Tar Heels Storm Back To Down K-State; Claim CBE Classic Title

For a moment on Tuesday night it appeared as if the No. 9 ranked UNC men’s basketball team was on its way to its second loss in three games.

The Tar Heels were down by eight points with less than five minutes to play, but then exploded on a 21-3 run to defeat the Kansas State Wildcats 80-70–in Kansas City–to win the CBE Hall of Fame Classic Championship.

“I told ‘em at the three-minute and 28 second [mark] that I felt like we were in good shape—that our team could be made right now” UNC head coach Roy Williams said after the game. “A team is made during the season. It’s not made in preseason practice.”

Justin Jackson's star continues to rise after winning tournament MVP honors. (Todd Melet)

Justin Jackson’s star continues to rise after winning tournament MVP honors. (Todd Melet)

Williams now sees his team improve to 5-1 this season, all while senior point guard Marcus Paige sits with a broken hand.

The late surge–which included a rare dunk by Kennedy Meeks and three-pointers from Joel Berry and Theo Pinson—helped hand the Wildcats their first loss of the year, dropping their record to 4-1.

It also spoiled a career night for Kansas State guard Kamau Stokes, whose hot shooting touch carried his team, and led to a game-high 24 points.

“The Stokes kid, he was really something,” Williams said. “If I’m not mistaken he had made four threes in all their games previous to this one. He made six of ‘em today—six out of eight. One time I think we fouled him, and he still made it.”

Sophomore wing Justin Jackson continued his recent dominance for the Tar Heels, dropping 22 points and handing out six assists—his third straight 20 point effort. He was also named the tournament’s MVP when it was all said and done.

Not wanting to see that type of production go to waste, the wiry, 6-foot-8, Jackson brought his teammates close and delivered a simple message in the closing moments.

“I called everybody together and I said, ‘We’re only gonna do this together,’” Jackson said. “We had four minutes to do it. And so we went out there got a few stops, got some good shots, and guys knocked ‘em in.

“From here on out,” he continued. “When we play together, and when we get defensive stops like Coach tells us we need to do–we can play with anybody.”

The frontcourt duo of Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson combined for 26 points, while Theo Pinson added 11.

The Tar Heels will now get a week off before taking on the nation's No. 2 ranked team. (Todd Melet)

The Tar Heels will now get a week off before taking on the nation’s No. 2 ranked team. (Todd Melet)

However, it was clear that the team could use Paige back as soon as possible.

Guards Joel Berry and Nate Britt contributed just 12 total points on 4-of-14 shooting, while turning the ball over five times.

Williams was happy to escape Kansas City with the win, but the coach says these games take their toll on his body as he ages.

“I’m only so old, there’s only so many little hops I got left out there,” Williams said, referencing his trademark jumps he does when he gets angry. “I think [we] can build on it. But what [we] need to build on is to see it on tape and see the mistakes [we] made that put [us] in that spot. And then change those.

“And then see the enthusiasm and the effort that [we] had there at the end—and then build on that.”

Up Next:

Next up for the Tar Heels is a long Thanksgiving break before coming back next Wednesday to take on the nation’s No. 2 ranked team, the Maryland Terrapins—possibly with Paige back in the lineup.

Game Notes:

  • Brice Johnson led UNC with 10 rebounds, but no other Tar Heel even had five.
  • Not until the Tar Heels scored with nine seconds remaining did either team hold a double digit lead.
  • UNC shot 55 percent in the second half after making 39 percent in the first.



No. 1 Goes Down: Tar Heels Shocked by Northern Iowa

As the UNC football team was cementing its spot as number one in the ACC Coastal Division on Saturday, the top-ranked UNC men’s basketball team was doing the opposite–likely relinquishing its claim as the best team in America with a 71-67 upset loss to Northern Iowa on the road.

This game was originally scheduled by the Tar Heels to be senior point guard–and Iowa native–Marcus Paige’s “homecoming.”

But Paige could only watch as his team had a nine-point halftime lead grow to 16, before it slowly slipped away in crunch time. He has been sidelined since Nov. 3 with a broken hand.

The loss drops head coach Roy Williams and his team to 3-1 at the beginning of the year, while Northern Iowa improves to 2-1 with the stunning victory.

Up 41-32 at the break, UNC got a career game out of sophomore wing Justin Jackson–who snapped out of his early-season slump to score a personal-best 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting, including a trio of three-pointers.

The Tar Heels now must regroup for a game Monday in Kansas City against Northwestern. (Photo: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

The Tar Heels now must regroup for a game Monday in Kansas City against Northwestern. (Photo: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Only the frontcourt tandem of Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson were able to join Jackson in double figures, though, as the Tar Heels struggled to find scoring against the stingy Panther defense. Both players finished with exactly 10 points, despite the fact that Meeks’ scored all of the team’s first eight to begin the day.

Senior guard Wes Washpun connected on a three-quarter court heave for Northern Iowa right as the halftime buzzer sounded–giving some slight foreshadowing on what was to come. For the game, Washpun led the home team with 21 points and eight assists, while fellow senior Matt Bohannon added 19.

After a short jumper by Johnson found its way through the net with just over 17 minutes left in the second half UNC held a commanding lead, ahead 50-34.

Over the next eight minutes is when everything went down the drain, as the Panthers stormed back with a 29-8 run to put themselves in control.

Perimeter shooting proved to be the difference, with Northern Iowa making 11 shots from downtown compared to just five for the Tar Heels. UNC’s defense was also a bit shaky, as the experienced Panther guards continually beat Jackson, and guards Joel Berry and Nate Britt off the dribble.

None of Carolina’s 13 missed threes were as crucial as one by Berry with under 20 seconds remaining, and UNC down by three.

After the shot clanked off the rim, Berry ended up with the ball again at the top of the key–but misfired on a cross-court pass afterward.

The pass was intercepted by Northern Iowa and the Tar Heels were forced to intentionally foul–ending their hopes of getting Paige a win in his return home.

Up Next:

UNC will face a quick turnaround, as they are set to begin play in the CBE Hall-of-Fame Classic in Kansas City on Monday. The Tar Heels open up with a game against Northwestern–coached by former Duke assistant Chris Collins–before potentially facing either Missouri or Kansas State on Tuesday.

Game Notes:

  • Joel Berry came back to earth after playing outstanding in the first three games. In this one he finished with just five points and three assists–while picking up four fouls and turning the ball over three times, including the crucial late-game situation.
  • Brice Johnson’s double-double streak came to an end at three, as the senior finished the game with six rebounds to go along with his 10 points–the first time he’s failed to grab 10 boards.
  • Marcus Paige was in uniform, and was given special recognition on the court before the game by the Northern Iowa PA announcer.
  • UNC has now lost to three different Iowa schools in the last three years (Iowa State in 2014 NCAA Tournament, Iowa in December of 2014, and now Northern Iowa).



Top-Ranked Tar Heels Head to Northern Iowa; Paige Goes Home

When the No. 1 UNC men’s basketball team tips off its game against the Northern Iowa Panthers tomorrow it will be a bittersweet moment for senior point guard Marcus Paige.

Although the Tar Heels are 3-0 so far with Paige sidelined due to a broken hand, this game was scheduled so that Paige could have a “homecoming” game in his native Iowa.

Instead, he’ll have to watch from the bench in a suit and tie, as his teammates look to continue their recent success without him.

In place of Paige, the Tar Heels will likely continue to start sophomore Joel Berry II at the point guard spot–while bringing in junior Nate Britt off the bench to help share the duties.

Berry played a team-high 36 minutes on Wednesday against Wofford, while no other Tar Heel crossed the 30-minute plateau. He has averaged 15 points and 4 assists during his time as a starter, but UNC head coach Roy Williams has said he would like to see him take better care of the ball. In each of the Tar Heels’ three outings, Berry has turned it over three times.

Roy Williams and company will be on the road for their next three games. (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams and company will be on the road for their next three games. (Todd Melet)

With Paige’s perimeter shooting viewed as the attribute UNC would miss the most, it’s been a welcome surprise for Williams to have Britt come in to games as the sixth man and knock down shots. To this point, the junior is 8-for-12 from beyond the arc, and has provided plenty of spacing to allow the big men to do their work down low.

Pounding the ball into the paint should be a focus for the Tar Heels in this game, since the Panthers don’t have a single upperclassman on their roster at the forward or center positions.

Northern Iowa presents a formidable challenge for the Tar Heels, but they are not exactly the same group that went 31-4, and was ranked as high as 10th in the country last season. Only two starters from that team–guards Matt Bohannon and Jeremy Morgan–are back this year for head coach Ben Jacobson; but the pair has combined to average 33 of the Panthers’ 72 points per game during the team’s 1-1 start.

Coincidentally, UNC has one of the best, most experienced frontlines in the nation–starring senior Brice Johnson and junior Kennedy Meeks. Each of those two players is averaging a double-double (Johnson: 16 PPG, 11.7 RPG, Meeks: 16.3 PPG, 10.3 RPG) to begin the year.

Should the Tar Heels execute their game plan and take advantage of the inexperienced Panther frontcourt, they could very well leave Iowa with another easy victory, and leave their leader–Paige–with a big smile on his face.


No. 1 UNC Overcomes Lack of Energy to Beat Fairfield in Home Opener

In their home opener at the Dean Dome on Sunday afternoon, the No. 1 ranked UNC men’s basketball team improved to 2-0 on the year with a sluggish 92-65 victory against the over-matched Fairfield Stags.

Winners of just seven games last season, Fairfield has now opened this year 0-2. However, the Stags didn’t go down without a fight.

Nate Britt matched his career-highs in both points and three-pointers made against Fairfield. (Todd Melet)

Nate Britt matched his career-highs in both points and three-pointers made against Fairfield. (Todd Melet)

The Tar Heels led by just eight points at halftime, and were still ahead by the same single-digit margin with just 12 minutes to play–before turning up the intensity down the stretch.

UNC head coach Roy Williams, as you might imagine, was not too pleased with how his team played early on.

“Needless to say, the score doesn’t tell the story of the game,” Williams said afterwards. “I thought we had a lack of execution, a lack of effort, and toughness out there early.

“They had all those things that we didn’t have. That gave them a little bit of an emotional lift and I challenged our guys to come out and play better [after halftime].”

Seven Tar Heel players scored at least eight points in a balanced workman-like effort against Fairfield’s zone defense. Leading the way was junior guard Nate Britt, who came off the bench to match a pair of career-highs—scoring 17 points while also draining four shots from behind the three-point line.

Afterwards, though, Britt was in no mood to enjoy those numbers, instead echoing Williams’ sentiments on how this one played out.

“As a whole we just needed to pick up the intensity,” Britt said. “We didn’t come out as intense as we should have, and they were getting all of the 50/50 balls, they were crashing all the boards—and we didn’t do a good job in either one of those categories.

“I wanted our bigs to work a little bit harder on the inside so we could get them the ball,” he continued. “But we took a lot of shots from the outside in the first half and most of them weren’t going down.

(Photos from UNC vs. Fairfield)

“I feel like we did a better job of those things in the second half, and that’s why we were able to pull away.”

Despite the time it took to get the ball rolling, senior forward Brice Johnson finshed with a double-double, posting 16 points and 11 rebounds. Sophomore wing Theo Pinson also played a big role, stuffing the stat sheet with 11 points, eight assists, and five rebounds.

But many of those numbers came after Coach Williams laid into his team at the break—something Pinson’s fellow sophomore, Justin Jackson, described to the media.

“Coach really challenged us, [saying] ‘If we really love this game, then why are we not playing like it?’ Jackson said. “I think if we play defense like we’re supposed to—obviously on offense we have a ton of weapons, so that’s not a problem—but if we play defense like we’re supposed to and finish it, I think we’ll be alright.”

Roy Williams gives his team a much-needed pep talk. (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams gives his team a much-needed pep talk. (Todd Melet)

Fairfield was led by senior forward Marcus Gilbert, who poured in 25 points as one of only two Stags to score at least 10 points.

Joel Berry added 15 points and four assists for the Tar Heels starting in place of the injured Marcus Paige at point guard, while Jackson added 11, and junior forward Kennedy Meeks scored eight–grabbing a team-high 12 rebounds in the process.

Despite the early woes, a win is a win no matter how it comes. Williams says he thinks his team will be fine in the long run, but added that the lack of energy Sunday was definitely unsettling.

“It was a surprise to me because it was [the] home opener,” the coach said. “I think we were all so excited about the football win yesterday, maybe we still had that glory in our heads, instead of going out there and playing.”

“I was beginning to wonder if we were gonna score as many as our football team scores.”

Up Next:

The Tar Heels will continue play in the CBE Hall-of-Fame Classic on Wednesday, as they’ll remain at home to take on the Wofford Terriers. Tip-off for that game will be at 7 p.m.

Game Notes:

  • Carolina is now 99-7 all-time in its home openers, and has now won its last 14 of them.
  • Pinson’s 11 points and eight assists were each career-highs.
  • Britt is shooting 70 percent from beyond the arc so far, knocking down 7 of his 10 attempts from long range in the team’s first two games.
  • The Tar Heels out-scored Fairfield, 22-0, in points off turnovers. That’s the first time since Jan. 3, 2015, at Clemson, that UNC did not allow a point off a turnover. Carolina has committed just 19 turnovers in the first two games.




Meeks and the Tar Heels Feeling Good So Far Without Paige

Coming off a dominant 91-67 win against Temple in their first game of the regular season, the No. 1 ranked Tar Heels look to continue their stellar play on Sunday—as they host the Fairfield Stags at the Dean Dome in the year’s first real home game.

Junior forward Kennedy Meeks led the way against Temple with 25 points and 11 rebounds, showing off a slimmer frame and some nice touch around the basket–but still his head coach, Roy Williams, would like to see more from his big man as the season progresses.

“He is more explosive, there’s no question about that,” Williams said after Friday’s game. “Other than [his] first shot, I thought he had great choices on his shot selection. He could have passed it out a little quicker out of the double team and re-posted.

“I keep challenging him, I’m not gonna anoint him. Because it was 25 points and 11 rebounds–and they had one true post player playing most of the game.”

A majority of Meeks’ points came in transition as the Owls struggled to keep up with the athletic ability of UNC’s big men.

Sophomore guard Joel Berry says that’s part of the team’s overall strategy, and is something that will likely carry over into Sunday’s game with the Stags—another team likely to concede a significant size advantage.

“Get the ball out and run,” Berry said. “That’s what we wanted to do, that’s what we like to do. Kick the ball ahead and let our big men go down and pin their big man under the rim.

“And that’s how Kennedy was able to get some easy baskets,” he added.

Meeks’ effort was part of a collaborative team goal to have everyone step up their level of play while senior point guard Marcus Paige remains on the sidelines with a broken hand.

“That’s our main focus right now while he’s gone, is just to come together and be even stronger while he’s out,” Meeks said. “He’s a great player, great leader—we miss him—but as of right now we have to focus on Fairfield next.”


UNC Shakes Off Slow Start, Beats Temple 91-67 to Open 2015-16

It took a little while for them to shake off the preseason cobwebs on Friday night, but when they did, the No. 1 ranked Tar Heels cruised to a 91-67 victory over the gritty Temple Owls in the Veterans Classic Basketball Tournament held at the United States Naval Academy.

A career-high 25 points from junior forward Kennedy Meeks–who also had 11 rebounds–helped UNC start its regular season 1-0 despite the absence of star point guard Marcus Paige, sidelined with a broken right hand.

“Our whole thing before the beginning of the game was just to get the ball down low, and get it as low as possible,” Meeks said after the game. “That’s what we did. It was for all the bigs. It just so happened some of my shots were going through.”

The loss sends the Owls to an 0-1 start after they won 26 games a year ago.

Joel Berry filled in nicely for Marcus Paige, as the Tar Heels opened their season with a win over Temple. (J.D. Lyon Jr./UNC Athletics)

Joel Berry filled in nicely for Marcus Paige, as the Tar Heels opened their season with a win over Temple. (J.D. Lyon Jr./UNC Athletics)

UNC head coach Roy Williams was pleased with the way his team executed on offense, but was less than thrilled with what he saw on defense–especially during the first half.

“[Temple head coach Fran Dunphy] chose tonight to spread it and drive us a little bit because we had the advantage inside, and they made it very difficult for us,” Williams said. “Over the course of the game, though, I thought we did some good things as well.

“Scoring in the lane [it was] 42-14–we felt like we had an advantage with our big guys and we wanted to get it there,” the Hall-of-Famer added. “But we did want to guard better than we guarded.”

Temple jumped out to a five-point lead early in the game, and played the Tar Heels to a 34-34 tie as halftime neared. But sophomore Isaiah Hicks’ lay-up with 2:28 remaining kick-started a 13-2 UNC run that brought the score at the break to 47-36.

Key to that run were a trio of three-pointers, two from junior guard Nate Britt, and one a deep heave from sophomore Theo Pinson that went through three seconds before the buzzer.

PHOTOS: UNC vs. Temple

Britt and sophomore Joel Berry each filled in admirably for Paige running the offense–as Britt finished with 15 points and an assist off the bench, while Berry tacked on 14 points and dished out four assists.

“With [Paige] being out we just have to step up and everyone has to take on different roles,” Berry said. “And as you [saw] tonight we were able to do that.

Senior forward Joel James (42) fights for a loose ball. (J.D. Lyon Jr./ UNC Athletics)

Senior forward Joel James (42) fights for a loose ball. (J.D. Lyon Jr./ UNC Athletics)

“Kennedy and Brice [Johnson], I mean, Brice stepped up in the second half and Kennedy just played a great game the whole game,” he added. “So other guys are getting involved, and that’s what we need.”

Meeks’ tag-team partner in the post, Johnson recovered to finish with a double-double of his own. The senior scored 16 points and grabeed 10 rebounds after entering the break with just four points and three boards.

The margin of victory was impressive not only because of Paige’s injury, but because UNC also received just four points from sophomore wing Justin Jackson–expected by many to have a breakout campaign.

Leading the way for the Owls was a Clemson transfer, Devin Coleman, who put up 19 points–16 of which came in the first half.

Up Next:

Sunday marks the Tar Heels’ regular season home opener, as they return to the court to host the Fairfield Stags at 4 p.m.

Game Notes:

  • Britt was ejected from the game with one minute to play for leaving the bench during an altercation–which started when Johnson hung on the rim after a dunk, and was pushed to the ground by Temple guard Levan Alston.
  • The Tar Heels showed a much-improved shooting stroke as a team, going 7-of-12 from long range in the game.
  • UNC also outrebounded Temple 49-32, dominating down-low in all sorts of ways.
  • No Tar Heel player scored more than 24 points in a game all of last year (Paige in the ACC Championship Game against Notre Dame).



Minus Paige, No 1. Tar Heels Ready for Temple

The men’s college basketball regular season officially kicks off Friday night for the nation’s No.1 team—as the Tar Heels are in Annapolis, Maryland to take on the Temple Owls in the Veterans Classic.

UNC head coach Roy Williams will be without his star point guard– senior Marcus Paige—who broke his right hand last Tuesday in practice when he got it tangled in a teammate’s jersey.

With Paige set to be out for at least a couple more weeks, Williams is expecting the rest of the team to rise to the challenge—but doesn’t want anyone feeling like they have to be super heroes.

Nate Britt (0) is expected to split time with sophomore Joel Berry in place of Paige at point guard. (Todd Melet)

Nate Britt (0) is expected to split time with sophomore Joel Berry in place of Paige at point guard. (Todd Melet)

“I don’t want anybody to think they’ve got to raise their level a hundred levels,” Williams said during Wednesday’s press conference. “Because then all of a sudden you turn stupid.

“[I’ve been telling them] try to get at a different level than you’ve been playing at , try to play closer to your potential than you have, and give a little extra,” the coach continued. “I don’t want Justin [Jackson] thinking he’s Michael Jordan or Kennedy [Meeks] thinking he’s Shaq or anything like that.”

Sophomore Justin Jackson is expected to emerge as a breakout star this season out on the wing, while the Tar Heels boast one of the top returning frontcourts in the nation with junior Kennedy Meeks and senior Brice Johnson.

But it’s the guards—Joel Berry, Nate Britt, and freshman Kenny Williams—that will have to be heard from the loudest while Paige’s hand recovers.

“Joel [Berry] has been playing fantastic all preseason,” Paige told reporters in his first meeting with the media since the injury. “I’m excited to watch him develop.

“All the guards—Kenny Williams even—[their] chances are gonna go up tremendously in the next couple weeks,” he added. “So getting to see how they mesh and how they progress is gonna be really fun. And I think they’ve come a long way.

“This will be good to test them early and to also get them around 30 minutes a game to get experience so when we get rolling, they will have seen everything.”

This game will be no cakewalk either, as Temple returns six of its top eight scorers from a team that won 26 games a year ago. The Owls also have a head coach, Fran Dunphy, with 503 career wins and 15 NCAA Tournament appearances on their resume.

Opening against this kind of quality opponent has affected the way the Tar Heels have prepared in practice.

Jaylen Bond (15) and the Owls bring back a large portion of last year's 26-win squad. (Cooper Neill/ Getty Images)

Will Cummings (2) and Jaylen Bond (15) returned to Temple after being part of last year’s 26-win squad. (Cooper Neill/ Getty Images)

“If you’re playing someone like Temple, you’ve got to limit what you do [in practice] and do those things very, very well,” Williams said. “And [we] wanna be sharp offensively and defensively because part of the outcome of the game is gonna be how [we] play.

“Some of the times when you’re playing some people, but you’re just more gifted, you’re gonna win the game–so you’re not as concerned about that.”

Broadcast Information:

The game is set to tip off at 7:00 p.m. and will be carried live on WCHL’s airwaves, and televised on the CBS Sports Network.

Note of Interest:

Wednesday was National Signing Day for high school athletes across the nation.

UNC picked up commitments for next season from three members of the 2016 class:

  • Tony Bradley, a 6-10 forward from Bartow, Florida.
  • Brandon Robinson, a 6-5 guard from Lithia Springs, Georgia.
  • Seventh Woods, a 6-2 guard from Columbia, South Carolina.

Seniors Have Loaded UNC Basketball Team Thinking Big

With his team returning nine of its top ten contributors from last year’s run to the Sweet 16, UNC Head Men’s Basketball Coach Roy Williams said at the team’s media day on Monday that he has the deepest squad he’s had during his thirteen years at the helm in Chapel Hill.

High expectations have surrounded the Tar Heels in each of their two national championship runs under Williams, in 2005 and in 2009. But as talented as this year’s team is, its head coach is not quite ready to make that lofty comparison just yet.

“In ’05 I thought we were if not the best, one of the two best teams in the country,” Williams said. “In ’09 I thought we were the best. I think this year we’re one of the best.

“And if we play the best down the stretch, then we could be the best,” he continued. “But there’s a big difference there.”

Roy Williams watches over practice on Monday. (UNC Athletics)

Roy Williams watches over practice on Monday. (UNC Athletics)

A balanced mix of young talent and experienced leaders—led by seniors Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson–have the Tar Heels looking like one of the top five teams in the country entering this season.

Although Paige and Johnson are great players, they aren’t viewed as high NBA draft picks, which is why Williams expected them to return and help lead this bunch to the promise land.

“There’s no Tyler Hansbrough and there’s no Harrison Barnes, but we got a pretty dadgum good basketball team out there,” Williams said. “Marcus could have left. Brice, it was gonna be a very chancy thing for him, and I think he made the best decision to try to come back,  and continue to improve.

“Marcus getting his degree has been very important to him since day one,” he added.

Hampered by plantar fasciitis for the majority of last season, Paige is fully healthy now, ready to defend his status as one of the nation’s top players.

The team’s starting point guard for the majority of his three years on campus; he may have to do that by spending more time this year at the shooting guard position–making way for talented sophomore Joel Berry, who praised Paige for always looking out for him no matter the situation.

“He’s always encouraging, and that’s the great thing about Marcus,” Berry said. “He never tries to put you down or anything. He’ll tell you what you did wrong, but at the end of the day you just have to listen to what he says, and not how he says it. He just wants to win, and that’s what I want to do too.”

Players like Berry and his fellow sophomores–Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson—are the guys who will need to make the leap for the Tar Heels to meet their goals this season. Paige is a known commodity at this point. These guys showed flashes during their freshman year, but now it’s time to become consistent.

For what it’s worth, Paige has the utmost confidence in their ability to do just that.

The sophomore class, Pinson (1), Berry (2), and Jackson (44), are expected to provide a major boost. (UNC Athletics)

The sophomore class–Pinson (1), Berry (2), and Jackson (44)–is expected to provide a major boost. (UNC Athletics)

“My younger teammates, they’re all five-star recruits—Joel, Justin, and Theo—and now that they’re a little more experienced they kind of have an expectation for themselves, and they kind of know a little bit more of what to do,” Paige said. “Now I’m just the guy that sits back and steers the ship, rather than trying to control everything that goes on, and bark at guys the whole time.”

With Paige patrolling over the young backcourt, Coach Williams expects Johnson to do the same thing down in the low post.

Along with junior center Kennedy Meeks, Johnson knows he’ll have to take on more of a leadership role as a senior—even if it means going against his natural personality to do so.

“I try to do everything I can that Coach tells me to do,” Johnson said. “It’s just [that] I’m not the most talkative person. I’ve never been the most talkative person. I’m a lot more talkative off the court than I am on the court.

“That’s just one of the things with me growing up,” he added. “I have to be able to talk more on the court and help my teammates on the defensive end, and even help out the freshmen when they mess up on a play in practice.”

Since Paige and Johnson arrived at UNC in the fall of 2012, the Tar Heels have not been able to hang a single banner. No conference titles. No national titles.

It’s been a rough past few years for the program, relatively speaking.

But when Paige looks at the talent on this roster, it’s tough for him to hold back when he thinks about his own personal expectations for the year.

“Going into the season it’s hard not to think of anything but a trip to Houston [for the Final Four] being a success for us, and anything less not meeting what we’re capable of,” he said. “I’ll just leave it at that.”


Earth to Art Chansky: It Wasn’t About the Women

Editor’s note: Art Chansky’s Sports Notebook on July 14th was about UNC Coach Sylvia Hatchell. Chansky followed with a longer Art’s Angle on the subject of Coach Hatchell on July 15th. The commentary below is from Mary Willingham and Jay Smith of paperclassinc.com, and was published to their blog on July 16th, but only in response to the July 14th Sports Notebook. On July 20th, Art Chansky shared his answer to their blog post in a Sports Notebook. Mary Willingham’s commentary can be heard on WCHL in an abbreviated version on July 21st. Below is the full version.

In a recent commentary on WCHL, ardent UNC sports fan Art Chansky revealed his strategy for combating the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations [NOA] against the university’s athletic program: Blame it on the women! Complaining of women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell’s (alleged) behind-the-scenes efforts to lobby for a contract extension comparable to the one recently offered men’s coach Roy Williams, Chansky griped that “an exit strategy should be [Hatchell’s’] play.” After all, Chansky claimed, “Hatchell’s program is in the most serious trouble from the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations,” given the high profile of women’s academic counselor Jan Boxill in the email documentation provided in the NCAA report. The whole NCAA investigation is a “witch hunt” with many victims, Chansky suggested, but the uncomfortable reality for women’s basketball is that “[Roy] Williams’ program was not cited in the NOA and Hatchell’s was.” Hatchell should therefore prepare herself to leave UNC “with grace.”

The propaganda purposes of this particular commentary are obvious even by Chansky’s standards. No team is “cited” in the NOA if by cited one means singled out for likely punishment. As a team and as a program, women’s basketball is cited in the NCAA document no more and no less than any other team or program. (The NCAA’s NOA did note, however, that the “special arrangements” used for eligibility purposes at UNC had particularly benefited “the sports of football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball.”) Chansky, in other words, is only continuing and amplifying the PR drumbeat that Roy Williams, Larry Fedora and others began some weeks ago, presumably at the urging of university lawyers. They have repeatedly announced that the big-time men’s revenue sports would seem to be in the clear and should expect no further punishment from the NCAA. They would have us believe that the NCAA is prepared to give football and men’s basketball a free pass even after the exposure of decades’ worth of fraud that clearly benefited the football and men’s basketball teams. And they are evidently all too happy to point the finger of blame in the direction of a women’s team in order to lower expectations about the sanctions likely to be imposed on the men’s teams.

Leaving aside the gender politics of this shameless PR strategy–will advocates for women’s sports stand by while male coaches, boosters, and UNC insiders labor to persuade the NCAA that the Crowder-Nyang’oro scheme was merely a big plot to help women?–Chansky and company face one very high hurdle in pursuit of their propaganda campaign. A mountain of direct and circumstantial evidence makes clear that UNC’s distinctive pattern of academic fraud was developed specifically to meet the needs of the men’s basketball team, and that the corruption reached its highest levels on Roy Williams’s watch. The first suspect independent study courses offered by Julius Nyang’oro in the late 1980s were offered to men’s basketball players, some of whom had abysmal SAT scores and perilously low GPA’s before they met professor Nyang’oro. Faculty friends in geography, French, and the school of education had been very helpful to the team throughout the 1980s. But when leadership of the AFRI/AFAM department fell into the laps of two allies of men’s basketball around 1990–Nyang’oro and his assistant Debby Crowder, whose close friend Burgess McSwain served as academic counselor for the men in her remote Smith center office–that department quickly became the go-to academic center for struggling (or academically uninterested) men’s basketball players. The fraud would morph into a multi-team and three thousand-student debacle before all was said and done, but men’s basketball was always first in line for favors and fake classes. The needs of men’s basketball always came first in the eyes of Debby Crowder. And the 2005 men’s team, whose roster was stocked with players for whom both McSwain and Crowder felt great sympathy, benefited from unprecedented levels of favoritism. The team as a whole took well over one hundred paper classes; as one would expect, the starters on that team benefited disproportionately from the scam. Star forward Rashad McCants has had the guts to admit this publicly and to show the evidence of the fraud in his own student transcript. His teammates, though quick to denounce him, have kept their transcripts hidden. It is unlikely that anyone else from that team–Sean May, Raymond Felton, Jawad Williams, Marvin Williams, Reyshawn Terry, Jesse Holley, etc.–will ever step forward with transcripts in hand to have a frank conversation about their classroom experiences. But the truth is in those transcripts.

Chansky, Williams, and the friends of men’s basketball would have the world believe that twenty years of bogus class scheduling was done without the knowledge of anyone actually connected to the men’s basketball program. Coaches (who are paid millions to know everything) supposedly knew nothing. The only academic counselor who was knowingly, inexcusably corrupt, they say, was philosophy instructor Jan Boxill, counselor for the women’s basketball team. This “powerful” figure, they say, corrupted women’s basketball of her own volition. Thankfully, all other counselors were innocent–even if it is unfortunate that they failed to detect the shenanigans of Crowder and Boxill.

The layers of absurdity in this line of argument become hard to distinguish. One might start, however, with the simple fact that Jan Boxill, whatever her flaws, was far more vulnerable than powerful. She was an untenured instructor whose employment at UNC was always partially contingent on her services to the athletic program. She was a highly valuable cog in the machine because of her go-between status and her ability to negotiate academic protocols for counselors who were physically segregated from the main arteries of the campus. But her great value also increased her vulnerability. She was pressured constantly by other personnel in the Academic Support Program to call in favors, to make phone calls, to ask for benefits that were “needed” by athletes with low GPA’s, travel commitments, or other handicaps.

Among the people who leaned heavily on Jan Boxill were the counselors for men’s basketball–first McSwain and then Wayne Walden, Roy Williams’s handpicked deputy who followed him to Chapel Hill from Kansas in 2003. When Roy Williams touts Walden’s ethics, he is not just blowing smoke. Walden was a decent guy who worked within a system that had been built long before he arrived. (Where is he now? Why won’t he and the other counselors step forward to tell their stories?) Walden had a conscience, and he was not happy to have to resort to “paper classes” and wink-wink independent studies courses to help keep certain players afloat. But he also knew what had to be done when push came to shove. Mary Willingham and Wayne Walden spent countless hours together in the old east end zone building talking about how difficult it was to keep challenged players eligible, and how much harder it was to navigate the UNC curriculum in comparison to the Kansas curriculum. (Thank the heavens for Debby Crowder and the few friendly faculty out there…) The course selection process they managed was never about offering players a world-class education; Willingham and Walden worked together–quite often with Boxill’s help, even more often with Crowder’s help–to keep basketball players eligible and in school. They were quite good at it, though Walden was constantly worried about getting Jan or Debby in trouble by asking for favors that would raise red flags. (One reason Boxill had so many emails to be plundered by Kenneth Wainstein and the NCAA: she worked in an office in Caldwell Hall, distant from the ASPSA. Deals, trouble-shooting, and schedule-engineering that were done face-to-face in the ASPSA had to be done through email whenever Boxill was involved. Conveniently for certain other key players in the drama, Boxill’s email was on the main UNC server rather than on the athletic server; her emails could not be expunged.)

Roy Williams has tried to take credit for steering players away from AFAM in 2006-7 (even as he disavows any knowledge of funny business in that department.) But the fact is, the transcripts of the 2009 national championship men’s team look different–with some but far fewer paper classes–only because a new fear of getting caught had set in around 2006. Remember the Auburn scandal and the panic it seems to have caused among ASPSA officials, the Faculty Athletics Committee, and Dean Bobbi Owen (who decreed that the numbers of AFAM independent studies had to be sharply reduced)? The upshot of the Auburn scandal, in the UNC men’s basketball program, was a new caution about cheating. The large-scale, team-wide stuff had to end. Paper classes, Walden decided, should be used only for the athletes who desperately needed them – such as the one guy who “couldn’t read very well.” That particular player, whose needs forged a particularly close relationship between Walden and Willingham (a reading specialist), took between ten and twelve paper classes. That figure–compiled in the years after Roy Williams claims that he cleaned up the basketball program–is significantly higher than the number of paper classes ever taken by ANY women’s basketball player. The number of AFAM majors on the men’s basketball team may have dropped off after 2005, but the need for paper classes remained (for both current and former players), and men’s basketball stayed at the front of the line at least through 2008.

Art Chansky and company are desperately trying to persuade the NCAA and the public at large that UNC’s course fraud scam was all about helping the women’s basketball team. Chansky urges Sylvia Hatchell to play sacrificial lamb for a UNC athletic department that benefited broadly and egregiously from academic fraud that unfolded over twenty years. The NCAA has all the emails, with all the unredacted names, and so one can assume that the Committee on Infractions will be able to hold up against the propaganda winds. But regardless of what the NCAA does or does not do, people of good conscience in and around UNC must not allow the dreams of Chansky, Williams, and Fedora to come true. Collective amnesia is not an option in Chapel Hill. Owning the reality of the scandal is important because only after accepting the true dynamic of the academic-athletic scandal–only after Tar Heels have come to terms with the fact that our love of men’s basketball and our passionate commitment to winning fostered an uncontrollably corrupt academic environment here–will the institution be able to move on with open eyes, a clean conscience, and a healthy plan for the future.

Chansky asks Hatchell to leave with “grace.” But grace has never been about willful blindness, nor should it be about taking one for the team. “Was blind but now I see,” goes the beloved lyric. Those touched by grace are not asked to go into exile; they are reconciled to a higher power and beckoned to a welcoming place (“grace will lead me home.”). Asking Sylvia Hatchell to go away is not the answer to UNC’s disgrace. The institution should instead be asking for its own gift of grace—the gift of clear-sighted reconciliation with the sins of its past.


One Last ‘Crack’ For Roy Williams, Tar Heels

A Sweet 16 exit wasn’t all that sweet for the Tar Heels in 2015, but with nearly everybody returning for another go next season, expectations will be extraordinarily high, even for Carolina’s lofty standards.

***Listen to the story***

It was certainly an up-and-down season for UNC on the hardwood.

Nagging injuries and a lack of consistent, reliable outside shooting didn’t help the Tar Heels out any either.

Kennedy Meeks battling inside (Daily Tar Heel)

Kennedy Meeks battling inside (Daily Tar Heel)

But off the court, it was especially difficult for Roy Williams, who lost his longtime mentor and Carolina basketball patriarch, Dean Smith.

However, Coach Williams says his players helped him overcome the adversity.

“I’d still coach my kids. They’ve been something else for me this year. It’s been a hard year, but man, they’ve been some great kids,” Coach Williams says.

Rising senior Marcus Paige says the team’s camaraderie is better than ever.

“It was a tough year for us as a program with everything that happened. But we have a great group of kids that enjoy being around each other – more so than my freshman year, more so than last year,” Paige says.

That ‘special’ bond between teammates bodes well for Carolina going forward, especially in a year that anything short of a Final Four would be considered a disappointment.

In fact, CBSSports.com has UNC ranked No. 1 nationally in its early preseason projections.

Roy Williams will be ready to give it his all next season (UNC Athletics)

Roy Williams will be ready to give it his all next season (UNC Athletics)

Despite not landing long sought-after recruit, Brandon Ingram, Coach Williams did manage to lure four-star player Kenny Williams away from Virginia over the weekend.

Williams is known as a sharpshooter from behind the arc. That’s an area the Tar Heels desperately could use some help. Taking some of the long-range scoring burden away from Paige and ever-improving rising sophomore Justin Jackson could pay off big-time.

Nobody knows that more than Roy Williams, who’s fired up and even ready to lay down his golf clubs, sensing the team is close to championship quality.

“I love golf. I love it, but right now I could care less. I want them to use this as fuel. The little lapses we mentioned – a failed box-out here, a missed free throw there. If we can take care of those little lapses, we’ve got a chance to be one of those teams that has a chance to talk about winning the whole thing,” Coach Williams says.

Back for his fourth and final year in a Carolina uniform, Paige says the Tar Heels will put the summer months to good use – to polish up their games and grow even closer together.

“College goes so fast. You only get four cracks at it. For the guys that do get to come back next year, we’re going to try to come together even more as a team, execute better and try to make something special happen,” Paige says.

In this ‘one-and-done’ era of college basketball, the Tar Heels will attempt to buck that trend next season, relying on a roster ripe with experience, talent and maybe most notably, hunger.