CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Once Brice Johnson played his last game as a Tar Heel, all eyes turned to Isaiah Hicks entering his final season at North Carolina. The athletic forward had shown flashes of greatness coming off the bench throughout his career, and the Tar Heel faithful were excited to see what he could do in a starting role.
Through nine games, the 6-foot-9 senior has produced at high levels, averaging 13.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Head coach Roy Williams has been pleased with Hicks’s rising production, especially when it comes to him committing less fouls. The senior is only averaging 2.7 personal fouls per game this year, a total down from last season.
“One thing he’s done, and knock on wood, is stay out of more foul trouble this year,” Williams said at his press conference on Tuesday. “He’s only fouled out of one game. That’s the first thing. Scoring average is up, shooting percentage is up, those things have been good."
The one thing Williams want to see Hicks do better is crash the boards. While he’s third on the team in rebounding, Williams expected more entering the season.
“His rebounding hasn’t been what I thought it would be, and that’s the area I’m pushing him in more than anything else,” Williams said. “We need everybody to do more, and if it’s the last game of the season I’m going to ask him to do more… I just think we’ve got to get more out of him on the backboards.”
Williams says that, even in Hicks’s fourth year in Chapel Hill, he’s still trying to figure out just exactly what type of rebounder he is and what works when coaching him.
“Some guys I chastise in a comical way like Isaiah, some guys I scream at,” Williams said. “It depends on the way I think has the best effect. Some guys, the ball has a way of finding their hands. Usually those are the guys that have really good hands because when it touches it they keep it. Other guys are natural rebounders that can go find the basketball.”
What’s the challenge without having Joel (Berry) in the backcourt?
“It’s a big one. That’s the first thing I think of. You think of a guy who’s our best three-point shooter, our best perimeter defender, who had been our leading scorer for a majority of the year. So you’re taking a guy who does so many different things and then who do you replace him with? If it’s Seventh (Woods), you replace him with a freshman who’s still trying to learn the point guard position and still trying to learn the level of intensity that he’s got to play with all the time. That part of it is a big time challenge. Plus the fact that it moves you another person down in your personnel. I told you at the start of the season that our depth would be something that’s very good for us but we’re slipping, slipping, slipping and losing some of that too.”
Does that mean Seventh Woods will replace Joel in the starting lineup?
“I haven’t decided. You can go two ways and throw him out there and say sink or swim or you can feed him a little bit so I don’t know where we are right now. The other night when Joel was subbed for the first sub I put in Nate (Britt). Then when Joel got hurt I put in Seventh. It’s still up in the air as to what I’m doing. If it’s Seventh or Nate that changes the substitution pattern for the two-man.”
Have you ever found yourself tricked into thinking a tough guy like Joel was invincible?
“I thought Tyler Hansbrough was that way, then his senior year he missed all those games early in the season because of the stress-reaction condition. Joel was banged up almost his whole freshman year, so I haven’t had that feeling with Joel because of his freshman year. I don’t know that he was healthy almost the entire season at that point.”
Seventh said the most difficult challenge for him playing the point in your system is the quickness and speed that he has to play with. Is that what you’re seeing as the most difficult thing for him?
“He’s getting better, and it’s slower than I wanted it and slower than he wanted it. I think playing at that pace, because his speed is really something, it really is Ty Lawson-like speed, and we haven’t seen that yet. I put it on the fact that he hasn’t been healthy all year. The speed at which you have to play, and you do it every possession, and the intensity that you have to play with on the defensive end is something that’s a shock for everybody, but particularly for a point guard. He’s been able to coast and be quicker than everybody else, but it’s not that way at this level. It’s hard.”
Has there been noticeable progress for Seventh since the games started?
“Somewhat, yeah. There’s still a Seventh out there that nobody’s seen yet. That I’ve seen, but that nobody has seen in a North Carolina uniform yet.”
Beside the speed part, what’s the biggest adjustment for freshman point guards in your system?
“If you’re a defensive end in football and you’re a freshman, what’s your job? Go tackle the quarterback or if somebody comes at you, tackle ‘em. Alright, now what’s the job of a quarterback in football? You’ve got to call a play and get up there and say ‘Ok what defense, oh this isn’t the right play’... well that’s what the point guard does in basketball. It’s not ‘Tony Bradley go get the ball off the board and we throw it to you turn and score’. With Seventh, on every possession you’ve got to call the defense, you’ve got to call the offense we’re in, and some of it you call it verbally, some you call it by your actions…. Mentally the difference in night and day. I give the point guards so much freedom.”
Davidson coach Bob McKillop says his team this year has the most depth since he’s been there. Have you seen that on tape?
“I don’t watch tape until the day before the game. Because we played Sunday, we practiced yesterday and worked on some things we had some guys sit out. If Bob says that, I believe him. I believe he’s one of the best coaches in our game. He’s one of the finest gentleman that we have in our game. I look at the stats and see that they have ten guys that shoot the three-point shot that have good percentages for a lot of people but not good enough for him. I’ve studied the stats a little bit.”