After the draft, it seemed certain that the pre-emptive favorite for the Y2K
season would be UNC.Â They return a superb passing point guard, one of the
top two centers in the leagueÂ in Brendan Haywood, (Jones and Collier are
sort of tied for second) one of the smartest wing players in the country in
Jason Capel, one of the most promising young big men in Kris Lang, and in Max
Owens and Joe Forte they have an impressive one-two punch at off-guard. And lest
we forget, Ron Curry is a wicked defender, though he'll be playing football
through at least the first semester.
None of the principals have changed. But the bench has: Vasco Evtimov has
returned to Europe to play basketball for pay, and Jason Parker is off to Fork
Union to get his SAT's up to snuff.Â This means that the big man bench
strength is Brian Bersticker, and Bersticker only. Well, wait - they have a kid
coming in on a Morehead scholarship who reputedly isn't too bad.Â But he's
6-8 and not all that heavily recruited.Â So Bersticker is it.Â A fleet
6'11", he's still thin,or was last time we saw him.Â He played more
last season and will play more than ever this season. If he gained 20 pounds
over the summer, he'll be a major bonus for the Heels, but that's a 20 pound if.
Additionally, perceived recruiting errors, most noticeably losing Eddie
Griffin, has heightened an anxiety not seen in Tar Heelia for many years -
certainly not since the dawn of the Krzyzewski era, and likely not since the
dawn of the Smith era lo these many years ago. And if Omar Cook somehow decides to go elsewhere the
anxiety threatens to go nuclear.
Nonetheless, this is a solid starting five, whoever starts, even if they
aren't a traditional UNC team in terms of speed and defense. However, they are
in many ways a traditional UNC team, starting with the two big men. Duke has had
a problem rebounding against UNC for years, largely because K tends to
concentrate more on speed than size (the last two seasons were a slight departure from
this) and often you have a 6'7" guy defending a 6'10" Heel.
Reid-Williams, Montross-Salvadori, Kupchak-LaGuarde - a lot of UNC teams have
featured twin towers which rebounded very well.
So far, Haywood isn't nearly as polished a player as Lang, and his rebounding
in particular for a player his size has been poor.Â Nonetheless, he is 7'
tall, and he does weigh 270, and it looks like his summer abroad was a huge
confidence booster.Â But there may be a bigger change afoot for Big
Brendan, one which could make him a lot of money: Joe Forte.
Forte, and perhaps Max Owens, gives UNC just what they lacked last season: a
sharpshooter to open up the inside.Â This in turn will allow Cota to
penetrate and dish, and this will be of huge benefit to everyone: Forte may
prove to be the missing offensive element. Aside from opening up the inside for
Haywood to shoot, he also will open the inside for Haywood to rebound, since the
defenses will have to be honest.
Additionally, Lang allows that he's up to 260, meaning that the big guys will
be slamming around about 530 pounds. Ouchie.
Aside from that good news, Jason Capel had off-season back surgery which
should help him to realize his athletic potential.Â He's an ideal forward in UNC's system
and should do much better this season than last, and God knows he has an
excellent basketball intelligence.
What's not to like?
Well, for one the frontcourt depth has been, forgive us, gutted, as we said.
The best defender won't join the team until after football season.Â Orlando
Melendez still hasn't panned out, and neither has Terrence Newby or Michael
Brooker, who by now probably won't.Â One of UNC's incoming recruits, the
unfortunately named Jon Holmes,Â was specifically brought in as a backup
point guard, after missing on primary targets (hence the anxiety - justified -
over potentially blowing the recruiting job with Omar Cook).
For another, it's hard to see how the much-discussed return to pressure
defense will happen when the frontcourt is not particularly fleet, and Cota
isn't the most dedicated defender around (though his offensive skills basically
compensate for his lack of defensive intensity).
Still, this won't be the UNC team which lost to Weber State. The frontcourt,
though not necessarily much quicker, will be a lot more polished and is huge if
not real deep. Cota will just
improve.Â But the biggest difference is Forte. Teams won't be able to pack
it in, and that could make the big guys devastating.Â It's hard to see how
they'll be much lower than second or possibly third, if someone surprises.Â
We like to poke fun at UNC, and their recruiting might cause problems - but not
for this team. It's a solid, tough group, with two major flaws - quickness and
depth. As basketball fans, we'll look forward to seeing how they develop, and
how Gut's coaching style continues to evolve.