UNC's Roy Williams on leadership and playing with no regrets
Today in Charlotte is ACC basketball media day. I will not be there but Roy Williams, Joel Berry and Isiah Hicks will. No doubt they're prepared for the expected questions, and you should be, too.
So with that in mind, a look at the questions that Williams and his players will most often receive – and some insight into the answers to those questions:
1. What now without Theo Pinson?
This is now among the most important questions surrounding the Tar Heels, and the only preseason question that Williams and his players didn't address at their own media day earlier this month. Not long after that event, Pinson broke the fifth metatarsal in his right foot in a practice.
His father, Theo Pinson Sr., said recently that Pinson is expected to be out for eight to 12 weeks. Which means that the most optimistic recovery timeline gives him a chance to return in time for the start of ACC play in late December.
In the meantime, expect to hear a lot about how this is an opportunity for other players to emerge, and for the Tar Heels to grow in Pinson's absence. It will be similar to what we heard last year after Marcus Paige broke a bone in his hand just before the start of the season.
And, looking back, Paige's injury and the time he missed did make the Tar Heels better in the long run, because all of a sudden other players received chances they wouldn't have otherwise. It's the same sort of concept here. So expect to hear about it at media day in Charlotte on Wednesday.
What not to expect: To hear that such-and-such player will definitely fill Pinson's void. Williams, if you remember, hadn't even committed to public record that Pinson would have definitely entered the starting lineup (though that didn't seem to be in doubt).
2. How to compensate for the loss of Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige?
When Williams addressed this question earlier this month he invoked what Rick Pitino told his players at the start of his relatively brief, not all that successful tenure as head coach of the Boston Celtics.
“I said, hey, guys – coach Pitino's big comment about Larry Bird and Kevin McHale not walking in that locker room,” Williams said. And, indeed, Johnson and Paige are not walking in that locker room. Except perhaps to visit.
UNC will miss Johnson's production and his energy. It will miss Paige's leadership and his ability to make the clutch shot, regardless of the circumstances. And now the Tar Heels have to figure out a way to move on. I wrote a story about this earlier this month.
During UNC's appearance at media day, expect to hear a lot about how compensating for the loss of Johnson and Paige will be a group effort. Pinson, by the way, was expected to play an important role in that effort. In terms of frontcourt production, the onus now falls mostly on Hicks. For leadership and shot-making, UNC needs more of what it saw out of Berry last season.
3. Roy's health and retirement plan -- any updates?
When a horde of media last surrounded UNC coach Roy Williams, it was at the Final Four in Houston. If you remember, Williams' antics became a national story – his alleged crankiness, the way he dismissed some questions and warned reporters not to ask others.
Roy being Roy, really. Nothing new to those of us who cover him regularly.
To those less familiar with him in recent years, though, Williams' behavior seemed out of place. There were questions then, given his mood and given his health concerns (the cancer scare several years ago, the bad knees), about the longevity of Williams' career. How much longer did he plan to coach?
Those questions could come up again on Wednesday, much to Williams chagrin. When he met with reporters in April about a week after the loss against Villanova in the national championship game, he said he'd answered questions about his retirement “27 times.”
He said he'd answered it from me, alone, “five times.”
The short answer: Williams isn't going anywhere. At least not in the relatively near future. He did said in April that he has adjusted what he tells prospects he's recruiting.
“I've changed,” he said then. “I guess for four years I said I wanted to coach six to 10 more years. And I thought it was silly to say that four years ago and still say it. So I went down one. I said I hope to coach five to nine more years.”
Williams turned 66 recently. He had his right knee replaced in May. He said he's feeling good – or at least better. And he has no plans to go anywhere until after his 70th birthday.
4. Can Isaiah Hicks take the next step?
With Johnson gone Hicks, the ACC's Sixth Man of the Year a season ago, is in line for what a less polished sports writer might describe as a “monster season.” But: He'll need to avoid foul trouble and play with the confidence he's exuded in his best moments.
5. What to expect out of the freshmen?
Tony Bradley is the primary one to watch here. He's more skilled and more ready to contribute than Johnson was as a freshman and, given UNC's relative lack of post players, Bradley figures to be more heavily involved in his first year than either Brandon Robinson or Seventh Woods, two wing players.
6. Will UNC become a good perimeter shooting team?
Outside shooting has been the Tar Heels' weakness in recent seasons, even with Marcus Paige, the most prolific 3-point shooter in school history, doing his thing. Now Paige is gone. Berry proved himself from the outside last season. Better shooting will be expected out of Justin Jackson.
7. Speaking of Jackson – is he ready to play a leading role?
Jackson has been a two-year starter and a prominent player on teams that reached the Sweet 16 and played for the national championship. Last year he acknowledged he felt lots of pressure to be more of The Man. Fair or unfair, the expectations surrounding him are even higher now.
There you have it.