Sports

Williams hopes his gifted newcomers will make up for what UNC has lost

North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams said Tuesday that it is no secret that the two biggest question marks in the Tar Heels' lineup next season will be at point guard and big man.

Joel Berry and Theo Pinson have both graduated. And UNC struggled getting production from its big men last season, outside of Luke Maye, whose natural position is the four.

"We're losing some tremendously gifted kids who shared the leadership of that team as well as any team I've ever had," Williams said. "And yet we're bringing in some kids who I think are very gifted. That may be even more gifted than what we're losing. That doesn't mean they are going to be as good players because experience is a huge part of playing the game of basketball too."

Maye, who is 6-8, 240 pounds, often had to play the five position, and UNC was forced to go small. It was a big difference from previous Williams-coached teams, which were usually made up of talented big men. Those players, such as Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Tyler Hansbrough, Sean May and others have helped lead the Tar Heels to national championships .

But last year, the Tar Heels didn't have that luxury. UNC lost in the NCAA Tournament's Round of 32 last year to Texas A&M after making it to the championship game in the previous two seasons, winning it all in 2017.

The Aggies' size was a problem for UNC.

Maye, who averaged 16.9 points per game and 10.1 rebounds, said Tuesday he would like to return to his natural position this season. That means the returners from last season will need to step up.

Of UNC's returning big men — Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks, Walker Miller and Brandon Huffman — none averaged more than 5.4 points per game. But Williams said he is pleased with how his players are progressing.

"I have been impressed by all four of the big guys," Williams said. "With what they've been doing in the weight room, what they've been doing in the individual workouts, what they've been doing when we're asking them to do extra things.

"Walker (Miller) is 15 to 20 pounds bigger and stronger than he was last year...(Brandon Huffman) and Garrison (Brooks) were pretty well cut to start with and they've still been doing the same thing. And I think Sterling (Manley) has shown much more devoted, focused on working out."

In all, the Tar Heels will return three starters from last year's team in Maye, guard Kenny Williams and wing Cam Johnson. They will also add two McDonald's All-Americans in guard Coby White and forward Nassir Little. And they will add a top 100 player in Recheon Black, who is expected to be a hybrid player, playing either forward or point guard.

At point guard, either junior point guard Seventh Woods or newcomers White or Black will have to step into the starting role vacated by Berry.

White, who played at Greenfield School in Wilson, N.C., is expected to be the front-runner based on his potential. He finished his high school career as the state's all-time leading scorer.

When talking about White, Williams seemed confident.

"When you're the leading scorer in North Carolina history, that means you shot a hell of a lot," Williams joked. "No. He's a basketball player. He really is. The one thing that will have to become more important to him is his field goal percentage."

Williams hasn't been able to watch his players much because NCAA rules limits the amount of time a team can practice during the summer.

But Williams said he'll get a better sense of his team in July when they hold camp.

"Somebody has got to come through at those two spots and if they do, we've got a chance to be really, really good," Williams said. "If they don't, we'll have to fight, and that's what it boils down to."

Alexander, 919-829-4822; @jonmalexander
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