Heels Movin' On Up

GREENSBORO, N.C. – North Carolina's ascension back to the top echelon of the ACC may have finally come about – at least so says the media. In the meantime, nagging injuries are slowing a few Tar Heels in the early stages of practice.

UNC was picked to finish second behind Wake Forest at ACC Operation Basketball on Sunday.

The Deacons are also the preseason No. 1 pick by national publications The Sporting News and Blue Ribbon, along with CBS Sportsline.com.

Carolina was picked to finish fourth nationally by Blue Ribbon, third by The Sporting News, fifth by Street & Smith's, seventh by ACC Basketball Handbook, third by CBS Sportsline.com, third by Lindy's and second by SLAM.

In the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll, the Tar Heels are third, with Kansas, Wake at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. The AP poll has not been released yet.

And who is Dick Vitale's No. 1? That's right, North Carolina.

UNC coach Roy Williams, who along with players Jackie Manuel and Sean May were on hand, provided his opinion on preseason polls.

"Dick Vitale picking us No. 1 – I'm stunned," Williams said. "Dick likes to be a little different anyway, so I can't say for that. I think we should be third. But, it's something I can't control, so why should I worry about it?

At least five ACC schools, including Duke, Georgia Tech, Maryland, UNC and Wake Forest made the Top 25 in all of the above referenced polls and publications. N.C. State cracked the lists of Blue Ribbon, Street & Smith's, ACC Basketball Handbook, and CBS Sportsline.com; as well as the coaches' poll.

"It's not going to be like the Pac-10, where a few teams are good and you can take a couple of nights off," May said. "The ACC, from top to bottom ... we don't know what Virginia Tech can do, but Clemson can give you a scare. All the teams can come after you, so you have to be ready each and every night. That's the special thing about playing in the ACC right now."

Williams did pass along some injury news. Quentin Thomas has some soreness in the knee he had surgically repaired earlier this year, and missed the second half of practice on Saturday. And Marvin Williams' hamstring is bothering him.

"We've tried to be more cautious with [Williams], but I think both of them, being freshmen, this [being] the hardest they have ever had to work in their lives has had something to do with that pain and not being able to be as comfortable as they like," Williams said.

"I'm very pleased with them. I think they are going to help us a great deal. They need to be able to help us a great deal or the factor about more depth is not going to be true."

Williams also said that the trimmed-down Damion Grant's knees continue to hamper him; downplaying earlier reports that the junior center might be able to significantly increase his contribution this season. May and Rashad McCants also have been plagued by groin injuries, as Williams mentioned two weeks ago.

But aside from the injuries, optimism is running high among the players so far this season.

"The first two weeks of practice, we've looked really good," Manuel said. "This is a very different feeling. We're more relaxed. There is no pressure. We're just ready to play, basically."

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