A fresh start is finally here for the North Carolina men's basketball team, and the Tar Heels are relieved and excited to get another chance a putting the disappointing 2010 season in the past.
"I'm anxious to get started," Coach Roy Williams said. "It's been a hard [time] since we've played. I think the kids are anxious. I think they are excited. I still don't know what the true identity is going to be."
UNC went 20-17 last season and failed to make the NCAA Tournament, one year after winning Williams' second national title.
Williams is not 100-percent sure what this team is going to be, but one has to believe outside of injuries, he figures it will looking nothing like last year's group.
"This team has a chance to do some good things," Williams said, "but we have to do it out on the court."
He will learn a little more when Carolina opens against the Lipscomb Bison of the Atlantic Sun Conference. The Bison return all five starters who tied for first in the regular season last year.
"We've got a difficult opener," Williams said. "They're really good. They won their league last year, and have all five starters coming back. This will be one of those games that our team had better be ready."
The five returning starters for Lipscomb are: Jacob Arnett, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound guard, who averaged 2.7 points 2.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists; Brandon Brown, a 6-7, 215-pound forward (10.4 pts., 4.5 reb., 1.6 assists); Jordan Burgason, a 6-3, 190-pound forward (12.8 pts., 3.2 reb., 2.4 assits); Adnan Hodzic, a 6-8, 245-pound senior and leading returning scorer and rebounder (22.7 pts, 9.1 reb.) and the second-leading scorer in guard Josh Slater, 6-3 200, (17.1 pts., 5.4 reb., 5.2 assists).
Carolina struggled with turnovers a year ago and defensive pressure on the ball. Both should be vastly improved with point guard Larry Drew's maturation and the solid play of freshman point guard Kendall Marshall, who had nine assists to one turnover in UNC's exhibition game.
"He's drastically changed defensively," Williams said of Drew. "He's been really good defensively. He's been a factor defensively. He's been more active. He's gotten his hands on more balls. He's gotten more steals.
"I think he's making better decisions with the ball, too."
Drew, a junior from California, said that he feels the best on the court since he's been at UNC.
"I feel a lot more comfortable," Drew said. "I think the whole experience thing is going to play its role. When I got here, I didn't really know what to expect.
"To me the game seems slower," Drew said. "That's a big indication of me being comfortable out there, just playing. If you want to talk about mechanics, I think my jump shot has improved since March."
He said there is no lack of motivation for this team.
"Nobody wants to go back to how we felt last year," Drew said.
And that starts with Williams.
"It's what it was; we lost 17 games," Williams said. "Everybody says everything went so wrong but we still won 20, but we lost 17 dadgum games."