With the 2017-2018 NCAA season underway, I wanted to take this time to give my thoughts on my beloved UNC Tar Heels. Do they have what it takes to go back to back? I honestly believe so, but it most definitely will not be easy. The Heels have a good mix of upperclassmen and young guys. The next case of business for the Heels will be how to take that mix and make it one powerful unit as they move forward during the season. Winning anything consecutively is not easy, unless you are going up against inferior competition. Once you win the first time “the cat is out the bag”, there are no secrets. Everyone saw what you did and how it led to your success. There is no more sneaking up on your opponent as the underdog. Now every time you face an opponent you will get their best shot. This years Heels don’t need to reinvent the wheel to compete for a championship again, but they do need to make sure every wheel on their vehicle is ready to roll together.
After hearing the news that Joel Berry had broken his hand and would be out for short period of time, my initial reaction was panic, because it’s his last year and I know he doesn’t want to miss a second of his final ride. After, I wished Joel a speedy and healthy recovery, I thought about how his absence is the perfect time for some other guys to step up and get some much-needed game experience, especially Seventh Woods and Jalek Felton. Seventh in my opinion has the tools to be the teams best perimeter defensive player. He is strong, super athletic and plays hard. As he continues to find himself within the offense, he will only improve. It’s a matter of time before he is back to being the Seventh I seen on those youtube videos. As for Jalek, it’s funny for me to see him in Carolina Blue, and not be sitting in the stands with Grand parents. I remember when he was a kid tagging along with his uncle, my former teammate, Ray Felton. Besides my memories of “Ray’s little nephew”, Jalek has the potential to be a star. He is athletic, has good size for a point guard, good vision, has the mindset that will allow him to be the man. Time will tell how good he will be, but in the absence of a star like Joel Berry he will definitely get a chance to be tested and to learn. I also can see KJ Smith being put in the mix early. He is a guy who could easily contend for a starting spot at another school, so he is a good addition for us.
The shooting guard spot is pretty loaded. What makes the off guard spot valuable this season is that they all are very good shooters. The Kenny Williams I first seen reminded me of Shammond Williams, and it wasn’t because of his name. He is a high level shooter and if he stays healthy he will prove it. Brandon Robinson made huge strides this summer, I witnessed his workouts and played against him a lot during pickup games. Despite his small frame, he is a good scorer and a shooter. I hope the summer Brandon translates well into the regular season, because he can play. Then there is another freshman, Andrew Platek. Platek is a shooter, a sniper, however you put it, he can hit shots with range. He reminds me a little of Bobby Frasor with his toughness and ability to be a combo guard when needed.
None other than, the world’s most irritating person, Theo Pinson, locks down the small forward position. Just kidding, I love the kid despite how much he fouls me all summer during pick up games and workouts. Theo has continued to work on his craft and I look forward to him building on the great season he had last year. I will predict his shooting percentages will increase and he will affect games even more now, especially if coach Williams moves him to the power forward position at times. If Theo does see minutes at the four position, I know he will not have many nights where he struggles guarding opposing four men. Theo is one of those guys who raises his level if he feels he is being picked on defensively. He is battle tested and ready. Cam Johnson is a huge addition to the team. His versatility will help a lot. His shooting ability, basketball IQ, and the fact that he has been in the trenches of ACC battles will give the Heels someone else they can rely on in crucial moments.
The biggest factor to this year’s team success will fall upon the incoming bigs. They are young, gifted, and will be relied on a lot to control the paint. Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks are big bodies, yet they all possess a different skill set. The Heels need the guys to be able block shots, rebound at high rate, and finish around the rim, nothing more, and nothing less. Whoever develops of those three things the fastest will be who sees the most action. If two of the guys get these duties taken care, go ahead and start Final Four travel planning.
I saved my guy for last, Luke Maye. I didn’t get to see the Northern Iowa game, but I did see the stat line. I was not one bit surprised by the performance of Luke. You guys have seen glimpses of Luke Maye the last couple of years. This year you will see exactly who I have been trying to you guys he is. Luke Maye is a poor mans Kevin Love. He rebounds at a high rate and has nice touch both inside and out. Best of all he is a gym rat. Guys who live in the gym and are willing to listen and learn are bound to get better. As he gets more comfortable with implementing his skill set in the UNC system, the better he will be.
Well as you can tell I’m pretty excited for this years team. I would love to see the seniors finish their collegiate careers back-to-back title winners. They can do it, but it will take a great collective effort from top to bottom. The pieces are there, lets just hope they are able to put it them together.
Till next time… GO HEELS!
-I would like to dedicate this post to the late Al Warthen. Al was a huge Tar Heel fan and a man that dedicated his life to helping young men better themselves by using basketball as a vehicle. Rest easy Big Al!