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Statistics "may" Be Cause For Concern

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

  January 17, 2005 CHAPEL HILL — As a high school senior, Sean May said one of the things he was looking for in a college program was the opportunity to play power forward rather than center. Three years later, he's still firmly entrenched as North Carolina's man in the middle. That's not a terrible thing for the Tar Heels, and whether it's good or bad for May is another topic for another day. He has been a very productive player for UNC over the past three seasons, earning second-team All-ACC honors last year and putting himself in position for more accolades in 2004-05. He has struggled with his defense and conditioning at times, and a broken foot derailed his freshman season, but overall his individual results have been far more good than bad. "I'm happy with Sean," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "He came into this year in much better shape, and I think that has enabled him to make plays he could only dream about in the past. He's also become a leader for us, someone who tries to exemplify the concept of the importance of the team over the individual. He's been a big part of our success." Just as nobody in the UNC program was alarmed by the Tar Heels' recent 95-82 loss at No. 4 Wake Forest, nobody is overly concerned about May. But a recent mini-trend — is there such a thing? — at least will be worth watching through the rest of ACC play. During Carolina's games in mid-January against Maryland (big win), Georgia Tech (big win) and Wake Forest (95-82 loss), May shot just 11-31 from the field and committed 10 turnovers. That's a field goal rate of just 35.5 percent, compared to 54 percent on the season, in games where he faced ACC-caliber big men rather than the shorter, weaker and/or slower frontcourt foes he typically battled in many of UNC's non-conference games. Looking back, some of the contrasts in May's statistics are striking. The only games in which he shot 50 percent or less from the field came against major programs such as Tennessee (2-4), Iowa ( 5-13), Indiana (2-7), Maryland (5-11), Georgia Tech (3-11) and Wake Forest (3-9). All of May's high-percentage games came against the most inferior foes on the Tar Heels' schedule, including Brigham Young (7-11), Southern California (5-8), Loyola (5-8), Virginia Tech (6-8), Vermont (7-12), UNC Wilmington (4-4), Cleveland State (6-9) and William & Mary (9-13). Looking ahead, the concern for the Tar Heels is that most ACC teams have post players with a far better combination of height, reach, strength and quickness than what May saw from most of the lightweights listed above. If Maryland (6-9 Ekene Ibekwe), Georgia Tech (7-1 Luke Schenscher) and Wake Forest (6-9 Eric Williams) could slow May down, often with help from those big men's quick teammates, will it be more of the same against Clemson (6-9 Sharrod Ford), Duke (6-9 Shelden Williams), Florida State (6-10 Alexander Johnson), Virginia (6-9 Elton Brown) and the rest? Listed at 6-9 and 266 pounds by UNC, May is one of those players who will lose an inch at some point down the road, when the NBA scouts pull out their tape measures. He has a beautiful shooting stroke and improved quickness this season, but he's still not a leaper, so he often has trouble getting his shot off in the post against tall opponents such as Schenscher or long-armed defenders who are closer to May's height. Father Still Carries Big Influence All of this, of course, is exactly why May and his father talked on the recruiting trail three years ago about Sean's desire to play power forward in college. He obviously won't be a pure post player at the NBA level, so he wanted to develop his perimeter skills prior to jumping into the professional ranks. (Note: Unlike fellow juniors Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants, May repeatedly has stated that he's certain he'll return for his senior season in 2005-06.) May has been able to showcase the impressive range (18 feet) on his jump shot while in Chapel Hill, but he still spends most of his time in the post, and he has attempted only nine (all misses) career three-pointers. Scott May, a former U.S. Olympian and a star on Indiana's undefeated national championship team in 1976, remains a huge influence in Sean's life. They talk by phone several times a day, and Scott offers regular critiques of Sean's play after games. "My father and my brother are probably my two best friends," Sean May said. "He's hard on me, but he helps me. He probably goes too far (with the criticism) sometimes, but that's OK when you're hearing it from someone you know wants what's best for you. We have that kind of relationship. He knows how much I want to learn, how much I want to win, and he can help me with that." Scott May has attended numerous UNC games over the last three seasons, including this year's "homecoming game" for Sean at Indiana, where Scott drew boos and criticism for sitting behind the Carolina bench. Scott's close relationships with UNC's Dean Smith and Phil Ford laid the groundwork for Sean's selection of the Tar Heels (then under Matt Doherty) over the Hoosiers and many others on the recruiting trail, a fact that still irritates many IU supporters. While May's father never criticized Doherty publicly, he privately complained about the coach's inability to sign a quality big man who would allow Sean to spend more time at power forward. (Doherty pursued but missed Brian Butch, Torin Francis, Jason Fraser and David Padgett, among others.) Many assumed that was Scott May's biggest complaint about Doherty, but the problems ran much deeper than that, and Sean was one of the players set to transfer two seasons ago if Doherty continued to run the program. At one point, May even approached UNC chancellor James Moeser to discuss Sean's future, after many unhappy discussions with Ford and others at the university. There are no such problems now that Williams, a Smith disciple, is running the show in Chapel Hill. Just as Williams told various UNC players that their roles would have to change significantly if they were going to get important minutes in the post-Doherty era, the coach told the players' parents that the opportunities for their input would be narrow in scope and limited in number. Of course, Scott May's respect for Williams' unselfishness, coaching ability and good intentions made that a moot point anyway.