Heels off to Jawad's homecoming

Ninth-ranked North Carolina travels to Cleveland, Ohio, Saturday for its first ever meeting with Cleveland State. A wintry mix is in the forecast for the game designated as Jawad Williams' homecoming.

Williams is coming off a career-high 28 points versus Davidson, in which he made 10 of 11 field goals, including 3-for-3 from 3-point range.

"He missed a field goal, so he needs to work on that one miss, but other than I've been really pleased with the way he has just stayed within the flow of the game," UNC coach Roy Williams said during his Friday media teleconference.

The Vikings (2-0) have wins over Florida A&M and Central (Cleveland) State.

Click here for an in depth look at Cleveland State.

The Tar Heels (2-0) have a similar makeup to a team that could only manage a 19-16 record last season. While clearly Sean May's foot injury was a big reason for UNC's swoon after starting the season 7-2, the hiring of Roy Williams has lit a fire under the players and fans.

Along with a relentless tenacity evident on both ends of the floor, Williams has also brought discipline and structure to a group that at times struggled with their identities and the importance of team unity last year.

"The kids have done what we've told them to do," Williams said. "I haven't had any breach of that whatsoever. The important thing for us is playing with intensity and making that a consistent thing. The other thing is rebounding the basketball."

Although the Tar Heels hold a 71-69 overall rebounding advantage, they have been outbattled on the offensive glass by a 24-19 margin. That statistic concerns Williams more than any other at this point.

"We feel like [rebounding] is a liability with this team," Williams said. "Against Davidson, sometimes we didn't box out and other times we didn't chase down the long rebound. We've got to get our guards back in there to help out rebounding."

Not only has UNC scored over 90 points in each of its two games this year, they are shooting 58.8 percent from the floor, with Williams off to a 15-for-17 shooting touch.

Williams insisted in the preseason that a couple of the Tar Heel regulars take a good look at themselves, and the advisories – or ultimatums – have paid off. Rashad McCants was told if he wanted to continue to play a lot of minutes, he would have to become a better defender, and he is quickly evolving from a defensive liability into a first-rate stopper. Jackie Manuel, who Williams' essentially told he had to stop shooting jumpers, is 9-of-10 from the floor.

"Matt Doherty believed in a lot of the same things that I do," Williams said. "But it has been a good bit of a change. We're playing at a much faster pace, we're probably more demanding of their effort and intensity and keeping it at a high level, and the shot selection is something that we're emphasizing more than they've had in the past."

Indeed decisive wins over Old Dominion and Davidson are hardly an accurate measuring stick. However, Tuesday's ACC-Big Ten Challenge match-up with No. 12 Illinois should provide much better insight into just how far the Tar Heels have come.

Coincidentally, it was 92-65 loss to the Illini in Champaign, that exposed the weaknesses of the '02-'03 team that started the season 5-0 and notched early season wins over No. 2 Kansas and Stanford on its way to the Preseason NIT championship.

Entering the season depth was a major concern, yet Carolina appears to have had more than enough bodies so far. Provided none of the major contributors get significantly hurt, the return of David Noel around New Year's should give the Tar Heels an extremely solid rotation to begin conference portion of the schedule.

"I don't think we've overemphasized depth at all, unless you can guarantee me that we won't have anyone get hurt – catch the flu, sprain an ankle or get into foul trouble," Williams said.

Carolina is currently playing just seven regulars and one of them is walk-on freshman forward Justin Bohlander. Williams noted that there are no other teams in the Top 25 that bring their first big man off the bench in the form of a walk-on freshman.

Bohlander, a high school teammate of scholarship freshman Reyshawn Terry, has just one field goal, but has been effective with five rebounds, two blocks and two steals.

"He has adapted really quickly to what we're doing defensively," Williams said.

Finally, Williams said he had "no idea" as to whether freshman wide receiver Jesse Holley would join the basketball team. However, Williams said he would address the issue with Holley on Monday.


Inside Carolina Top Stories