North Carolina

Freshmen to contribute to No. 1-ranked Heels

Posted October 28, 2008
Updated October 29, 2008

— The storylines for this North Carolina basketball program are as numerous as they are intriguing, ranging from national title aspirations to offseason miscues to NBA discussions. But one topic of conversation is still its infant stages, and that is the four Tar Heel freshmen.

Point guard Larry Drew II (Encino, Calif.), shooting guard Justin Watts (Durham), power forward Ed Davis (Richmond, Va.) and center Tyler Zeller (Washington, Ind.) bring to this team what no one else could in 2007-08 – fresh faces.

In 2006, Tyler Hansbrough, Bobby Frasor, Danny Green and Marcus Ginyard were forced into early playing time due to the core pieces of North Carolina’s 2005 championship team either graduating or moving on to the NBA ranks. A similar situation could have occurred for this current group of freshmen, but the National Player of the Year decided to return to school for his senior year shortly after the Final Four loss to Kansas, and three other Tar Heels withdrew their name from the NBA Draft in the final hours before the deadline.

Not only did those decisions cement North Carolina as the overwhelming favorite to win the 2008-09 national championship, but it also provided the four freshmen with an invaluable learning curve that will be based on development and not necessity.

“They’re definitely going to get a chance to learn a lot from us, and also be able to contribute and be a part of something very special,” Wayne Ellington told reporters during Sunday’s ACC Operation Basketball in Atlanta.

Fans were able to get a sneak peek at the freshmen during “Late Night with Roy” on Friday night, and most observers in attendance left the scrimmage impressed with Zeller, a 7-foot, 220-pounder who posted a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Frasor told the media after the event that the lanky McDonald’s All-American runs the floor as well as most of the guards on the roster, and he possesses a soft touch that allows him to stretch the floor, as evidenced by his three-point shootout victory at the 2008 Kentucky Derby Festival. .

“I’d say Tyler Zeller has probably had more moments to make you say, ‘Wow!’ than anybody else has,” head coach Roy Williams said.

With Zeller reportedly gaining nearly 20 pounds since arriving in Chapel Hill, he will serve as a legitimate option to fill North Carolina’s need for a third big man.

“It’s hard to move him – you about can’t move him now,” Green said. “He’s long. You’ve got to box him out to 5 feet in order to get the rebound, because if you box him just a little bit, he’s going to jump over you and get the ball.”

Davis is another option for Williams in the post. The McDonald’s All-American stands 6-foot-10 and weighs in at 215, although Green indicated that Davis has also packed on 20 pounds since stepping on the UNC campus.

“He has a lot of moves offensively,” Ellington said. “He’s a shot-blocker – that’s something important that he brings to the table.”

Unfortunately, the injury bug has already jumped on the Virginia freshman.

“Ed’s got a little problem with his knee that we’ve been concerned about, [so we’re] trying to hold him out a little bit,” Williams said on Sunday. “We didn’t practice him on Saturday morning because we had done the scrimmage on Friday night.”

A UNC official confirmed to Inside Carolina on Tuesday that the diagnosis was "an irritated fat pad," and that Davis returned to practice on Monday.

Drew is the third McDonald’s All-American of the freshman class, and the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder was the luxury of learning behind Lawson and Frasor – two veteran point guards that have both led North Carolina to 20-plus win seasons during their careers.

“Larry’s a very smart point guard, with a quick first step,” Green said. “He has the potential to be a great point guard in the upcoming years. He just needs to become a more patient player... He has a consistent jump shot – he can really shoot the ball”

Williams’ up-tempo offense has thrived in Chapel Hill, thanks in large part to roadrunner-type point guards such as Lawson and Raymond Felton. But while Drew may not have that type of speed, his teammates claim he’s speedy enough to run this offense effectively.

“Don’t think Larry’s not fast,” Green said. “He’s a very fast point guard, but I think he’s more under control… Ty’s speed is out of this world. He’s on another level, but Larry’s not far behind him. He can move. In the next couple of years, he’s going to get better. He’s going to get faster and he’s going to get stronger.”

Watts is the fourth and final member of this class, but while he may not have entered this program with the McDonald’s All-American tag beside his name, he is a prospect that Williams scouted in person several times last season. The sixth-year UNC head coach told the 6-foot-4, 205-pounder last October to wait on his collegiate decision if he was not satisfied with his options.

Watts followed Williams' advice, and then in May, he was rewarded with a North Carolina scholarship offer.

“He’s very athletic,” Ellington said. “He can shoot the ball pretty well and he has a lot of potential. When he gets it down, and he understands what Coach Williams wants and he learns our system a little bit better, he has the chance to be a really good player.”

This freshman class may not be called upon to carry the load this season, but the lessons they will learn under the tutelage of Williams and a roster full of experienced veterans will lay the future foundation for this North Carolina program. It’s likely that 10 members of this current Tar Heel squad will be gone next summer, so these four individuals will move to forefront quick enough.

17 Comments

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  • cutclifferules Oct 29, 2008

    Or, he could beat out Al-Farouq(sp?). You never know. Marvin Williams won ROY and never started a game.

    Incidentally, I thought Ed Davis was the best of UNC's three freshmen. And I'm basing that strictly on the McD's All-American game. He was really quick to rebound and put-back, like Jamison.

  • OriginalBlueDevil Oct 29, 2008

    If Zellar receives enough PT, he may be a close 2nd for ROY.

  • cutclifferules Oct 29, 2008

    Honestly, I don't know much about Plumlee. But K doesn't have a good track record of improving his big men. The Duke great ones were great from the get-go. Maybe he too will be great from the get-go.

    And Bersticker was a bust, admittedly. Tons of talent, but no results. Again, it comes down to the coach. Doherty didn't develop it. Haywood at least coasted on his intimidating size, when he tried. I think Zeller will progress nicely.

  • OriginalBlueDevil Oct 29, 2008

    Zoollar is the next Bersticker. Plumlee is the next Dirk.

  • cutclifferules Oct 29, 2008

    Now there's a Vitale-ism for ya--"dynamic". Any more non-committal accolades you wanna throw Duke's way, OBD? How 'bout "Duke will do special things this year", or "They will without a doubt be one of the premiere teams in America".

    Plumlee better than Zeller? Not in any single recruiting ranking, magazine or all-star game played. One is the next great ACC center, one is the next Greg Newton.

  • OriginalBlueDevil Oct 29, 2008

    Oh, Kris, evidently you haven't done your homework this year. Duke will be a very dynamic team.

  • Kris0805 Oct 29, 2008

    I am sure Coach K will have Plumlee sticking to the 3 point line just like everyone else.

  • OriginalBlueDevil Oct 29, 2008

    OTH - Zoollar is nice, no doubt - but Plumlee is far more skilled. Zoolar is limited to the low-block only. Plumlee can score all over the court. Make sure Zoolar takes notes while he's warming his chair.

  • OriginalBlueDevil Oct 29, 2008

    wellMADBUCeducated - um, ok.

  • wellunceducated Oct 29, 2008

    hey dookgroup, you guys are funny! But only g-- guys go to dook and uva, and I am NOT g--. I am a alumni of CAROLINA, my sisters,my dad,my uncle,etc. All are CAROLINA alumns. I support CAROLINA $ ALOT!! I will, however,pull for uva when they play dook in any sport,and ANY body else that plays for LACROSSE DISGRACE,EMBARRAS,the ACC, dook!!!! WHO has 35 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS? That's right--THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA!

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