Meek(s) and mild Thanksgiving

North Carolina center Kennedy Meeks was scheduled to make his college announcement between Georgetown and UNC a year ago on ESPNU.

A coast away, some members of the Tar Heels’ coaching staff had gathered in the sports bar at their hotel to watch. Carolina was about to face Long Beach State before heading to the Maui Invitational.

They managed to get an unsympathetic bartender to change one of the multitude of flatscreen televisions to watch Meeks, but the reception was bad and the picture grainy.

As Meeks fashioned the hat upon his head, it wasn’t clear to the Carolina staff because the interlocking NC wasn’t the school’s trademark insignia and it was a white-gray color. UNC assistant coach Steve Robinson groaned out loud and there was a collective sigh from the Tar Heels, who all thought Meeks had chosen the Hoyas.

“It’s kind of cool to think that I faked them out,” Meeks said. “I’m sure they were proud about the outcome though.”

They sure are now. Meeks is averaging 6.8 points and 6.4 rebounds through five games. He’s performed well when challenged including what confronts him today.

Meeks admittedly would like to take part in gorging himself with turkey, stuffing and rolls during his Thanksgiving Day meal. He didn’t arrive on campus weighing 317 pounds by not having big meals.

The 6-foot-9 Charlotte native said he’s come too far on his diet to make an exception even on this day.

Meeks is now down to 280, which is why discipline will trump tradition at the dinner table. His decision was made a bit easier since Meeks will stay in Chapel Hill with members of the team that stuck around rather than go back home.

“Over the years, I’m so used to eating junk food and getting away with it playing games and still scoring a lot of points and stuff,” Meeks said. “Now it’s the total opposite, if I slip up I have to work even harder that day in the weight room or in practice.”

Understand, Meeks has had to work hard to get to where he is. During summer conditioning, he realized there was no way he could play at coach Roy Williams’ fast pace without shedding weight.

He was always dragging when made to run “33s,” Carolina’s version of “suicides.” His stamina was virtually non-existent and he couldn’t play in pickup games for long stretches without getting winded.

“When I first got here I thought college basketball might not be for me if I’m going to keep this weight on,” Meeks said.

Initially though, Meeks thought he could somehow drop weight and still eat junk food. Strength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahratian caught wind fairly quickly that Meeks was straying from his diet.

Meeks was required to keep a log of what foods he ate. When he wasn’t showing any progress early, Sahratian knew something was wrong. He got a printout of Meeks’ meal card and saw an itemized list of foods and drinks he’d banned.

That was all it took for Meeks to fall in line. And once he starting visually seeing the progress, he’s been a believer in the process.

“It’s kind of addictive,” Meeks said. “Once I see the change -- I dropped 40 pounds in three to four months -- so I think that’s good enough to change the way I’ve been eating.”

Meeks performance in the win over Louisville was the on the court equivalent to dropping 40 pounds. He had his best performance of the young season with 13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in 24 minutes.

It made him see himself in a new light.

“It’s just like wow I’m capable of doing this on the college level,” Meeks said. “And now that people can see that I do that, I’m sure that’s what they expect from me. It’s a challenge for me, but I’m ready to take on that challenge for my team and my coach.”