Freshman big man Kennedy Meeks playing big role for Heels

Jan. 28, 2014 @ 07:28 PM

Tired of seeing his post players resort to turnarounds and fadeaways and generally shying away from contact against Boston College, North Carolina coach Roy Williams told freshman Kennedy Meeks before he entered the game that if he didn’t take the ball to the basket, he would come right back out.

The message was received. The 280-pound center recorded a three-point play on UNC’s next offensive set against the Eagles, and he’s kept that aggressive mentality since.

Starting with BC, Meeks has scored in double-figures in three straight games for the first time in his career heading into today’s matchup at Georgia Tech (7 p.m., ESPN2).

“Last year we went through the whole season basically not having any inside scoring,” Williams said. “Kennedy gives us that.”

Meeks played a major role in a pair of UNC’s big early-season wins, recording 13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists against Louisville and posting a team-high 15 points with seven rebounds at Michigan State.

Williams rewarded Meeks by putting him in the starting lineup for the final non-conference game against UNC Wilmington, but the center went scoreless for the first time.

“That’s the reason they’re labeled freshmen,” Williams said. “It’s a long season, it’s a very demanding season. Having to get your intensity level at a high level and having to maintain that with a great deal of consistency is something that’s really hard and I think that’s the hardest thing for a freshman.”

Meeks’s struggles continued in ACC play. In the game against Syracuse and the first half against Boston College, the Charlotte native didn’t record a point or a rebound in 14 total minutes (though he did commit three fouls).

“I didn’t feel like I was playing to the best of my ability,” Meeks said. “I feel like I let my teammates down because I wasn’t working hard enough.”

But after the pep talk from Williams, Meeks went in with 13:23 left against BC and stayed on the court the rest of the game. He finished with 10 points and six rebounds as the Tar Heels won their first conference game.

Though UNC followed that up with a clunker against Virginia, Meeks continued his resurgence, leading the team with 15 points and nine rebounds and being named the defensive player of the game by the coaching staff.

Meeks appeared to solidify his spot in the starting lineup Sunday against Clemson, playing a season-high 26 minutes and recording 11 points and eight rebounds.

His next challenge will be matching up with Georgia Tech’s Daniel Miller, a 280-pound four-year starter who had a career-high 21 points and 14 rebounds in Sunday’s loss at N.C. State.

The Tar Heels (12-7, 2-4) are 0-3 in ACC road games and have lost five of their last seven games at Georgia Tech (11-9, 2-5), though they won last year in their first appearance at McCamish Pavilion.

After beating BC at home last week, UNC turned around and lost at Virginia. This time the Tar Heels want to keep the momentum going from their dominant win over Clemson Sunday at the Smith Center.

“Especially that last game, I think all the big men played with a sense of urgency as far as really wanting to rebound, really wanting the ball, really wanting to help our team by being the enforcer in the paint,” Meeks said. “All of us played hard in the post in that game, and when we do that, the sky's the limit for this team.”