CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The emergence of wing Kenny Williams and center Tony Bradley in UNC’s early season success came to the surprise of many, but was never a question for Roy Williams.
With Williams hitting his stride in his sophomore season and the 6-foot-10 Bradley bursting onto the scene through seven games, Williams says the fans are finally starting to see what he watches every day in practice.
“I think as a coach you always expect guys to play their best,” Williams said on his radio show on Monday. “You’ve never heard me say anything about Tony Bradley if I didn’t say that boy is going to be a really good player. It’s not a surprise, but I see them all the time. As somebody that saw Kenny last year and sees Kenny this year, yeah, there’s a drastic difference. I think he’ll maintain that.”
Bradley has been one of the Tar Heels’ best options off the bench this season, averaging 10.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in the undefeated start.
As for Williams, it was his work in the offseason that settled his coach's nerves, even when Theo Pinson broke his foot in October. While UNC faithful panicked, his head coach remained confident.
“Kenny really had a good offseason, really worked hard on his shot, really looked good in the preseason,” Williams said. “I made the statement, that when Theo (Pinson) got hurt, if Theo can come back and be effective for us it may be good for our team because it’ll give Kenny, Nate, and Brandon some extra time. I think Kenny has really taken advantage of that.”
Williams is 8-for-18 from the three-point line this season and is shooting 45% from the floor. The area where the sophomore has improved since Pinson’s absence? Crashing the boards.
“He may be perhaps our best perimeter defender,” Williams said. “He does a nice job there and gets to the board. He’s only had two offensive goaltending calls this year, which I don’t like, but at least it means he’s going to the board. I think Kenny has done some good things. We need him to stay healthy and keep going.”
Williams is averaging 4.1 rebounds per game, which ranks fifth on the team.
UNC averaged 17 more rebounds than its opponents in Maui, particularly that game against Wisconsin. The Badgers are a very good offensive rebounding team and they only had four throughout the game.
“Against Wisconsin we did a much better job of controlling our board, trying to keep them off of their offensive board and that was something that was important. We were averaging, and I’m going to guess, plus-18 rebound margin for the season. Team we’re playing Wednesday night is plus-19. It’s a different animal, but I’m pleased, not satisfied, but pleased with the way we played.”
Joel Berry was named the tournament’s MVP which continued a terrific start to the season for him. What have you seen out of him?
“Well he’s played great except for the first game in Hawaii on Friday night. I don’t know who that was, I thought somebody got put in his body or some alien was out there. He was 1-9 from the floor and had four turnovers in the Hawaii game. The rest of the season he’s played really well and been consistent and done some great things in practice, too. Hopefully, knock on wood, things will keep going well for him.”
Kennedy Meeks was named to the All-tournament team as well. What have you liked out of Kennedy so far?
“Well in the finals he did play well. At other times he’s been good, he’s been bad, he’s been Kennedy. But on Wednesday night I thought it was one of the best games he’s ever played for us. Hopefully he can build on that because we need him to play at that level. But I congratulated him in front of the team, did it in front of the press, because he was really good for us.”
Any update on Luke Maye?
“Luke went through about half a practice today and tomorrow we’ll know a heck of a lot more about how his foot feels after going through practice. He did some of the fullcourt work, so I’ll know a lot tomorrow and before we get on the bus for Indiana whether or not he’ll be able to play.”
Does this team share any characteristics with championship or Final Four teams you’ve had in the past?
“It’s the end of November, I’m not talking about Final Four teams. I mean, right now if this team were to play the ‘05 or ‘09 team, or the ‘12 team we’d lose. It’s a long way to go, but I’ve never started out 0-7. So some good teams have started out and played well in Maui. I know it, in ‘04 we won Maui, we won the title that year. In ‘08 we won it in Maui, then we won the title. You like to win, it’s like putting: the more you make, the more you make.”
You were pretty adamant after the Maui Invitational to pump the breaks on expectations.
“I mean look at the Top 20. We haven’t played any of those teams yet. Kansas played Duke, Michigan State played two or three teams, Indiana played Kansas. We haven’t played any of those teams yet. There’s a difference. I’m not the smartest guy, but I’m not the dumbest, and there’s some teams left that are good and I want to see how we play against those teams.”
The Indiana game will be your 1,000th game coached. Plus, the win in the Maui final was your 790th win as a head coach. Two pretty neat milestones for you.
“Yeah, 1,000 games is pretty big for me. I’ve really done a lot more than that because I coached high school for five years and I eight years I coached JV, so it’s something that’s very pleasing to me because it means I was able to hang around for a long time. I’ve had some good players that have taken care of me and I hope they keep doing it at the manner in which I’ve grown accustomed to. A thousand games, that’s hard to believe. I became a head coach at 38.”