Man, oh, man, let’s not give up on our freshmen and young players. After my first few games at Carolina, some of the newspapers were writing, “Is this Ford an Edsel?”

Anytime you lose four players from your team who were drafted in the first round, it’s going to affect the team that is coming back. And that’s not age as much as the contribution they’ve made in the past.

We really don’t have anyone back who was counted on to make the big basket, the big assist, or get the key rebound. Transitioning from a role player doesn’t happen overnight, and developing chemistry with a new group takes some time.

If Kendall, Harrison or John Henson all came back, the chemistry would have been evident from day one, but starting over from scratch takes time. James Michael is getting a lot more attention than he did when playing with Harrison, Henson or Zeller.

We have the talent, and they’re all good kids who want to win. But they were all role players or substitutes in the past. Becoming a leader or go-to guy has to develop over time, especially if you have players were once great scorers in high school who might say, “I’ve done this in the past, so I can do it again.”

I do think we have the pieces — people who can defend, rebound and shoot, although we didn’t shoot well Sunday night at Virginia. But we run good stuff offensively and defensively, and we’ve been winning for a long time so you know it works.

We won’t lose confidence. Roy and his assistants are too good as coaches to let the team lose confidence. As I said, we have the system that has worked in the past and they will find a way to make it work again.

You have to give the other team and THEIR defense credit. It depends who we have in the game. With some of our big guys, teams are going to give them the outside shot. And that makes it more difficult to get the ball closer to the basket, which is always our first option.

Coach Smith used to say, “The other team has coaches, too.” What he meant by that is that they are scouting us and know our strengths and weaknesses, and Carolina is always going to get the other team’s best shot on the road, whether we’re winning or ranked or not.

Another thing Coach Smith always said was we’re creatures of habit. So we have to develop good habits and then react to the situation. If you have to think too much on the basketball court, you’re going to get beat. And Coach Williams has always been about just playing and reacting to the situation.

He does what he does, likes the high tempo and to push the ball up the court. But if you realize your team can’t do that as well as you want, do you change the way you play and try to win games now or try to keep getting the players to improve so it will pay off in the long run? I know this: Coach Williams doesn’t like to lose, so he’ll make some adjustments. But up-tempo is still his game.

And, remember, it’s a long season and Carolina teams always get better as season goes along, unless there is an unfortunate injury like we had at the end last year.

We’re also playing four freshmen, who take in so much at the beginning and have some success while they’re learning. But with most freshmen, that plateaus when competition gets tougher and some hit a wall. Going into other arenas in the ACC is always tougher, whether your team is good or bad, young or old. It comes down to a matter of poise, playing consistent defense and scoring enough points.

We have capable scorers in McDonald, Hairston, Strickland and Bullock, and I think Marcus is a good shooter. But except for Reggie, they haven’t shot it well yet consistently. If one kid has it going that night, we will look to get him the ball with screens and plays and try to ride him.

And we definitely need to get to the basket and get fouled. It’s hard to win games without shooting free throws. In our history, we’ve lived on making more free throws than the other team attempts. It’s an important part of our history, and I’m sure we’ll get back to that.

But it’s still early, so let’s all be patient.

Phil Ford was a three-time All-American at UNC, 1978 ACC Player of the Year and went on to be the NBA Rookie of the Year and an NBA all-star.

(image by Todd Melet)