UNC forward James Michael McAdoo, amid meetings with Roy Williams, searching for niche

acarter@newsobserver.comDecember 3, 2013 

  • UNC at No. 1 Michigan State

    When: 9 p.m.

    Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, Mich.

    TV/Radio: ESPN/101.5-WRAL

    Projected starting lineups

    UNC (4-2)

    G Nate Britt 3.5 ppg, 2.2 apg

    G Marcus Paige 20.8 ppg, 3.8 apg

    F J.P. Tokoto 9.5 ppg, 5 rpg

    F James Michael McAdoo 13.8 ppg, 6 rpg

    F Joel James 4 ppg, 4.7 rpg

    Michigan State (7-0)

    G Keith Appling 16.9 ppg, 5.6 apg

    G Gary Harris 17.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg

    F Branden Dawson 10.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg

    F Matt Costello 3 ppg, 3.4 rpg

    F Adreian Payne 15.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg

    Player to watch

    James Michael McAdoo

    The Tar Heels beat then-No. 3 Louisville without a sterling effort from McAdoo, but it’s unlikely UNC keeps it close at Michigan State without a significant contribution from him. McAdoo hasn’t scored in double figures in his past three games, and his rebounding has diminished, too. Coach Roy Williams says he wants do a better job of putting McAdoo in a position to succeed.

    Observations

    Michigan State hasn’t necessarily been known as a fast-paced team under coach Tom Izzo, but the Spartans are this season. They’re averaging 85.9 points per game and outscored Kentucky 21-2 in fast-break points last month. … UNC’s shaky 3-point shooting defense will be tested against Michigan State, which is making 38.8 percent of its 3-point attempts. … This is the third consecutive season UNC has faced a No. 1-ranked team on the road. UNC lost 72-72 at Kentucky in 2011 and 83-59 at Indiana last season. … Roy Williams is 3-3 against No. 1 teams at UNC, but his most recent victory against a top-ranked team came in 2006 against Duke. … UNC is 7-7 all-time in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, with victories against Michigan State in 2008 and 2009.

— North Carolina coach Roy Williams said on Monday night during his weekly radio show that he met with junior forward James Michael McAdoo earlier in the day and that the two would talk again Tuesday.

Those kinds of conversations aren’t uncommon, but the talks between McAdoo and Williams likely carried more weight, given McAdoo’s recent struggles. These have been difficult times for McAdoo, and that has made things more difficult on the Tar Heels, who on Wednesday night play at No. 1 Michigan State.

Williams on Tuesday declined to detail what he and McAdoo discussed.

“Very personal,” Williams said. “Very private. And I have discussions with all of our guys all the time. … If you’re married, what did you talk to your wife about last night? There’s some things that need to be personal.”

McAdoo’s recent troubles, though, have played out on a bright stage, with a legion of UNC basketball supporters watching and wondering what ails him. For the second consecutive offseason, McAdoo spurned the NBA draft and elected to return to school, citing his desire to improve and his belief he can become a better player than he has shown.

There have been some glimpses during the first month of the season. McAdoo scored 21 points and had nine rebounds in the season-opening victory against Oakland. During a surprising loss against Belmont, he had 27 points and 13 rebounds.

In the three games since, though, McAdoo hasn’t scored in double figures. He also hasn’t had more than four rebounds in any of the Tar Heels’ past three games.

During the 63-59 defeat Sunday at UAB, McAdoo labored on the interior and the perimeter. He missed layups that have come easily to him at other times. Some of his jump shots missed everything.

Part of McAdoo’s problem, it might seem, is he’s trying to adapt to a role that doesn’t best suit him. Because UNC is without guards P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald – both of whom continue to sit out amid NCAA eligibility concerns – the 6-foot-9 McAdoo has been asked to play more on the perimeter. He has been at his best, though, closer to the basket – especially when playing alongside another complementary forward or center.

McAdoo said after Sunday’s loss at UAB that had he made his jump shots, they would have been considered “great shots.” He said he has attempted to remain aggressive within the framework of Williams’ offense.

“I’m not a selfish player,” McAdoo said. “I just want to do what I can do to help the team. If that means rebounding, shooting the ball here or there, then I think I just really need to work on what I need to do. Especially when I’m playing that small forward position – finding that niche, whatever that word is.”

McAdoo, it appears, is still searching for his niche. He found it once, toward the end of his freshman season.

Back then, in March 2012, McAdoo’s role increased because of John Henson’s wrist injury. McAdoo showed flashes he hasn’t often shown since – but he had the benefit of playing alongside Tyler Zeller, who earned ACC Player of the Year honors that season.

Because of how he ended his freshman season, McAdoo entered his sophomore season surrounded by All-American expectations. For better or worse, those have followed him since, shining a spotlight on his more unflattering performances.

“He’s a big-time player,” sophomore guard Marcus Paige said. “And there’s nights when everyone struggles. For him, he’s got to be a little more patient.

“He got rushed into a couple of situations early in the (first) half, and those things pile up. I try to tell him just to relax, play your game, make something good happen and then feed off of that. But sometimes guys struggle.”

Even with Hairston and McDonald, the Tar Heels wouldn’t have been able to overcome individual struggles like some of Williams’ most-talented teams. Without Hairston and McDonald, though, UNC’s margin for error is as slim as it ever has been under Williams.

“Our margin is really small,” Williams said. “In (2009), we could play really poorly and still win a lot of games. We could play without Ty Lawson, we could play without Tyler Hansbrough, (without) some of those guys, against pretty good teams, and still win. We don’t have that margin.

“As a coach, you’d like to have is that you could win by 30 or lose by two. … We have to play really, really well.”

UNC has proved it can. In the victory against Louisville two Sundays ago, Paige scored a career-high 32 points, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks excelled on the interior and role players – freshman Nate Britt, for instance – contributed. Combined, those factors enabled UNC to win without an overwhelming contribution from McAdoo, who had nine points and a season-low two rebounds. More often than not, though, UNC needs McAdoo to be far more productive, and needs him to be at his best, or close to it.

Michigan State is a team many believe to be the best in the country – a team that will make UNC’s margin even slimmer than it already is. Yet Williams said since the UAB loss he focused most of his attention inward – on self-improvement.

Only Tuesday at midnight did Williams begin to think about Michigan State, he said.

“There’s no question that they have more experience – more experienced talent, that kind of thing,” he said. “But you still get to play the game.”

Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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