North Carolina

How UNC’s Roy Williams plans to rebuild his frontcourt after losing 4 to the NBA

North Carolina coach Roy Williams watches his team shoot during practice for the NCAA tournament in March.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams watches his team shoot during practice for the NCAA tournament in March. rwillett@newsobserver.com

With the glow from the latest national championship still bright in Chapel Hill, North Carolina has already started working toward winning yet another.

The Tar Heels, who had to rebuild their roster after they lost four players after beating Gonzaga in the national championship in April, will start practice on Oct. 2.

Coach Roy Williams returns experience in his backcourt with senior guards Joel Berry and Theo Pinson and junior Kenny Williams. Pittsburgh graduate transfer Cameron Johnson, a 6-8 guard, will help, too.

After that, his work in determining a starting lineup and his bench rotation brings challenges. He’s got a plan to handle them.

“I don’t think coaches decide the starters,” Williams said Friday. “I really think players decide the starters.”

Williams said he learned a lesson long ago to “go in with eyes wide open and try not to make decisions before you allow the players to make the decisions.”

Losing forwards Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley from last season’s NCAA championship team to the NBA means Williams has to rebuild his frontcourt. Williams also lost small forward Justin Jackson to the draft.

The Tar Heels have four freshmen big guys – Sterling Manley (6-11, 240), Walker Miller (6-10, 220), Brandon Huffman (6-10, 250) and Garrison Brooks (6-9, 215).

“Four new big guys. Three scholarship guys and one walk-on,” Williams said before joking, “If you take the best characteristic out of each one of them and put them in one player, you still wouldn’t have a player.”

The NCAA allows teams 40 days to get in 30 practices before the regular season begins on Nov. 10. Some, like Duke, will start before September is done.

Williams and the Tar Heels are taking a different approach, letting the players have a few extra days of their offseason before getting to work.

“We’ll let them have that last free weekend,” Williams said. “Let them go home and come back Monday and we’ll get rolling.”

Steve Wiseman: 919-419-6671, @stevewisemanNC

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