I just wanted to sharpen my skillset. This is right before we’re getting ready to go to the Bahamas. So I thought it was a good way for me to get in shape a little bit a couple of days early. Get a few extra runs in and get to hang out with some of the best point guards in the country. The last two years I wanted to get to the camp, but I was either at home with our time off or I was in summer school.
How has it been being around and playing against other top guards?
It’s been really good. The skillset sessions in the morning are good because you get to sharpen your ball handling and learn from Chris Paul, who is one of the best coming off ball screens. And then the competition in the afternoon is great, too, because you can challenge yourself against the best guards in the country.
Is there a specific thing, skill-development wise, you’re focusing on at this camp?
Footwork and the little details on things. Because what separates people at our level, and even the NBA, are such minor things like foot placement, shoulders, eyes and things like that. I’m just trying to learn one or two little things on each drill to take back.
I’ve done a lot of 1-on-1 stuff, which is a lot of what we’re doing here, because it’s an area I need to improve on. That’s part of the reason I came to this camp because that’s one of my weaknesses, creating my own shot. Coming here and trying to learn different ways to get the defender on your back or keep him on your hip, that’s really what I’ve been focusing on all summer.
You led UNC in scoring, made the second-most three pointers in the ACC and Roy Williams ran the offense through you. You think you need help creating your own shot? You feel like you didn’t do enough of that last year?
I did, but it was because I had to. When you play in an actual 5-on-5 team game, there are a lot of different things that go into it. I have plays run for me, you get some within the flow of the game and in transition and stuff. This is a lot different from actual basketball; this is where I can kind of break things down and work on half-court isolation stuff.
Has this summer been different with the Bahamas trip coming up?
I don’t think so. Maybe just putting some stuff in early in the summer. We put more stuff in this summer than we did last summer, just so we can go out and play a game and not look like a bunch of fools. Our freshmen are adjusting well, quicker than we did as freshmen, so it’s good to see.
|"We’ve had no distractions and we’ve just been in the gym together."|
Your freshman year UNC had just lost four players to the NBA and last summer the team went through the issues with P.J. Hairston. What’s it been like to have no on-the-court distractions this year?
I’ve been able to focus my attention on my game, hanging out with my teammates and just getting closer. We’ve had no distractions and we’ve just been in the gym together. It’s been relaxing, how summer should be really.
Who are some of the pros that have been around for pickup this summer and what have you learned from them?
I learn stuff from Raymond (Felton) because he’s back the most. Kendall (Marshall) comes back and I try to pay attention to them the most because they’re point guards. Antawn (Jamison) has been back, John (Henson), Z (Tyler Zeller) all those guys. It’s been good for our younger guys to challenge themselves against bigger, stronger guys. I think that’s the benefit of having them back.
How have the freshmen adjusted to college?
They’re good basketball players. They adjusted faster than our freshman class last year and faster than we did from what I’ve seen. They just have such advanced basketball IQs . They can fit in seamlessly. I think that’s going to help them in their transition period at the beginning of the year. They bring a competitive edge to the team and all three of them are really different.
Theo (Pinson) is a guy that comes in and changes the game, whether it’s good, bad or indifferent he still changes the game somehow with his energy and athleticism. Justin (Jackson) is the kind of guy you don’t even realize he’s on the court, then you look at the stat sheet and he has 18 points or something. Joel is just fiery. He brings that competitive edge. He’s solid and built differently than me and Nate (Britt). He brings a different aspect to the point guard spot.
What have you seen from Isaiah Hicks this summer?
I’m seeing a lot from Isaiah this summer. He’s been in the gym all the time. He’s been probably the most consistent player in pickup day-in and day-out. I know pickup is a lot different than actual basketball, but he’s been really impressive with the way he’s gotten better. I think he’ll make a big jump. Him and Brice (Johnson) should be able to make up or at least match what Brice and James Michael (McAdoo) did last year, that’s what we’re hoping for. Kennedy looks great, Nate switched hands and his shot looks smooth. I like what we see out of that class, they just have to keep working because we need them to go from freshmen to impact players.
Do you think a second 3-point threat has developed? Has one of the freshmen been consistent during summer practices from deep?
Not yet. Justin (Jackson) can shoot it, but he’s more of a mid-range player. Theo (Pinson) is streaky, but I think they can develop into one. They’re at least respectable. It’s not going to be one of those things like how they played Nate (Britt) last year, where they would sag all the way off of him. I think one of those four, between Joel (Berry), Nate, Justin and Theo, definitely should step up and replace what Leslie (McDonald) did, if not more.
|"I expect to see big things from those two, if not come tell me I was wrong."|
What did you learn about the team during summer practices?
We should be deep. Our depth, especially throughout our roster, not just in the guards or with the bigs, we should be deep in multiple positions. That should help us, especially with our tempo. I’m expecting a really big year out of Kennedy (Meeks) and Brice (Johnson). I think they’ve made strides to make that a believable thing. I expect to see big things from those two, if not come tell me I was wrong. But I’m pretty sure they’ll have a big year.
Will it help to have two additional ball handlers on this year’s team?
The more guys that are skilled at multiple positions the better. The more skilled handlers you have the more looks you can give different teams. It’ll be exciting to not have as much responsibility in that regard.
Is point guard your preferred position?
I think I’m naturally a point guard. You see in some of the drills, I’m not the guy that’s hunting my shot. I’m trying to create stuff and that’s just naturally how I play. I’d like to play point guard. I talked to Coach (Roy Williams) about it, we had a meeting again last week, I’m going to play some point guard but it’s also going to be a lot of time that I’m going to spend off the ball as well. It’s going to be whatever we need, but you’ll definitely see me in both positions for good portions of the game.
You earned the moniker ‘Second-Half Paige’ last season because of your late-game heroics. What causes you to be able to play so well after halftime?
Honestly, I just think it goes back to my natural instincts. Not trying to press too much at the beginning of games. Even though as the year went on I learned that I had to be aggressive, it’s still tough for me at times. Once the game gets tight at the end, I start shooting a lot more and my mentality changes.
Did you ever feel pressure to take over a game?
I just take it upon myself, because I’m confident and I believe I can make a difference when I do that. I’m never really like ‘Hey, I gotta do this.’ I just naturally start playing more aggressive and affect the outcome of the game. It’s not something I put pressure on myself to do, it just sort of happens.
What are your personal goals for next season?
I just want to give my team everything I can. Obviously I’d like to be an All-American, all that stuff kind of floats around in the back of my mind. But at the same time, I feel like if I take care of my business helping my team win games that stuff is going to take care of itself. I just want to be considered one of the better players in the country and lead my team to more wins than we’ve had the last two years.
|"I just want to give my team everything I can."|
Do you hear about some of the preseason accolades that you’ve already received?
People tell me about it or I go on the internet and see it online, but I try not to let it get to my head too much. I use it as motivation because if people are expecting you to be good then you have to deliver. But at the same time, I remember James Michael (McAdoo) putting a lot of pressure on himself because of similar stuff. I don’t want it to be a thing that starts psyching me out. But I’m happy people are recognizing and respecting my game.
What’s the single biggest factor in UNC making the Final Four this season?
Wow, great question. Can I have two? Isaiah stepping up and being the player we think he can be is one of them. Then our freshmen, we need at least two of the three to step-up and be impact players. Not just rotation players. I think those are the two biggest things.
Photos and video by Smith Hardy