CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Kennedy Meeks continues to make strides in practice, and provided that trend holds through Friday, the junior center will be available to play at Syracuse on Friday, according to UNC head coach Roy Williams.
“It’ll just depend on how effective we think he’ll be when he gets there,” Williams said. “What he did (at practice) Wednesday and Thursday, unless something’s happened that I had not heard about yet, he didn’t have any different swelling or anything, so everybody feels like we’re getting pretty close.”
Meeks has missed UNC"s last seven games with a bone bruise in his left knee since the loss at Texas on Dec. 12. Williams told reporters that Meeks participated in roughly 50 percent of practice on both Wednesday and Thursday. The plan on Friday was to run the Charlotte, N.C. product through an entire practice session.
"I fully expect that he’ll play," Williams said.
Just because Meeks is available, though, doesn’t mean Williams will start him or even give him extended minutes.
“Who will be affected the most by a long layoff?" Williams said. "I think everybody would say Kennedy would be more affected than anybody. Even if I say if things go well, I’ll play him some Saturday, I don’t know how much...
"If it’s the Kennedy that played against Louisville in Mohegan-Sun or against Michigan State at Michigan State, then he’s going to play a heck of a lot. If it’s the Kennedy that plays like Brice did against Clemson, he's not going to play very much.”
How has Kennedy looked in limited action?
“Medium. I know that’s not a great answer, but it’s the truth. We haven’t run up and down the court four times in a row with him, and you guys watch us play, we like to run up and down the court four times in a row, so today will be a bigger test to see how he handles that. I fully expect that he’ll play. I don’t know how much, or how effective, so we’ll have to wait and see.”
How does it change things for Brice, having Kennedy on the court?
“I don’t think it changes anything. It’s been the common thing, ‘Well, Brice is playing better because Kennedy’s not in there,’ but the guy that took Kennedy’s place is pretty big, too. I don’t buy into that. Brice has just played harder and run the floor more effectively. You could probably count as many times in the last 10 games him running the floor and getting involved on the break as he has in his first three years put together. I don’t think it’ll have much of an effect, really. And you think about it, Kennedy’s a really good passer, so it should be a positive thing when he’s in there. I think Brice has just got to keep pushing the envelope to get his intensity up at a high level, and maintain that for quite a while.”
Is there something to be said about sticking with the chemistry and letting Joel James keep starting?
“There’s something to be said by that, but to me, what outweighs that is what happened in the first, I’m gonna guess right here, 35 practices. Because that made the decision of who’s playing in those first, how many games did Kennedy play, nine? And that made the decision as to who’s playing in those nine games. I think that weighs more than the other does, but I do think you should consider both of them. There’s no question about it, I think you can make a case for hey, we’ve played pretty well without him, bring him off the bench. But I also think that those 30-something practices and nine games, he proved that he deserved that. If a guy’s poor play takes him out of the lineup, then he doesn’t deserve anything. But if an injury takes him out of the lineup, then I think you’ve got to give him a fair chance to get his spot back. I don’t think that’s gonna happen this weekend… How he plays will determine that, but it’ll take a while for everybody to get comfortable with the playing time and the rotation and all that stuff, and it’s not the best time in the world to do that, because we’re in conference play. You’d like to have those kind of things happen when you’re playing some of those other guys. But during conference play, it’s hard to do that.”
Brice has benefited from a smaller lineup, does having Meeks back effect how often you utilize that?
“No. What determines a smaller lineup is are we being able to guard them on the other end? Or are we scoring inside? And we told the team that before the Florida State game. You big guys, if you can score, rebound and defend, you get to stay in the game. If you don’t, you’re coming out, because it’s a bad match-up. That would determine it, not— I think even when Kennedy was here, we went small a couple of times when Kennedy and Brice were both together.”
How much did Joel James benefit from taking Kennedy’s spot? Did he gain confidence out of that?
“I think that’s probably it. He saw that he could do some things, and I think his confidence level is higher now than it was before. Particularly now, (against Georgia Tech) he was really good early. He was our only offense early. I think him gaining confidence was the biggest thing.”
How much does having your full starting lineup together for only three games affect your team?
“It’s a great problem. I don’t know myself. People say ‘Boy, that’ll help those other guys with Marcus being out.’ I said I’d rather have Marcus. They said ‘Well, that’ll help all those guys with Kennedy out.’ I said I’d rather have Kennedy. I’d rather have your whole team, so you can go through good times and bad times, adversity, good play, see what different changes you have to make. It’s sort of like, knock on the wood, 2010, we had Tyler Zeller, who’s a really good player. And Ed Davis, who’s a really good player. I think we had them for one conference game together. That was a bad situation. We need to have our guys—The core guys need to be together for a while before they understand themselves how it’s gonna be and for us coaches, for we to be able to understand how they’re gonna be.”
When you recruited Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, did you think they could be this type of centerpiece of a potential Final Four team?
“I think we’re putting the cart before the horse. We don’t talk about any of that kind of stuff. I understand part of your question, easily, is that I thought Marcus was really gonna be a big-time player. I really did. You guys, some of you are sitting in here, as a freshman, he struggled. But I still thought he was really gonna be a big-time player. People in here, I’d ask you, you’d probably get it wrong unless you looked it up, everybody would probably say Brice was a McDonald’s All-American. He was not. But you see those flashes, and now, can you get those flashes to come more often? We have. It’s been a slow process. Sometimes, those flashes come around more often when they’re a freshman. But with Brice, you’ve got to understand. Brice is still Brice. Don’t forget that, boys, he was 1-for-8 two games ago, don’t forget that. But I’m just telling him whatever he ate before that game was bad for him, don’t eat that stuff again.
"But no, I don’t think in terms of best players in the country. Are they good enough to help us do what I want to do to compete in this league? When we recruit somebody out of high school, I think Steve (Robinson) wrote about it or somebody did, Jeff Lebo thought I was crazy the summer before Tyler's freshman year, because we’re having a coaches' meeting and I’m talking about the young kid’s going be able to do this and this, and he thought I was wacko. And then he calls me after the first half of the season and says, ‘Okay, I apologize,’ and I didn’t know what he was apologizing for. But, I don’t care if everybody in here likes a player I like, as long as I like him, I don’t care where he’s rated, where he’s ranked, or anything. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I’m the beholder.
"Can he play for me? Can he do the things that we want him to do? I thought that Brice really had some possibilities, but that question mark was there. Can he get his intensity at a high level and maintain it? Because he never had. With Marcus, I just thought he would really be good, and it was a tough start for him as a freshman in some ways, but I thought he had a fantastic freshman year. You put his freshman year, those numbers, up against a lot of people that are pretty good players, and he was doing fine. Just thinking about those kind of things once past that, can they do what we like them to do? And can we depend on them to work hard and trust them to go from there?”