Carolina Challenge Notebook

RALEIGH, N.C. --- The state's top basketball prospects convened at Ravenscroft School on Saturday for the 6th annual Dave Telep Carolina Challenge, which included UNC recruits Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Theo Pinson.

Isaiah Hicks – 6-9, 210, PF – Oxford Webb (2013 UNC Commitment)

It's tough to imagine Hicks, still a junior in high school, as a veteran. But at this year's DTCC, Hicks said he felt comfortable not only as the camp's highest-rated player, but also as one of its most experienced.

"(Last year), I came here and I didn't know what I was doing," said Hicks. "You can get a lot from an event like this – helping younger players out. It's good being the highest-rated player here. Now, I'm not the one worried about other people."

What Hicks showed the top 80 players in the state why he is in fact the best of the group.

In the morning session, Hicks got the best of his matchup with Charlotte native Kennedy Meeks. He finished with 18 points (8-13 FG), 10 rebounds and two blocks. He was active on offense, scoring on mid-range jumpers, turn-around shots in the post, and highlight-worthy dunks.

"It was fun matching up with Kennedy – he was cheating all the time," Hicks said with a laugh. "He was cheating all the time, touching my elbow every time I'd shoot. He couldn't guard me, so I had to say something (after the game)."

Perhaps most impressive, however, is the progression he's made – both on and off the court -- from a sometimes-tentative kid, to an aggressive, outgoing one.

"I work on my game every day," he said. "I've been putting up a lot of shots, doing some ball handling drills and I hit the weight room all the time. I'm trying to be a versatile player."

Hicks regularly emails and talks with the UNC coaching staff, discussing academics, his personal improvement and life away from basketball and the current UNC team. Like most Carolina fans, Hicks said he was nervous throughout Carolina's 73-65 regional semifinal win over Ohio on Friday.

"Thank God we have Reggie (Bullock)," he said. "We're still going to win (Sunday) – gotta keep it positive."

Kennedy Meeks – 6-9, 270, C – West Charlotte

Meeks does a lot of good things for his team. He's an excellent rebounder, sets hard screens and has been called one of the best high-school outlet passer since Kevin Love. Still, now that he's considered an elite prospect and held to a higher standard, his lack of eye-popping stat lines and conditioning has some scouts raising questions.

"Respect is what I want to get from an event like this," he said. "People know what I'm capable of, but sometimes it's taken for granted. I feel like I'm respected in some ways, but some people think I'm slow and not in shape. You just have to prove people wrong sometimes."

Meeks matched up with Hicks in the morning session, finishing with nine points, four blocks and three rebounds. Early in the game, Hicks's length bothered Meeks and forced him into several bad shots. He didn't get into a groove, mostly through medium-range jumpers and passing out of the high post, until late in the fourth quarter.

"He was talking a little junk," said Meeks with a smile. "He's added so much to his game that I wasn't used to it. At LeBron (Nike) camp he couldn't dribble, but now he's doing everything."

After taking a week off following West Charlotte's loss in the NCHSAA 4-A state championship game, Meeks has started a new workout regimen designed to improve his conditioning and help him lose weight.

"I'm just going to get on the treadmill and lift weights," he said. "I want to improve my lift and lateral movement, I'm doing everything without a basketball."

He said North Carolina, Georgetown, N.C. State and Louisville are recruiting him the hardest. All have offered except UNC.

"I talk to (UNC Assistant Coach) C.B. (McGrath) the most," said Meeks. "He's seen me play a couple of times and they just tell me to keep playing and working hard."

This summer, Meeks's Team United AAU team will be on the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) circuit for the first time. He sees it as an opportunity to show his team's abilities.

"I'm excited," he said. "It's really going to prove what we're about. A lot of people are going to see us."

Theo Pinson – 6-6, 180, WG – High Point Wesleyan

Since bursting onto the national scene as a freshman, Pinson has been lauded for his athleticism, slashing ability and defensive prowess. While still among the most talented players in his class in those categories, Pinson showed a newly developed skill on Saturday.

In two games, Pinson took 15 shots. 13 of them were three-pointers. He connected on seven, including three on consecutive possessions during the morning session.

"I've been working on it a lot," he said of his outside shot. "I just tried to come out here and show that I can shoot the ball now."

Pinson was asked to step outside of his comfort zone and play the role of facilitator. It's one he embraced.

"Some of the coaches asked if that's what I wanted to do sometimes," he said. "That's the one thing about my game; I don't have a problem with getting my teammates involved… as long as we win the game. You can score 40 points and still lose – I just want to win. That's the main thing about me."

Because he still has two years of high school remaining, Pinson hasn't seriously started the recruiting process yet. He hopes to start narrowing down, and studying more deeply, schools at the start of 2013.

He listed NCSU, Wake Forest, UNC, Duke, Louisville, Baylor, Tennessee, Kansas, Syracuse and Virginia Tech as schools showing the most interest.

Pinson, who visited UNC twice this season, said he likes the Tar Heels' up-tempo style.

"They get up and down the floor really quickly, even last night without Kendall (Marshall) they got up and down the floor," he said.

"That's the key for them – I play like that."

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