Point Of Progression

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- On the Who's Who list of North Carolina point guards, few came in with more fanfare than Ty Lawson. Many of his predecessors have spoken of the difficult transition period from high school to college – especially regarding the Tar Heels' intricate playbook and the heavy responsibilities placed on the the point guard.

After a quick start to the season, Lawson has hit a few bumps in the road of late, but he remains on track to become another in the long list of Tar Heel greats at the position.

Roy Williams says Phil Ford was the best point guard he's ever seen in college basketball. Kenny Smith was known for his blinding end-to-end speed. Ed Cota has the most assists. Derrick Phelps has the most steals. Phelps, Raymond Felton and Jimmy Black won national championships.

"There is no question about the tradition and history here with point guards," Roy Williams said. "But for me, I want those guys that have toughness and the ability to put pressure on the other team on both ends of the court.

"We're really going to try and push it and run, so they can put pressure on the team on offense; and that they can defend Raymond Felton-style and draw your line of defense way out at the half court line."

Much like the philosophy used by drill sergeants in boot camp, young star players must be torn down and built back up within the realm of the infamous Carolina system.

"It's tough and it's demanding," Lawson said. "Coach wants you to know every position, get back on defense, call the plays and run the team. He's hardest on the point guard, more so than any other position on the team. It's much harder than in high school."

After a quick start to his collegiate career, Lawson has experienced some difficulty against the ACC's elite guards, committing 11 turnovers in the Tar Heels' last two outings at Virginia Tech and Clemson.

"Those were our first two true road games, and it's been the defensive pressure," Lawson said, explaining his increased number of miscues. "Both of those teams are at the top of the league in steals, turnovers and deflections. They had a great scouting report and knew exactly what we wanted to do.

"We've been working on protecting the ball better in practice, like for example, the coaches are calling less fouls in practice. If we get smacked, they won't call it. They want us to be tough with the ball and go through with it."

Lawson will look to improve on a season-high seven turnover night at Clemson, when fourth-ranked UNC (16-2, 3-1 ACC) returns home to host Georgia Tech (13-4, 2-2) Saturday at 9 p.m. in a game televised nationally on ESPN.

The Yellow Jackets have won seven of their last eight, but have yet to win a road game this season.

Early on it appeared Lawson was going to skip the obligatory adjustment period for incoming freshmen. In his first career start Nov. 29 against Ohio State – a team at the time ranked No. 1 in one poll - he was unfazed by a big-game atmosphere on the national stage, tallying 13 points and four assists without a turnover.

Prior to the Virginia Tech game last Saturday, Lawson had played in 11 consecutive games with an incredible average of just 1.45 turnovers per game. His current assist-to-turnover ratio (2.19) still ranks second in a conference full of talented guards.

Lawson has also scored in double figures nine times with a high of 16 points versus the Hokies.

His 55 free throw attempts rank third on the team behind Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright.

Williams uses a grade-level analogy in assessing Lawson's development at this stage in his career.

"I think he's in kindergarten right now, but I think he could go to grad school and graduate magna cum laude," Williams said. "He has a chance to really be good, but right now he is so new into everything it's hard to evaluate. He can get so, so much better. He's got to develop a much better work ethic and toughness, but he's got some gifts that a lot of people don't have. If he does do those other things and gets extremely focused and works hard, he'll be a heck of a graduate student when he gets done here."


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