"I think we do have a chance to be a very good defensive team and perhaps a very good defensive team early," Williams told a crowd of reporters at Grandover Resort. "The kids are working extremely hard on that part of it."
And while North Carolina's backcourt has been greeted with mild doses of doubt and skepticism this offseason, the frontcourt has been lauded for its depth and talent. Williams confirmed the latter on Sunday.
"I have seen that the depth that we thought we were going to have up front is real," the seventh-year UNC head coach said. "I think five or six guys will be able to play up there with varied amounts of success because of their experience."
One concern for the Tar Heels is that due to an early season opener against Florida International on Nov. 9, practice opportunities have been cut to roughly 16 as opposed to the typical 23 or 24 sessions. Williams indicated that he has been forced to throw more plays and sets at his players quicker than normal – a move that has earned a "medium success" rating.
As seniors, Deon Thompson and Marcus Ginyard acknowledge that it's their responsibility to make sure the five-man freshman class is keeping up with everything that the coaching staff is piling on its plate, but apparently the transition is going remarkably smooth in the early going.
"The freshmen are doing a really good job accepting what Coach is throwing at them and taking it and learning it," Thompson said.
According to the veterans, the rookies are as good as advertised. Ask Ginyard which freshman has stood out the most, and his response begins with a grin.
"It's impossible to watch John Henson play for more than five minutes and not say, ‘Whoa. Wow. Look at that,' just with his size and athleticism," the fifth-year senior said. "I continue to say that there are just a number of things that he will do out there on the court that I really don't know that any other player on the court can do."
Most people believed when the 6-foot-10 Henson signed with North Carolina that he would ultimately play in the post due to his height and skills around the basket, but this summer Williams mentioned that the Tampa, Fla. product would see some time on the wing.
As it turns out, that's the only position that Henson has seen. When asked how the slender freshman's experiment at the 3-spot was going, Williams responded, "So far, he hasn't played a single possession as a post player, so it better be working."
But Henson is not the only freshman turning heads in practice. Thompson pointed to David and Travis Wear when asked about early standout performers.
"I really like the way the twins are playing right now," the Torrance, Ca. native said. "They're really playing hard and working hard and doing a lot of things well that Coach likes."
The biggest question mark heading into this season surrounds the point guard position. Williams hopes that sophomore Larry Drew can hold down that role with a little help from freshman Dexter Strickland to allow Ginyard to settle in at the 2-guard spot.
"After seven practices, Larry has done some great things and Larry has struggled at times," Williams said. "What has to happen is we have to get into games and see who can produce in games and hopefully the guys that we have will do it and that'll give them more confidence to do it later on."
As for Strickland, the early reviews have been solid for both he and fellow rookie guard Leslie McDonald.
"Dexter is another freshman who has been working really hard in practice, especially on the defensive end," Thompson said. "He has a lot of energy and he's fast with the ball as well. Not as fast as Ty [Lawson] is, but he definitely has a lot of speed. And Leslie is a really good shooter who can knock down wide-open 3-pointers and put the ball in the basket and get to the rack and finish. They're definitely going to be able to help us a lot."
McDonald is a player that drew plenty of comparisons to Ginyard during his high school career, but Thompson believes that assessment misses the mark, noting that the freshman guard is more of a scorer and less physical than his senior teammate.
"I think I would closely compare him to Wayne [Ellington] more than Marcus," Thompson said. "I just don't see that comparison."
North Carolina's first official exhibition game is against Belmont Abbey on Nov. 6.