Not long after North Carolina lost to Kansas in the Elite Eight last March, the Tar Heel roster was gutted of its primary tier of leaders. Tyler Zeller and Kendall Marshall were the leaders on the court, while Justin Watts did his best David Noel impression in the locker room.
With the loss of four starters and Watts from last year’s squad, it was imperative for a veteran voice to arise early this season, particularly considering the various adjustments and improvements required for the current team to reach its potential.
Senior guard Dexter Strickland and sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo have done their part in providing guidance, but if there’s one player that latched onto the role more than anyone else, it’s Bullock.
“Reggie has been our best leader by far,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told his radio show audience on Monday night. “It’s not Reggie’s personality that much to grab people and tell them to get their act in gear.”
While leadership can manifest itself in various forms, there are two standard avenues for its development – through play on the court and through actions in the locker room. Tyler Hansbrough was the quintessential leader by way of production; Noel did his work more behind the scenes.
Bullock has embraced the challenge of taking charge both on and off the court.
Following three hours of team meetings on Monday in the wake of Sunday’s loss at Virginia, Bullock called a players-only meeting.
“I just felt like it was my time to step up, by being a junior and being a vet and knowing what Coach wants, I just felt like I should be able to call that meeting,” Bullock said.
According to the Kinston, N.C. native, there was no anger or frustration, just players “letting a lot of things off their chest.”
Bullock thought players-only meetings during his freshman and sophomore seasons were beneficial, highlighting the Zeller-called meeting last January following the debacle at Florida State.
On Wednesday, Bullock described the team as a “brotherhood” with no selfishness in play, but rather players needing to tune in and buy in more.
“We play great defense in practice, we’re in the right position at the right time, but when we’ve got 20,000 people around us watching us play, it just seems like people freeze up, just lackadaisical, or not being in the right spot at the right time,” he said.
Bullock is also doing his part on the court. Since Dec. 1, the junior wing is averaging 16.3 points in six games played (he sat out UNC’s victory over No. 20 UNLV on Dec. 29 due to a mild concussion).
Bullock is shooting 50.7 percent over that stretch, including a white-hot 51.5 percent from 3-point range (17-of-33), and is averaging 6.5 rebounds (2.5 OR) to go along with a 17:7 assist-turnover ratio.
“He’s playing well,” Williams said. “I’ve said even before he went out that he was playing better than anybody else on our team. I’ve said that about guys before who were able to maintain it throughout the whole year and that’s what we really need him to do…
“Reggie wants to do what he can do to help the team win.”
As with all things on this North Carolina team, Bullock’s role continues to be a work in progress. There’s no question, however, that he’s trending strongly in the right direction.
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