CHAPEL HILL, NC—When the days begin to get shorter, the nights begin to get a little cooler, and the sqeaking of sneakers and the bouncing of balls on the hardwood emanates from the gyms in the area, you know it's about that time—basketball season. How is a Tar Heel basketball team that lost five of it's top seven players going to live up to the Carolina tradition? This season it's going to be versatility.
Joe Forte and Brendan Haywood are off to the NBA, Max Owens is getting time in the NBDL, and Julius Peppers and Ronald Curry are currently trying to help UNC football coach John Bunting win an ACC Championship and get to a bowl game in his first campaign back in Chapel Hill since 1971.
The tradition is there. Names like Rosenbluth, Miller, Ford, Jordan, Worthy, Daugherty, Stackhouse, Wallace, Carter, and, Jamison ellicit images and feelings that make Tar Heels proud. But these guys weren't around forever. They moved on, and the tradition continued.
"I just think you should have the pride to want to be good when you put on the North Carolina uniform," remarked UNC head basketball coach Matt Doherty "You're going to play for the best. The Seattle Mariners lost Ken Griffey, Randy Johnson, and A-Rod, and they tied a league record for most wins… It is a team game. The Mariners lost three great players in a short time span and they still have a great team. I hope that we can have a great team even though we lost five of our top seven players from last season."
The second-year UNC head basketball coach has stressed versatility from the day he took the job. He want players that can "pass, handle, and shoot," and he's said that he believes that he has five to seven guys that can give him 20 points on any given night—not necessarily average 20 points per game.
"Me, Kris, and the three freshman," remarked senior forward Jason Capel of Doherty's claim. "Brian Morrison probably could if he warms up. I guess that's the five or six he's talking about."
"I think Jason Capel can give me 20 (points) a night," explained Doherty further. "I think that Kris Lang can get me 20 a night. I think last year, everyone knew that Joe was probably going to get 20 a night. Maybe that was bad for the team. Maybe I should have created more balance for the team.
"With this team, I think we'll have balance, but I think Jason Capel is capable of getting 20 each night. I think Kris Lang is too—and doing it within the team structure. But I think that they won't have to. Maybe last year I felt that Joe had to, and maybe that was wrong—I don't know. With this team, I don't think that Jason HAS to get 20 for our team to win, but he's capable."
Last year, teams keyed on Forte on the perimeter, and they doubled down on Haywood in the post. Contain one of those guys, and the opposition was headed in the right direction. This year, the offensive weapons may not be as potent, but there will be more threats to score.
"I think that is real key for this year's team," asserted Lang. "It can go any way, any game. Last year, it was ‘OK, we have to stop Joseph Forte and limit the touches Brendan has.' This year, you don't know where it is going to come from."
And, like it or not, part of that offensive load is going to come from the three freshmen. They have the athleticism to play on the defensive end, and they can fill it up on the offensive end, but they are going to need some guidance.
"We have three young guys who are going to be asked to do a lot—play a lot of minutes and contribute from day one," remarked Capel. I think that Kris, Brian, and Orlando, and I are going to have to encourage them and bring them along because we need them a lot this year."
Expect versatility on both ends of the court. This team may have no superstars, but it's a collection of talented players, capable of winning a lot of games.