UNC's recruiting class has been the stuff of dreams for Tar Heel fans: Ty
Lawson, Wayne Ellington, and Brandan Wright are widely regarded as the best at
their positions; William Graves, Deon Thompson, and Alex Stepheson are all guys
with real potential. And therein lies a bit of a dilemma for Roy Williams,
who, it has to be said, has done a brilliant job in Chapel Hill: who sits?
And who stays happy while doing so?
And it's not like the cupboard is bare, either. Tyler Hansbrough set
the ACC on it's ear last season with his intense, opportunistic play. He
was superb as a freshman. Marcus Ginyard has immense potential as a
defensive stopper. Reyshawn Terry became a much better player than almost
anyone expected. Bobby Frasor is, at the very, very least, a highly
reliable combo guard. Quention Thomas regained some confidence and became
a serviceable guard by the end of the season. Danny Green had moments of
brilliance, and is the kind of guy who can move from 7 ppg to being a double
figure scorer. Wes Miller is too small and slow to do what he does, but he
does it. Mike Copeland didn't get a lot of minutes due to injury, but
being at UNC is a lifelong dream.
Realistically, you have eight guys who think they can start, and five guys
who are going to think they can earn minutes. But there are only 200
minutes to go around no matter how you slice it.
Hansbrough will certainly start, and we'll be shocked if Lawson and Ellington
aren't starting by January at the latest. The only thing which might hold
the star freshmen back could be defense.
Wright would be a huge
compliment to Hansbrough, and if you go with those four, then you'd have to
think that Reyshawn Terry, being a senior and coming off a breakout year, would
get the fifth spot.
But not necessarily. Marcus Ginyard, who plays superb defense, could be
a better fit. Danny Green was erratic as a freshman, but he could get hot,
too. And Frasor is a guy somewhat like Kirk Hinrich, who is solid and
reliable and a superb shooter.
But what if Ol' Roy pulls a "Wayne ain't playing defense" gambit
and starts Ginyard or Frasor, both of whom do?
How's that likely to go over? But that's likely to be what plays
out: the defenders will play first, and the lesser defenders will come off
Ellington is the latest guy to get the "next Michael Jordan"
treatment. And let's just say this: there have been probably a few
dozen guys to come along since Jordan who have equal or superior talent.
Think Jordan was much more talented than Corey Maggette? In terms of just
physical talent, how big a difference is there between Jordan and Kobe
What made Jordan so unique is the same thing which made Larry Bird incredibly
unique: it's his competitive drive and a burning desire to be the
We'll see how much of it Ellington possesses, not least of all on
defense. As far as that aspect of the game goes, the closest thing to the
next Jordan on UNC's team is Tyler Hansbrough.
He drove us nuts last year. On the one hand, he looks like an automaton
set to destroy. He never changes expression, and if you knock him down, he
just gets back up and eventually guts you.
On the other, he hit big threes, was deadly on the line, and managed to score
an amazing number of points with the ball being launched from about nine feet or
so off the ground. Ellington could block a lot of his shots with his chin, and a lot of
guys will figure this out about Hansbrough. Unfortunately, he'll have expanded
his game to accommodate that.
Another interesting situation for UNC is how well Hansbrough and Lawson
fit. Lawson is a very, very fast guy, and admirable as Hansbrough proved
to be, he is not. He's going to have to keep up, and it won't be easy.
On the other hand, given what we know about Hansbrough, he'll just show up in
time to rebound the misses, get fouled, and make tons of three point plays.
You don't have to like someone to appreciate how they play the game.
Another thing we've caught on to in Chapel Hill is the tremendous job done by
the strength coach. If you look at Hansbrough, he shouldn't be able to
pack on a ton of weight. But he got really strong really fast. So
did Sean May. The guy responsible? Jonas Sahration
He's taken a big fat tub of goo and turned him into a rebounding dynamo, and
a skinny kid whose intensity is otherworldly and turned him into a force down
So for his third major project, what's up with Brandan Wright?
Wright is (or was) still pretty skinny. With really long arms and an ability
to get up and down the court, though, he's going to be impossible once he fills
out. And Sahration has shown he knows what he's doing.
It'll be interesting to see how he improves the other young big men, as well
as William Graves and Michael Copeland, mid-range guys who have the potential to
be burly rebounders and defenders.
But Sahration could turn Wright into the Hulk, could turn Graves into the
second coming of Charles Barkley, could do any number of things, and he still
can't coach team chemistry, get everyone to commit to defense, or chart out
playing time to keep everyone content.
That's ol' Roy's job. And while he's going to relish having a talented
and deep team, it may not be easy to keep everyone happy. For a precedent,
look at the year after the '93 title, when UNC had an expressionless, corn-fed
big man in Eric Montross, a number of returning starters, and three sensational
freshmen, at least talent-wise. But Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace and
Jeff McInnis blew that team up in a big way, partly through their own
personalities, and partly because of how their older teammates reacted to them.
Talent alone is just meaningless, and even great coaching - which UNC clearly
has - can't always overcome secondary issues. Great potential on this
team, to be sure, but there's also the potential for real problems. Now
that's relative - you can win 30 games and still have big problems - but it
still has to be managed.
UNC should be a very impressive team, but Roy Williams has some big hurdles
to overcome. If he can do it, the Heels have a chance at a huge season.