UNC’s McAdoo believes he is ready to lead

acarter@newsobserver.comJune 14, 2012 

— James Michael McAdoo once faced questions about his lack of confidence, about why he appeared so uncomfortable during his freshman season at North Carolina. On Thursday, though, reporters surrounded him and wondered whether he was ready to become as one of the Tar Heels’ leaders.

It was further proof of just how far McAdoo has come in the past six months. In January, McAdoo still had yet to shed the timidity that defined the first half of his first collegiate season. Then came his emergence in March during the ACC and NCAA tournaments and a flirtation with the NBA. And now, this: his proclamation that yes, he is ready to play a far more important role for a team that lost its top four players from last season.

“I feel like I’m ready for it,” McAdoo said of becoming a go-to player, both in terms of production and leadership. “I feel like being a leader is something that I’m good at, something that I did all through high school, and something that I’m excited about.”

McAdoo will be a sophomore next season, and he’s years younger than upperclassmen Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland. But while McDonald and Strickland ended their seasons on the bench, sidelined by knee injuries, McAdoo peaked at the best possible time for the Heels.

After a freshman season that had been mostly disappointing, McAdoo regained so much of his confidence that he began to think in early March, during the ACC tournament, that he might have a chance to leave school early to enter the NBA draft. He decided to stay, despite projections that he would have been a first-round pick.

“I think I either spoke to or had conversations or got information from 21 of the 30 NBA teams,” UNC coach Roy Williams said on Thursday. “And everybody said he shouldn’t [enter the draft].”

But, Williams said, those same NBA personnel types told him that McAdoo would be drafted in the first round. McAdoo admitted that the temptation of a professional contract lured him. But he said he never came close to leaving.

In a span of about six months, McAdoo transformed from an enigma into a player who is perhaps UNC’s most important returnee. He seized his opportunity after John Henson suffered a wrist injury in the ACC tournament and McAdoo started three games – one in the NCAA tournament – in Henson’s absence.

With the departures of Tyler Zeller and Henson, McAdoo is now the Heels’ most experienced post player.

Reggie Bullock, UNC’s rising junior guard, couldn’t identify the exact moment when McAdoo began to become comfortable last season. The transformation came gradually, Bullock said, and then McAdoo “just exploded.”

“He was getting putbacks, he was stealing the ball at the top of the key, going down, getting tip dunks,” Bullock said. “He was definitely the energy player coming off the bench.”

After speculation persisted that McAdoo was strongly considering leaving school for the NBA, Williams said he worried that McAdoo might leave. But for Williams, there was no gray area, and no room for debate: He felt McAdoo should remain in school.

So here McAdoo is. Gone are the doubts that plagued the first half of his freshman season. He hasn’t watched any film of himself from those early games, and said he’d prefer not to think of those times.

He admitted to being “lackadaisical in my approach to the game” and said, “Mentally, I felt that I was out of it.”

“I don’t know,” McAdoo said, when asked why he’d been lackadaisical. “I mean, it’s college. Y’all know how it is. You get to college, there’s a whole other atmosphere. Mom and dad, my sister, weren’t here. You know, you kind of got to grow up quick.”

McAdoo didn’t grow up quickly, though. It took him a while to get where he is, and now he speaks with confidence about where he might be headed.

Carter: 919-829-8944

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