Tar Heels’ Stock On The Rise
Flashback to January 20th 2014 at about 9pm…The North Carolina Tar Heels where in a locker room in Charlottesville, VA trying to figure out what was wrong. What had caused a 1-4 start in ACC play? How had the pre-season AP #12 team had fallen on such hard times? Could a trip to the NIT be a real possibility? It had been a month since the team learned they would be without star guard PJ Hairston…forever. The talking heads once again began to talk about the future of Coach Roy Williams and if the game had passed him by.
You will not hear me ever utter words “Roy Williams should retire”, or “the game has passed him by”. Ask yourself this question: Can you name me a season where a Roy Williams coached team finished the year on a down slide? Of course they have had early exits, who hasn’t? But a Williams team never folds and just goes away.
Now come back to today, February 21st 2014. Fresh off of a victory over #5 Duke and riding an 8 game winning streak. A streak that has them sitting at 9-4 in the ACC, 19-7 overall and poised to make a return to the top 25. The turn around this team has made in only a month is a credit to Coach Williams and the kids on this team. The same kids who many thought didn’t deserve to don a UNC jersey. The same kids who lacked the toughness and heart to compete with the other Blue-Bloods of the college basketball world. With the victory over Duke, UNC became the first team in history to beat the #1, #2, #3 and #4 ranked teams in the pre-season AP poll.
There is no bonafide “star” on this UNC team. Marcus Paige is a great player but has stretches where he is a non-factor. (0 points in the first half against Duke) James Michael McAdoo came to UNC with lofty expectations and for the most part has failed to meet them. I would argue however that JMM has found his niche and performing at a much higher level in recent games, save for a 0 point, foul out performance against FSU. It does not take a star to make a team good, it takes players buying in to what their role on a team is, especially in college. That’s what Roy Williams has worked and worked on to instill in his players and they are buying in.
Take Isaiah Hicks for example. The 5-star recruit coming out of high school is averaging 7.6 minutes a game and at times has looked overwhelmed but has taken Roy’s challenge to be a great defender and ran with it. Hicks can defend every position on the court from the point guard to the center with his length and he can do it well. The kid who scored 30 points and grabbed 30 rebounds less than a year ago in his high school state championship game has accepted his role as a defensive spark plug. Most 5th year seniors who started would demand to be the “go to” guy…not Leslie McDonald. He has accepted his role as the 3rd scoring option on a team full of underclassmen. Knowing he could and would help this team, McDonald has fought through a shooting slump and led the Tar Heels with 21 points on 9-12 shooting in their victory over the Blue Devils.
This certainly is not the most talented basketball team Roy Williams has fielded but you can put to rest the “no heart” and “no toughness” narratives. This is a team who not only believes in themselves but are proving to the basketball world that a ship can always right it’s course no matter how far off it is. These are the teams I have the most fun watching. Watching them grow together and become what a lot of people thought they would be at the start of the season. A true contender in a loaded top half of the ACC. Sit back and enjoy this team Tar Heel fans, it will be one that you fondly recall when you are telling stories of your favorite teams years down the road.
Twitter @Mark SeidelWFNZ