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December 9, 2013
Roy Williams Live: December 9
This UNC team has gotten off to a start to the basketball season that has more ups and downs than a kangaroo hopping along the Australian terrain. With losses to Belmont and UAB and wins against Louisville and Michigan State, UNC is a betting man's worst nightmare.
Is this team as good (or bad) as anybody in the country? Probably, at least at the moment. However, when they put their minds to it and focus in on the task at hand, this team can clearly be a serious contender. What kind of contender (National title? ACC title? Biggest disappointment?) remains to be seen.
Assistant coach C.B. McGrath filled in for Roy Williams as the head coach took a Monday recruiting trip and couldn't make his weekly radio show commitments. In his place, McGrath talked about the wins against Michigan State and UNC Greensboro and clearly he feels the same type of anxiety heading into games that most Tar Heel fans are surely feeling these days.
"Just the intensity the guys played with. They were focused. They were ready to go. I think the UAB game was after our Louisville win. Their young kids and I just think they thought 'O.K., we're going to play UAB and we're going to go out and win because we beat Louisville.' You know, they got a rude awakening and they looked like they were stuck in the mud," said McGrath. "So we had their attention obviously. Going to the No. 1 team in the country doesn't happen too often in anybody's career and so they had an opportunity there to play well and do some things that people don't get a chance to do. You could tell from the opening tip we were intense, we were in a stance, rebounding and so I thought it was going to be a different game."
After knocking off the defending champs, the Heels clearly took their foot of the gas when they went to Alabama. McGrath believes immaturity and a quick turnaround may have been at fault during the moment. He did credit the team from learning from their mistakes and not letting history repeat itself.
"I used to not get nervous for those types of games but now I kind of have to. I think it helped to get back on the court right away. After the Louisville win we had a whole week before we had to play again. After the Michigan State game we had two days to get ready to play UNC-G," said McGrath. "I think our guys didn't have time to hear about how good they played and all that kind of stuff. We had to move on to UNC-G the next day at practice and so they did that. They came out and played hard from the tip. I knew our intensity was there so I felt pretty good."
With obvious pieces missing, UNC has had to rely on the freshmen a little bit more than maybe they were anticipating. One guy that has made an immediate impact has been Kennedy Meeks. The young Charlotte big man has come up huge in both of UNC's biggest wins but being consistent is still an area of opportunity for him.
"He really has. I guess it's because he's a freshman and he's sort of playing up to his competition and or down to his other completion. Obviously we want him to sustain the effort that he's shown against Michigan State and Louisville all the time. But he's an 18-year old kid and he likes to have success and when he has that success he's really good," said McGrath. "Obviously, he was key against Louisville with those long passes. That's his biggest strength other than now he's rebounding pretty well and he's scoring in the post, using his body and those kinds of things. But he's getting much, much better and we're excited that he's on our team."
A bit of a catch-22 is happening in Chapel Hill. The coaching staff is asking players to play out of position as an unanticipated lack of depth on the wing has forced a shuffle to occur. While guys are clearly getting acquainted with new roles, McGrath says the players need to still play within themselves and their capabilities. One prime example of this sentiment is J.P. Tokoto.
"J.P., along with everybody else, did exactly what we want them to do at the Michigan State game. J.P., he sort of set the tone early. I think he got two or three offensive rebounds early," said McGrath. "Actually, the first time he got the offensive rebound, we wanted to get Adreian Payne in foul trouble, and he faked, got Payne in the air and then shot a fade away. All he had to do was lean into him and he would have gotten the foul. Other than that he took it to the basket."
Freshman point guard Nate Britt finds himself in a similar situation to last year's freshman point main Marcus Paige. It's déjà vu for McGrath, who acknowledged Britt probably played his best game of the season Wednesday night and anticipates more games like that in the future.
"I think he's starting to feel more comfortable. It goes back a few years. Like last year, Marcus Paige struggled to shoot the ball. He's a great shooter. He came in thinking he was not going to start at point because we had Kendall Marshall. So last year, we're recruiting Nate, he commits to us and he thinks Marcus Paige is going to be our starting point guard," said McGrath. "Well, we had a few issues with our wings so now Marcus Paige is the starting two-man and Nate's our starting point guard. So, being a freshman, trying to run the point is tough but then you put all that pressure on yourself like 'I've got to do great things.'
"Well he does and he just needs to go out there and do what he does best. When the pressure's on, he sticks to what he does best as opposed to thinking should I do more here or should I do more there. Obviously, in the Michigan State game he penetrated like we wanted him to, we want him to find the open man and he knocked down some free throws."
McGrath ended his guest appearance on the show by defending the man who many feel needs defending (or doesn't depending on your perspective), the head coach of the UNC Tar Heels basketball team.
In his estimation, any negative judgment of Williams being an "overrated" coach is uncalled for and credited a few remarkable talking points to back up his claim.
"Coach has always done a great job. With Twitter and all this kind of stuff now, it's all about self-promotion and coach doesn't have a Twitter account. He's not going to brag about himself. He would never do that," said McGrath. "If he was listening to me right now he'd probably be mad. But in 10 years that he's been here, no college basketball team has been to more Final Fours. No college basketball team has won more national championships.
"But yet, you read about Twitter---'Who's the most overrated coach?' All those kinds of things and it's always Coach Williams. It's absolutely ridiculous because he's not this young hot shot guy that's having people tweet out stuff and you know, buddy-buddy with people that call the games and talk about certain people. They don't talk about coach that much because you know what? Coach wants to do what he does. He wants to go on a walk at noon. He doesn't want to chum around with some guy that came to town to do the game and those kinds of things," said McGrath. "But his success has been unbelievable. I read something the other day. Bobby Knight, who's in the Hall of Fame. Rick Pitino, who's in the Hall of Fame. Jim Calhoun, who's in the Hall of Fame. Bo Ryan, Thad Matta, Tom Izzo---coach's record against those guys is 30-3 in 33 games---30-3. It's pretty impressive. I'm on Twitter in terms of I read it. I get tired of hearing that stuff and there is no way I could tweet something about coach and him not finding out about it and that kind of thing. So I figured I'd just say it now and he couldn't stop me from saying it."