UNC Hopes Maui Invitational Brings Good Luck Yet Again

It may not make him much different from anyone else, but here’s a true story about UNC head men’s basketball coach Roy Williams.

He loves Hawaii.

When the bracket for November’s Maui Invitational was released on Wednesday he was plenty excited to talk about his upcoming trip–one that has brought the Tar Heels good fortune in the past.

The perfect temperatures, sandy beaches and deep blue oceans make Hawaii the ideal vacation spot.

But to use one of the greatest sports clichés of all time, the Tar Heels are supposed to be on a business trip—attempting to win three games in three days against a field full of tough major conference opponents

The bracket for the 2016 Maui Invitational--which takes place from Nov. 21-23. (Photo via @MauiInv)

The bracket for the 2016 Maui Invitational–which takes place from Nov. 21-23. (Photo via @MauiInv)

Making his tournament-record sixth appearance as a head coach, Williams knows more than anybody how tough it is to stay focused out there.

“First time I went [in 1996 while at Kansas], I thought it was the greatest preseason tournament I’ve ever been involved in,” he said during the tournament’s media teleconference. “I almost would not leave the islands–until they promised me I could come back four years later.”

If history tells us anything it’s that another trip to the Final Four could be in the cards for UNC depending on how the team performs in Maui.

In each of the three seasons–1999, 2004 and 2008–the Tar Heels took home the prize, they ended up reaching the Final Four later on that year.

Listening to Williams, it appears this year’s group led by veterans Joel Berry, Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks should have the right makeup to accomplish the feat again.

“It is a long trip, and you’ve gotta remain focused on why you’re going,” the coach said. “So you need experienced players that have been through it before.

“We’ve been successful sometimes, and sometimes we haven’t been as successful.”

UNC will get a break in the first round this season, as it was matched up with the host school—Division II’s Chaminade University. Although the Silverswords have pulled major upsets before, it’s highly unlikely in this instance.

UNC will need Joel Berry to step into a larger role this season, especially if the Tar Heels are going to win the Maui Invitational. (Todd Melet)

UNC will need Joel Berry to step into a larger role this season, especially if the Tar Heels are going to win the Maui Invitational. (Todd Melet)

Should the Tar Heels move on, they’ll play the winner of Oklahoma State and UCONN. Awaiting them in the finals could be one of four strong teams—including Oregon, a No. 1 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament.

In preparation for the early season gauntlet, UNC has already used each of its four summer practices as Williams gets his young players acclimated to the college game.

“My goal has always been—number one–let the freshmen understand what practice is gonna be like,” Williams said. “Number two is to talk to them and get them to understand the secondary break.

“And then three is the pace of the game that we want to play with,” he added. “To emphasize to them that they may think they’re in shape, but they’re nowhere near in shape to play.”

By November, every player should be in full game shape as the Tar Heels look to embark on yet another successful season.

And sure, it might not be the end of the world if UNC comes up short in Maui like it did back in 2012. But previous evidence says this vacation usually ends up a lot like Groundhog Day.

Win and good things happen. Lose and they don’t.

Only time will tell if that remains true.

http://chapelboro.com/featured/unc-hopes-maui-invitational-brings-good-luck-yet-again

NBA Free Agency: The Tar Heel Round-Up

UPDATED on Friday, July 15, 2016

 

The sports world was brought to its knees on the fourth of July when former Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant announced his intentions to sign with the Golden State Warriors in free agency–adding yet another layer to what was already the NBA’s most talented team.

Durant’s spotlight-stealing moment came just days after the Memphis Grizzlies re-signed point guard Mike Conley–a solid starter, albeit one that’s never made an All-Star Game–to the largest contract in NBA history (five years, $153 million).

A dramatic increase in the league’s salary cap caused by the league’s new nine-year, $24 billion TV deal has made this free agency period has one of the craziest of all time.

As many as nine former UNC players have found themselves on the market this summer–some hoping to cash in big and others hoping they can cash in at all.

This round-up is designed to keep you up to date on those former Tar Heels, and how they’ve been affected by the madness.

Harrison Barnes: Signed with the Dallas Mavericks (four years, $94 million)

Barnes won an NBA Championship in 2015 with the Warriors, but will move on to Dallas after Golden State signed Kevin Durant to replace him. (Stephen Dunn/ Getty Images)

Barnes won an NBA Championship in 2015 with the Warriors, but will move on to Dallas after Golden State signed Kevin Durant to replace him. (Stephen Dunn/ Getty Images)

As our own Art Chansky wrote recently, there may be no player who helped themselves more during this period than the former Golden State swingman.

The NBA Finals may not have gone his way, but he was rewarded soon after with a max contract and a spot on the U.S. Olympic roster.

Durant may have taken his job in Golden State, but Barnes will be just fine now that he’ll have a larger role with the Mavericks–not to mention the larger contract.

He’s expected to take over the starting small forward spot in Dallas after Chandler Parsons left Dallas to sign with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Marvin Williams: Re-signed with the Charlotte Hornets (four years, $54 million)

The former No. 2 overall pick in 2005 is coming off perhaps the best season of his career playing for owner–and Tar Heel legend–Michael Jordan.

Marvin Williams gave the Hornets a valuable asset with his shooting and rebounding combination as a stretch four. (David Richard- USA Today Sports)

Marvin Williams gave the Hornets a valuable asset with his shooting and rebounding combination as a stretch four. (David Richard- USA Today Sports)

He shot a career-high 40 percent from beyond the three-point line while averaging 11.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game–playing as a stretch forward who was able to help space the floor for dynamic point guard Kemba Walker.

Yahoo’s NBA guru Adrian Wojnarowski said Williams received offers from other teams that totaled more than $15 million per year.

However, the idea of remaining in Charlotte was much more appealing to the 11-year veteran.

Raymond Felton: Signed with Los Angeles (one year, $1.5 million)

Raymond Felton's list of free agency suitors may be down to the Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans. (Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)

Raymond Felton spent last year with the Dalla Mavericks. (Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)

Another lottery pick from the aforementioned 2005 draft, Felton has played for six teams in his career–spending the last two with the Dallas Mavericks.  He is joining Brice Johnson with the Clippers.

 

Tyler Zeller: Restricted Free Agent (Boston Celtics)

Despite seeing a significant decrease in playing time last season in Boston–his total minutes dropped from 1731 in 2014-15 to 710 in 2015-16–the Celtics tendered a qualifying offer to Zeller before the free agency period began.

Tyler Zeller is a restricted free agent, meaning Boston can match any offer he receives. (Rocky Widner/Getty Images)

Tyler Zeller is a restricted free agent, meaning Boston can match any offer he receives. (Rocky Widner/Getty Images)

What this means for the seven-footer is that he’s allowed to agree on a contract with any of the league’s 30 teams–but with a catch.

The Celtics have the right to match any offer that Zeller accepts, as long as it’s within three days of him signing that opposing deal.

Should Zeller end up unable to find a long-term contract he likes, he’d return to Boston to play out his one-year qualifying offer before becoming an unrestricted free agent next season.

Ty Lawson: Unrestricted Free Agent

After spending his first six seasons in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets becoming one of the league’s most talented–and quickest–point guards, Lawson has spent the last year in an unceremonious fall from grace of sorts.

An offseason arrest in Los Angeles for DUI–the fourth of his life–prompted a trade to the Houston Rockets, where he never quite fit in with stars James Harden and Dwight Howard.

Ty Lawson is hoping for a bounce-back year coming off a nightmare season spent between Houston and Indiana. (Foxsports.com)

Ty Lawson is hoping for a bounce-back year coming off a nightmare season spent between Houston and Indiana. (Foxsports.com)

Houston ended up agreeing to a buyout with Lawson midway through the season with the 2009 national champion at UNC averaging just six points and three assists per game–well below his career averages of 14 points and 6.6 assists.

He then spent 13 games with the Indiana Pacers before ultimately becoming a free agent again this offseason.

Although no suitors have emerged yet, Lawson granted an interview to Slam Magazine where he stated he hopes to play in an up-tempo system where he promises a “new Ty Lawson” will flourish.

Tyler Hansbrough: Unrestricted Free Agent

In many eyes, Hansbrough is the greatest college player to ever step foot in Chapel Hill.

Tyler Hansbrough has struggled to find a consistent role in the NBA in recent years. (Brian A. Westerholt/ Getty Images)

Tyler Hansbrough has struggled to find a consistent role in the NBA in recent years. (Brian A. Westerholt/ Getty Images)

Unfortunately, the ACC’s all-time leading scorer has yet to make his mark at the next level.

Psycho T has set career lows in scoring over the last three seasons with the Toronto Raptors and Charlotte Hornets. His peak came during his second full season with the Indiana Pacers, as he scored a career-high 11 points per game back in 2010-11.

With Toronto his average fell to just 4.9 point per game in 2013-14, then 3.6 in 2014-15–before dropping just 2.4 per game last year with the Hornets.

Charlotte’s recent signing of 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert means it’s highly unlikely that the Hornets bring Hansbrough back for another shot.

Wayne Ellington: Signed with the Miami Heat (two years, $12 million)

The third free agent from UNC’s 2009 national title run, Ellington will be searching for his seventh team in eight seasons.

Wayne Ellington is spending the free agency period in search of his seventh team in eight NBA seasons. (Getty Images)

Wayne Ellington is spending the free agency period in search of his seventh team in eight NBA seasons. (Getty Images)

He declined a $1.5 million player option with the Brooklyn Nets in search of a more lucrative deal as a role player who can bring outside shooting off the bench.

A career 37.6 percent shooter from three-point range, Ellington will bring the most useful skill in the game to any team that he ends up with.

He was most recently in the news for winning the PBWA Citizenship Award, an honor he received for speaking out against gun violence in the wake of his father’s murder.

James Michael McAdoo: Re-signed with Golden State Warriors for One Year Deal

Although he’s played in just 56 games in his two-year career, McAdoo entered the public eye once again during the NBA Finals.

Like Harrison Barnes, James Michael McAdoo will also be moving on from Golden State during free agency. (Kelley L. Cox/ USA Today Sports)

Like Harrison Barnes, James Michael McAdoo will also be moving on from Golden State during free agency. (Kelley L. Cox/ USA Today Sports)

As a member of the Golden State Warriors, McAdoo was given crucial playing time as a way for the Warriors to maintain their preferred “small-ball” style.

ESPN’s Marc Spears reported that McAdoo had re-signed with the Warriors on Friday.

 

PJ Hairston: Unrestricted Free Agent

P.J. Hairston (19) faces an uncertain future in the NBA thanks to a combination of different factors. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports)

P.J. Hairston (19) faces an uncertain future in the NBA thanks to a combination of different factors. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports)

Hairston has struggled in his transition to the NBA, as he has yet to find the shooting stroke that made him such a threat as a Tar Heel.

In two seasons spent with the Charlotte Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies, Hairston has averaged just six points per game–even though he was a starter in Charlotte for the first half of last season.

Part of that is his career three-point percentage of just 29 percent when much of his game depends on outside shooting.

With his off-court troubles and attitude issues having been documented heavily in recent years, it’s unclear what the future holds for the enigmatic shooting guard.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/nba-free-agency-the-tar-heel-round-up

Roy Williams Gives Update on Condition of His Knee

Just about five and a half weeks ago–May 27 to be precise–UNC head men’s basketball coach Roy Williams underwent a total replacement of his right knee.

This past Tuesday, Williams ventured to Orlando to see the Tar Heels’ most recent NBA first-round draft choice, Brice Johnson, suit up in the Summer League for the Los Angeles Clippers.

While there, the coach stepped into the broadcast booth–where he answered questions from analyst Rick Kamla and another former UNC great, Vince Carter.

Williams hobbled through much of last season as his knee was giving him obvious discomfort. After offseason surgery, the issue should be behind him soon enough. (Todd Melet)

Williams hobbled through much of last season as his knee was giving him obvious discomfort. After offseason surgery, the issue should be behind him soon enough. (Todd Melet)

When Kamla asked Williams for an update on his health, the response was accompanied by the 65-year-old’s signature grin.

“The surgeon assured me I’d be able to play golf in August,” Williams said. “I said, ‘I’m gonna hold you to that.’”

Throughout the entirety of last season, it was even painful from the outside watching the Hall-of-Fame coach hobble his way onto the court and into press conferences–let alone what he must have felt on the inside being kept away from his beloved golf course.

“Last year I hurt every day,” he said. “At practice, I’d never sat down on a basketball court in 43 years until this past season.

“I asked Marcus Paige, ‘Marcus, does that bother you?” [Paige] said, ‘Coach, you sit down for 15 seconds then you get back up and keep going.’”

It’s that tireless work ethic that’s helped Williams achieve the type of success he has thus far in his storied career, and it’s the same mindset that should have him feeling much better entering this next season.

“I’m missing being able to get around,” he said. “I’ve got a cane but I can walk OK.

“The cane, the doctor said if you have that–people realize there’s something wrong with you and give you a little space,” Williams continued, with another hearty laugh.

He later stated in an assured manner that, “[The knee’s] gonna be better [this season].”

http://chapelboro.com/featured/roy-williams-gives-update-on-condition-of-his-knee

Joel James Added to Indiana Pacers’ Summer League Roster

After capturing the hearts of fans in Chapel Hill, former UNC big man Joel James will now try to charm the minds of pro scouts.

The 6-foot-10 James–a native of West Palm Beach, FL–was named Tuesday night to the Indiana Pacers summer league squad.

Despite averaging just over two points and two rebounds per game in four years as a Tar Heel, the Pacers are likely hoping James’ size can be a useful skill at the NBA level.

He’ll join 14 other young up-and-coming players trying to carve out a role for themselves on the main roster.

The first opportunity James will have to show what he’s got will be this Saturday–when Indiana opens play in the Orlando summer league against the Magic.

Before the team heads to Florida for game action, however, assistant coach Popeye Jones will hold five practices at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

As of now, the Pacers are slated to play at least four games in Orlando, but that number could grow depending on how the team performs.

If there’s one thing that is for certain about his opportunity–it’s that James is hungry to succeed.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/joel-james-added-to-indiana-pacers-summer-league-roster

Harrison Barnes Among 12 Named to U.S. Olympic Roster

Harrison Barnes will finally get a chance to play for Mike Krzyzewski after all.

Monday morning it became official that the former UNC standout–who in 2010 chose the Tar Heels over Coach K’s Blue Devils via Skype–was selected to play for Team USA in this summer’s Olympics.

Entering an offseason where he is set to earn his first big contract in free agency, Barnes will have plenty to prove in Rio de Janeiro after a subpar performance in this year’s NBA Finals with the Golden State Warriors.

In two seasons as a Tar Heel, Harrison Barnes showed why he was one of the nation's top recruits coming out of Ames, Iowa. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

In two seasons as a Tar Heel, Harrison Barnes showed why he was one of the nation’s top recruits coming out of Ames, Iowa. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Krzyzewski has led the U.S. to a 75-1 record since taking over as head coach in 2006–including a 63-game winning streak that spans across two Olympic gold medals and two World Championship titles.

With his selection, Barnes earns the unique distinction of being the only UNC player to ever play for teams led by both Krzyzewski and Roy Williams.

He’ll also be the 13th former Tar Heel to play in the Olympics for Team USA, and first since Vince Carter back in 2000.

In four seasons with the Warriors, Barnes has averaged 10.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game–all while shooting close to 38 percent from behind the three-point line. This after two years at UNC where he scored 16.3 points per game, and had a huge role in the Tar Heels’ back-to-back Elite Eight appearances.

His versatility has helped him fit in with a Golden State squad that’s helped change the way the game is played. No longer are teams worried about 7-foot behemoths plodding across the floor taking up space.

Instead, coaches are moving toward players like Barnes and his teammate Draymond Green–guys between 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-8 who can spread the floor on offense with their shooting, while also defending multiple positions on the other end.

For proof, look no further than the fact that three of Team USA’s 12 players–Barnes, Green and 6-foot-7 shooting guard Klay Thompson–each have spent the last few seasons together with the Warriors.

On top of that, only two traditional centers–DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers and DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings–were selected to the roster.

Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP, Stephen Curry, was also invited to be on the squad but declined to accept. Curry joined a long list of big names–including Finals MVP LeBron James–that are skipping out on the festivities for fear of contracting the Zika virus or getting injured.

Barnes won an NBA Championship in 2015 with the Warriors while filling multiple roles on the floor. (Stephen Dunn/ Getty Images)

Barnes won an NBA Championship in 2015 with the Warriors while filling multiple roles on the floor. (Stephen Dunn/ Getty Images)

Due to some of those higher-profile rejections, spots were opened up for less-heralded players like Barnes and the Toronto Raptors backcourt tandem of Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan.

Training for the event will last from July 18-21 in Las Vegas.

The team will then play four exhibition games prior to traveling to Rio–two against China (July 24 in Los Angeles, July 26 in Oakland), one against Venezuela (July 29 in Chicago) and another versus Nigeria (August 1 in Houston).

FULL TEAM USA ROSTER:

PG Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers/Duke)

PG Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors/Villanova)

SG Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors/Washington State)

SG Jimmy Butler (Chicago Bulls/Marquette)

SG DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors/USC)

SF Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder/Texas)

SF Paul George (Indiana Pacers/Fresno State)

SF Harrison Barnes (Golden State Warriors/North Carolina)

SF/PF Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks/Syracuse)

PF/C Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors/Michigan State)

C DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings/Kentucky)

C DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers/Texas A&M)

Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (Duke)

Assistant Coaches: Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), Tom Thibodeau (Minnesota Timberwolves), Monty Williams (former New Orleans Pelicans head coach)

http://chapelboro.com/featured/harrison-barnes-among-12-named-to-u-s-olympic-roster

NBA Draft: Marcus Paige Goes to Utah Jazz in Second Round

Marcus Paige had to sit and wait through 54 picks during Thursday’s NBA Draft–anxiously awaiting a moment he’d been imagining his entire life.

With only six picks before the end of the draft, time was running out.

Then, nearly two hours after watching his best friend and roommate–Brice Johnson–get selected by the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, the former UNC point guard was chosen in the second round (55th overall) by the Brooklyn Nets.

Brooklyn then traded Paige’s rights to the Utah Jazz.

Although as a second round pick he won’t be guaranteed a contract, Paige will have a chance very soon to make an impression on the Utah front office.

Marcus Paige

Paige has shown during his four years at UNC that he is much more than just a spot-up shooter. (Todd Melet)

The Jazz are set to begin play in the Salt Lake City Summer League–an event consisting of three games in four days–on July 4 against the San Antonio Spurs–with Paige likely getting a significant number of minutes.

Utah will then take part in the Las Vegas Summer League from July 9 to July 18.

Those games typically allow teams to showcase their young talent while giving draft picks and undrafted free agents a chance to prove themselves against similar competition.

Paige could be playing alongside 6-foot-6 guard Dante Exum–a top five pick in the 2014 draft who will likely be making his return from a torn ACL that robbed him of his sophomore season.

A young squad built around forwards Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, as well as the “Stifle Tower” (young French center Rudy Gobert), Utah is in need of backcourt help alongside Trey Burke–the 2013 National Player of the Year while at Michigan.

That’s where Paige fits in.

While some scouts have worried about how Paige’s small 6-foot, 175-pound frame will translate at the pro level, his production and leadership in college shows he’s more than capable of making a splash.

First off, he’s the all-time leader in three-point shooting at UNC, having made 299 shots from beyond the arc during his time in Chapel Hill. He’s also one of just two players in ACC history to score 1,800 points, dish 500 assists, make 275 three-pointers, and have 200 steals in a career.

Oh yeah, Paige has also been named to All-ACC teams as a sophomore and a junior and three Academic All-American squads-while being the only three-time captain the Tar Heels have ever had.

He and Johnson represent the 20th and 21st players drafted since head coach Roy Williams took over the program in 2003.

Now they’ll each be heading off to the West Coast trying to make their mark in the NBA.

http://chapelboro.com/featured/nba-draft-marcus-paige-goes-to-utah-jazz-in-second-round

NBA Draft: Los Angeles Clippers Take Brice Johnson 25th Overall

Lob City has a new neighbor moving in.

In the first round of Thursday’s NBA Draft the Los Angeles Clippers used the 25th overall pick to select former UNC forward Brice Johnson.

The Clippers have been referred to as “Lob City” in recent years because of their knack for highlight alley-oops involving point guard Chris Paul and big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

At 6-foot-10 with explosive athleticism, Johnson made it his duty as a Tar Heel to get the Dean Dome crowd on its feet with alley-oop slams of his own–often finishing each one with a loud roar that the crowd always reciprocated.

With Los Angeles lacking solid post options on its bench, he should have ample opportunity to continue making those plays at the next level.

Johnson's ability to play above the rim should fit in perfectly with the Clipper front court of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. (Todd Melet)

Johnson’s ability to play above the rim should fit in perfectly with the Clipper front court of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. (Todd Melet)

His development as a jump-shooter–both in the mid-range and at the free throw line–gives head coach Doc Rivers a perfect option for “small-ball” lineups that forego the use of a traditional center like Jordan.

Many opposing teams have taken to intentionally fouling Jordan, who shoots under 40 percent at the charity stripe, in order to hamper the Clippers rhythm.

At UNC last season, Johnson sank nearly 80 percent of his foul shots. That aspect of his game could provide a solution to that strategy–especially since he could replace some of Jordan’s shot-blocking on the defensive end.

Given that Cole Aldrich (3.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG in six seasons) is the only true big man the team has as a backup, plenty of playing time should be available in that role.

Of course, then you’ve got Paul–one of the NBA’s best point guards over the last decade. Having a playmaker of that caliber on the floor should also help ease Johnson’s transition to the pros as he won’t be forced to create his own offense much, if at all.

Opponents will likely focus their attention on Paul, Griffin and the rest of the team’s stars–which should free him up for some of the easy buckets around the rim he scored so often as a Tar Heel.

He’ll be joining another First Team All-American from the Triangle in Los Angeles, as former Duke star JJ Redick is the starting shooting guard for the Clippers.

Johnson earned the honor last season after averaging 17 points and 10.9 rebounds per game at UNC.

His debut as a Clipper will likely come during the Orlando Summer League–a 25-game, seven-day event that runs from July 2 to July 8.

http://chapelboro.com/featured/los-angeles-clippers-take-brice-johnson-25th-overall-in-nba-draft

NBA Draft Preview: Brice Johnson & Marcus Paige

Thursday night, the NBA Draft will mark the start of a new beginning for 60 aspiring professional basketball players.

While a couple of them have a strong shot to become All-Stars in the near future, many more are better suited to filling a role for their team–such is life when only 15 players can be on a roster and established stars can rule over the league for a decade at a time.

During his 13-year tenure as head coach at UNC, the most tired criticism Roy Williams has received is that he doesn’t produce many All-Stars.

In a way, that’s true because LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry weren’t Tar Heels.

Roy Williams (right) has often been unfairly criticized for not producing enough NBA All-Stars. (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams (right) has often been unfairly criticized for not producing enough NBA All-Stars. (Todd Melet)

However, those critics miss the point because the same guys tend to fill the All-Star roster every year regardless of what new talent breaks out–or where those young players went to college.

Over the last three NBA Drafts, no player selected–not from Kentucky, not from Duke, not from anywhere–has made it to the All-Star Game just yet.

In Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige, though, Williams is sending a pair of four-year college players who appear ready to contribute in some form no matter where they end up.

This preview will try to project where these two best friends will be drafted–and why–while also laying out a best-case scenario for each.


PF Brice Johnson: 6’10” 208 lbs

After conditioning drills during his first practice in Chapel Hill pushed the Orangeburg, South Carolina native to the brink of quitting–Johnson went on to improve his production steadily during his four seasons at UNC.

Brice Johnson showed off a much-improved offensive game on his way to being named a First Team All-American. (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson showed off a much-improved offensive game on his way to being named a First Team All-American. (Todd Melet)

Having been a human punching bag for Williams thanks to his inconsistent play as a youngster, Johnson grew into the Tar Heels’ most dominant force by his senior year.

He earned himself a First-Team All-American honor by averaging 17 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, all while taking his intensity to a new level–constantly letting out his trademark screams after big dunks and blocks.

Offensively, he showed off a much more polished game as well.

No longer does he rely on put-back dunks and easy finishes around the rim for the bulk of his scoring.

Instead, he’s developing a solid hook shot and a mid-range jumper that will be critical for spacing the floor in a league that’s fallen in love with outside shooting.

“I’ve been trying to show everybody that I can be able to step out there and shoot the ball,” Johnson said after working out with the Indiana Pacers last week. “There’s a couple teams in the league that run up and down just like we did in college. If I’m able to get on one of those teams, it’ll probably help me out the most.”

Although he will likely need to gain weight to deal with the physicality of the NBA, Johnson possesses many of the tools–and all of the athleticism–needed to play “small-ball” for an up-tempo team that likes to push the pace much like the Tar Heels.

Projections: 

DraftExpress.com– First Round, 30th overall, to the Golden State Warriors

NBADraft.net– First Round, 25th overall, to the Los Angeles Clippers

Avery Trendel– First Round, 20th overall, to the Indiana Pacers

Explanation: 

Golden State struggled to find anyone who could match up with Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson–a player with similar size and athleticism as Johnson–in the NBA Finals as Thompson wreaked havoc on the glass and on alley-oop slams.

Johnson's best asset in the NBA will still be his explosiveness around the rim. (Todd Melet)

Johnson’s best asset in the NBA will still be his explosiveness around the rim. (Todd Melet)

The Clippers were forced to play without Blake Griffin, their do-it-all power forward, for much of the season so Johnson could be used as injury insurance.

Los Angeles’ other starter in the post, DeAndre Jordan, also offers little help in “small ball” situations thanks to his awful shooting from the outside and at the free throw line–meaning Johnson could slide into that role when teams try their “Hack-a-Jordan” strategy, thanks to his nearly 80 percent clip at the charity stripe.

Indiana boasts one of the NBA’s best all-around players in 6-foot-10 small forward Paul George, and one of the better young players in versatile second-year center Myles Turner. Adding Johnson to the group would give new head coach (and NC State graduate) Nate McMillan three players of similar size and versatility to mix-and-match as he pleases without ever having to use a traditional, plodding big man.

With many analysts believing the route to a championship is easier through the Eastern Conference, heading to the Pacers may actually be Johnson’s best bet to make it back to another championship final–despite the star power on some of the Western Conference’s elite squads.


PG Marcus Paige: 6’1″ 164 lbs

One of the most interesting case studies in the draft this year, Paige has proven to fans in Chapel Hill over the last four years that he is one of the toughest, most resilient players to ever play at UNC.

Despite his extremely small frame, he worked for two seasons to become one of the best–if not the best–point guards in the ACC.

A Second-Team All-American as a sophomore, it seemed to be a given that the honors would continue to flow in for Paige as his career continued.

Marcus Paige became one of the most beloved players to ever come through Chapel Hill--even before his incredible heroics in April's National Championship Game loss to Villanova. (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige became one of the most beloved players to ever come through Chapel Hill–even before his incredible heroics in April’s National Championship Game loss to Villanova. (Todd Melet)

Unfortunately, a bout with plantar fasciitis caused his numbers to drop off as a junior.

Then offseason knee surgery and a broken right hand at the beginning of last season saw him enter a dreadful shooting slump spanning nearly the entire year.

During that period, young Joel Berry II took over the offense–forcing Paige to become a severely undersized shooting guard.

Still, though, Paige stepped his game up when it mattered most.

He rediscovered his form–and then some–during the Tar Heels’ run to the National Championship Game, even hitting one of the most memorable shots in program history prior to Villanova’s game-winner just four seconds later.

In the NBA, however, Paige understands that he’ll have to play to his size and revert back to his old role.

“At Carolina I had to play a lot off the ball, which is not my game, not my strength,” Paige said after a workout with the Charlotte Hornets last week.

“At the next level I’m going to be a point guard. So I need to show them how I can play in the pick-and-roll, how I can set up guys and attack the basket from the top.”

A three-time Academic All-American in college, Paige has proven to teams he possesses the basketball IQ and leadership abilities needed to run the point.

He also had some of the better shooting and quickness measurements at the NBA Combine.

Now, it’s about showing those same scouts that his size and injury history won’t hold him back in the long run.

Projections:

DraftExpress.com– Undrafted

NBADraft.net– Undrafted

Avery Trendel– Second Round, 55th overall, to the Brooklyn Nets

Explanation:

Although Paige said he believes he’ll be selected early in the second round based on feedback teams have given him, it really could be his best case scenario to go undrafted.

Paige's draft position may not be where he wants it to be, but he will have ample opportunity this summer to prove his worth. (Todd Melet)

Paige’s draft position may not be where he wants it to be, but he will have ample opportunity this summer to prove his worth. (Todd Melet)

If he’s not among the 60 players taken on Thursday, Paige will be free to sign with any team he pleases and could then choose based on where he feels he would fit in best.

Players taken in the second round aren’t guaranteed contracts like their colleagues who are selected in the first round, so it also wouldn’t be much of a financial burden either should Paige slip out of the draft.

However, I have him being selected late in the night by the Nets–who only have aging veteran Jarrett Jack and 2014 second-round pick Markel Brown at the point guard spot.

Paige has consulted with many former Tar Heels about what to expect in the league, but in Brooklyn he’d also get the chance to learn first-hand from Wayne Ellington, a key member of UNC’s 2009 national championship team.

http://chapelboro.com/featured/nba-draft-preview-brice-johnson-marcus-paige

Brice Johnson Reflects on Life as a Tar Heel

Brice Johnson is projected to be a first round pick in the NBA Draft.  But, four years ago, he almost quit the UNC basketball team after his first practice.

In a narrative he wrote for The Players’ Tribune, Johnson remembers a conversation with his dad after his first collegiate practice:

“I called my dad that night and told him I didn’t think I could do it. I wanted to come home.”

His dad replied, “You have to keep going.  You can’t give up, and you can’t come home. I didn’t raise a quitter.”

That story has become a big part of the legend of Brice Johnson at UNC.  Head Coach Roy Williams discussed Johnson’s first practice in January of 2016.  “Joe Holladay told me after [Johnson’s] freshman year—the first day of workouts—he didn’t know if [Johnson] would show up for practice,” Williams said, referencing his former assistant. “He said he thought [Johnson] would go home that day. Brice said ’I thought about it.’”

The relationship Johnson has with his head coach is a focal point in his Players’ Tribune story.  Johnson recalls Williams’ recruiting visit:

“He came to my school senior year and sat down with me and my dad. He said he wanted me to play for him. I didn’t need to hear anything else. But man, I really had no idea what I was in for.”

Johnson goes on to write about how much Williams rode him during his four years in Chapel Hill.  That included comparisons to Sean May and Tyler Hansbrough. “I never took it personally, though. I knew he was just trying to make me the best I could possibly be,” Johnson writes.

Fans of Brice Johnson and the Tar Heels know that it all clicked for him during the 2015-2016 season, particularly that Florida State game.

“That Was a Man’s Night”: Johnson Leads No. 6 UNC Past FSU

Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige

Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige. (Photo by Todd Melet)

Read Brice Johnson’s piece in The Players’ Tribune.  He adds some nice words about his teammate and friend, Marcus Paige.  Paige recently wrote his own piece for The Players’ Tribune.

 

http://chapelboro.com/sports/professional/brice-johnson-reflects-on-life-as-a-tar-heel

ACC Tournament Documentary Debuts Friday

North Carolina basketball fans wanting to relive the UNC men’s basketball Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament title run will have a chance this weekend.

“The Other Supreme Court: The 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament” documented this past year’s ACC Tournament in Washington, D.C. and is set to air three times in the next four days.

A release says the hour-long special takes viewers behind the scenes of the tournament that featured seven games decided by five points or less – including two in overtime.

UNC knocked off Virginia in the ACC title game. Both of those teams went on to be No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, where Carolina went to the National Championship game before losing to Villanova.

The ACC Tournament program debuts on ESPNU at five o’clock Friday evening with scheduled re-airings at eight o’clock Sunday night and one o’clock next Monday afternoon.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/acc-tournament-documentary-debuts-friday