This hasn’t been the postseason, or second half of the season, really, that Kennedy Meeks wanted or envisioned or expected. Still, he said on Thursday, “I think I’m finally getting back to myself.”
It has been a process to reach that point. Meeks, the junior forward who is still feeling the effects of a knee injury that forced him to miss seven games earlier this season, has scored six points in two NCAA tournament games, and has missed nine of his 12 attempts from the field.
He played a total of 21 minutes, combined, in victories against Florida Gulf Coast and Providence.
Nonetheless, he expressed some confidence on Thursday that he’ll return to form soon.
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“I think I’m finally back to where I need to be as far as giving the full effort and playing like I know I can play,” said Meeks, the former West Charlotte High standout who has continued to start for UNC amid his struggles.
Meeks said he recently had a conversation with UNC’s entire coaching staff. The coaches, he said, knew he’d been frustrated, knew he’d been down on himself, too.
“Coach Rob has been preaching to me the past couple of days, move onto the next play,” Meeks said of Steve Robinson, UNC’s longtime assistant.
Still, moving on is easier said than done. Meeks acknowledges that this has been a difficult, confidence-zapping stretch – perhaps the most difficult of this three seasons at UNC.
He has tried to block out the criticism.
“Like coach (Roy Williams) said the other day on the radio show, from what I hear, either you’re with us or you’re not,” Meeks said. “I couldn’t care less what people have to say about me. …
“Right now, I’m in a great place. I’m happy as I’ve ever been with my teammates, I’m happy with everything in life. So I’m fine.
“And I think (Friday) is a big-time opportunity for me, as far as me getting back to my normal self.”
UNC-Indiana conjures thoughts of history
North Carolina and Indiana don’t share the deepest NCAA tournament history but what’s there is memorable. Indiana’s victory in 1984 in Michael Jordan’s final college game. The 1981 national championship game the same day as the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.
History was a popular topic on Thursday, when the teams’ coaches and players met the media before UNC and Indiana play on Friday in an NCAA tournament East regional semifinal. UNC coach Roy Williams was an assistant on Dean Smith’s staff for UNC’s first two tournament games against Indiana.
Williams on Thursday recalled the uncertainty surrounding the ’81 national title game and whether it should be played after Reagan was shot.
“I do remember us being outside in a hallway outside the locker room,” Williams said. “And all of a sudden, it’s 35 years ago however far it was, it was either C.M. Newton or Dave Gavitt came and got Coach Smith and he and Coach Knight and they went and talked.
“Coach came back and said president looks like he’s going to be okay and we’re going to play.”
Earlier in the week Williams described it as “a tough, emotional day,” and amid the drama the Hoosiers pulled away for a 63-50 victory.
Berry on Ferrell
UNC’s Marcus Paige and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell went head-to-head often in their high school years on the AAU circuit, and also in 2012 when the Tar Heels and Hoosiers played in Bloomington, Ind., in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Their head-to-head time is likely to be limited on Friday. Joel Berry, the sophomore point guard, said he’d most often be defending Ferrell, Indiana’s All-American point guard. Paige will take his turns, though.
“I’ll spend some time on him throughout the game,” Paige said of Ferrell. “Just try to keep him in front of me. He’s really explosive and quick and he can also shoot a pretty nice pull-up jumper. He’s the guy that’s talented enough to get his over the course of the game.”