Tar Heels have high ceiling in trying year for Williams
Posted October 9, 2013
Chapel Hill, N.C. — During a mid-August news conference in Chapel Hill, Roy Williams described his summer as a “hard one.”
“No question about that,” the North Carolina basketball coach said.
Just wait, Roy, just wait.
Summer on the P.J. Hairston course was all about working the driving range and strolling the practice green. Now, it’s almost time to start counting strokes, posting scores and hopping hazards.
In other words, the winter’s also going to be a doozy.
If Williams thought he’d read and watched a lot of Hairston headlines, heard some fan grousing and saw an academic advisor resign in protest over Hairston’s reinstatement to the roster already, more of the same is on the way as the NCAA completes its review of the junior forward’s escapades.
Then, there will be decisions to be made regarding suspension time, followed by Hairston’s return and impact on the team, the locker room, the court chemistry and endless taunting from opposing student bodies.
Williams completely understands what lies ahead.
Like most high-profile college basketball and football coaches, Williams knows the big paychecks come with big pressure and a life of crisis management and damage control. It all comes with the territory.
It’s bad enough when the last guy on the bench decides to major in irrational behavior. When the best offensive player on the roster and one of the most explosive scorers in the entire country continually dabbles in disorder, the nightmare resonates long and loud.
Despite the ups and down with Hairston, the potential upside for this Tar Heel team is higher than the group that went 25-11 overall, 12-6 in the ACC and lost by 12 points to Kansas its second NCAA game last season.
It all hinges, of course, on the P.J. factor.
If Hairston only misses a few games and can mind his manners inside the locker room and outside the gym, the Heels should be a national top-10 team.
True, the departure of Reggie Bullock for the NBA leaves Hairston as the primary 3-point shooter but you have to assume wingman Leslie McDonald and playmaker Marcus Paige are improved over a year ago.
Bullock sank 88 threes and Hairston 89. McDonald hit 42 and Paige 45.
With or without Hairston in the lineup, it’s a safe bet that Williams and his staff will make re-establishing the offensive paint a priority.
Hairston’s late offensive impact last season put an unexpectedly bright face on what was an ugly offensive ordeal much of the season.
For the first time in ages, Carolina had a collection of big men with almost no experience and no more than a marginal talent edge – if that – over opposing bigs. The result was a team that had to play a style way out of Williams’ comfort zone.
Even the talented James Michael McAdoo (6-9, 230) struggled to score until Hairston’s surge changed the offensive dynamic.
Then-freshmen Brice Johnson (6-9, 210), Joel James (6-10, 280) and sophomore Desmond Hubert (6-10, 225) spent the season in such a fog that lightly regarded Jackson Simmons (6-7, 225) became an important contributor even though he rarely got off the bench until mid-season.
Logically, all four of those players should have improved over the off-season. The same goes for winger J.P. Tokoto (6-5, 200).
When all the personnel pieces are counted, Williams will start with at least eight reasonably experienced players – nine with Hairston.
Freshmen Kennedy Meeks (6-9, 290) and Isaiah Hicks (6-8, 220) add even more size and Hicks has impressive mobility.
By Carolina standards, the sheer talent level is still down from some seasons past but not so much that the Tar Heels should be a distinct disadvantage against Duke, Syracuse and Notre Dame. Williams will have a restless season. He’ll sleep with one eye open and in constant fear of a 3 a.m. phone call.
But if Hairston can stay out of foul trouble on the civil front, the Heels should again be a Sweet 16 NCAA team.