Luke DeCock

Isaiah Hicks awakens for UNC, then goes back to sleep

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) during the first half of UNC's game against Florida Gulf Coast in the first round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship at PNC Arena Thursday.
North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) during the first half of UNC's game against Florida Gulf Coast in the first round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship at PNC Arena Thursday. ehyman@newsobserver.com

When not playing for North Carolina, Isaiah Hicks enjoys a diverse variety of leisure activities that include sleeping, napping, dozing, resting and catching Zs. It’s a busy schedule that occupies most of his time, especially on the road, where Hicks typically only leaves his hotel room for meals, shootarounds and games.

Even with a full day to spend in Washington before last Saturday’s ACC title game, Hicks visited neither the Lincoln Memorial nor the White House nor any other D.C. landmarks because he needed to squeeze in an afternoon nap or two before the 9 p.m. tip.

“That’s just how I am,” Hicks said. “I like to sleep. That’s my hobby, I guess. I get it when I can get it.”

The way he’s playing right now, none of his teammates want to mess with him. Let the man sleep as much as he wants – which, his roommates say, is a staggering amount.

“Which is crazy because the athletic freak that he is on the court, you would never think that,” said Justin Jackson, who has been Hicks’ roommate this postseason. “He’s in the bed, laying down, sleeping, pretty much 18 out of the 24 hours of the day.”

“He can just hibernate,” Joel Berry said.

It has taken two-and-a-half seasons for the sleepy junior from sleepy Oxford who Roy Williams called the “best sleeper on the team” to hit his stride at North Carolina. Hicks has always had the quickness and explosiveness to dominate other big men around the rim. It’s only now that he’s realizing just how powerful he really is.

This is especially important for the Tar Heels, because they have developed a Kennedy Meeks problem going into Saturday’s late game against Providence. In two of the past four games, it’s Meeks who has looked like he’s asleep well into the first half. After Thursday’s win, both Brice Johnson and Williams were unusually and brutally frank in criticizing Meeks’ intensity and inability to get more than a few millimeters off the floor.

Hicks started three games this season, but the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year has often looked in awe of the moment when asked to start. His ability to come off the bench and provide a second inside scoring option alongside Johnson or hold down the middle when the Tar Heels go small remains a critical weapon for the Tar Heels.

“Coach always tells me, be confident in what I do,” Hicks said. “I’m a very good player. I just have to be under control and all this and that. (I’m) 6-9, athletic, 235 – really use that to my advantage.”

While foul trouble has typically been his biggest issue, he’s also dealing with a swollen right thumb after aggravating an old, chronic injury before the ACC championship. Double-jointed, Hicks banged it on a teammate and hyperextended it, playing the past two games with the thumb wrapped.

Williams said afterward that Thursday was one of Hicks’ worst games of the season – “since the rocks cooled,” the coach said – and Hicks acknowledged his role in the first-half defensive breakdowns, but he helped provide his usual burst of energy under the basket when the Tar Heels took control in the second half, finishing with 12 points.

“We tell him all the time, anytime he misses a layup, ‘Those floaters and all you do? Dunk it,’ ” Theo Pinson said. “As you could see, second half, he got mad and dunked literally everything, in my opinion. Or he just went through somebody’s chin, which he needs to do every time.”

The trick is letting Hicks sleep in his room but waking him up on the court, getting him to play with that kind of aggression every time he touches the ball.

With the Tar Heels playing around 9:40 p.m. on Saturday, Hicks will have plenty of time to sneak in a couple of naps between longer rests. As long as he’s awake when the game starts, his teammates won’t mind at all.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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