CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina center Chay Shegog shuffled into position during Wednesday's defensive practice drill, pestering her teammate near the free-throw line with an impressive wing span.
Staying in front and creating an impenetrable wall, the 6-foot-5 senior finally extended her long arms and blocked the shot of an exasperated Shannon Smith.
"Best perimeter big girl in the country," UNC women's basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell said to Shegog and anybody else willing to listen at the team's media day.
This season, the Tar Heels plan to give Shegog every chance to live up to Hatchell's claim. After three years in a reserve role, the center moves into a prominent position as a leader and designated scorer.
The Heels lost seniors Jessica Breland, Italee Lucas and Cetera DeGraffenreid to graduation and are looking at a mostly youthful, inexperienced roster heading into the season. Junior center Waltiea Rolle will miss the start of the season as she gives birth to her daughter and junior forward Tierra Ruffin-Pratt will sit out while recovering from shoulder surgery. Both are expected to play this season, but could redshirt.
So the Heels now turn to Shegog, a native of Stafford, Va., who has averaged 8.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game during her career.
"We're going to get her the ball," Hatchell said. "Because I do think she's going to be one of the best big girls in the country this year."
Along with senior point guard She'la White and senior forward Laura Broomfield, Shegog will be asked to carry the load for a team that will play a lot more inside-out basketball than in the past.
The Heels finished last season with a 28-9 record. This season's squad has five freshmen and a sophomore.
Hatchell said the team still will feature its fast-break style, but its new personnel can flourish more in half-court sets. She said White, along with others, have improved from the outside and the team as a whole - after shooting 29 percent from the arc last season - is better from 3-point range.
"Looking at what we lost, a lot of teams might think that we're weak," White said. "Not a typical UNC women's basketball team. But I think different. We've been working all summer and I think we're going to shock a lot of people."
With Broomfield and Shegog the Heels present a formidable frontcourt.
Shegog returns as the team's leading scorer after averaging 8.9 points and 4.9 rebounds. She has slimmed down, built muscle and worked on post moves to get more out of her tall, lean frame.
She also watched former UNC post players Erlana Larkins and LaToya Pringle.
"The biggest difference from myself and them is that they just attack all the time," Shegog said. "Every time they get the ball it's just like an attacking mentality. I really didn't have that. I've always been more like a finesse-type player."
Hatchell has awarded her a new title.
"Whenever someone says you are something positive that's what you want to live up to," Shegog said. "If they say you're the best perimeter post player in the nation, you want to keep playing so that you prove that you are."