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.
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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.
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.
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.