Those early season struggles played a role in 21 NBA teams telling UNC head coach Roy Williams that McAdoo was better off returning to school, but the postseason flourish – 10.6 points and 4.9 rebounds in 23 minutes over his last seven games – also made them admit that he would be top draft pick if he did decide to come out.
"I think we were concerned about [McAdoo going pro], but you know what? Those guys want to see you play on the highest stage," Williams told reporters last week. "They want to see you perform when the brightest lights are on. And James Michael really played well the last 10 games."
As strong as his finish was, it's hard to overlook the difficulties of the first four months of McAdoo's season. The Norfolk, Va. native was expected to play a Marvin Williams-type role off the bench in the post, but he failed to live up to his top-five recruiting ranking.
"You could take his number off and do some things to hide who it was," Williams said. "And watching those last 10 games to the first 10 games, there's nobody in the world that would say it's the same kid…
"So we were concerned about it – there's no question about that – but it was not a good decision for James. I believe that from the bottom of my soul."
There was plenty of speculation in Chapel Hill following the announcement of Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes and John Henson to turn pro that McAdoo was seriously considering joining his teammates in the jump, but he downplayed that talk to reporters.
"I don't know if I was ever close," McAdoo said. "It was something I definitely thought about and prayed about. It's a decision that everyone dreams of having if you're a basketball player. But in the end, this was the right decision to come back."
As for the reason for the slow start to his college career, McAdoo pointed to an attitude problem.
"I feel like at the beginning of the year, I was really lackadaisical in my approach to the game," McAdoo said. "And I felt like mentally I felt that I was out of it, and I didn't necessarily tell myself that this team needed me. But as the year went on, I talked to coach and talked to the other coaches, I just realized that this team does need me, and that I do need to step up my game, because I have responsibilities.
"Just because I'm a freshman doesn't mean I can just sit back and play good when I want to."
The reason behind that approach? Some might refer to it as the "Big Man on Campus" syndrome, an understandable plight that plagues prominent high school athletes when matriculating to college.
"I don't know," McAdoo replied when asked where the lackadaisical nature arose. "I mean, it's college. You know how it is. You get to college, there's a whole other atmosphere. Mom and dad, my sister, weren't here. You know, you have to grow up quick, especially if you want to play D-I basketball at UNC. So I feel like I really lost my focus, lost who I was. But I was able to just make up my mind and do what I know I'm capable of doing. And it finally showed on the basketball court."
The North Carolina fan base exhaled on Apr. 5 when McAdoo announced his decision to return for his sophomore season. The Tar Heels were already looking at a perimeter-dominated roster, but the rising sophomore – provided he continues his postseason-level play – will represent a needed scoring option in the post next season.
"James Michael, down the stretch, was pretty doggone impressive," Williams said. "He needs to be even more impressive for us in the future."
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