Tar Heel basketball faces questions, but answers lurk on roster
Three weeks before the basketball season opener, there’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding North Carolina’s lineup — and not just because the length of P.J. Hairston’s suspension hasn’t been announced.
When the Tar Heels open against Oakland on Nov. 8, coach Roy Williams expects to use two point guards together at some points, as 6-1 incumbent starter Marcus Paige moves to shooting guard and plays alongside 5-11 freshman Nate Britt.
At other times, Williams will go with three big men, as 6-9 James Michael McAdoo slides to small forward.
“It will be something that will be a continual process throughout the season,” Williams said Wednesday at the ACC’s preseason media day.
One thing that Williams said will be definitely be settled before the opener is Hairston’s punishment. The team’s leading scorer last season was ticketed three times in a three-month span this summer, including once for reckless driving and once for possession of marijuana.
The junior guard was suspended indefinitely after the third incident in late July, though he has been participating fully in practices.
“There’s no prescription, there’s no formula to go through,” Williams said. “It’s got to be a gut feeling of what you think is just and what you think is fair, and be willing to understand that not everyone is going to agree with you.”
Williams also acknowledged that the NCAA will also have a say in how long Hairston’s suspension lasts.
During two of Hairston’s three traffic stops, he was driving a car connected to Durham felon Haydn “Fats” Thomas, which could be considered an impermissible benefit by the NCAA.
“It would be nice to know when he’s going to play, just to know what we’re dealing with, because we have some big challenges right off the bat,” Paige said. “But we’re not too worried about it, because he’s practicing with us… so when we get him back, we can hit our stride.”
Three of UNC’s first nine games could come against expected top 5 teams Kentucky, Michigan State and Louisville. The Tar Heels then have four non-conference home games before opening ACC play Jan. 5 at Wake Forest.
For now, Williams said that the only two certain starters are Paige and McAdoo, a second-team all-ACC forward, though Paige said that guard Leslie McDonald, the team’s only senior, has been practicing with the starters.
The center position is still a competition between sophomore Joel James, freshman Kennedy Meeks and junior Desmond Hubert, who has missed the past 3-4 practices with a sprained ankle.
Last year, Williams scrapped the idea of using a traditional center entirely, switching to a four-guard lineup when none of his big men could hold down the spot.
“One of the big guys has gotta step forward and say, ‘I’m going to do this,’” Williams said. “If one of the big players steps forward and we can stay healthy, we’re going to be pretty doggone good.”
Williams’ optimism stems from the fact that Paige is stronger after gaining 15 pounds since last year, sophomore forward Brice Johnson is a better rebounder, McAdoo isn’t gambling as much on defense, James is more confident, Hubert is more of a threat around the basket and McDonald is a more consistent shooter.
But Williams is still concerned about replacing Reggie Bullock, who was drafted in the first round by the Los Angeles Clippers and was the team’s best 3-point shooter, its best ballhandler and rebounder from the perimeter and a solid defender.
And then there’s the uncertainty of the rotation — even before subtracting Hairston from the mix.
“Coach keeps mixing it up,” Paige said. “We still don’t know how many games P.J.’s going to miss, we don’t know how big we’ll go. I’m not sure who’s going to start, I’m not sure who’s going to get a lot of minutes. It’s still up for grabs.”
COACH ON BOARD
Since orange is the color for leukemia awareness, Williams wore an orange ribbon Wednesday in support of UNC women’s coach Sylvia Hatchell, who announced her leukemia diagnosis on Monday.
Williams — who underwent a cancer scare last year before it was determined that the tumors on both of his kidneys were benign — said he spoke with Hatchell on Tuesday afternoon.
“She is a fighter and hopefully they caught it really early and hopefully things are going to be okay.” Williams said. “It truly rocks your world… if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”
2013-14 UNC BASKETBALL ROSTER
|43||McAdoo, James Michael||F||Jr.|