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IC Boards: UNC Coaching Clinic Observations

This appeared on the free message board at Inside Carolina. Every year Roy Williams holds a coaching clinic for high school coaches to come in and see how things are done in UNC basketball. Those who attend are permitted to observe practice. As was the case last year, one of the attendees has posted his observations of the team and assessments of individual players. It is interesting information although I am not sure if this is the same person as the one who posted last season's report.

First, a few caveats. As the poster notes, this was barely a week into practice since it occurred last Friday and Saturday. UNC opens exhibition play on November 5th and the season vs Libscomb a week later meaning there is a good chunk of practice for guys to pick up the system. It should also be noted that while this is good information, it really does not tell us much and if you are unsure then go back and read last season's report(again I am not sure if this is the same poster or not) which spoke glowingly of a certain set of twins no longer residing in the Eastern time zone.

Among items that jump out. The poster says he does not think Kendall Marshall will be much of a factor beyond being a backup in limited time to Larry Drew. If the practice plan reflects the starting lineup then UNC will trot Drew, Strickland, Barnes, Henson and Zeller out for the opening tip. I don't think anyone would be surprised by that. As for the basketball, doubling the post and more physical screening are on the menu which has not happened before in the Roy Williams era. Full report after the jump.

UNC Coaching Clinic: October 22-23, 2010

(I’ll preface this lengthy post by saying a couple of things that I always say when I do these reports. Being at the clinic is a courtesy of the UNC staff. You’ll never read a lot of negativity from me about player weaknesses in one of these reports. Our players get enough of that from opposing fan bases. I don’t want it to be all Carolina Blue tinted either, but I’ll limit my criticisms to basketball skill-specific things that need work. I also understand that I’m looking at two practices so by no means do I see this as being some comprehensive assessment of player skills. What I wrote about below is simply what I observed over two days. I critique as heavily as any fan during the season, but as stated before, watching practice is a courtesy, so I report accordingly. I also took fewer notes than I’ve taken in past years. I really just sat back and took it all in so most of what I’m saying will probably be old news ‘cause these are mostly generalizations).

A couple of basic observations about practice. We are not the #9 team in the country right now. We could be by the end of the year. We are young and an observer can see that. We have so much to learn that we’re going to have a lot of bumps in the road. Our season will depend on 3 things, in my opinion. The play of Larry Drew, the play of Harrison Barnes and absolutely NO post injuries. If those three things play out to the positive, we’ll be good enough to beat anyone we play by the time we reach the homestretch. If they don’t? Well, I don’t won’t to talk about it ‘cause it could be bad. We are doubling in the post for the first time in Coach Williams’ career (other than 2 isolated incidences against Blake Griffith and Bryant Reeves). We are screening differently (the coaches didn’t talk about it, but trust me when I tell you that our screens were far more physical than they’ve been in the past). We are working on some basic defensive things for 15 minutes that our national title team would have spent 2 minutes on back in ’09. As gifted as Barnes and Bullock are, they both still have to learn what we do defensively and offensively (particularly on our secondary break). Keep in mind that I watched our 6th and 7th practice (way different than seeing our 20th as I did a couple of years ago).

Practices were harder than they were last year (and believe me, UNC practices are HARD). The conditioning at the end was tough. (As an aside, one humorous moment happened at the end when Barnes and Strickland were sitting while everyone else ran. Coach Williams looked at Strickland after a couple of long sprints and said, “Dexter, you tired yet?” Dexter replied, “No.” Coach said, “Me either…. Let’s run some more.” You can’t help but chuckle. ) As usual, practices were kept to the minute on the practice plan and you can’t help but marvel at the efficiency of our staff. I liked our chemistry, but as noted elsewhere, we seemed to be a little lackluster at times. I’ll be positive and say that I attribute that to the exhausting pace of practice and conditioning. Coach Holliday isn’t involved in practice again this year- going to be Robinson, Haase and McGrath again. Coach Williams was extremely patient with some foolish mistakes in a way that he would not have been with Lawson’s team.

Folks, we have a long ways to go. The possibilities are exciting and I believe that though we don’t have a clear-cut leader at the moment that one will emerge as the year progresses. I didn’t feel that way last year, but I hesitated to admit that on here. Our post play, though shallow in depth, should be more effective with athletes playing in there. I’m going to keep my feelings about the Wears to myself other than to say that I don’t miss them and if we stay healthy I don’t think the team is going to either.

Be patient. I think we're going to be pretty happy in the end.

Larry Drew: I probably should start this by saying that Larry IS our starting point guard. Period. I’ll get to Marshall in a bit, but based on what I saw in two days of practice, there is no way that Drew isn’t going to start, play a lot of minutes, and be our starting point guard for every game this year. He didn’t do anything spectacular over the past couple of days, but there is definite separation between him and Marshall. I felt like he seemed a little more calm than he has in the past. His personality is an enigma to me, to be honest. I don’t think he is ever going to be the verbal, emotional leader that I prefer him to be. He is solid though and I liked what I saw from him on the defensive end of the floor this weekend. He shot the ball decently, but that’s all.

Dexter Strickland: Best news about Dexter is that he’s not a freshman anymore and you can tell it. Pretty good approach to things, didn’t force a lot. My personal opinion is that he’s better at the off guard spot. I may have missed some, but I don’t believe that I saw him play the point at all (unless they were in a break situation and he got the ball on an outlet pass). Based on the practice plan and what I saw, it seems that Larry is our point guard and Kendall is his back-up. Of course, this was just their 6th and 7th practices so of course that could change. I thought his decision making was better (shot selection, driving, passing). Based on what I saw, Dexter and Harrison are clearly our best conditioned athletes. As good as Barnes is (more on that later) I honestly believe that Dexter’s contributions are the key to the difference between a “good” and a “great” season. When he stayed on his feet, didn’t gamble, and played solid position defense, then he looked VERY good on that end.

Harrison Barnes: I’m not going to be able to tell you a lot about Barnes that you don’t already know. His profile and game have been documented excessively on this board and elsewhere. The best news I can give you is that it’s all true and you better get ready for the best freshman we’ve had here in a long, long time. Flawless jump shot. Excellent defender. Long arms. Great handle for a wing player. Good rebounder. Obviously he’ll develop into the leader that we’re looking for. The superlatives are amazing and up to our expectations. No freshman is perfect, of course, but Barnes makes you sit there with your mouth open. If you’ve read any practice report I’ve ever written, you know I don’t talk about players this way, but you can believe the hype. I cannot wait to see him. I guess the only question is how much freedom our staff gives him. It wasn’t hard with Tyler- if he touched it inside and shot it, then you could say it was a good shot. With Barnes and our staff’s premium on “good” shots, then we’ll see how much they’re willing to turn him loose. I’ll put it this way- a bad shot from Barnes will be better than a good shot from a lot of other players. Enjoy the ride and enjoy this year (and don’t hold your breath on him being back for a sophomore year…. Sorry).

John Henson: I know he’s put on some weight, but it isn’t as noticeable as some wishful thinkers would like us to believe. After last year’s experiment for most of the year on the wing, it seems obvious that the best place for John to be is inside. His unusual skill set makes it hard to judge him like you would a normal post player. I do think it allows him to do less thinking and more of just naturally reacting- which is a good thing for him. Obviously he’s going to get shoved around in the post some but he’s going to provide some problems for opposing post players as well. The chemistry between him and Tyler is much better than what we saw with Deon last year. They communicate better and they don’t get in each other’s way. I felt like that a lot of our problems last year stemmed from disjointed post play. I’ll politely say that a couple of our subtractions should greatly help with inside fluidity. Based on what I saw, the more that Tyler and John play together, the better chance we have of having unique post play in the ACC. Henson shot the ball decently in shooting drills but I don’t remember him taking a shot outside of 10 feet during scrimmaging in either practice. Judging him defensively is tough because we have 3 post players. Henson spent most of the 2 days guarding a 6’5” kid from JV. That doesn’t exactly lead to a very effective assessment of how he’s progressed defensively from last year. I think you get what you expect from him on that end and his footwork won’t be as much of an issue because he won’t be guarding wing players.

Tyler Zeller: Once again, hard to judge our post players due to lack of depth (same goes for Knox). I honestly think he’s one of the best post players in the ACC and nothing I saw in the last two days has changed my mind on that. When Zeller plays with confidence he is a tremendous player who presents a lot of problems for opposing defenses. He’ll benefit from playing against Henson and Knox in practice due to the vast differences in how he’ll be guarded by both. Problem is that those opportunities won’t come often because we have absolutely no inside post depth. There are only so many ways Coach Williams can mix up post depth during practice sessions. Tyler shoots the ball well from outside, is physical inside and passes the ball efficiently. I thought his footwork defensively was better than I’ve ever seen it.

The next five players are currently our second five based on the UNC practice plan.

Kendall Marshall: This is where it gets interesting. We know what Coach Williams and the Carolina system require from a point guard so I give Kendall a bit of a pass for the past couple of days. I’m sure he’s overloaded mentally and physically in ways that none of the other freshmen are. Like 90% of freshmen who come to UNC, he’s not ready to step in and start at guard. He’ll be an effective back-up but I don’t see a lot of minutes for him this year (and that’s not unusual for ANY Carolina freshman point guard). I love his demeanor (not too high or low) and he does a nice job of keeping himself out of bad situations. I can see how Kendall inspires trust in those around him because he doesn’t seem to be the type to lose control when things are crazy out there. He’s going to have to be quicker on the defensive end and his shot needs a substantial amount of work (way, way too flat).

Leslie McDonald: Second best jump shot on the team, in my opinion. Like Strickland, he carried himself better on the floor. Looked like a player with experience. The game has obviously slowed down for him. Coach Williams pointed out some positives on the defensive end for Leslie and that’s pretty huge in my mind. Seems like he is going to back up Harrison and we’ll have to have someone who can come in and do the job defensively when Barnes is out. As much as I loved Marcus, I really wish that Leslie had gotten more minutes last year in that spot. He suffered the most of any of our players due to that situation. I think he’ll be solid and I think he’ll back up the 2 and 3 spots (mostly the 2) pretty effectively. He didn’t make a ton of shots, but his form is 2nd best on the team and when he gets his feet set, he’s going to make a lot of shots.

Reggie Bullock: I said this about Barnes and I’ll say it about Bullock. These kids showed up looking like MEN instead of teenagers. Barnes and Bullock are physical specimens. Unlike McDonald and Strickland last year, Bullock does not look like a freshman. I think the upside is incredible for this kid. Obviously, he’s gifted and being with Barnes only helps… I think he’s the kind of competitor who will look at Barnes and fight to close that gap. His jump shot, while decent, will probably suffer the natural problems that freshmen face when faced with equal athleticism. Bullock’s strength and ability to get to the rim will alleviate some of that. I honestly believe his biggest strength will be his ability to rebound (even in traffic). With our noted lack of post depth, Barnes and Bullock rebounding will be HUGE for us this year. I think that will be a part of his game that will get him on the floor for us this year. According to our depth chart, it seems he’ll be Barnes direct back up, but of course, like Leslie, I expect him to see minutes at both wing spots. Primarily the three, however.

Justin Watts: Watts could be an interesting player for us. If we have a post injury (God forbid) then one of two things are going to happen. Either Barnes is going to play minutes at the four or Watts will be our back-up at the four. Neither one is palatable as most of us know. Coach Williams has him at the four on the “blue” team and I can see our staff prepping him for emergency minutes there (ala a poor man’s David Noel). His game hasn’t changed a lot. Obviously he’s pretty comfortable in the Tar Heel system after his years there but I don’t see him playing substantial minutes unless he has to. He shares Strickland’s propensity to lean backwards on this jump shot which leads to inconsistency shooting. He’s strong though and you I love the fact that he’s obviously worked to be physically prepared for the season.

Justin Knox: I watched Knox more than anyone (well, other than Barnes, I should say). The importance of acquiring Knox cannot be overstated. Simply put, we had to have this kid. There will be several times this year that we will be so grateful that he was available. In fact, without him, I’d have an extremely pessimistic view of this season. He’s an athlete, first and foremost. You can tell he came from Alabama and that he wasn’t taught a lot there. Knox seems to be a quick learner though. His mid-range jump shot isn’t bad at all (though I don’t expect him to ever take a shot outside of 10 feet) and he’s a strong kid (as has been reported). If the Carolina experience doesn’t overwhelm him, he’ll provide valuable minutes. Maybe the Byron Sanders comparison (that I’ve seen on here) is valid simply from a need standpoint but I’d place Knox way ahead of Byron from a physical standpoint. He’s not the biggest on the team- seemed like Zeller was not just taller, but stronger as well. There may be some coaches who were there who disagree with that. He actually hit a couple of threes in shooting drills (of course, even Fingleton did that a time or two) but his form isn’t bad at all. I was pleasantly surprised. Most of what he does has been covered very effectively by IC’s staff. What Knox accomplishes will be based primarily on how quickly he picks up what we do defensively and offensively (secondary break is best acquired over 2 or 3 years). I think Sanders played about 13 minutes a game his last year… I expect Knox to get close to 18 a game.