Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams will have his most experienced team this season since the national championship club of 2005. He says that will enable him to focus on making the Tar Heels a better defensive team.
When UNC men's basketball practice begins in October, Coach Roy Williams will be able to teach and push this next team in a way that he hasn't been able to do since the 2004-05 team, which eventually won the national championship.
It's been that long since Williams had so many experienced players. In 2006, mostly freshmen dominated the roster. Williams had one inexperienced veteran in David Noel. Last season, the team was comprised of sophomores and freshmen.
"There is no question with experience you can move faster," Williams said, "and make little changes from what you're done in the past, and it's easier for them to grasp. It will be more fun for me because I can push them harder. I always think you can push more talented, more successful, more experienced teams than you could push teams that are hesitant.
"Last year, Alex Stepheson, for one, told me that the first two thirds of practice he was just trying to get through practice," Williams said. "He didn't care what he found out, learned or whatever. He just wanted to be alive at the end of practice."
In 2004-05, Williams had the rims removed from the backboards in the Smith Center at the start of a practice to emphasize how important defense would be for the Tar Heels. Then after the Tar Heels backslid in the NCAA Tournament, Williams took the team to the practice gym, which had been well heated, and took the rims off once again.
By the time Carolina arrived at the Final Four, the Tar Heels were ready to play defense to the best of their ability.
"I challenged everybody [this summer]," Williams said. "Everybody has got to be a better defender. On my desk, under the glass top I put notes down. I've got two or three cards full of notes, and probably 90 percent of the things are on the defensive end of the floor."
Defense begins with the point guard, and Tywon Lawson played better on the defensive end toward the end of last season. Lawson has immense ability and could be a great defender if he decides to put the same effort on that end as he does in running the floor and attacking the basket on offense.
"Tywon had no idea last year what he could do defensively," Williams said. "If you go back and look at tape of Raymond Felton's first year with me, he was OK defensively and that was it. His second year with me I thought he set the tempo for our whole defense. He almost never got beat on a penetrating dribble down the middle of the court. When that happens, everybody else can lock down better.
"I think Ty will be much better defensively. I think Wayne [Ellington] will be much better defensively. Alex and Deon [Thompson] will have a chance to do more in a game."
Williams said that Lawson will be a much better all-around player this season.
"His freshman year was really, really a good year," Williams said. "I thought the last three or four regular-season games through the tournament were some of the best basketball he played all year. He's still a long way from Ty-Ler [Hansbrough], but his workouts are so much better than they were.
"I think he understands all those little things now that go into him being the kind of player he wants to be and I want him to be. I really think he'll have a great, great year. He'll be much more focused. That year of experience as a point guard will be invaluable to him. I'm expecting a great, great year from him."
Even Hansbrough, a two-time All-American, could be a better defender, and he probably will, considering how hard he is working this summer. Ellington, a rising sophomore guard, is playing on the U.S. Pan American Games team. Hansbrough received an invitation to play, and would no doubt have made the club had he attended the tryouts, but playing on a summer team would not provide him without enough workout time, Williams said.
"Tyler is just so focused on his own individual workouts," Williams said. "I think it depends on what the kids want. If Tyler wanted to go, I wanted him to go. If he didn't want to go, I didn't want him to go. A kid can gain a lot from it, but nobody knows what each individual kid's goals are.
"Tyler Hansbrough's goals are not to practice two hours a day and let that be it and say he's getting better. Tyler Hansbrough works out in the weight room. He plays pickup. For Tyler, a good summer may be six or eight hours per day."