North Carolina Tar Heels: Kendall Marshall

Patience needed with Britt

November, 19, 2013
North Carolina’s Nate Britt didn’t expect to learn how to function as a freshman point guard from playing beside sophomore Marcus Paige. He thought he’d have the comfort as a rookie of watching Paige from the bench.

The playing status limbo of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald took away that luxury. Paige slid over to shooting guard and Britt has been forced to start immediately at point guard in what’s arguably the toughest position to play under coach Roy Williams as a freshman.

[+] EnlargeNate Britt
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesFreshman point guard Nate Britt has been forced into a bigger role than the Heels originally planned.
“I can only imagine starting as a freshman point guard -- Marcus did it last year, Nate’s doing it this year,” forward James Michael McAdoo said. “Trying to keep all of us happy, including coach, has got to be a tough thing to do.”

Britt said the toughest part of his transition has been trying to learn the defensive responsibilities. His lack of understanding is what got him benched for much of the second half against Belmont.

“There’s a lot of things he wants a point guard to do defensively and offensively,” Britt said. “That position just has the most things to learn as a freshman coming in, and some of it’s been overwhelming.”

Paige knows the feeling very well. He, of course, started at point guard as a true freshman last season. The only difference being Paige knew he would have to start with Kendall Marshall’s departure to the NBA.

Britt, who missed most of his senior season at Oak Hill Academy (Va.) while recovering from a torn meniscus in his right knee, was recruited to be Paige’s backup. Ideally Britt would have come in and played 10-12 minutes a game to relieve Paige. Instead, he’s having to play twice that and his growing pains are playing out very publicly.

Luke Davis replaced Britt for all but five minutes in the second half of Sunday’s loss.

“He had a tough game (against Belmont). I can tell him I had a bunch of those when I was in his position last year,” Paige said. “He’s going to be fine. Freshmen, they have bumps along the way. I have no worries about Nate.”

Through three games Britt is averaging 2.7 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. By comparison, Paige averaged 7.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists through his first three games last season. Britt is also tied with J.P. Tokoto for the team lead with six steals.

Britt said he’s trying to play more instinctively, but he’s still over-analyzing in most situations. That’s the exact thing Paige said affected him through most of non-conference play last season.

“He’s just been telling me to relax and play my game because he knows how it can be kind of nerve-racking and overwhelming at times,” Britt said.

The Tar Heels are inclined to be patient with Britt’s development because, truthfully, they don’t have many other options while Hairston and McDonald are out. But McAdoo said the team has seen how much Britt has developed since arriving on campus.

“I look at his whole body of work, not just the games, and just see how far he’s come in practice learning the offense, you know, just learning each and every day,” McAdoo said. “I think he’s doing a good job and will continue to.”

2014 class could be right piece

November, 14, 2013
Roy Williams won two championships in Chapel Hill thanks in large part to three standout recruiting classes. On paper, he just landed a fourth on Wednesday.

Williams delivered one of the nation’s best recruiting classes and gave a comment on each:

Theo Pinson, a 6-foot-8 wing, is ranked eighth in the ESPN 100: “He can do almost everything on the court and do it well. He can handle the ball, pass, defend and he has tremendous savvy.

[+] EnlargeJustin Jackson
Chris Williams/Icon SMI2014 UNC signee Justin Jackson is the nation's top-ranked small forward.
Justin Jackson, a 6-foot-6 wing is ranked 13th: “He’s 6-8 with perimeter skills. He performed well last summer against tough competition, including at USA Basketball events.”

Joel Berry, a 6-foot-1 point guard, ranked 15th: “He is a true quarterback on the floor, but he has the ability to score as well.”

It matches the 2010 class of Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock and Kendall Marshall for the highest average ranking. But the formula for winning titles doesn’t come with a talented class alone.

Williams has proven when he stacks classes the right way, Carolina contends for the title.

As you recall, Matt Doherty recruited the classes who proved to be the cornerstones of the 2005 national championship team. That included the 2002 class that featured Sean May, Rashad McCants and Raymond Felton.

Marvin Williams, from the class of 2004, proved to be a key addition to that team and was in Roy Williams’ first full recruiting class in Chapel Hill.

The starters for the 2009 title team came from portions of the 2005 (Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green) and 2006 (Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Deon Thompson) classes.

The team built to win in 2012 had key starters from three classes in Tyler Zeller (2008), John Henson and Dexter Strickland (2009) and Marshall and Barnes (2010).

Even if James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston are not on next year’s squad, the Heels will still have a nice blend of old and new talents from three straight classes. That once again could be the formula for a serious Final Four contender.

Pinson and Jackson in particular will give Carolina the depth and athleticism on the wings that it has lacked. Berry will team with Marcus Paige and Nate Britt to form one of the fastest back courts Williams has had at UNC.

UNC recruiting classes under Roy Williams

J.R. Smith, SF
Marvin Williams, PF
Quentin Thomas, PG

Tyler Hansbrough, PF
Danny Green, SG
Bobby Frasor, SG
Marcus Ginyard, PG
Michael Copeland, F

Wayne Ellington, G
Ty Lawson, PG
Brandon Wright, PF
Deon Thompson, PF
Alex Stepheson, PF
Will Graves, SF


Ed Davis, PF
Tyler Zeller, C
Larry Drew, PG
Justin Watts, SG

John Henson, PF
Dexter Strickland, SG
Leslie McDonald, SG
David Wear, PF
Travis Wear, PF

Harrison Barnes, SF
Regge Bullock, SG
Kendall Marshall, PG

James Michael McAdoo, PF
P.J. Hairson, SF
Desmond Hubert, C
Jackson Simmons, PF
Stillman White, PG

Marcus Paige, PG
Joel James, C
Brice Johnson, PF
J.P. Tokoto, SF

Isaiah Hicks, PF
Kennedy Meeks, C
Nate Britt, PG

Theo Pinson, SF
Justin Jackson, SF
Joel Berry, PG

Tar Heels eye return to classic '80s

October, 24, 2013
North Carolina averaged just 76.7 points per game last season, which marked the second lowest scoring output during coach Roy Williams’ tenure. The lowest average ppg season came in the 2009-10 campaign that ended in the NIT. The Tar Heels averaged just 74.5 points per game that season.

Needless to say, the emphasis is on increasing the pace and scoring more points in 2013-14.

[+] EnlargeRoy Williams
Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY SportsRoy Williams is hoping his team will push the pace this season.
“That’s what we’re trying to do,” Williams said. “If you’d ask all 16 guys on the team the No. 1 emphasis is pace. We want to go fast, we want to go fast, we want to go fast.”

Williams didn’t mention a scoring goal, but the Heels’ magic number appears to be 80. In five of the six seasons his teams have averaged 80 or more points per game, they’ve reached at least the NCAA tournament's Elite Eight. The only exception came in Williams’ first season back at UNC when they averaged 82.1 but were eliminated in the second round.

If there's a number that indicates whether or not the Heels have Final Four potential it could be 88. In Williams’ three Final Four appearances with Carolina, each of his teams averaged at least 88 points per game, and the 2009 national champions hit a high of 89.6 ppg.

(That also means the 2012 team that lost Kendall Marshall to injury before losing to Kansas in the Elite Eight would have had to be an exception to break that rule. That team averaged just 81.3 points.)

Sophomore point guard Marcus Paige is looking forward to increasing the tempo and scoring. He accepts some of the blame too, for not pushing the pace more last season.

As sophomore forward Brice Johnson put it, Paige was tentative due to his inexperience at the position.

“In the beginning he was like, ‘I don’t know if I can pass it, he might turn it over’ or ‘I might turn it over,’” Johnson said. “At the end of the year you could tell he was more comfortable.”

Paige said he’s no longer playing “robotic” at the point and is more instinctive now. Freshman point guard Nate Britt could add to Paige’s comfort level when the two are in the game at the same time. Britt can operate just as fast so all the responsibility wouldn’t fall on Paige to advance the ball. That lineup will easily allow Carolina get back to the tempo Williams wants.

“Overall you’ll see a team that’s back to playing fast,” Paige said. “Last year, we had stretches when we weren’t playing fast at all. We had stretches when we went to the big lineups, we didn’t really get out and run like we want to. This year will be a different story.”

Williams said he’s trying to get everyone used to playing fast, especially centers Joel James and Kennedy Meeks, who were both question marks due to their conditioning.

“They don’t have to outrun the other team’s point guard,” Williams said. “But they have to outrun the other team’s big guys. That’s something they’re understanding better.”

Meeks, who has dropped nearly 40 pounds since arriving on campus, does have an added weapon that Williams has raved about all preseason. His ability to accurately make long-range outlet passes can lead to easy baskets. In that case, Williams said he’s trying to get the rest of the players to catch up to Meeks.

“Kennedy can rebound it and outlet pass it to the top of the key or the foul line on the other end,” Williams said. “But it doesn’t do him any good to be able to do that if guys don’t run with him. So it’s been a challenge to get everybody else to understand that as well.”

Position series: Point guard

October, 21, 2013
This is the first in a position-by-position look at the Tar Heels.

Point guard is arguably the toughest position to play in coach Roy Williams’ system. It’s also generally the barometer to indicate what kind of team resides in Chapel Hill. When point guard has been a strength (Raymond Felton, Ty Lawson, Kendall Marshall), the Heels have competed at the highest levels. When it has been a bad fit (Larry Drew), the Heels ended up in the NIT.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Paige
Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon SMINorth Carolina point guard Marcus Paige improved greatly throughout the 2012-13 season.
And when it’s been inexperienced, as Marcus Paige was last season, they haven’t progressed past a second game in the NCAA Tournament. (That includes Williams’ first year back in Chapel Hill when Felton got acclimated to the system and Bobby Frasor’s season as the starting point guard in 2005-06.)

Paige, who was just the eighth point guard in school history to start his first game as a freshman, came on strong at the end of the season. Over the first 24 games last season, he shot 32.1 percent from the floor, 30.8 percent from the free throw line and averaged 3.4 assists. During the final 11 games including the postseason, Paige improved his shooting from the floor to 42.5 percent -- including 44.5 from behind the arc – and also averaged 3.5 assists.

Williams expects to see the version of Paige that closed out last season when this season begins.

“The initial stages -- particularly if you put a freshman at point guard and say, ‘Here’s the ball’ -- you’re thinking so much more than you’re doing something instinctively,” Williams said. “Hopefully after a year, he’ll do those things instinctively, bypass that thinking part and that’ll make the decision smoother and quicker, more successful and all those kind of things. Nate’s going through the same thing right now.”

Nate Britt will at least give the Heels a true point guard as a second option, unlike the past few seasons when Dexter Strickland was a functioning backup point guard. Williams has said he plans on playing Paige and Britt in the same lineup, which will encourage a faster tempo as either guard can push the pace.

“(Britt’s) a distributor, a guy that tries to get everybody else involved and a guy who tries to do exactly what I’m asking him to do,” Williams said. “I mean he’s really forcing the pace of the game. Now he’s just got to be able to make the successful play at the end. He’s a guy who is really going to help us.”

With plans to use both Paige and Britt, expect Luke Davis to continue to log minutes in reserve. The junior appeared in 20 games last season and had a 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio.

UNC point guards:

Paige: 6-1, 175, So., 8.2 ppg, 4.6 apg
Britt: 5-11, 165, Fr.
Davis: 6-0, 175, Jr., 0.4 ppg, 1.2 apg

UNC radio show notes: zoning in?

December, 4, 2012
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said during his Monday night radio show that X-rays on Marcus Paige’s injured left shoulder were negative, and he is hopeful the point guard can play this weekend.

A few more notes from “Roy Williams Live”:

ZONING IN: Williams was not pleased with his team’s defense during Saturday’s win over UAB. So that has been a concentration over the last couple of days, as he tries to figure out which defenses this team plays -- and can play -- best.

“I’ve already practiced zone twice this year, and we’ve had years before where we never practice zone; we might play it in a game just to stand up there and look different and see if we can screw up the other team,’’ he said.

“But this team, if you think about it, if we go small, how are we going to handle the other team if they have two big guys? It’s difficult for J.P. Tokoto or P.J. [Hairston] , who would be the guy who would come in to play our, quote, 4 spot. So if you go zone, you have a chance to help each other inside a little more if they post you up. We probably are going to start changing defenses a little more like I used to do.”

CONDOLENCES: Williams said he was saddened to hear of the passing of Utah and Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus, who died of heart failure over the weekend.

“Rick and I go back a long way, being associates," Williams said. “... I loved him, he was awfully nice to me many, many times. We had fun together when we were together; he was a fun-loving guy. When I think of Rick Majerus, I think of a guy who loved ball -- let him coach a little ball, he’s really, really happy. He loved getting out on the court and trying to coach, and make his team better to coach against your team. He was one of the great tacticians that we’ve ever had. He was able to do unusual things, and get his guys to buy into it.

“He was a wonderful personality; he was a big-time personality. He was a funny guy. I walked into Mother’s Restaurant in New Orleans, and he’s sitting there, and I knew he would know the answer. I said, ‘Rick, I need some help, should I get the jambalaya, the et tu fe or the gumbo?’ He handed me a spoon and said, ‘Here, I have all three, go ahead and try.’ ... A wonderful personality, a great tactician and a guy who truly cared.”

CENTER BATTLE: Freshman Joel James made his first start Saturday, but Williams still doesn’t know who will get the nod at center next.

“Yeah, we’ve started Desmond [Hubert], we’ve started Brice [Johnson], we’ve started Joel. I have no idea who I’m going to start on Saturday," Williams said. “... No one has stepped forward and said, ‘This position is mine.’ And I don’t make those decisions, players do. If I want to play, I want to beat your butt out. It’s pretty simple: I want to play the guys who are playing the best, and no one has stepped forward yet.”

D-LEAGUE: The Phoenix Suns recently assigned first-round draft pick Kendall Marshall to the Bakersfield Jam of the NBA's Development League. Williams said it’s been a tough transition for the former UNC point guard.

“I’ve spoken to Kendall a couple of times, I’ve spoken to the people in Phoenix. They really still -- and I’m convinced they’re being serious -- have tremendous dreams and hopes for him," Williams said. “It’s just right now, it’s a tougher situation, and they want him to get more playing time on a professional level, instead of staying there and playing two or three minutes or not playing in a game.

“It’s a different path ... when you leave college early to go to the NBA, you would like for it to be smooth, to have some playing time immediately. But it hasn’t happened that way for Kendall, and it’s just something he’s got to fight through. I think he’s going to be there [in the D-League] for nine games, and hopefully it will help him.”’s Chad Ford wrote last week that the 2013 NBA draft list might be the weakest in more than a decade Insider (Insider Access required), thanks to a lack of top returning underclassmen and “a marginal freshman class.”

North Carolina won’t have four players go in the top 17, a la Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall, John Henson and Tyler Zeller last week. But one Tar Heel is already projected as a top-5 pick, and a couple of others dot his top 100.

Of course, this is an early list, and plenty of players will drop and fall over the next 11 months. But here’s where the Tar Heels currently rank on Ford’s 2013 top 100:
4. James Michael McAdoo, sophomore forward

25. P.J. Hairston, sophomore guard

41. Reggie Bullock, junior guard

UNC redshirt junior Leslie McDonald, who missed last season because of a torn ACL, currently ranks 148 on Ford’s list. And it’s interesting to note that McAdoo is currently the only ACC player projected in the top 20. NC State’s C.J. Leslie comes in at No. 21, followed by Duke’s Mason Plumlee at No. 24. Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel currently holds the top spot.


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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – As he looked around the locker room after North Carolina’s loss to Kansas in the NCAA Regional finals last March, forward Desmond Hubert couldn’t help but grow a little anxious about all the talent the Tar Heels would lose to the NBA.

But after playing additional offseason pickup games with his teammates, putting on a few more pounds, and gaining confidence in his still-developing hook shot, “I’m a lot more excited now than nervous.”

Which, the Tar Heels hope, is a good sign. Hubert, who averaged 4.9 minutes in 25 games as a freshman, will likely need to play a much bigger role on UNC’s front line next season, considering the losses of ACC Player of the Year Tyler Zeller and ACC Defensive Player of the Year John Henson to the NBA draft. (Both are expected to be first-round picks next week, along with fellow starters Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall.)

[+] EnlargeDesmond Hubert
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesDesmond Hubert says he learned plenty during a freshman year of watching Carolina's stars at work.
Sophomore James Michael McAdoo, who came on strong late in the season, will start at one forward slot. Hubert, incoming freshmen Joel James and Brice Johnson, and also-sparingly used sophomore Jackson Simmons will be competing for the other starting spot -- as well as reserve minutes at both positions.

“I think some people are going to be surprised,’’ said Hubert, whose thin 6-foot-9 frame, expansive 7-3 wingspan, and Gumby-like defensive-mindedness have drawn plenty of comparisons to Henson.

“I know we’re going to be young, but we have a lot of talent. The freshmen coming in are really good. As soon as we start learning from each other, learning how to play together, to get rid of those early jitters and stuff like that, I think we’re going to be really good."

Hubert said he learned plenty of lessons from Zeller and Henson last season: timing, preparation, work ethic. But having to sit and watch wasn’t always easy, especially after averaging 16 points and 9 rebounds as a senior at New Egypt (N.J.) High.

“I remember playing a couple good minutes in one game [last season] … then not playing for two or three games in a row,’’ he said. “It was kind of hard. I guess that kind of hurt my confidence a little bit. But I had some great guys ahead of me, so at the end of the day … I couldn’t be mad or anything like that, because the guys ahead of me were just terrific guys.”

Plus, he said, he got to learn from those guys each day -- watching how Zeller sprinted down the court; emulating how Henson used his timing and reach to block and out-rebound bigger, broader opponents.

“When I first started practicing against them, it was really a one-sided match,’’ Hubert said. “And as the season started to go on, I feel like sometimes -- it didn’t happen many times -- but I could say there were a few times when I won out over Z or John. It didn’t happen very often, but it happened sometimes.”

Enough to take pride in, and build upon.

With Zeller and Henson gone, Hubert smiles and shakes his head at the fact that he’s now one of the “veterans” of the front line. But he’s working hard to set a good example.

By hitting the weight room often and eating up to six meals a day, he now weighs in at 220 pounds -- up from 193 when he first arrived in Chapel Hill last summer. A defensive specialist (he recorded 17 points and 37 rebounds, total, last season), he’s also been developing a go-to move: a right- and left-handed hook shot. Former Tar Heel forwards Rasheed Wallace, Marvin Williams and Deon Thompson have also taken him under their collective wing, offering tips and tricks and even more competition.

Now, Hubert is anxious about next season in a good way.

“When I first got here, I had no idea what I was in for, I had no idea what to expect at all,’’ he said. “… Now I feel like I’m in a position where I have to teach the freshmen that are coming in some of the things that John and Z taught me. I’ve got to be a major part of the team this year. It’s kind of different, but it’s a challenge I’m willing to accept. I’m kind of excited for it.”

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ESPN Insider Jay Bilas on Monday ranked his 30 best players in the NBA draft, Insider and four North Carolina players made his top 18.

Here's how Bilas rated them:
5. Harrison Barnes, North Carolina Tar Heels: In high school, I thought Barnes was super athletic and always made the right play. In college, I questioned his athleticism and his basketball IQ. Well, I am doubling down on Barnes because I think he will be a better pro than a college player. He is an outstanding jump shooter, really good at midrange and incredibly athletic with potential at both ends. Barnes is a thinker who is process-oriented, but with more time to work on his game, I like him better as a pro. And he was a heck of a college player, notwithstanding the super high expectations.

12. Tyler Zeller, North Carolina: Zeller has a skill that sets him apart from any big man in this draft, and the vast majority of big men in the NBA: He can really run the floor. Zeller's ability to change ends puts tremendous pressure on opposing big men. Zeller is a good post defender who breaks contact to get deflections and rebounds at a really high rate. He needs to better hold position down low, but he is strong and has a good frame. He has a nice touch, hits a trail jumper and knocks down his free throws.

14. John Henson, North Carolina: Henson was projected as a small forward coming out of high school, but it seems that power forward is his best spot. He has freaky length and can block shots and rebound, and his offensive game has improved to the point of being able to hit a face-up shot to 17 feet or so. He is unorthodox and does not carry a lot of bulk, but his length, shot-blocking ability and rebounding make him a very good prospect.

18. Kendall Marshall, North Carolina: Marshall is a left-hander with extraordinary vision, passing ability and leadership. He has good size but lacks foot speed and the ability to get by people off the dribble. Marshall is not a great shooter or scorer but is excellent in transition, and his teammates run because he will find them. He averaged almost 10 assists per game but did not score efficiently. He can hit a wide-open standstill jumper but is not a driver or penetrator. His defense is lacking, but he is able to use his size and is smart about playing off of quicker guards and using angles to cover up speed and quickness disadvantages. Marshall has decent straight-line speed but not quickness.

Bilas had also previously ranked Barnes as one of his top five players in this draft with star potential. Insider


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North Carolina coach Roy Williams said last week the team didn't know that point guard Kendall Marshall had fractured his elbow (at the same time as he fractured his wrist) until after the season.

Well after,'s Andy Katz reported Thursday:
Former North Carolina guard Kendall Marshall said he didn't know that he fractured his right elbow until six weeks ago despite the injury occurring on the same fall as his right hand injury against Creighton in the NCAA tournament. Marshall could not do contact drills at the Chicago NBA combine but he did shoot. He continued to say he wouldn't have been able to play in St. Louis but would have tried at the Final Four. UNC beat Ohio but lost to Kansas in the St. Louis regional. Marshall said he didn't want to hurt the team.

Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer reported in Friday's editions that Marshall is working his way back from what he jokingly calls his "funny bone" injury. His elbow did not require surgery, and even though he couldn't participate in contact drills, he was out to prove that he could shoot the ball better than he showed last season. (Although his best attribute is being a pass-first guy.)
“I know my strength is getting people involved and everybody at the next level will score. I don’t need to score 20 points at the next level,” Marshall said. “I feel like I can adjust to any situation. But if a team is looking for a point guard to score first, that could be tough.”

Marshall also said he never anticipated leaving college after only two seasons. Wrote Bonnell:
Circumstances pushed him out the door. This is widely considered a weak point-guard draft, which Marshall said was a factor in his decision; he might never be more marketable than in 2012. Then, fellow underclassmen Harrison Barnes and John Henson turned pro and the tide crested.

“It just seemed time,” Marshall explained. “I think I’m at my best with weapons all around me. Everybody was leaving. It wasn’t going to be the same.”

Marshall, Henson, Barnes and 7-footer Tyler Zeller are all expected to be top-20 picks.

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Last week, North Carolina senior Dexter Strickland was cleared to run. Soon, he thinks his doctor will allow him to jump and work on lateral movement.

By late August or early September, trainers are hoping he’ll be ready to return to the court and play basketball again.

And by the start of the season?

“I expect to play the point guard way more than I did last year,” he said Thursday, grinning as he met with the media.

[+] EnlargeDexter Strickland
AP Photo/Don PetersenAfter a serious knee injury Dexter Strickland hopes to be back before the start of the season.
Indeed, with last season’s Cousy Award winner, Kendall Marshall, preparing for the NBA draft and star prep ballhandler Marcus Paige not due to arrive on campus until later this month the onus is on Strickland, a combo guard, to take on more of a load at point guard next season.

But he has to get healthy first.

Last season, the New Jersey native was starting at shooting guard, backing up Marshall at point guard, and serving as the team’s top perimeter defender when his knee buckled on a drive to the basket January 19 at Virginia Tech. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on the play, forcing reconstructive surgery several weeks later and sidelining him for the season.

“It was horrible,’’ Strickland said. “I really don’t like to think about it, talk about it. It was horrible. As soon as I Euro-stepped, I just felt it shift; the pain was -- I can’t really explain it, it hurt me real bad.”

What hurt worse, though, was having to watch his team play from the sideline. First during the postseason, when the Tar Heels lost in the NCAA Regional finals with Marshall also benched by injury.

And now.

“The most difficult thing is just being injured -- watching guys playing pick-up and not being able to play with them, not being able to work on my game and get better, as far as jump shooting and different dribbling drills and stuff like that,’’ Strickland said. “That’s been the most frustrating: not being able to be in the gym as I used to be.”

Day by day, though, he’s getting closer to coming back, sweating in the weight room and rehabbing in the pool. He’s also been spending plenty of time watching film of point guards, “guys who are very good at what they do” like Ty Lawson, Chris Paul and Tony Parker.

“I still see myself as a combo guard,’’ said Strickland, who didn’t start playing point guard until his freshman year at UNC. “I think I’ll always be a slashing guard, so I think there’s more room to grow, and there’s never a time when I stop learning or stop developing my game as a 2-guard or a point guard. I need to focus on whatever it takes to help my team win.”

Which means getting healthy, ASAP. After all, the only other point guard on the roster besides Paige next season is sophomore Luke Davis, who sat out 2011-12 after transferring from Gardner-Webb.

That’s one of the reasons Strickland thinks the Tar Heels will be underestimated.

“I feel like we’re going to an underdog a little bit, being that we lost John [Henson], Harrison [Barnes], Kendall, Z [Tyler Zeller], who were really key to our success,’’ he said. “I think we have something to prove. I think everybody’s thinking we won’t be as talented, we won’t be able to accomplish the same goals that we accomplished last season. And I think that gives everybody more motivation to be better.”

And to heal?

Strickland says he knows he won’t be 100 percent when he is cleared to return to the floor in a couple of months, but he hopes his speed and instincts come back quickly. He has been told he is recovering fast and is “on track."

UNC opens practice Oct. 12.

“I’ve come a long way,’’ he said. “I still have a lot to do with the rehab, of course, but so far it’s been good.”

BRIEFLY: Shooting guard P.J. Hairston sprained his right shoulder in a pick-up game about three weeks ago, but is expected to start playing again this weekend.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
Some Tar Heels hoops-related stories, notes and quotes from over the weekend:

TWO AWARDED SCHOLARSHIPS: North Carolina sophomores Luke Davis and Jackson Simmons will be on scholarship next season, according to InsideCarolina. Greg Barnes writes:
The scholarships for Davis and Simmons have been granted on a year-to-year basis and may not be available in future years, according to the school official.

The decision to grant the point guard and forward scholarships isn’t surprising, considering the early departures of John Henson, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall to the NBA had left the Tar Heels with only 10 scholarships players for next season -- three under the NCAA limit. Davis and Simmons put them at 12.

As per NCAA transfer rules, the 6-foot Davis sat out last season after leaving Gardner-Webb for UNC. The Raleigh, N.C., native averaged 7.2 points and 4.2 assists his freshman season and is expected to add some depth to the point guard position behind freshman Marcus Paige and senior Dexter Strickland.

The 6-7 Simmons appeared in 23 games for the Tar Heels last season and recorded 15 points and 17 rebounds, total. The Webster, N.C., resident was also on scholarship in 2011-12.

ZELLER UNDERRATED? UNC 7-footer Tyler Zeller is earning a lot of high praise from scouts, writes Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio, but still isn’t expected to be drafted until the 12-15 range. Why, Amico asks?
“Well, for one, this is a pretty deep draft with a lot of players who have high expectations,” said a Western Conference GM. “Also, I don’t think anyone really expects (Zeller) to change the course of your franchise. Most expect him to be a unique and talented center that could play an important role, though.”

Especially if he ends up in the right place.
“It’s all going to be about the right fit for him,” the GM said. “If he lands on a team that gives him an opportunity, I expect him to make some contributions. In his case, they’ll probably go unnoticed, but they’ll definitely be there.”

Also, followed Zeller around on graduation day. He reflected on his career and moving on to the NBA. Here’s the video.

MARSHALL READY FOR COMBINE: After training at the IMG facility in Bradenton, Fla., for the past month, Marshall was scheduled to return home to Virginia on Sunday before leaving for the NBA draft combine in Chicago on Wednesday, David Fawcett of reported over the weekend.

Wrote Fawcett:
Although Marshall has yet to face any full contact, Dennis Marshall said his son’s wrist is 100 percent as is his elbow. Marshall fractured his elbow and broke his wrist in North Carolina’s second-round win March 18 over Creighton in the NCAA Tournament.

Kendall Marshall will work out for five or six teams, his dad added, and will find out in about two weeks whether he has been invited to the draft. Marshall and Zeller, as well as Henson and Barnes, are all projected as top-20 picks.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
The New Orleans Hornets were the big winners in the NBA draft lottery on Wednesday night, landing the top overall pick (which they will almost certainly use on Kentucky's Anthony Davis).

What does the new draft order mean for the quartet of North Carolina players expected to go in the first round? NBA draft analyst Chad Ford weighed in with a new mock draft, version 5.0 . Here's where he ranked the Tar Heels:
4. Harrison Barnes, Cleveland Cavaliers

Analysis: Thomas Robinson may be the best player left on the board, but he's not a great fit with Tristan Thompson. If both MKG and Beal are off the board, the choice will be between Harrison Barnes and Andre Drummond. Both fit needs and Drummond has crazy upside, but the Cavs loved Barnes at the No. 4 pick last year before he decided to go back to school. I think they'll roll the dice on him again this year.

9. John Henson, Detroit Pistons

Analysis: Greg Monroe has been a revelation in the middle for the Pistons, but they really need to pair him alongside an athletic shot-blocker. Although John Henson is painfully thin, he rebounds, blocks shots and defends multiple positions. It wouldn't be a perfect solution in Detroit, but the Pistons don't have a lot of other options here.

14. Tyler Zeller, Houston Rockets

Analysis: The Rockets' biggest need is in the middle and Zeller should be a solid option. Scouts don't think Zeller is going to be an All-Star someday, but he's big, he runs the floor very well and he has a great touch around the basket. Zeller should ultimately land somewhere between Picks 8 and 14.

17. Kendall Marshall, Dallas Mavericks

Analysis: With Jason Kidd 39 and a free agent and Rodrigue Beaubois more of a combo guard, Marshall would bring much of what Kidd brings to the table -- incredible court vision and size -- right away. He's not a great athlete or a great shooter, but he could keep Dirk and company happy.
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
Former North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall didn’t just break his wrist during his team’s NCAA tournament victory over Creighton. He fractured his elbow, too, he revealed in an interview with the IMG Basketball Academy Blog:
“My wrist is almost 100 percent. What people didn’t know is that I also fractured my elbow. That’s been the toughest thing for me to deal with, still not being able to go full contact. Hopefully, I’ll be ready to go by the Combine.”

Marshall, the pass-first sophomore who went on to win the Cousy Award, had to watch from the bench in street clothes and a wrist splint as his team beat Ohio, then ultimately lost to Kansas in the NCAA regional finals. After the season, he joined fellow UNC underclassmen Harrison Barnes and John Henson in choosing to leave school early for the NBA draft. Teammate Tyler Zeller, who graduated earlier this month, is also expected to be a first-round draft pick.

When did Marshall know he would be a pro? He told the website:
"The end of my freshman year of college. I felt like I was pretty good, but people started asking me after my freshman year if I was coming back. I was like, 'Where would I go?' It didn’t even occur to me."

In anticipation of becoming a pro, Marshall is working out at IMG academies. In the interview, he also addressed meeting President Obama, the best advice he’s ever received and playing against Duke. He had this to say about Twitter haters:
"In season, I get anywhere from 15-25 tweets per day of just pure recklessness. Keeping it PG, it’s stuff like 'You suck' and 'You can’t shoot.' Now, it’s 'You’re overrated' and 'You’re not going to get drafted high.' Even some Carolina fans come at me sideways now because I left school early. Maybe one every couple days I’ll give them a sarcastic response. You have to be able to laugh because these people don’t understand that you’re human and not on a pedestal."
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- I caught up with North Carolina coach Roy Williams for a few minutes before he addressed fans at the Rams Club’s Triangle Tour stop on Tuesday night. A few notes:

COACHING TREE GROWS: Williams said he plans to hire a person with UNC ties to replace assistant coach Jerod Haase, who left earlier this month to become head coach at UAB. But it won’t be last season’s assistant strength and conditioning coach Jackie Manuel, who is now an assistant coach at UNC Greensboro under former Tar Heels guard Wes Miller. And it won’t be assistant video coordinator Bobby Frasor, Haase’s new director of basketball operations.

Williams thought it would be good for the former Tar Heels guards to gain more coaching experience outside of Chapel Hill.

“I asked Wes to take Jackie, and it was an easy sell. I asked Jerod to take Bobby, and that was an easy sell. Because I thought those were great spots for them to start their coaching career,’’ Williams said. “They were wonderful kids, but I wanted them to understand that not every place is like North Carolina.

“I think it was great for me that I was a high school coach for five years; I was an assistant coach for 10 and I had two practices for eight. I realize that somebody’s got to flip a switch to turn the lights on, somebody’s got to mop the floor; it doesn’t just happen magically. And when you coach at North Carolina, you think that all those things happen magically, and they don’t. Somebody has to do that.”

TEAM LIKELY SET: With three underclassmen leaving early for the NBA draft and ACC Player of the Year Tyler Zeller graduating, the Tar Heels lose four-fifths of the starting line-up that led UNC to the NCAA regional finals. A four-man freshmen class arrives in June, but it sounds like Williams doesn’t expect any late additions to next year’s team.

“We always keep our eyes and ears open; I’m never going to say that we wouldn’t be interested," he said. “But there’s nobody out there. There was all this stuff in the paper about one player, that we were doing all this stuff. I talked to the kid one time, period.

But, he added, "we’ll always keep our options open."

Although he didn’t give that player’s name, Williams was referring to his call to Connecticut forward Alex Oriakhi, who chose instead to transfer to Missouri. Oriakhi won’t have to sit out a season because the Huskies are barred from playing in next year’s NCAA tournament, and he would have added an experienced big body to a Tar Heels team that loses both starting forwards (Zeller and John Henson).

Williams told fans Tuesday night that sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo (who will slide into one of those starting positions) “has a chance to be a big-time, big-time player; he’s got to step his game up.”

Wing Reggie Bullock, he added, “will have to take his game to another level."

Meanwhile, “Dexter [Strickland] and Leslie [McDonald] have to come back in and be healthy, and then the freshman group we have coming in, they’ve got to show us that they’re strong players, as well.”

With so many veteran players on the perimeter and so many younger ones in the post, it will be key to see whether Williams opts to go with a smaller, guard-heavy line-up compared years past. Even he doesn't know -- yet.

“It will be interesting to see how my thought process goes over the summer,’’ he said.

MIGHT-HAVE-BEENS: Not surprisingly, it’s been a difficult few weeks for Williams, after his team -- which began the season ranked No. 1 and had national title goals -- lost to Kansas in the NCAA tournament in the Midwest Region final.

“It’s been really hard, because it was a great, great year with a sad, sad ending. … Our last regular-season game, when we played at Duke, I thought we were pretty doggone good. And I said on the bus, just to our coaching staff, that for me, if we played like that, then we have a chance to win the whole thing.

“Then the very next game, John gets hurt [sprained wrist] -- and John was never the same. And then the second game in the NCAA, Kendall [Marshall] gets hurt, and that’s about as unlucky as I’ve ever been, I guess, too.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

UNC's John Henson chooses agent

April, 17, 2012
North Carolina forward John Henson, the two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year who is leaving school early for the NBA draft, will be represented by Jim Tanner of Washington, D.C.-based Williams & Connolly LLP, the firm announced Tuesday.

Tanner also represents former UNC forwards Marvin Williams and Brandan Wright, among others.

"When looking for representation, I wanted to find a group that fit with my goals and personality," Henson, a junior, said in a prepared statement. "Jim and the team at W&C had a very specific and unique plan for me, and that was important. Overall, I just felt comfortable with them, and that they truly cared about my career."

This month, sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall chose Octagon to represent him in the draft, while senior forward Tyler Zeller hired Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports Management.

Sophomore forward Harrison Barnes, meanwhile, will be represented by agent Jeff Wechsler, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

All four starters -- who led the Tar Heels to the Midwest Regional Final in the NCAA tournament -- are projected as first-round draft picks.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.