CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – There’s a void on UNC’s basketball roster that head coach Roy Williams doesn’t see being filled any time soon.
Williams says that the vacancy left in the leadership department by now-graduated guard Marcus Paige is going to stay empty until this year’s team starts to form its own identity.
Veterans like senior guard Nate Britt, junior guard Joel Berry, and junior wing Justin Jackson are all expected to step into leadership roles this season, but Williams says it won’t show until they’ve been tested.
“They’re trying, but it takes time,” Williams said at his press conference on Thursday. “Very seldom do you have one guy that can step out and -- bam -- he’s the leader. Really your leadership doesn’t show up until you have some adversity… I think Joel and Justin are doing a nice job, but again we have to see how they handle it when there are some adverse conditions.”
Williams says the Tar Heels got a small dose of that adversity after what Williams described as a “very bad” practice on Monday. It was the type of practice where you miss a guy like Paige, according to UNC’s coach.
“Marcus would have been more helpful, there’s no question,” Williams said. “Marcus would have helped turn it around, but it was just an ugly day.”
The player who has been most assumed to fill Paige’s role is Berry, but Williams says that Berry might be too different from Paige to lead the team in a similar manner.
“Joel is a fighter, he’s a competitive rascal,” he said. “Sometimes he has that tunnel vision of how I’m doing and sometimes that’s great and sometimes it’s not quite as good. He’s a competitive rascal and sometimes it’s not his nature to say ‘come on would you please do this.’ He barks at them. Sometimes that works with a lot of kids, some kids it doesn’t.”
Williams refers to Paige as one of the greatest leaders he’s ever coached, so the task to fill the void he’s left could continue well into this season. For the 66-year old coach, he’s willing to let the process take its time.
What was the benefit of playing the exhibition games?
“It helped us. The exhibition play got us to play against somebody else, as well as the scrimmage against Memphis. Human nature is if you are playing against your teammates they’re going to play into the play a little bit and know what’s coming, and that helps…. And just the tedious nature of coming to practice every day and it was fun for our guys to get in front of a crowd Friday night in the exhibition.”
Do you like opening up elsewhere and not here? Maybe on a neutral site or a true road game?
“I’ve never even thought about which one I opened up on. I like to play some road games, I like to play some true road games in other people’s buildings. But which is first, I’ve never thought of that.”
With how well things went last year, do you find yourself doing some of the same things this year with this team even though you did come up short?
“I think you take those results of being really successful, and if you look the last three or four years we’ve had some really good runs down near the end of the season. A couple of years ago we won 12 straight conference games I think it was down the stretch. What we’re doing now we’ve done all the time. The kids have something to latch on to because some of them were involved in it, but I haven’t changed things because of the success we’ve had last year because I didn’t change things last year. What we did last year is basically what we’ve always done. We want to be as corny as all get-out, bust our tail every day, and try to get better today and better tomorrow.”
Have you decided if Nate Britt is going to start?
“Haven’t decided. In the exhibition we started Nate in the first half and Kenny in the second half.”
How much of the playing time for certain players do you have predetermined and how much is based on the feel?
“It’s almost all by feel. I know who is going to substitute for whom. I know who they’re going in for, but I don’t really make a decision 'at the eight-minute mark I need to do this', or 'at the 12-minute mark I need to do this.' Sometimes I’ve had at least two or three situations where I put a player in and he’s so nervous that he loses confidence and then it takes forever to get him back. Maybe if I hadn’t played him so much in the first game it wouldn’t have shaken him as much.”
How ready do you think a guy like Tony Bradley is?
“As ready as he can be. He’ll be nervous but so will Nate, Kennedy, and Isaiah because it’s the first game. How you handle the nervousness is the question you have to answer. We’ve gone a little slower with Tony trying not to throw as many things at him. There comes a point where they think 'hey this is not as complicated as I thought it was.' It does fit in pretty well, so then you can give them a lot more. There’s no question he’ll be nervous, but hopefully he’ll use his confidence to get past that kind of stuff.”
Is there a timetable where you’ll know more definitively about Theo Pinson’s status?
“Not that I know of. I think, what’s it been? Two weeks today? So since the surgery I’d imagine they would look at it after four weeks and see where it stands. Other than that I’m just guessing.”