UNC forward James Michael McAdoo providing emotional spark for Tar Heels

acarter@newsobserver.comJanuary 28, 2014 

— James Michael McAdoo has heard it for a while now, this notion that playing with emotion and passion is more of a challenge for him because he usually appears so calm.

“People always say that, but I don’t really know why,” McAdoo said after the Tar Heels’ 80-61 victory against Clemson on Sunday.

The junior forward gave it some more thought and then said: “That’s just something I guess people, when they see me, they’re just not used to that.”

Indeed, McAdoo recently has undergone something of a transformation. During his first 21/2 years at UNC, he rarely displayed emotion. Judging solely on his expression, it would have been difficult to tell if he’d just dunked over two defenders or allowed a pass to slip off his hands, out of bounds.

Lately, though, McAdoo has provided an emotional spark for the Tar Heels, who will play at Georgia Tech on Wednesday night. After his team’s victory against Clemson, UNC coach Roy Williams credited McAdoo for inspiring teammates to play harder and with more intensity.

McAdoo spent plenty of time on the floor, competing for loose balls. He punctuated his finer offensive plays with yells or fist pumps, and after one layup in the second half he traded a high-five with a middle-aged man sitting in the front row behind the basket.

“It was just one of those in-the-moment type things,” McAdoo said. “So (I was) just excited, man. Just having fun, playing the game I love.”

His increased intensity has coincided with his improved production. During UNC’s past seven games, dating to its victory against UNC Wilmington on Dec. 31, McAdoo is shooting 60 percent and averaging 16.1 points and 8.3 rebounds.

He is taking more high-percentage shots and finding ways to score in transition. He is playing with more consistency, which has been a point of emphasis during the past two seasons.

“I think he’s invested a heck of a lot more and not that he was any more culpable than anybody else, but I think the passion that he played with was extremely important to our team,” Williams said Monday. “… We need him to be that leader, and the emotion that he shows out there in that positive way I think helps everybody.”

McAdoo’s fire and passion are less important to Williams, though, than his production. As Williams said earlier, “anybody can stand up there and go, ‘Rah, rah, rah’ and jump up and down.”

McAdoo has usually saved his emotional outbursts for celebratory moments after successful plays – a charge taken, a dunk in transition, a layup amid a foul. During the victory against Clemson, the Tar Heels seemed to feed off his energy.

They certainly fed off his production – whether it came on offense or defense. At times this season, UNC has missed that emotional presence. In ACC play, the team lacked energy throughout its 0-3 start.

After a disheartening defeat at Syracuse on Jan. 11, McAdoo and sophomore guard Marcus Paige pledged to try to ignite change. They spent the next several days urging teammates to play harder and to listen to Williams’ plea to give more effort.

McAdoo has led his team’s attempt at a transformation with one of his own. He has been more consistent, more productive and more fiery. Those are things the Tar Heels needed – and will need, if they’re to recover from their second 1-4 ACC start in school history.

“We do need that emotional leadership,” Williams said. “But it’s awfully easy for the guys to ignore it if you’re not doing the simple things. And I think James Michael’s doing those things right now.”

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

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