North Carolina

UNC celebrates start of practice at ‘Late Night with Roy’ and then prepares for real work to begin

UNC coach Roy Williams dances with his team during the annual "Late Night With Roy" kickoff to the basketball season on Friday, October 3, 2014 at the Smith Center in Chapel HIll.
UNC coach Roy Williams dances with his team during the annual "Late Night With Roy" kickoff to the basketball season on Friday, October 3, 2014 at the Smith Center in Chapel HIll. rwillett@newsobserver.com

They did some dancing, sang some songs, wore some vests with no shirts on underneath and, toward the end of the festivities, even played a bit, too, and offered people their first look at this season’s North Carolina basketball team.

Then they took down the lights and put away the costumes, bid a farewell to the annual Late Night with Roy preseason party and prepared for the real work to begin. The Tar Heels’ first preseason practice is Saturday morning.

“We’re hungry,” Jackson Simmons, a UNC senior forward, said on Friday night after Late Night with Roy, UNC’s annual preseason pep rally. “There’s a sour taste in our mouths (from ending last season against Iowa State). We didn’t finish the way we wanted to.

“And we’ve really been motivated.”

Jackson, after the Blue team beat the White, 41-40, in a light, defense-optional scrimmage, spoke of “unfinished business.” The Tar Heels believe they have some, and they’ll start the season with as grand of expectations as any team in the nation.

UNC’s easy-going scrimmage didn’t provide any definitive answers about this team. It wasn’t supposed to, after all. There were some takeaways, though – namely that Justin Jackson, the 6-foot-8 forward from Tomball, Texas, is likely to have a chance to play a significant role early.

Jackson led all scorers with 17 points, and he scored the Blue team’s final five points – points it used to erase a 14-point deficit to come back and win in the final seconds. After Jackson’s layup gave the Blue team the lead late, Marcus Paige missed a 3-pointer that could have won it in the final seconds.

Paige, a junior guard who will likely enter the season as the ACC Preseason Player of the Year, finished with 10 points. Junior forward J.P. Tokoto and sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks both finished with eight points.

And Jackson finished with a performance that likely impressed those who were seeing him for the first time. His teammates, though, had seen this before.

“Seeing everybody play every day, you already know what they can do,” Isaiah Hicks, a sophomore forward, said. “But just seeing (Jackson) step up like that, you know, the big crowd – first time out here – I think that impressed me a lot.”

Hicks said he was more comfortable, too, than he was a season ago. And Meeks, meanwhile, showed off his new-look, slimmer figure. He said he weighs about 270 pounds – 55 pounds lighter than when he arrived at UNC in the summer of 2013.

“I feel great,” Meeks, a former standout at West Charlotte High, said with a smile. “Compared to 325 (pounds).”

Meeks had one of the more memorable pre-scrimmage moments when he lip-synced Whitney Houston’s “And I Will Always Love You.” Simmons went with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” and Paige with a Beyonce tune – “Drunk In Love.”

Bobby Frasor, a former UNC guard who was a part of the 2009 national championship team, served as the master of ceremonies. He pleased the crowd with bits of dry humor, including two cracks on Duke – including one in which he reminded the audience that Roy Williams has never lost to Mercer or Lehigh in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the night was when Sylvia Hatchell, the UNC’s women’s basketball coach, was introduced to a standing ovation and long, loud applause. Hatchell didn’t coach last season while she received treatment for leukemia.

She was back on Friday night, her hair growing in after she lost it amid chemotherapy, watching her team scrimmage before the men’s team started its part of the show. Williams, as usual, limited his dance moves but showed a couple.

Before the men’s scrimmage, he led the crowd in a tribute for Stuart Scott, an ESPN personality and UNC alum who is fighting cancer. Scott had hosted this event nine times.

Then Williams watched his guys play for a while. The real work was yet to begin.

“We won’t be doing dancing or anything (on Saturday),” Simmons said. “But we’re ready to go, and we’re eager to start off on a good note with the first practice.”

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