.
The off-court issues surrounding the current Tar Heels still rages on. But Meeks says he and his teammates are doing their best to concentrate on what they can control in preparation for next season.
“I don’t think we let it affect us as much as it did when it first started. We have to put that behind us and focus on our season. It’s pretty important to make Coach [Williams] happy and make our fans happy,” Meeks says.
One thing is for sure. A slimmed down Meeks in 2014 promises to bring a smile to the faces of Coach Williams and Tar Heel fans everywhere.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/healthier-fit-meeks-fired-round-two-chapel-hill/
Although mired in the hovering dark cloud of academic scandal and being largely overshadowed these days by the likes of uber-talented Duke and Kentucky nationwide, Head Coach Roy Williams’ Carolina squad is quietly going about its business this summer.
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Taking advantage of a new NCAA policy enacted a couple seasons ago that allows teams to meet two hours per week for official summer practice, the Tar Heels are getting their first real look at some fresh new faces.
It’s a crash course for the young guys, veteran Jackson Simmons says.
Joel James says the summer provides a relatively low-pressure training ground for the new guys before getting thrown into the crucible of the ACC basketball season.
Simmons also says it’s a vital opportunity for the older players to get to know the strengths, weaknesses and tendencies of their new teammates.
But summer practice is not only a wading pool for the incoming freshmen to ease in and get their feet wet. It’s brutal competition, too.
With the wide array of Tar Heels in the NBA, the summer affords current Carolina players the chance to test their skills against seasoned professionals in pick-up games. That’s not bad preparation.
So how are the Tar Heels looking? Well, one name that’s been popping up so far this summer is Kennedy Meeks. The sophomore reportedly continues to get in better and better shape, shedding a few extra pounds.
That’s music to the ears of Coach Williams.
Notably, Nate Britt has made the switch from shooting left-handed to right-handed in the offseason. That news was met with perplexity by many observers. But early reports say Britt has been shooting lights out in recent pick-up games.
Another prominent returning UNC player’s name that’s been circulating around is Joel James. James says his injury last December derailed his momentum on the floor.
But signs are pointing towards a James that could be much more of a dominant force inside – a welcome development for the Tar Heels.
Most preseason projections place Carolina in somewhere between No. 5 and No. 10 in the rankings, but for now, the UNC players, young and old, seem focused on seizing the summer, taking care of their own business and improving each day.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/veteran-rookie-tar-heels-seizing-summer/
It turns out embattled former UNC shooting guard P.J. Hairston won’t be leaving the state of North Carolina to embark on his NBA career. The Miami Heat traded Hairston to the Charlotte Hornets in a deal involving Connecticut star Shabazz Napier.
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It was a bit of a psyche-out for Hornets fans late Thursday night as the franchise, in dramatic fashion, ended up swapping Final Four MVP Napier for former Tar Heel Hairston.
The cards all seemed to fall in place for a trip to the Queen City for the man who scored 707 points in 71 games for Carolina in two seasons on the floor.
Last season, Hairston played for the Texas Legends in the NBA Development League after UNC chose to not file for the junior’s reinstatement from the NCAA.
Head Coach Roy Williams was notably disturbed by the Hairston saga last summer that spiraled out of control and ultimately ended in the demise of Hairston’s career at the college level.
But the UNC coach says he’s excited for P.J. and that he’s “happy that he will play in state and for another Tar Heel, Michael Jordan.” Famously, Jordan is the owner of the freshly re-minted Hornets.
Hairston is the 15th Tar Heel under Coach Williams to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. Overall, the Greensboro native is the 46th first round pick from UNC.
Coach Williams, who has always maintained tremendous confidence and belief in his former players, says “life has given him another opportunity and he will take great advantage of that chance.”
It will be fascinating to see what Hairston makes of this second chance. Apparently he’s done enough to convince Hornets general manager Rich Cho that he’s grown up and learned from his past mistakes.
Hairston says playing in the D-League really matured him and that he now has a “smaller circle” of outside acquaintances, keeping his family closer.
His play on the court, though, has certainly been sparkling. With the Legends, Hairston averaged 21.8 points on 45 percent shooting from the field.
Nothing is a done deal, but with the lack of long-range shooting in Charlotte’s roster, Hairston may add some more significant “buzz” to the Hornets next season.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/p-j-hairston-getting-second-chance-charlotte-hornets/
The ACC’s finest and of course, some of Carolina’s will feature heavily in the 2014 NBA Draft set to get underway Thursday night at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
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Duke’s Jabari Parker has Joel Embiid to thank if he snags the top pick in this year’s NBA draft. Embiid, the standout freshman sensation at Kansas a season ago, has seen his stock slide due to his foot injury.
Regardless, Parker is set to make an immediate impact at the next level. The Cavaliers will have their eyes firmly set on Parker and another Jayhawk, Andrew Wiggins, for the top pick.
Another ACC star who should come off the draft boards early Thursday night is N.C. State’s T.J. Warren. Tar Heel fans will likely never forget the stunning duel between the Wolfpack star and UNC point guard Marcus Paige at PNC Arena in Raleigh a season ago.
Warren, who averaged 25 points per game last season, has made his final curtain call in ACC action, but most experts have the ACC Player of the Year’s draft stock rising thanks to his exceptional workouts.
Expect a team like the Orlando Magic, who could use a dynamic wing player, to nab Warren with the No. 12 selection.
Another intriguing prospect from Tobacco Road is the embattled P.J. Hairston. Hairston spent last season lighting up the NBA Development League in Texas. While there, he shot 45.3 percent from the floor and 87 percent at the free-throw line.
The Greensboro native will be hoping to squeeze into the lottery picks, but it’s more probable to see Hairston going somewhere between 15-24 in the selections.
By the way, the Charlotte Hornets are in need of some explosive offense and notably, have pick No. 24. So don’t rule out a short trip down to Charlotte for Hairston.
Duke’s Rodney Hood is expected to go early as well. At 6’8”, Hood has the size and shooting ability to attract general managers across the nation. Expect Hood to go somewhere in the 8-14 pick window.
Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels is another top prospect on this year’s draft board. His athleticism will have a lot of team executives salivating. McDaniels will likely sneak into the top 20 Thursday night.
The difference between being selected in the first and second round is huge. Getting picked in the first round guarantees a contract. Second-round selections aren’t promised anything.
And that’s why James Michael McAdoo’s decision to forego his senior season at Carolina was so puzzling. No analysts or draft gurus have the former Tar Heel going in the first round.
It should be a night mixed with suspense, relief, and celebration for many of the ACC’s brightest lights. All the hard work could pay off big-time with a dream realized and a massive check in tow.
They’ve thrilled fans everywhere with their sparkling play at the collegiate level, but the final chapter in their basketball career is set to begin.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/acc-unc-feature-prominently-2014-nba-draft/
Most of the focus on the Carolina basketball team in the upcoming season will justifiably be centered on Marcus Paige, J.P. Tokoto and the incoming trio of highly touted freshman. But there’s a familiar name returning to the Tar Heel roster for another crack at some memorable moments.
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Tar Heel fans everywhere remember the moment when a skinny high school-looking kid with a mop haircut and a bounce in his step was thrust center stage into the NCAA Tournament pressure cooker when point guard Kendall Marshall went down with an injury.
That’s the last time Stilman White dribbled a basketball in Carolina uniform – in a painful 80-67 loss to Kansas in the 2012 Elite Eight.
Well, he’s back. But Carolina faithful may struggle to recognize White this time around. He’s the scrawny little kid no more. While completing his obligatory two years as a Mormon missionary, White says he’s bulked up.
White gained weight while going door-to-door sharing his faith in his suit and tie during his mission service.
One thing is for sure. The scenery will look a little different from the last time White was in Chapel Hill. Luke Davis, Desmond Hubert and Jackson Simmons are the only remaining players from the 2011-2012 squad.
But White is getting acquainted with guys like Nate Britt, Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks as they attend summer school classes together.
The newly-minted “sophomore” says the biggest shock to the system upon his return is how fast everybody is. White, however, is determined to get back in shape and be 100-percent prepared for the season come November.
With so much new talent flooding through the Smith Center doors to join an already capable UNC team, exactly how much playing time White will see remains in doubt.
Nobody knows what’s in store for the matured White during the rest of his Carolina playing days, but it’s certainly another exciting storyline to keep an eye on in the coming months.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/stilman-white-ready-second-act-chapel-hill/
In recent weeks, the Carolina basketball program has been marred by the disturbing allegations made by former player Rashad McCants. But before too long, attention will once again shift to happenings on the court and there will be a trio of talented fresh faces on the floor for the Tar Heels.
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Justin Jackson, the 6’8”, 185-pound wing player is expected to arrive in Chapel Hill shortly to begin summer school classes.
The man from Texas says he’s already putting in the work in the weight room necessary to bulk up and prepare himself for the physical play that awaits him in ACC action.
Additionally, he’s enlisted the aid of former NBA player and coach John Lucas to sharpen his on-court skills. Jackson went through a dramatic growth spurt in high school, but maintains a precise jump shot that has him comfortable anywhere on the floor.
The sky appears to be the limit for Jackson, who was named the co-MVP of April’s McDonald’s All-American game thanks to his game-leading 23 points on 11-14 shooting. That’s the kind of sharp shooting Head Coach Roy Williams has been searching for.
Joel Berry, a two-time state champion and three-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Florida, is primed to make some noise in Chapel Hill. Berry will add even more depth to the Carolina roster.
He’s still recovering from a bone bruise in his ankle that has limited his mobility, but upon regaining strength, Berry’s physicality is impressive.
One of the most notable aspects of Berry’s game is his defensive intensity, especially on the perimeter. The Tar Heels have notoriously struggled to guard the three-point shot in recent years. An added boost in that department could pay dividends.
There’s one more incoming freshman to keep an eye on. The lanky 6’6” Theo Pinson combines athleticism with quickness. The Greensboro native can still handle the ball despite his towering height. As a high school senior, Pinson averaged 23 points per game and led his team to its second straight state championship at Wesleyan Christian Academy.
Coach Williams says he likes bringing in proven winners. Pinson certainly fits in that category.
It remains to be seen what type of immediate impact this tantalizingly talented trio can make in the SmithCenter come November, but their progress will be followed with much interest by the entire college basketball world.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/freshmen-frenzy-set-shake-chapel-hill-tar-heels/