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Insider Info On UNC Practice That Is Apparently No Longer Insider

Imagine that in this world of instant internet.

The observations were apparently made during the Roy Williams Coaches Clinic which included an opportunity for attendees to watch UNC practice on October 23rd. Details first popped up on the Inside Carolina premium board last week and now an additional thread with the information has been posted on the free message board. The IC admin has confirmed it is legitimate. I am posting the entire piece after the jump. The original can be found here. I think it speaks for itself with the following caveats. The practice observed was almost two weeks ago so you have to assume some improvements have been made since then. Also, it was indicated on IC that Ed Davis was under the weather during this practice which may have caused him to be viewed poorly by the observers.

I would point out there were basically two things that jumped out at me. The first was the idea that Roy and his staff were installing a new offense to better utilize the skill sets of the Tar Heel big men. Secondly, according to this treatment, Roy appears to be bending over backwards for Will Graves and in the process not giving the wayward junior as much of that patented Roy Tough Love we are accustomed to seeing. Based on this information, Graves is presently penciled in as the starter at SF despite the fact that John Henson is an insanely freakish with some of the things he can do on the court and the truth that Graves is reserve at best.

Without further ado here it is.

A work in progress.

Those are the words from Roy Williams himself. After spending two practices watching the Tar Heels, I would agree. Let’s just say that it’s a good thing the Final Four isn’t any time soon. This team has a chance to be very, very good. Up front, they’re huge. And they all run. And they all handle the ball extremely well. And…….you get the picture. I’ll elaborate more on the personnel in a bit, but the strength of this year’s team will be the 6 guys in the front court. If those six play well, UNC could have a terrific year.

Going in to this season, there are some assumptions I think we’re all making. First, shooting the ball will be a problem. Second, it’s unclear how effective Larry Drew will be as the starting point guard. Third, while Deon Thompson has shown nice promise as a low post threat, the Tar Heels will have to develop a true replacement for Tyler Hansbrough on offense. Fourth, despite their youth the Heels look to be a good defensive team.

Before going in to specifics, here a few overall observations. Marcus Ginyard looks good. Defensively, he’s everywhere. He’s tone, he’s lost a little weight, and he can really guard the ball. The five rookies are all no-nonsense guys. They all take basketball seriously and it shows. Roy Williams is catering to Will Graves (I’ll elaborate in a bit). Larry Drew has the tools to be a top-flight point guard, but his experience level is so low that his maturation may take a while (like, the whole season).

So, after a sort of pessimistic start to this email let’s talk about some things UNC will be good at this year. Rebounding should be a major plus for the Heels. The Big 6 and Ginyard will be a formidable board group (these six consist of Deon Thompson, Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller, and freshmen John Henson, David Wear, and Travis Wear). More importantly, the Tar Heel coaching staff is emphasizing crashing the glass. During the sessions of the clinic on Saturday, both Roy and C.B. McGrath talked about how critical rebounding will be to UNC’s success. The other clear advantage Carolina will have over virtually every team it plays this year may come as a surprise. The Heels should be the best ball-handling team on the floor every night. Typically a young team will kick the ball all over the gym for a while. In 2005, I was almost depressed leaving the clinic weekend after watching Bobby Frasor, Danny Green, Hansbrough, and Ginyard throw the ball in to the third row for two days. Thankfully I didn’t have to suffer through the same thing this year.

Ok, let’s dive in to some specifics. The best place to start is with the new offense that Roy is installing. Let me say that again. The University of North Carolina Men ’s basketball team is going to use an offense it has never used in my lifetime (or before, I imagine). The genesis of this new offense came a few weeks ago during the staff’s annual retreat. Each year the basketball staff gets out of the office just before practice starts to discuss the upcoming season. This year’s retreat focused on trying to figure out what to do with all the new bodies. Answer: They have no idea (this is almost the exact quote from Roy ). But, one thing that came out of the retreat was the realization that there are no proven low post scorers on this team. Sure, Ed Davis could be awesome. And Deon Thompson could come on big-time. Tyler Zeller may be improved too. But none of those guys is Hansbrough. It was the most glaring issue I saw in the two practices – a slew of big guys who can’t finish in traffic. Hansbrough made his living carrying people to the bucket, and then to the foul line. To paraphrase a line from Rick Pitino, Tyler Hansbrough ain’t walking through that door. Somehow, some way, Carolina is going to have to get consistent production from it’s stable of big guys.

Roy and his staff figure the best way to do that is to play to the strength of its post players. Without question, the greatest strength of this group is their ability to handle the basketball. So, when you have good ball-handling post guys what do you do? You let them handle the ball. And that’s exactly what Roy is going to do with the new offense. Instead of trying to slam the ball in to the post to players that aren’t able to finish with defenders draped all over them, he’s going to bring those big guys out away from the basket. In the new offense – which is still driven by Carolina ’s age-old motion offense principles – the post guys will start at the foul line extended. The three perimeter players will be in roughly the same places they have been. The goal is to open up the lane to allow cutters and drivers. This should create fantastic passing opportunities for UNC’s big folks. In particular, the Wears, Zeller and Henson are superb passers. Henson and the Wears are equally as good off the dribble too. Frankly, it was stunning to see the Wears handle the ball like guards. Those are two big dudes, but they can really handle the rock. They aren’t going to blow past any guards or win any Cousy awards, but I doubt there are any big guys in the country who pass and dribble as effectively as they do.

A hidden benefit of the new “open” offense (that’s its name) is the offensive rebounding advantage it should give the Heels. It’s one thing for the defense to check out a guy in limited space near or under the goal. It’s an entirely different thing for a defensive big to have to guard away from the bucket and then turn to box out 15 feet from where the ball will end up. Most big guys will just turn and follow the ball, giving no thought to putting a body on Carolina ’s bigs. For Davis , Henson, and the Wears (especially the Wears) that will be trouble for the opposition.

Another plus for the new offense centers on the ability of UNC’s big guys to knock down the mid-range jumper. Henson, Zeller, and David Wear are extremely good shooters near the foul line. In fact, David Wear could be a huge threat from 3 if he’s left alone. That big boy can really shoot. If he’s open, he’s gonna knock down a slew of 3’s. As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of this type of offense. Larry Drew should thrive. He won’t have to be depended on to feed the post. Instead, he can concentrate on what he does best – drive and dish. If Drew had to run a set play each time down it would be a long year for all of us. Clearly, Roy has figured that out too.

It’s not a definite (according to Roy ) that the Heels will stick with this new offense. But, my gut is that he likes it enough already to keep it. They worked on it both days in practice and the players very much like being able to operate with increased space through the lane. So what wonderful things will this offense bring? I would get used to seeing lots of face-up jumpers by post guys, lots of drive-and-dish buckets, and (hopefully) lots of follow slams. What you aren’t likely to see too much of is what we’ve been used to during Roy’s tenure in Chapel Hill – traditional post baskets from a traditional post feed, and early three-point shots created by the secondary break.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the whole “can they shoot?” question. The answer to that depends on who’s shooting and where they’re shooting from. Just to eliminate the suspense – this is a poor perimeter shooting squad. There is no way to candy-coat it – they just can’t shoot. The Heels went about 30 minutes of practice time – both days – without making a jump shot of any kind. Ugly is a word that comes to mind. I guess the best way to say it is that this team is, and will continue to be, offensively challenged at times. The one guy who can shoot is a bit of a head-case – Will Graves. But as with Rasheed Wallace, Vince Carter, Rashad McCants, and Danny Green, the Heels have managed to win a lot of games with head-cases. Unfortunately, Graves is no where near the player those guys were. Yet, amazingly, Roy has him in the starting lineup right now. I have to be honest – I don’t get it. Graves looks improved, but not that much improved. But Roy talked at some length about not giving up on players. He said that while most days he feels like “punching Will Graves in the face with his ring”, he isn’t going to give up on him. Roy even went as far as to say he’s trying to give Graves more confidence. Well, I would think making Graves a starter would accomplish that in spades. The reality, though, is that Graves is not a starter. He just doesn’t bring enough to the table. Defensively, he’s a liability. He doesn’t rebound well (and he should given his size and strength), he doesn’t handle the ball well, and he lacks the savvy of most of the other players. The one thing he can do, and do well at times, is shoot the 3. But he’s no Danny or Wayne. He’s a good reserve to have, but a starter? I don’t think so.

Aside from watching the new offense, two other things were fantastic to watch. First, this could be a special team defensively. To be fair, some of the poor shooting I saw was the result of some good defense. Guys are there on every catch, there were very few blow-bys, and most of the rotations were sound. Given the fact that these were practices 7 and 8, it was remarkable that they would be so sound defensively. Sure, there is a ton of teaching going on and they don’t do everything perfectly on every pass or drive. But, they get after it. After what we’ve seen the last three years, it was refreshing to see a team really go hard on defense. Even Roy had to comment on the lack of defense in previous seasons, specifically last year. When asked by a high school coach how you motivate players, Roy used last year’s gang as an example of needing the players to believe in the importance of what you’re teaching in order for the motivation to kick in. According to Roy , he could sense that his guys just didn’t think they needed to play much D last year. No matter how much he talked about it, they just “stunk”…..until the NCAA tournament. Then, the motivation kicked in and defense mattered. Consequently, Carolina obliterated the field. This year I doubt Roy will have to cajole his team in to playing defense. Last year’s team was the most efficient offensive group I’ve seen in more than 30 years of watching Carolina basketball. This year’s team? Not so much. So…I bet Roy has their attention when he preaches defense. Given what I saw this weekend, I know he does.

Second, I was blown away by just how smart the rookies are. All five of them possess well above average basketball IQ. The best example of this is the lack of making the same mistake repeatedly. I’ll reference the ’05-‘06 group again. That year, they all made the same mistake time after time (after time after time….and they was a fairly smart bunch). This year, all Roy had to do was make the correction and keep moving. There is no way to overstate just how valuable this will be to the Heels as the year progresses. I watched the rookies get on the floor as a group and run through six options of the secondary break, and do it flawlessly. To be able to do this during the FIRST week of practice is incredible. To underscore this a bit more, after the first practice of the year Dexter Strickland came up to Roy and asked how he did and what he needed to work on. Roy was caught off guard, “I’m worried about whether he’ll have his pants on the right way, and he’s asking me what he needs to work on”. I promise you, Ty Lawson and Danny Green weren’t thinking about what they needed to work on after their first practices.

With that, here are player break-downs (beginning with the starters):

Larry Drew - He’s improved, that much is clear. But he’s not a good shooter. He’ll make a few 3’s, but he won’t make many. I think his biggest issue right now is his need to show that he’s the man. If he’ll just blend in he’ll be fine. He showed good ability to get in the lane, and he can finish. As I mentioned above, his best asset is his knack for getting in to the lane and finding the right guy at the right time. I was pleased with one thing: He didn’t turn it over much, and never above the key (where it almost always leads to a layup on the other end). Larry’s real value will come with the pressure he can put on the other team’s guards. He still struggles a bit off the ball, but on the ball he can be a menace.

Marcus Ginyard – Marcus is the same old Marcus. This is both good and bad. Defensively, he’s a beast. He’s good off the ball, he’s a terror when he’s guarding you, and he crashes the glass with authority. I’d be shocked if he isn’t the defensive player of the year in the ACC. Offensively he’s got a ways to go, sadly. He really has no jumper. You can tell he’s worked on it, but you can also tell he’s not all that confident in it. He is, however, a much improved ball-handler. Not that he was ever bad, but he is much more comfortable with the ball in his hands than he ever has been. Technically, he’s the third point guard. But I would not be shocked to see him at PG in late game situations.

Will Graves – (Shaking my head). Part of me understands what Roy is doing here. The Heels need a three point threat, they need an experienced perimeter player, and Graves is one of the few Tar Heels that can score with a defender hanging on him. But..but..but….Graves is just not the answer. Henson or Leslie McDonald are much better options. What scares me is that historically Roy doesn’t change his lineup once the season begins. If Graves starts the first game there is a better than 50-50 chance he’ll be there all year. That worries me.

Deon Thompson – Two good practices. Deon has picked it up a great deal on the glass. And that is no small feat given who he’s competing against for every rebound. He’s in fantastic shape, and his hands have improved too. He still has trouble scoring in traffic, but he has no trouble operating one-on-one away from the basket. The new offense suits him.

Tyler Zeller – You’re reading this correctly – Zeller instead of Davis .. I think this one is temporary. Davis is not in great shape right now, and he had two lackluster practices. Zeller was equally unimpressive too. He is bigger and stronger though, which is a big plus for him. And he can shoot (one of the few Heels that can). But Davis is better, and the whole world knows it. From what I could tell, Roy is sending Ed a subtle message.

Ed Davis – So, how do you follow-up a stellar NCAA tournament that culminated in a clutch title performance? By being demoted. Again, this is going to be temporary. Davis has a better face-up game now, and he’s just as imposing as a shot-blocker as he was last year. By all accounts, Ed has never been a great practice guy. But when the lights come on he’s a monster. Still, he’ll need to pick it up a bit over the next week or so.

John Henson – Big-time player. I could go through a bunch of “Wow” moments with Henson, but there are two that stand out. On two separate occasions he was matched up with a true guard and had to defend them on the perimeter (Ginyard and Graves ). Each time, Henson stripped them both. Stunning, very stunning. Henson is a playmaker, pure and simple. He’ll block a shot, make a steal, attack the glass, or make a fantastic hi-lo feed to create and easy basket. His skill set is wide. If he doesn’t start over Will Graves I’ll be disappointed. Based on what I saw, he’s already earned it. If he does, no one will be able to handle him – he’s a 6’9 guy with the reach of a 7’1 guy, and the skills of a 6’3 guy. Big-time player indeed.

Dexter Strickland – Dex was moving slow. And that’s to be expected. He’s the back-up point guard and he’s trying to learn a lot. Still, he’s a big-time player too. The thing with Strickland – and I noticed this last year when I saw him play in high school – is that he just doesn’t screw up. He doesn’t turn it over, he doesn’t take bad shots, and he doesn’t get beat on defense. And athletically he’s in the near-freak range. His speed, quickness, and “want to” make him a superior defender even as a freshman. His shot can be good, but I’m not sure he’ll be ready to fire until he can get a little more comfortable mentally. Given how smart he is, though, my money says he gets comfortable pretty quick.

Leslie McDonald – Along with the Wears, McDonald was the nicest surprise. Leslie is Marcus Ginyard with solid offensive skills. He can shoot it decently, he can slash with effectiveness, and does a nice job of finishing in traffic. Defensively he can play too. He’s built like Jackie Manuel, and at times I thought Jackie was running around out on the floor. He’s going to get minutes at the 2 and 3. I like this guy a lot.

David and Travis Wear – I debated on whether to separate these guys in this section. No need – they play almost exactly alike. Which is to say, they’re both really good. I can’t get over how skilled they are with the ball in their hands. At 6’9, you’d think they would not be comfortable on the perimeter. Not so. They are going create a bunch of matchup problems for just about every team UNC plays. David is the better shooter, Travis is the better defender. Both of them are willing to bang. If a team wants to press the Heels, there is no doubt these guys will be in the game.

Justin Watts – Justin has really improved. He has a decent shot and he’s not afraid to stick his nose in on defense and on the glass. For a 12th man, Watts is fantastic.

Normally I wouldn’t mention the walk-ons too much. But I have to say, this year’s group is exceptional. Marc Campbell is now a senior and he’s not bad. He has good quickness and knows exactly what to do. The star of this group is a guy they call T.P. (settle down…it’s not that funny). This dude is fast, fast, fast. He had several moments where you had to check his number to make sure it wasn’t Strickland or Drew. If he’s in at the end of some blow-outs he’s going to get some steals and run-outs. With Campbell , Watts , and T.P, the last 2-3 minutes of the run-away wins are going to be fun. Those three guys can flat-out play, and there are two other guys who are pretty good too. I’d say that this is the best group of walk-ons I’ve ever seen at UNC in all my years of going to this clinic.

Time to sum up. This year’s team thinks it can be good. In fact, Roy was all over them during the two days. He wouldn’t be that way if he wasn’t convinced that they could be good too. The Heels must find a way to create offense from defense. The good news is that this shouldn’t be a problem. The perimeter defenders are awfully good. More importantly, with Zeller, Henson, and Davis protecting the basket, the opposition will have a hard time getting easy baskets in the half-court. Some teams may think this is the year to run with the Carolina . That would be a mistake.

Ultimately, UNC is going to see a bunch of zone. Both practices included zone offense segments, which is early for Roy . The Heels don’t need to knock down a bunch of 3’s, but they need one or two a half to go down. Otherwise, the lane will be full of defenders. “Open” will help, but not as much as a timely 3 here and there.

The schedule is not kind to UNC early. There are a ton of tough games right out of the gate. If the Heels can survive and get to January, they’ll be very difficult to beat. As long as Larry Drew is not exposed, and assuming they figure out how to make a jump shot, it’s not far-fetched to believe the Tar Heels could wind up in Indy. Again, the post players will carry this team. If that group will rebound and defend, things will be fine. Best case, 27-4 in the regular season. Worst case, 23-8. Somewhere in between is likely. If you really want to be an optimist, if the Heels manage to make four or five 3’s a game (they averaged just under 7 a game last year, Kenny I had this one wrong), they’ll lose very rarely.

Settle in quick. The season starts two weeks from Monday. Hallelujah.