Even though the talent level at UNC is relatively high, the learning curve that these players now face with Williams is extremely steep and will most likely be constant for much of next season. There are things, however, that each of these players hopefully have done in order to better prepare them for this up coming year. Williams' style, his system as it were, is not necessarily the most complicated thing but it requires an extremely cerebral approach as well as physical adjustment and calculation. Most of the players on UNC's teams for the past three years have been able to react with some modicum of success to things on an athletic or physical level but have not shown great capability in the realm of making mental adjustments. Here is where Williams will challenge and push this year's team.
Each one of the returning players from last year's squad has some very definitive things they needed to be working on this summer in order to be prepared for taking their games and UNC's team game to the next level. One of the key components to being successful in Williams' system is being able to meld that mental understanding of the game with the physical application in order to execute at maximum speed but to never be in a hurry, so to speak. Below I have listed each one of the returning players with some things I think they needed to work on during this offseason in order to make the Heels a much better team.
Raymond Felton - All things start and end with Raymond because, well, he is the point guard and the leader. Raymond is one of the most talented PG's in the country but his game still has a ton of room for improvement. One of the things Raymond needed to do more of and get used to doing is advancing the ball up the court via the pass instead of using the dribble. What is impressive is not the full court bounce pass or lob but instead the five kick-a-head passes to wings that stretches the defense and creates open shots either immediately or within a pass or two. Raymond also at times last year would not make himself as readily available to the rebounder for the outlet pass as he should of, often killing any chance of a break opportunity in the back court. When it comes to Raymond's offensive game his shot still lacked the consistency it could have by getting rid of that dip and hitch he had for stretches last year. He also would be better served keeping his penetration to within eight to ten feet of the basket and no deeper in order to give him both better scoring opportunities and better passing angles. Williams' style of play is heavily predicated upon a point guard who is capable of running the show.
Rashad McCants - Rashad played a lot of last year hurting from one injury or another. I am sure he found the spring and the rest that came with it much needed. Rashad showed flashes of brilliance last year on the offensive end. One of the things he will need to concentrate on this year will be his on the ball and off the ball defense. If he can apply the same intensity too the defensive end that he does on the offensive end his game will jump up a level right there. I also think Rashad needed to really work on his ball handling this summer along with developing a more fluid and reliable pull up jump shot. When set there were few guys last year who shot the ball as well as Rashad did but teams are now very aware of where he likes to get the ball and how he prefers to shoot the ball. Developing a better off the dribble pull up will be necessary for Rashad and will make him nearly unstoppable on offense. With Williams preferring the fast break attack to the half court attack, Rashad improving his open court ball handling skills is a must in order to offer another outlet possibility besides Raymond.
Sean May - First things first, hopefully Sean has fully recovered from that foot injury. It is never good to see a young kid go down with such an injury. Sean being healthy for a whole season is the first thing he needed to work on. Part of that being that he needed to drop some weight and take some pressure off his feet which I am sure he is more then aware of. It will make him even quicker and more athletic. Sean needed to also really spend some time working on the one dribble pull up from the top of the key in. Sean has range out to the three point line but will exponentially improve his value and game by adding a true one or two dribble pull-up. There are few if any four or five men who can cover that. Sean also needed to spend time learning to defend low post players this summer by moving his feet and getting proper position instead of leaning on them from behind.
Jackie Manuel - Jackie's game has been rather stagnant for his first two years at UNC – and much of that appeared to be confidence related. Last year he made the kind of strides that one would expect from his increased strength, but his skill level remained at the same level from his freshmen year. Jackie has two weak spots in his game. The first one is his handle. When Jackie put the ball on the floor last year for more then two dribbles it was usually taken from him. He has got to work on being strong with the ball and going someplace with his dribble. Second thing Jackie has got to work on is his shot. He has a pretty good natural shooting eye but the problem with his shot lies in where he starts it and his off hand. He starts the ball around mid-chest which makes it hard to get off and his off hand will often follow the ball up too high into the shot creating more of a two-handed shot then a true one-handed jump shot. He loses quickness and accuracy by doing this.
David Noel - The most improved player from last year's squad displayed wonderful intensity and a pretty good basketball IQ for a guy who was a "walk-on." Now that David is no longer a walk-on it is time for him this summer to continue to expand his game to a skill level that will go along with that wonderful athleticism. David's primary areas of needed improvement lie in his shot and his shot selection. He was often a streak shooter last year whose shot had very little arch on it. Learning to lift his elbow and shoot the ball instead of aim the ball should greatly improve both his accuracy outside 10 feet and his shooting percentage. The next area that David needed to work on is shot selection. There were times last year when he passed up shots he should have taken and forced shot he should not have taken. A summer of film review of his play last year should go a long way in helping this along.
Jawad Williams - Jawad is another player who last year showed some real signs of maturity in some games and at other times looked like he had regressed back to the start of his freshmen year in other games. He has put on some weight and now needed to learn to use it. There were too many times last year when he did not take the ball to the rim with the authority and the obvious strength he now possesses and instead settled for the double clutch shot. Jawad also needed to really learn to apply that athleticism to the offensive and defensive boards. One of the things that is absolutely necessary for UNC next year to fully utilize Williams' running/attacking style is rebounding. Sean May can not do this alone and Jawad needs to be getting 9 to 12 boards a game and there is no reason he can not. He also needed to work on his post defense this summer because even though he is not a true four man he will still be matched up with four and even five men and has got to be able to defend them better then he did last year.
Melvin Scott - Melvin's role is one that has not been very clearly defined for him in his two years at UNC. I really think if Melvin worked on his game this summer he might be that "X" factor for this year's team. Melvin's biggest problems tended to come when he was asked to move to point guard at times in his first two years. This is something that Melvin both has the capacity and capability to do but has to mentally really study and understand the PG spot this summer. If Melvin can give Raymond that capable back up at PG, UNC has just increased its depth by one position. I also think Melvin's shot found consistency when he stopped aiming the ball and got that off hand away from his shot sooner instead of leaving it on all the way to almost near the end of his follow through. This tended to flatten out Melvin's shot and make his trajectory flat. This summer Melvin needed to be preparing to play the PG mentally and to make his upper body mechanics consistent with those last few weeks of last year.
Byron Sanders - Byron is still a work in progress but a guy who by maybe the half-way point of this year will be able to give UNC 15-plus quality minutes defending and boarding on the interior. Certainly one of Byron's big needs was strength so this summer needed to be spent living in the weight room. However, Byron has some athleticism to him so flexibility also needed to be remembered so as to make him strong but agile and not just bulky and less agile. Byron also needed to concentrate on low post moves along with developing that consistent 12-foot jump shot. Interior passing is another thing Byron needed to work on. All of these things tend to improve as footwork improves.
Damion Grant - Another guy who first needed to get healthy then needed to drop some weight. Damion potentially has a huge upside that will most likely be seen no sooner then next year. He is shot blocker who has decent hands and good strength. Learning interior footwork was hopefully at the top of Damion's list this summer of things to do. He has got to learn to move around guys and not through them.
Brett Ayers is originally from Spokane Wash. and played his college basketball at Fordham University for Nick Macarchuk. He spent three years as an assistant at Stevens Tech. He works in the banking industry, residing in Apex, N.C., and is now married to a Tar Heel. He can be reached at email@example.com.