CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Shoot your shot.
That’s been the key to the early outside shooting success of the 2015-16 UNC basketball team, according to Roy Williams.
“Sweat,” Williams replied when asked what the biggest key to the shots falling. “If you ask everybody on our team, I think I said this the other day, the two guys that shot more basketball over the offseason than anybody was Nate (Britt) and Joel Berry.”
Britt and Berry are part of a Carolina backcourt that suddenly has weapons from beyond the 3-point line. They, in addition to Marcus Paige and Theo Pinson, have contributed to a team shooting effort of 35.9 percent from long range, good for 114th nationally.
“At one point, it was just Marcus was the only one that I was comfortable with,” Williams said. “But Joel Berry has shown he can make some, Nate has shown he can make some, Theo has shown that he can make some.”
The key to this team’s increase in viable outside options comes from how willing the players are to put in extra reps and the comfort level that follows.
“You’ve got to get in there and shoot more shots,” Williams said. “I think that the kids are the ones that get in and do it.”
Williams couldn’t help but think back to his most successful North Carolina teams when asked if this team stacks up with others from outside.
“If you ask me how to compare to last year, it’s no comparison,” Williams said. “2009 is no comparison. 2005 is no comparison, or 2011 or ‘12. I think the records show that if you look at the percentages.”
In 2004-05, the Tar Heels shot 40.3 percent from 3-point land, good for 7th in the nation. Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants, who combined to hit 141 of 327 3-pointers, led that team from deep en route to Williams’s first national championship.
In the 2008-09 national championship run, UNC hit 38.7 percent of its 3-pointers, ranking that team 21st nationally. Danny Green and Wayne Ellington drove that team from outside, and Ty Lawson contributed efficiently from deep.
And in the 2011-12 season that very well could have resulted in another banner being hung, Carolina hit 33.4 percent of its 3-pointers.
Every championship contender Williams has coached in Chapel Hill has been able to efficiently shoot from outside. This year’s team is climbing into that territory, thanks to a willingness to work.
“You’ve got to get in the gym and sweat.”
In film, is it evident that Texas still has work to do before it can effectively use Shaka Smart’s full-court press?
“They came back in the second half of the Michigan game with their press, and I was trying to remember, it wasn’t all full-court, some of it was in a half-court kind of thing, but I would think it’s a change in what they’ve been doing, and it’s hard to get them where Shaka wants them to be, I’m sure. But I still think it’s good enough to where we worked the press offense yesterday, and we’ll work press offense again today.”
How much of your team’s defensive success comes from experience?
“There’s no question that the accumulation of practices and drills and all of those things does help. I’m always on Brice (Johnson) and Kennedy (Meeks) more than anybody else for what they do defensively. When they’re really good defensively, I think we’re really good, because the other guys are more consistent with it. And Brice and Kennedy, the last two games, have had much better games defensively as well. I think it is an experience factor. It’s desire, yes, but you’ve got to know what to do and how to do it, too. It’s not just, ‘Oh, anybody can be a great defensive player, because…” First of all, you’ve got to slide your feet, because you can’t stand in front of the ball. If you don’t understand where you’re supposed to be all the time, you’re gonna have problems. I think it’s the experience factor, maybe more important, and learning the defensive habits and everything than it is in every other part of the game.”
How important are Johnson and Meeks with defending Texas’ Cameron Ridley?
“You look at Cameron, he’s averaging 13 points per game, he’s averaging 9.5 rebounds a game, he’s playing 24 minutes a game shooting 73 percent. That’s pretty doggone good. He’s going to be a load for us. He’s one of the best offensive rebounders there is in college basketball. One of those funky stat things has got him listed as the 15th or 16th best offensive rebounder in all of college basketball. We loved him, really tried to recruit him early, but he made a pretty early commitment to Texas. But, he gives them that guy inside that takes up so much space, takes away some of you offensive rebound baskets, as well, because of his rebounding. But he’s averaging 9.5 rebounds in 24 minutes a game. So he’s pretty doggone effective there, he’s a big rascal, and I said 72 or 73, but it’s 72.4 percent. That’s not just numbers I pulled up out of the air, that’s actually what he’s doing.”
Do you think Nate Britt is just more comfortable with the shooting hand change now? What’s the difference?
“I think that he didn’t have any, technically, he didn’t have any negatives in the right-handed shot where he did have in the left, and changing over, because he’d changed over at 14 or 15 (years old), so he quit shooting outside shots unless he was just playing around. So the more reps that he got, it’s improved, it’s more fundamentally sound, it’s much more sound than the left-handed shot was. So now the rest of it is just sweat.”
Do you have a philosophy in how much guys should shoot in practice?
“No. As many as you can get up. As many times as you can shoot. I still go by the Larry Bird/Chris Mullin and all of those stories, they’re two of the greatest shooters ever, and how’d they get that way? Because they practiced more than anybody else.”
Are there any specifics you can give about the change in Nate’s shot?
“He had a blip in his left hand. You take the ball, you’re supposed to get it right here, and he takes the ball up sideways, and then gets his hand behind it before the shot. It was a bad era. He didn’t have it from the free throw line, that’s the reason we didn’t change it, because the free throw line, he gets his hand set properly and his elbow underneath. He had the hitch in his shot that was not a good one.”
Has Hubert Davis being on the staff improved the way you go about teaching shooting?
“Yes and no. Jarod Haase was really good, shooting-wise and teaching the guys shooting, too. Hubert is willing to get in the gym with them, and he also has that (thing) that very few people have. You look in the NBA record book under NBA career three-point shooting percentage, it says Hubert Davis. Jared did a great job with shooting and worked at it really hard, but he didn’t have that. So human nature is you’re going to believe what Tiger Woods tells you about his golf swing as opposed to Barry Jacobs. You’re just going believe that more. So there’s something there.”
Does this team feel kindred to those teams?
“I can answer that two ways: I can say ‘yes, but it’s going require a lot more work,’ because those teams were more gifted. In ’05, four guys in the lottery, and ’09, three guys in the first round, one guy in the second round. In ’12, four guys in the top 17. That’s not on this team. That’s not on this team. I’m not trying to act like Rick Pitino and say certain guys aren’t walking in the door, but that is not on this frickin’ team. But, the answer is ‘Yes,’ because if you put in the work, if you get lucky, the team play and the leadership and the things like that do help you more in basketball, perhaps, than it does in some other sports. But, looking at it, just from a talent thing, the answer is ‘No,’ but that’s not what you look at. You look at how five guys mesh together, how five guys defend together, and all of those type of things, too.”
What have you seen out of Isaiah Hicks this season?
“He needs to relax a little bit more. He’s shooting another great percentage from the floor, he’s 61.8 (percent), I’d like to see him shoot more shots if he’s going shoot 61.8. Defensively, at times he’s really good, and at times he loses focus. I love what Isaiah’s doing, he’s giving us that guy coming off the bench that gives us something positive when he gets in the game. He, sometimes in practice, will show some things and I’ll say, ‘Wow. Why don’t you do that during the game?’ That kind of thing. But, Isaiah is doing a great job for us, and just getting a little more confidence, I think, would be good for him, too.”