It's all in the Point

Every team sport has a position that stands out as the most crucial for success. In hockey, a goaltender can carry a team to a Stanley Cup title. In baseball, as the Arizona Diamondbacks showed, a great pitcher or two can lead a team to a World Series crown. In football, a quarterback can make or break a season. In basketball, that pressure falls on the point guard.

An excellent interior and perimeter team can be offset by a weakness at point guard. North Carolina's basketball team has many questions leading into the 2001-02 season, but perhaps none are more glaring than its concerns at point guard.

Aside from senior center Kris Lang, UNC lacks experience in the paint but does have some options. Talented freshman Jawad Williams, heady and tough junior Will Johnson, experienced but thin fifth-year senior Brian Bersticker and 7-foot-6 British project Neil Fingleton at least provide Tar Heels coach Matt Doherty something with which to work. Senior Jason Capel will likely see some time at power forward but will also play the No. 3 spot on the perimeter where the Heels figure to be strong.

However, no matter how the interior players come along and compliment Carolina's perimeter game, the Heels will struggle unless the point guard situation is settled soon and whoever takes the rein is better than adequate.

In UNC's two exhibition games, sophomore Adam Boone started at the point and drew mixed reviews. Boone isn't exceptionally athletic, doesn't dribble well facing the defense and needs to attack more but he is tough, smart and will play in-your-face defense. He possesses some leadership skills although the comparisons to former Tar Heel King Rice may have been a bit premature.

"I've basically tried to improve in every facet of my game," Boone said. "Ball handling, strength, shooting … I think I am a much improved player.

"But, I think the biggest difference is mental," the Minnesota native continued. "I think, when you come to school, especially in my situation planning on it being a four-year process, I just plan on developing each year and every time I am on the court. I think with the experience I gained last year, I knew in the summer what to work on and what to improve. The game doesn't seem as fast. It seems as if the game is a little slower."

The game slowing down is definitely a positive for Boone and the Heels. The game was clearly too fast for him at times last year but he still showed some resilience and proved to be the mentally tough player Doherty said he was.

Boone will be pushed for time by Baltimore freshman Melvin Scott, a quality ball handler with better athletic ability than Boone. Scott, who came to Chapel Hill with a reputation as an excellent perimeter shooter, is still green in many ways and isn't quite ready to take control of the team for extended minutes. Scott may also be a bit smoother than Boone, but at this time he doesn't possess the basics – though he might in January.

"Melvin Scott (is a) solid point guard," Lang said a few weeks ago. "(He) has a nice free throw jumper and knows how to throw the (alley) ‘oop. He knows how to get the ball inside."

Doherty has been impressed with Scott, both physically and mentally.

"(He is a) combo guard that can really shoot the basketball," the coach. "Strong. Good defender. A very smart basketball player. Tough kid. Hates to lose."

Junior Jonathan Holmes doesn't appear to figure into the mix as he logged only a few minutes in the exhibition games. Holmes is a fierce competitor and understands where his mates must be on the floor. He is a solid distributor of the ball, handles the ball well but is a poor, line drive shooter.

Brian Morrison played some point at the beginning and end of last season, logging significant minutes the last few weeks of the campaign. However, he has apparently moved back to his more natural position of wing guard although he has worked some at the point. Morrison will be the primary point only in case of injury to Boone and or Scott or if either simply can't handle the position. Otherwise, he will do his thing from the No. 2 spot.

That brings the most interesting scenario, one that UNC's fans, and perhaps coaches, hope comes to fruition.

Ronald Curry is currently a senior quarterback on the football team and has no more than three games left, assuming the Tar Heels go to a bowl game. Yet he is just a junior in basketball and if he chooses to focus solely on basketball could develop into an excellent point guard. But those are big ifs and the general consensus is that he will leave school upon graduation next spring. But what about this season?

Curry has left open the possibility of coming back ever since the end of last basketball season. Some close to the program have said he would not play while others said he would. It appears now that he will, as friend and confidant Jason Capel admitted in October.

"Ronald is definitely playing," Capel said on media day. "You're accustomed to coming out and playing basketball after football. When you see your friends out there doing it, it makes you want to come out and do it too."

Curry, who has opted not to answer questions on the matter, would provide UNC stability at the position and defensive toughness. Curry lacks an outside shot and isn't a great distributor of the ball, but he is smart, makes enough quality passes and will use his strength to his advantage driving to the basket at times. Plus, he has been through so many wars he can't possibly be fazed by anything that happens on the basketball court.

Perhaps he made that clear after the football team's 42-9 thrashing of Florida State in September.

"My childhood and things I have been through my life have prepared me for any obstacles I go against," Curry said. "This is nothing. Football, basketball, they aren't the real world. I think I can handle anything at this point."

The question now beckons whether Carolina can handle its current point guard situation. There are no Kenny Smiths, Ed Cotas, Phil Fords or Derrick Phelpses on this team. But there is the aura of playing at Carolina and the pride factor that accompanies that privilege can often push a player to once perceived unrealistic heights. UNC may have to rely on that "reality" this winter or the Heels may be in for a long season.

*****

Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He is also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.


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