- Robbi Pickeral, College Basketball
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina junior Reggie Bullock has been spending some extra time in the post this offseason, working on scoring from the inside (as well as out).
The 6-foot-7 wing said he doesn’t know if he’ll be called upon to play forward next season, what with last year’s starting front line expected to be picked in the first round of the NBA draft next week, “but I’m willing to play any position to help my team.”
And he wants to be prepared -- because as he well knows, anything can happen.
When Dexter Strickland tore the anterior-cruciate ligament in his knee last January, sidelining him for the season, it was Bullock who stepped into the starting shooting guard role. He added better size and shooting (38.2 percent on 3-pointers) to the position and focused (successfully) on replacing Strickland as the best perimeter defender on the team.
He wants to continue to build on those improvements this coming season, when he’ll be the only returning starter from the lineup that lost to Kansas in the NCAA regional finals.
“I know I’m going to have to step up offensively and defensively, and be a leader out there on the court. I know what coach wants,” Bullock said, listing ballhandling, posting up smaller guards, and drawing fouls on the way to the basket as some of his top improvement goals. “And I know I can do it.”
Bullock, a junior from Kinston, N.C., quietly gained confidence during every game he started last season, and particularly showed his leadership aptitude during the NCAA tournament. Against Ohio, with the team missing injured point guard Kendall Marshall, Bullock rallied his teammates. First he told them they could, indeed, win without their pass-first ballhandler, and then he proved it by hitting 3-pointer after 3-pointer.
The team had doubters then, just as it has doubters now that Marshall, Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes have gone pro. And Bullock, who averaged 8.8 points and 5.1 rebounds last season, kind of likes it.
“I know a lot of people have probably got us as an underdog right now, but our team is Carolina,’’ he said. “We’re not going to back down from anyone. We’re going to have a lot of bumps in the road, but we’re still going to pull together, and just make the best of it. And our main goal is to win the ACC.”
To that end, Bullock knows the veteran wing corps of himself, Strickland, Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston must set the pace by playing fast, hitting shots, and playing pestering perimeter defense -- all while finding and feeding the younger big men in the post.
But which role (and how many roles) will Bullock play? Sophomore James Michael McAdoo will fill one starting power forward position, but with a bevy of other inexperienced sophomores and freshmen vying for time at power forward, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bullock spend some time at the "4" spot, should coach Roy Williams opt to go to a smaller four-guard lineup from time-to-time.
Whatever happens, Bullock just wants to be ready, especially now that so many other veterans are gone.
“Those players left,” he said, “but Carolina basketball never stops.”
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
57dJeff Goodman and Jeff Borzello