Several times throughout the season when North Carolina coach Roy Williams was asked about forward Isaiah Hicks somewhere in his response Williams said he needed to get the 6-foot-8 freshman more playing time.
Now we’re starting to see why.
Hicks is slowly finding his comfort zone. He no longer has those games or those moments where he looks out of place on the court.
“As a freshman, and I can relate, it’s hard coming into a new environment you get a little bit timid,” senior guard Leslie McDonald said. “You can see he’s developing each and every game and every practice you can see him being more aggressive to the basket and just knowing the plays. So in the beginning it was a slow start but you can see Isaiah really coming along.”
Hicks earned the team’s top defensive honor against Northern Kentucky for the first time. He followed that with a career-best seven points against UNC-Wilmington. He showed range he hadn’t previously revealed by making good on his first 3-point attempt this season.
Hicks is doing all of this having moved from power forward -- the only position he’s known -- to small forward. Thing is, Williams said Hicks could develop into a natural small forward before his career is over.
“It’s similar somewhat to John Henson,” Williams said of Henson’s freshman season. “We’re trying to allow him play on the perimeter. He’s not really a perimeter player, but yet he might be before it’s over. Long term, this might be something that’s good for him.”
Hicks averages just 2.1 points and 1.5 rebounds per game, but his comfort level at small forward can’t be quantified in stats. It’s more in the nuances, like when he anticipated and made the perfect help-side defensive rotation against UNCW. Hicks is looking less like a player who overthinks every possession and is acting instinctively now.
“Basically that’s the only spot I’m playing, so practice I get more time playing that position so it’s coming to me more natural,” Hicks said.
The better suited Hicks becomes at playing small forward, the better off the Tar Heels will be. He could potentially be a matchup problem for opponents because of his length. Hicks described himself as “like a big, small forward.”
“His length, athleticism and his ability to get in there and be big for a 3 is his biggest asset right now,” sophomore guard Marcus Paige said. “When he finally gets to play the 4, he’s going to be a beast.”
Freshman guard Nate Britt and center Kennedy Meeks have played considerably more than Hicks. (Hicks averages just 8.8 minutes per game.) But Hicks looked at the early contributions of Britt and Meeks as motivation.
“I just looked at it like if they’re out there, they can do it,” Hicks said. “I just have to work harder because I can do it too.”