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What UNC’s Isaiah Hicks needs to do to live up to his senior year expectations

Isaiah Hicks has some big shoes to fill this season. What does he need to work on this summer to make that happen?

Isaiah Hicks rises up for a dunk
One thing Isaiah Hicks does not need to improve: Dunking.

After a mini-breakout junior season, Isaiah Hicks heads into his senior year at UNC with some lofty expectations. The ACC’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Hicks has slowly turned himself into one of Carolina’s most efficient offensive players. He has added post moves, significantly improved his footwork, become more consistent with his mid-range jumper and his free throws, and he’s getting progressively closer to fully removing a rim from a backboard.

(Side note: I hope to one day love anything as much as Isaiah Hicks loves dunking basketballs. As soon as he gets the ball, the only thing going through his mind is, “How can I aggressively throw this basketball through that basket?” Watch him through that lens this season, and you’ll see what I mean.)

Still, Hicks has a few areas in which he needs to improve. As is a Carolina tradition, Roy Williams gives each returning player a list of things to work on over the summer. Since I’m not privy to exactly what Coach Williams asked Hicks to work on, I thought I’d take a stab at my own list:

1. Learn to stay on the floor

Each of the past two seasons, Hicks committed personal fouls at an alarming rate of 6.7 fouls per 40 minutes. Given Carolina’s relative lack of depth in the post, Hicks absolutely has to learn how to defend without fouling, and essentially eliminate all of the “silly” fouls (reach-ins, over-the-backs, moving screens, etc.).

To be fair, Hicks was the victim of some …questionable… calls last year, particularly in one rather high-stakes game in April. Alas, that night is in the past, and this point remains true: Hicks may need to be on the floor for 30+ minutes per game this season, and to do so, he’ll need to dramatically cut down on the fouls.

So, other than adopting a new mindset of, “I need to stay on the floor,” how do you actually work on not fouling? Maybe start by guarding Tyler Hansbrough during summer pickup games. That’s a guy that draws fouls at an astronomical rate, and is also someone that I would imagine is not incredibly fun to defend. If you can somehow guard Hansbrough without fouling, I certainly trust you can do the same to Chase Jeter.

2. Clean up the glass

Hicks is already an elite (elite!) offensive rebounder, but he’s actually just okay on the defensive glass. Last season, Hicks had an defensive rebound percentage of 15.6%, meaning he grabbed 15.6% of opponents’ missed shots while he was on the floor. For comparison, Brice Johnson’s DR% was 28.5% last season.

Now, nobody is expecting Hicks to match Johnson’s dominance on the defensive glass; Johnson had a historically good season, and his work on the boards was a big reason for Carolina’s deep postseason run. However, if the Tar Heels want to repeat last year’s success, Hicks will likely need to get that number up above 20%.

Fortunately for Hicks — and I mean this in the nicest way possible — my guess is that there are plenty of rebounds to be had at the Smith Center this summer. Do with that what you will.

3. Get some sleep

One of the best parts of a team making a deep run into the postseason is that some funny behind-the-scenes anecdotes start to emerge. For the 2015-2016 Tar Heels, one such anecdote was that Isaiah Hicks really, really loves to sleep. While his teammates hung out, played video games, or explored new cities on the road, Hicks used his down time to catch some Z’s.

Well, big guy, there’s no better time to catch up on some sleep than summer break. Yeah, spend some time in the gym not fouling Pyscho T, or rebounding some errant jump shots; but, once you’re done, it’s nap time. College is really the last time in most people’s lives when “naps” are a thing; so, cherish it while you can, Isaiah. Cherish it.