CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina coach Roy Williams says he lets his freshmen "tell" him when they're ready to start - a message expressed by their performances in practices and games.
And despite his team's continued struggles to consistently take care of the ball, show intensity and score, it sounded Friday as if Williams was still waiting for the majority of this year's rookies to make that statement.
When the Tar Heels (4-3) take on No. 10 Kentucky (5-1) today at the Smith Center, they will face a Wildcats team featuring two members of its top-ranked freshman class in its opening lineup.
UNC, on the other hand, has been starting only one freshman - preseason All-America Harrison Barnes, who has drawn "overrated" chants from opposing crowds and has made only a third of his shots this season - from its fourth-ranked group of rookies.
"To me, I don't have a policy [about starting freshmen]; it's just that individual's situation," said Williams, adding that he starts more freshmen historically than most coaches.
After losing three games already and falling out of the Top 25, UNC's freshmen have had plenty of chances to move up the pecking order.
Last week, Williams said, he was ready to give freshman shooting guard Reggie Bullock (8.5 ppg, 14.5 mpg) more opportunities - until a sore knee sidelined Bullock for a game. Meanwhile, freshman point guard Kendall Marshall (4.3 ppg, 4 apg) had been pushing struggling junior Larry Drew II for a starting slot, Williams said Friday, "but Kendall's last two games were his worst two games."
The Wildcats' current starting ballhandler, freshman Brandon Knight, "was either the best, or one of the top two point guards in all of high school basketball, and he's started out the season playing that way," Williams said.
Starting forward Terrence Jones has already become the Wildcats' go-to guy, averaging a double-double in points and rebounds. Another freshman, reserve Doron Lamb, is averaging 11.5 points and 25.2 minutes.
Williams pointed out that although many of his talented freshmen in years past weren't ready to start early in their first seasons, they ultimately made their way into opening lineups - even within those same years. It's just a matter of proving they belong there, he said.
"We are developing," Williams said. "I honestly believe ... that this team will get better and better as the year goes along."
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