Last season was a year of transition and experimentation for North Carolina's Dexter Strickland, who got exposed to his first major playing time at the point guard position while also adapting to the speed and precision of the college level.
"Last year was my first year ever playing the point guard, so just learning that position and playing on that type of level---the intensity of the crowd and the intensity of the games and all that stuff (was an adjustment)," said Strickland.
"Dexter played the point guard truthfully for the first time in his life (last year)," said UNC head coach Roy Williams.
Averaging 17.4 minutes per game and making four starts as a rookie, Strickland averaged 5.4 points, 1.9 assists and 1.4 rebounds an outing.
This year he'll be looked at not only as a possible option at the point guard spot along with Larry Drew II and Kendall Marshall, but he'll also be given the opportunity to spend time at the 'two' or shooting guard spot alongside players like Leslie McDonald, Reggie Bullock, and Justin Watts.
"Dexter will still get some time at the 'two' spot, because I still want to take advantage of that speed. He's just got to mature," said Coach Williams.
Strickland can definitely add an element to Carolina's transition game playing at the 'two' guard spot, and he'll be given that opportunity in certain team sets.
"That's something that me personally, I've been looking forward to playing with 'Strick' with him off the ball (at the 'two'), said Drew. "I see a lot of fast break dunks and lots of easy points."
"Me being the guy just getting the ball in the outlet and just looking up, that's my nature---the first thing I do when I get the ball is look up the court. And I know 'Strick' is going to beat his man up the court. So it's just going to be fun (playing with him)," Drew added.
"He has tremendous speed," added Coach Williams of Strickland. "We need to try to get that in the game some too (at the 'two')."
At 69.2 percent, Strickland is one of the team's top returning free throw shooters, but he's got to dramatically improve his outside shooting.
Last year 'Strick' was just 8 for 33 (24.2 percent) from beyond the three-point line.
"I've been working out every day getting stronger, going hard in conditioning tests and stuff like that, so I should be better this year," he said.
"I'm either here or in the gym on the main court (in the Smith Center) working out doing dribbling drills and creating my own shots and stuff like that."
Another area in which Strickland has to improve his sophomore season is being more under control when he makes a mistake.
Last year he had the tendency to get overly aggressive and commit a senseless foul after turning the ball over, and his coaches have been working with him in preseason practice to settle down and limit duplicitous errors.
"When I was a freshman here (at UNC in the last 1960s) there was a cheer, it was 'Rape, Pillage, and Plunder,'---they tried to get the student body to stop cursing so much---and that's what I think goes through Dexter's mind when he turns it over," said Coach Williams.
"He wants to plunder somebody, and so what he ends up doing, he makes another mistake and fouls a guy and all this kind of stuff."
"Dexter needs to mature and get away from the 'pillage and plunder' aspect of making mistakes and compounding it by making three or four other mistakes. It is a maturity level for him for sure," Williams added.
"(There were some) mental mistakes---not knowing the plays---and just basically making little mistakes and stuff like that," said Strickland of last season.
"I think last year we just underestimated a lot of teams. We were the defending champions, so we went out there like, 'Well, we can beat this team,' and took them lightly," he added.
With a new mentality and added strength from a year spent in Carolina's conditioning program, Strickland is looking to make be stronger going to the basket and in playing defense this year.
"I've been working with the strength coach and getting stronger," he said. "With finishing (around the basket), you can get stronger."
"I feel real confident about this season. I think that last season motivated us to play our hearts out and leave it out on the floor like Coach says," he added.