February 20, 2007
CHAPEL HILL In the summer of 2006, long before basketball practice began, North Carolina coach Roy Williams started saying he was not concerned about having what may be one of the deepest collections of talent ever assembled on a college basketball team.
Reporters and fans wanted to know how he possibly could play so many people and/or keep them all happy.
Williams' answer was always the same always. He had no worries whatsoever. His kids had high character, and they would adapt.
For the most part, the Tar Heels have done just that. After defeating Boston College 77-72 in a battle for first place in the ACC standings, Carolina, ranked fourth in the country at the time, improved to 23-4, 9-3 in the ACC. That is an excellent season to date by anyone's standards.
But the day before playing BC, Williams made an unexpected confession. Dealing with a roster of McDonald's All-Americans, who all think they're going to earn an NBA paycheck some day, is not always easy. Getting everyone to accept his role, however minor or great, is not as simple as Williams worked to portray, character or no character.
"It's different times," Williams said. "We're in different times than we were 15 or 20 years ago. Everybody mother, father, uncle, aunt, homeboy, pharmacist, guy at the service station is saying, You should be doing this, or you should be doing that. You've got to do this, and you've got to do that.'
"We didn't have that 20 years ago. It's more of a struggle every day for the kids and the coaching staff to continue emphasizing that the team aspect is the most important. I think it's just the culture we're in."
Williams said he never stops trying to educate the players that team success can and will lead to individual success. All he has to do is point to 2005, when UNC won the national championship, and Raymond Felton, Sean May, Rashad McCants and Marvin Williams all went in the first round of the NBA draft.
"It's 24 hours every day," Williams said. "I only talk about team and try to get them to understand everything is going to be all right. I have a picture in my office of me and four guys who were drafted among the top 14 picks in the draft, and we won the national championship.
"Every player that comes and plays at North Carolina, somebody thinks that means he is going to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. It may not be his mom and dad, but somebody thinks that everyone who signs at North Carolina, or Duke or Kentucky or UCLA or Connecticut or Florida, is going to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. That is just the way it is."
UNC played poorly down the stretch on Feb. 13 in an 81-80 overtime loss at home to Virginia Tech, and one of the reasons was that some individuals strayed from the team concept.
"Everybody has to have a sense of refocusing," sophomore guard Marcus Ginyard said. "We had a stretch where we were playing so well, but then we kind of got away from that team-first attitude. I really feel like we really got away from that. The sooner everybody gets back to that mindset of team first and everything follows after that, I think we'll be back on track."
Putting team first means more than just passing the ball, Ginyard said.
"Team first covers so many things," Ginyard said. "It covers people being accountable for their individual actions out on the court. That one person boxing out, him carrying out that assignment, is putting the team first. Him doing anything other than that is wrong. Team first is really a big thing for us right now."
UNC did it against BC. Whether or not Williams can keep the Tar Heels on the same track will play a huge role in how far Carolina can go in March.
TITLE TEAMS GETTING RECOGNITION
UNC recently honored its 1957 and 1982 national championship teams.
This is the 50th anniversary for the 1957 team, which brought the ACC its first national title. The league formed in 1953, and the Tar Heels' back-to-back, triple-overtime victories against Michigan State and Kansas (with Wilt Chamberlain) helped to legitimize the conference as a basketball power.
In an unprecedented move, and one that appeared just weeks ago that it might not happen, the ACC recently invited the 1957 team to the conference tournament in Tampa to be honored at some point during the games. The league has never honored a team at the tournament in this way before.
This is not the only honor for the club, which went undefeated at 32-0. HBO will televise a segment on Bob Costas Now about the 1957 Tar Heels on March 13. There will be interviews with several of the surviving members of the team, including national player of the year Lennie Rosenbluth.
In addition, the team will be inducted into the New York City basketball Hall of Fame in September. Most of the players and the head coach, Frank McGuire, were from New York.
In another honor, Pete Brennan, the player who took the ball the length of the court after grabbing a missed free throw with seven seconds left to hit a shot and extend the game during an eventual triple-OT victory against Michigan State in the national semifinals, will be inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in May. Brennan was the 1958 ACC player of the year.
DAVIS INSPIRING FOOTBALL CHATTER
The excitement created by Butch Davis' hiring at UNC has been palpable.
All around Chapel Hill, on the internet, wherever one speaks with Carolina fans, football is being discussed this deep into basketball season in a fashion that just never happens. With that in mind, here are a few items on the current team.
Defensive tackle Aleric Mullins, from East Wake High, had to sit out the 2006 season because of an academic issue from a Missouri high school he attended before coming to North Carolina. But he did not have to miss practice.
Many in the UNC program said Mullins was the toughest person the Tar Heels tried to block in 2006, including any opponent in the 12 games. Look for him to make a huge impact this fall.
The biggest coup for Davis on signing day was landing some outlets' national defensive player of the year, Marvin Austin of Washington, D.C. The big defensive tackle combines speed and size in a freakish manner, weighing in around 300 pounds and supposedly running a 4.8 40-yard dash.
If those numbers are true, that would place Austin in an elite class of athletes. So don't be surprised to see him next to Mullins in the starting lineup.
Football recruiting and the intensity of interest can be rather humorous, because it often takes players several years to actually get on the field. By then, the fans who were salivating over a certain kid may have forgotten him and are more worried about the next recruit.
Deunta Williams was one of the best athletes UNC recruited in John Bunting's last signing class, but he did not play as a true freshman because of a knee injury. He's healthy now, and his athleticism is showing in offseason workouts. If anyone has forgotten him, he is likely to remind them soon.
The interesting thing about Williams is that he was signed to play wide receiver, but in the annual North Carolina-South Carolina Shrine Bowl high school all-star football game, he played outside linebacker for the first time and won the defensive MVP award. Don't be surprised to see Williams playing at outside linebacker in 2007. Davis and his staff almost certainly will take a look at him there in spring drills.
The other outside linebacker likely will be senior Durell Mapp, who had a slow start to the 2006 season because of injuries. Some even questioned whether Mapp had the work ethic and dedication he needed to be a consistent performer.
That apparently is changing. Mapp now is described as a leader and a hard worker, and that bodes well for Carolina's defense.
One of the most talented players in Bunting's final class was linebacker Wesley Flagg of Fayetteville. Flagg has extraordinary speed, with the Carolina strength coaches supposedly timing him at around 4.5 in the 40. Adding to this, Flagg now weighs somewhere around 235 pounds.
Flagg could move to middle linebacker, and combining him with Williams and Mapp would give the Tar Heels a collection of speed they have not had in years. With all of the huge, young bodies at defensive tackle (including sophomore Cam Thomas), the line should be able to keep opposing blockers off the linebackers more often and allow them to use their speed to make plays.