CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Underdogs? "Rebuilding season?"
North Carolina may have lost four starters from last season’s team, two Tar Heels players said at the ACC’s annual media day Wednesday, but they believe they are being overlooked.
“We have a great team this year; I think people are really selling us short,’’ sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo said. “But it’s fine, we’re not worried about that. We’re not worried about any preseason rankings or preseason accolades that other teams might be getting over us.
"That’s just added motivation, because at the end of the day, we’re still North Carolina basketball. Coach Roy [Williams], he coaches … championship teams, and that’s what we are this year. We’re going to go out every day in practice and work.”
The Tar Heels were picked to finish third in the league by the ACC’s coaches earlier this week; the media’s predictions were to be released later Wednesday.
Junior guard Reggie Bullock said he’s been impressed by the Tar Heels’ practices so far, and particularly the freshmen. Point guard Marcus Paige, who Williams expects to be the starter, is “one of the most athletic point guards I’ve been around,’’ Bullock said. The junior has also been wowed by rookie wing J.P. Tokoto’s athleticism and jumping ability.
McAdoo said he thinks freshman big man Joel James will start beside him, calling the 6-foot-10, 260-pound forward the strongest player he’s ever gone against except perhaps former Tar Heel forward Brendan Haywood. And forward Brice Johnson reminds McAdoo a bit of John Henson (one of that quartet that left for the NBA draft).
“I feel like me and McAdoo, this is going to be a big year for us to step up, lead the younger guys,’’ Bullock said. The team will also get a huge boost with the return of senior guard Dexter Strickland and redshirt junior guard Leslie McDonald from knee injuries, he predicted.
He also said the team will play as fast as ever, focus even more on defense and expect to hit more outside shots (what with its plethora of guards).
Asked about the change in expectations from last season (when the Tar Heels were a national title contender) and this one, Bullock said there wasn’t much of a difference -- because the team still has high expectations for itself.
“I don’t feel like it’s calmer at all; I feel like we’ve still got a bullseye on our back,’’ Bullock said. “Everybody’s still going to see how Carolina’s going to bounce back despite losing four starters to the NBA.”
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.