UNC junior forward J.P. Tokoto may be one of the most explosive athletes in ACC basketball. With a new season nearly here, Tokoto says he’s been improving his jump shot in the hopes of providing a scoring lift for the Tar Heels.
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Nobody questions Tokoto’s big play ability. He runs the floor like a cheetah, glides to the rim like an eagle and is capable of slamming the ball home with seismic authority.
But this season, the man from Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, is aiming to add another skill set to his arsenal – sharp-shooting.
“I feel great. I feel like I can knock anything down that’s in my range. I feel like I’ve extended it out to the three-point line. I feel a lot more comfortable working with Coach Davis [Hubert Davis]. Wait till the games roll around to see how I can implement it in the game,” Tokoto says.
With that said, UNC head coach Roy Williams has been quick to point out Tokoto’s bread and butter. Tokoto understands. He says he’s not losing sight of what makes him such a special talent on the basketball floor.
“One thing I’ve focused on is not forgetting other things I can do and do well. Like Coach would say, the first thing that comes to mind when you say J.P. Tokoto is not shooter, it’s dunker, rebounder and defender. While I was working on shooting, I was still doing those things and adding shooting as another weapon in the repertoire. I’m working on all aspects of my game,” Tokoto says.
Tokoto’s tenacious defense earned him a spot on the ACC All-Defensive Team in his sophomore season. His 55 steals led UNC’s roster.
This season, Tokoto says the sixth-ranked Tar Heels will need to provide more scoring help for preseason ACC Player of the Year Marcus Paige. With that kind of title, it’s easy to see why.
Opponents will do everything in their power to shut down UNC’s leading scorer. Who else will step up?
“We got lucky last year with teams not really expecting Marcus [Paige] to be that much of a scorer early on. Like any other team, they’re going to have scouting reports and film. They’re going to know who Marcus is. The more scoring help we can give from the wings and the big spot, the better we’ll be off,” Tokoto says.
Last year, Tokoto says outside of Paige, his teammates played passive on the offensive end. In order to accomplish their big dreams come tournament time, Tokoto knows the Tar Heels can’t be afraid of taking the shots.
“A lot of guys last year were more conscious of the shots they wanted to take. Marcus [Paige] had to pick up the slack. Guys were kind of afraid to take the shots. This year, if there’s more opportunities to score because of Marcus’ opportunities are being taken away by other teams, if we can capitalize, it will open Marcus’ scoring back up and make us that much better,” Tokoto says.
Tokoto finished last season in a flurry, scoring in double figures in seven of the last 10 games. He’s hoping to build on that momentum when the Tar Heels tip off their season Nov. 14 in the Smith Center against N.C. Central.
Last week, at ACC Media Day, the media picked the Tar Heels to finish second in the conference behind only Duke. Tokoto also likes UNC’s chances.
“We said last year we had the tools to be a great team. We had our great wins and our very bad losses. Last year, we still had the tools and it’s even better this year. It all comes down to how we implement it in the game, how hard we’re going to play and how mentally strong we’re going to be. Only time will tell,” Tokoto says.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tokoto-targeting-top-fear-tar-heels/
Low-post returning starter Kennedy Meeks could be an X-factor for the No. 6 North Carolina men’s basketball team this season. After losing nearly 50 pounds, Meeks is hoping his body transformation translates into more dominant play.
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UNC head coach Roy Williams has been challenging his players throughout the offseason. Who is going to rise up and stand alongside Marcus Paige as an elite performer?
“I’ve said this so many times I’m already sick of hearing it myself, but one or two of those guys needs to step and say, ‘I’m going to be a big-time player.’ I don’t think anybody questions that last year; Marcus stepped up and said, ‘I’m going to be a big-time player.’ Now, one of the post players has to step up, say that and not just be willing to run up and down the court and wait on Marcus to do something,” Coach Williams says.
Meeks believes the Tar Heels relied too heavily on Paige’s play a year ago. The sophomore from Charlotte says other teammates are ready to lift the heavy scoring burden off Paige’s shoulders this season.
“I don’t think we need to carry as much weight on Marcus as we did last year. I think we looked to him in situations more than we should have, but he always came through for us in every situation that we asked him to. He’s always going to be the No. 1 scorer, but I think me and Brice [Johnson] could be the ones that step up,” Meeks says.
Meeks should be much better equipped to run the floor at the frenetic pace Coach Williams likes to employ. Meeks says he’s proud of his weight loss, but sometimes, he has to do a double-take when he looks at himself in the mirror.
“I try not to be conceited about it, but it’s hard not to when you really know you’ve put the work in. I try not to be too conceited about it, but I’m very proud of myself,” Meeks says.
In his freshman campaign, Meeks earned ACC-All Freshman team honors from both the media and head coaches. But he was clearly gassed in numerous games, forcing him to take a seat on the bench.
Coach Williams says Meeks’ weight loss efforts are far tougher than what he’s asking him to do on the court. With that said, though, he says he wants the sophomore to be more aggressively-minded going forward.
“He’s running better and is more explosive. I want him to be more aggressive thinking. That doesn’t mean foul people. Get the ball and go stronger to the basket. You’re not carrying 285-295, explode up there and get it closer to the rim when you do it. I think he’s got to realize he’s worked his tail off to do something. He came in at 319. He’s in the 270-275 range now. That’s a lot more difficult than what I’m asking to do as a basketball player,” Coach Williams says.
UNC’s preseason practices have been tough. Meeks says he never forgets his mouth guard and calls the training “vicious”.
But so far, Meeks is happy with what he’s seeing from the Tar Heels.
“In practice, we’re hitting a lot more three-point shots. Also, we’re getting the ball in the post and being aggressive. I think that’s what is going to help our team this year – both on the perimeter and inside. I think it’s a great experience for us. I think we should continue to work on it,” Meeks says.
It remains to be seen whether Meeks will truly become the dominant inside threat that his teammates and many observers project he’ll be this season, but one thing’s for certain, his body won’t be the thing holding him back.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/transformed-meeks-poised-breakout-season/
Freshman Justin Jackson led five double-figure scorers as North Carolina cruised past Fayetteville State, 111-58, in an exhibition contest at the Smith Center on Friday night. The Tar Heels jumped out to a 22-5 lead in the first 8:34 of the game, then shot 61.5 percent from the floor after halftime to lead by as many as 53 and put the game away.
Jackson started the game and finished with 18 points on 6 of 9 shooting from the floor, including 3 of 4 three-pointers. He also had five rebounds, two assists and two steals while displaying poise throughout the game.
“[Justin] has an ability to score the ball and make some really good passes, particularly tonight in the first half, head coach Roy Williams said afterward. “He had two assists, but he had them back to back in the first half, and he made some good passes for us as well.”
All-America point guard Marcus Paige agreed, saying of Jackson: “He is big for a guard, he rebounds well and obviously he is really efficient. He doesn’t take bad shots and he doesn’t force anything. And he can knock down open shots. And he plays hard on the defense. You know especially for a freshman, that’s a big thing. He gives his best effort on the defensive end; he is going to be a big player for us.”
Jackson’s rookie classmates also played well, as fellow freshmen Theo Pinson (15 points, eight rebounds, 6 of 9 shooting and two three-pointers) and Joel Berry II (12 points, four assists and four steals despite 3 of 10 shooting) also had solid exhibition debuts.
Brice Johnson shot 2 for 6 but was stout in the post and had 13 rebounds, including nine on the offensive end. J.P. Tokoto had six points, seven rebounds and eight assists with just one turnover in 21 minutes, earning praise in Williams’ postgame press conference.
Sophomore Isaiah Hicks looked comfortable coming off the bench and playing in the post after a freshman season on the wing, providing energy as well as his 13 points (on 6 of 6 shooting) with five rebounds and three steals in 14 minutes.
“That is something that Coach [Williams] always talked to me about, just getting out there and being more aggressive,” Hicks said afterward in the Tar Heel players’ lounge. “Last year, it was like a deer in headlights, didn’t know what to do, just too nervous or something. This year, I just slowed down. Coach says when you’ve got a foot in the post, score. That’s what you want a big man to do. Take that and something you look at all of us to do, be aggressive and attack the rim. ”
Fayetteville State got 17 points from Juwan Addison and 10 from Marquette Hill.
Senior point guard Luke Davis was not in uniform for the game and will miss two to three months with a stress fracture in his right foot.
Both teams looked sloppy at times, as the Broncos committed 22 turnovers to Carolina’s 20. But the Tar Heels corrected things with their second-half shooting and held FSU to 31.4 percent shooting from the floor overall.
Good ball movement by the Tar Heels led to 25 assists on 39 made baskets.
“For us, it was good to get out and concentrate on basketball for a while and get some things done, and we were happy to do that,” said Williams. “I think it was good for us. I think we don’t play again until the next exhibition game on Nov. 7, and we’ll have some practices until then.”
Carolina’s second and final exhibition game of the 2014-15 preseason will come in two weeks, on Friday Nov. 7 against Belmont-Abbey in the Smith Center. The Tar Heels host North Carolina Central in the regular season opener on Nov. 14.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-routs-fayetteville-state-exo-related-links-turners-take-depth-charge-box-score-williams-wainstein-report-williams-full-postgame-postgame-quotes-paige-hicks-postgame-photo-album-sign-fo/
North Carolina basketball is back in season as the Tar Heels take on Fayetteville State at home Friday night in an exhibition match.
The Tar Heels are currently No. 6 in the 2014-15 preseason coaches’ poll, marking the 40th preseason top-10 ranking by the coaches.
That high ranking comes with the return of an impressive roster, led by junior Marcus Paige, who was named top point guard in the nation for the 2013-14 season by ESPN.com among a host of other honors. Paige will be joined at the point guard position by sophomore returner Nate Britt and freshman Joel Berry.
UNC’s front court is looking stronger this season, and much slimmer. Sophomore Kennedy Meeks made national attention this offseason by losing almost 50 pounds since stepping on campus in 2013, and fans are looking forward to see just how much the change will impact his game.
Carolina can expect improvement in another sophomore big-man, Isaiah Hicks, who was the star of a weekend exhibition trip to the Bahamas in mid-August. Hicks tallied a combined 32 points shooting 14-23 in two games. In 2013-2014, Hicks averaged just 1.2 points and 1 rebound per contest.
Fayetteville State finished with a 19-10 record in last year’s campaign and is predicted to finish third in the CIAA Southern Division this season. Senior forward Torian Showers averaged 9.1 points for the Broncos, scoring at 44.5% from the field alongside sophomore guard Josh Dawson, who averaged 9.4 points and 5.1 assists per game. Dawson is also the nephew of former Tar Heel player Jerry Stackhouse.
Carolina will host another exhibition game against Belmont Abbey on Friday, November 7 at 7:30 p.m.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-hosts-fayetteville-state-exhibition/
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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/