But to live up to those expectations, UNC coach Roy Williams pointed out, the sophomore has to prove he can excel when opposing defenses are aimed at him. Especially with four-fifths of last year’s starting lineup now playing in the NBA.
“Last year, it was sort of fun; he could run around and they’d guard Harrison [Barnes], they’d guard John [Henson], and they’re guarding Z [Tyler Zeller] and they’re guarding Kendall [Marshall], and who the crap is this other guy?” Williams said. “Well, now they know who he is and that's who they are going to be guarding."
He compared the situation to that of star UNC running back Gio Bernard.
"Gio is carrying the ball, Gio’s returning punts, Gio’s receiving the ball and the other team knows that -- and he's still kicking their rear ends, and I love that," Williams said. "When we had Tyler Hansbrough, they knew we were going to throw the ball to him, and we did, and he kicked their rear ends.
“Making that step is a huge step and so James Michael has to be able to do that, Reggie [Bullock] has to be able to do that. I told our team: we have to collectively be much stronger, particularly at the start. And [we] can't rely on an individual to do so many things ... this group has to play well on game night. Step out in front of the lights and play well -- if not, we'll stink it up."
MORE FREEDOM FOR WINGS: With so much more experience on the wing than in the post, Williams said he is giving the likes of Bullock, Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston a little more freedom on the offensive end.
“It’s like that rope: you can swing on it, drop in the river and have a good time – or you can hang your rear end," Williams said. “So if they make shots, I’ll be over there clapping and giving them more freedom.”
It’s a significant change for Williams, who in past seasons has had plenty of big men to feed, feed, feed. But with Zeller and Henson gone, he has to tweak his (and his team's) approach to fit his club’s personnel -- especially because he’s worried about scoring points.
"I'm not comfortable, but right now I'm more comfortable with Reggie Bullock shooting the ball then one of those freshmen big guys,'' he said. "That's pretty easy to figure out. If that’s the case, I’m not going to tell Reggie, ‘Don’t you shoot it, throw it to one of those big guys and see what they do with it’ because I really don’t know what they’re going to do with it right now.
BACK TO YOGA: Williams, who recently had a benign tumor removed from one kidney and a biopsy on the other (it was also benign), had been kept from some of his old routines as he recovered from surgery. But not anymore.
“Last Wednesday, I was released to start exercising again,’’ he said. “They still have some restrictions on how much I can do, and those kinds of things. I’ve been feeling great. … I’m back exercising, I’m back doing yoga, I’m back walking, and hopefully I’ll be back cheering and clapping on the sidelines when we make good plays Friday night.”
Williams said he hasn’t decided yet who will start in the post, along with McAdoo: “Joel [James], Brice [Johnson], Desmond [Hubert], Jackson [Simmons] … one of those four will start, but we don’t know who that’s going to be.”
Williams has been telling freshman J.P. Tokoto that he can be the best perimeter rebounder he’s ever seen: “He has been walking around like a zombie, and then all of a sudden J.P. Tokoto showed up at practice yesterday, and got 8 million rebounds and did it again today. He has trouble shooting the ball, but defensively and rebounding he can be a tremendous weapon.”
Who is the leader of this team? “Right now, the two best leaders on the team are the guys that have played the best and did the most last year at the end of the season: James Michael and Reggie,” Williams said.
Sophomore transfer point guard Luke Davis has been impressing Williams, and will play: “This boy works at it as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen.”