What did UNC junior big man Tyler Zeller and sophomore guard Dexter Strickland have to say about their offseason development and their prospects for the upcoming season?
Carolina Blue staff reporter Trevor Kapp spoke with both Tar Heel players Thursday afternoon at North Carolina's annual Media Day.
STRICKLAND MAKES ALL-AROUND IMPROVEMENTS
Dexter Strickland doesn't hesitate to admit it.
The 6-3, 2009 McDonald's All-American didn't live up to expectations his freshman year.
But after a summer filled with conditioning, ball-handling and shooting drills, the Rahway, N.J., native says he's poised to break out.
"I feel real confident," Strickland says.
"I've been working out with the strength coach, getting stronger so I can finish better."
"I've been working out and going up against guys like 'Z' (Tyler Zeller) and John Henson, so with them being so tall, I've got to alter my shot so they don't block it," he added.
Strickland shot 43 percent from the field last year, but at times struggled to finish in traffic.
While the physical improvements should pay dividends, spending more time at his natural position of shooting guard should allow him to get back to his comfort zone.
"I love that spot (the two)," he says. "I'd never played point guard before, so to go back to my natural position is good."
"Me playing the two is good because it takes pressure off of Kendall (Marshall), and it takes pressure off of Larry (Drew)," Strickland added.
In his return to the two at a pre-season tournament in the Bahamas in August, he combined for 28 points.
Strickland says he does expect to see some time at the point this season, and has been watching footage of Chris Paul, Steve Nash and Ty Lawson throughout the offseason to get a better feel for the position.
"The (video footage) gave me a sense of how the point guard position works, and I feel I'll be more comfortable (there)," he says. "Whatever I've got to do to make my team win, I'm gonna do it."
ZELLER NOT WORRIED ABOUT LACK OF DEPTH
UNC has just three players over 6-9 on its roster, but center Tyler Zeller says the lack of size is no concern.
"John (Henson) and I thought we were gonna be by ourselves before Justin Knox came, but Justin's a big body," Zeller says in reference to the 6-9 Alabama transfer.
"He can play, he can shoot, he can do a lot of different things, so I feel like he's gonna be a great contributor for us."
After missing nearly his entire freshman season with a broken left wrist and being sidelined 10 games last year with a stress fracture in his right foot, Zeller says he has tried to better balance his workouts to decrease injury risk.
"You've got to continue to get stronger," he says. "But at the same time, you just make your workouts a little shorter and go a little harder."
The Tar Heels' lack of size, Zeller says, means he will have to spend more time in the paint.
"I've got to guard the true big," he says. "I feel like I'll be able to be versatile, but at the same time, we don't really have a true inside presence."
The situation is, in many ways, the opposite of last year's, when UNC boasted six players over 6-9.
This year's team will likely rely far more heavily on guards and wings, many of whom are underclassmen.
"We definitely have the talent and the ability," Zeller says. "We've just got to put it all together."