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July 10, 2014

Thinner Meeks seeks leadership role

Heading into his sophomore season at North Carolina, Kennedy Meeks is looking to do more than merely establish himself as a starter and key contributor for the 2014-2015 Tar Heels.

He's looking to join point guard Marcus Paige as one of the leaders on this UNC squad, helping pick up the slack left behind with the departures of James Michael McAdoo and Leslie McDonald.

"It's been going great (this summer)," Meeks said Wednesday in the Smith Center Media Room. "Just getting more serious in the weight room, trying to be more explosive."

"I'm looking to be one of the leaders on this team this year. Help my team in any way. Help Marcus in any way. I just think that should be my role, helping Marcus being a leader on this team," Meeks continued. "I think now I'm hungrier to be more of a leader on this team. I'm hungry to go and try to win a national championship."

After arriving in Chapel Hill a year ago weighing well over 300 pounds, Meeks has toned himself down into a much thinner 270 pounds, which is helping him move better and have more stamina---both things that will prove beneficial to him and the Tar Heels.

"I feel better running up and down the court. Of course I can stay in the games way longer. When you're at 315 (pounds) and you do down to 290 (which Meeks did prior to his freshman season), that's still a lot of pressure on you because you still hear people talking about your weight. That's been important to me."

The weight loss has not only provided Meeks with extra stamina and the ability to run up and down the court more effectively, as he says he's more explosive with his jumping.

"I think I'm a lot quicker off the ground (than last year)," he replied. "I think (I'm) jumping with more power, just going up there and getting rebounds more aggressively."

"Last year I the most I weighed was 270. Yeah, I would like to get to 265, but 265-270, I think that's (a) good (weight). I think that was my goal the whole time, being 265-270 right now. I think the only thing I'm missing is a six-pack."

"I'm still working on my lower body. it all comes together," Meeks added. "People tell me all the time that I look great, but I want to feel that I look great. I think I've always focused on what I ate. It's just the discipline part. It feels a lot different (being lighter)."

Meeks credits Jonas Sahratian, UNC's basketball strength coach, for helping give him a positive attitude about weight training and its benefits.

"Jonas is one of the best strength coaches in the country. He knows what he's doing," Meeks said. "Whatever the team does, I do. But I just do a little more weight."

"I know last year it was just like, 'Oh, we've got weights,' but how we realize how important it is. I think it's very important to our team. I think he (Sahratian) has been a great role model to me. about what I should and shouldn't do. I just try to listen to whatever he has to tell me, because I know it's important."

Head coach Roy Williams has made a point since Meeks' high school days to impress on him the need to condition his body to maximize his potential, and Meeks has certain taken Williams' advice to heart it seems.

"I think he (Williams) thought 280 was a good weight, but I think he thought I could move a lot better in the 265-270 pound range," Meeks told us.

While conditioning is naturally a year-round concern for a big guy like Meeks, he told us he's also working on his all-around game this summer in order to be more consistent as a sophomore.

Last season was frustrating at times both for Meeks and UNC fans, as he'd show flashes of dominance such as in the win over Florida State in Tallahassee, when Meeks picked the Tar Heels up on his back and almost single-handedly led Carolina to a dramatic comeback.

But then he'd seemingly go away for other games, struggling to score even a single field goal. It's a paradox of production that Meeks is looking to avoid in his second collegiate season.

"I think we all had the same goal. I think every team has the same goal. We wanted to come out with a little more fire (this coming season)," he said. "That's my expectation is what my team wants. For me, of course I want to improve in every possible point of my game. Just being a leader, so that's what I'm focusing on."

"I mean, I think everybody has bad games. And mine were a little worse than the norm. But I think those games are motivating. Last year I was a little inconsistent. I think I could have done a lot better at the beginning of the season.

"(Later in the season) I was more assertive as to how I was going to do," he continued. "Just taking my time with my shot---I think taking time was the biggest thing for me."

"(I'm) just taking advantage of every opportunity that I have. Just keep playing defense."

One area of his post game that Meeks is focusing on this offseason is advancing his ability to draw fouls and force defenders into difficult positions. While Meeks has proven his ability to make mid-range jumpers and play facing the basket, he's also working to enhance his moves with his back to the basket.

One such move is a pump-fake, intended to get defenders to leap early and provide an opportunity to either go around or over them to get a shot up. Worse case, you get fouled. Best case, you get fouled and head to the line with a shot at a three-point play.

Meeks showed excellent ability drawing fouls a season ago, and naturally the UNC staff is hoping he can get to the line a bunch this coming season as well.

"I think the pump-fake is a big part of my game. I think that comes with me being more explosive," he replied. "I think it's important. Keeping a defender guessing, I think that's important to a big man. You have to have a backup, so I think that's one of the backups that I have."

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