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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
COACH AND PROGRAM
Don't weep for Roy Williams. He figures that his biggest problem going into the 2006-07 season will resolve itself eventually. The players, he says, will work it out, and he'll hang on for the ride.
Ol' Roy'll muddle through, even if he does have more talent than he knows what to do with.
Williams is responsible for being in this position, of course. He's the one who put together the heralded six-player recruiting class, which going into the season has reached mythic, Fab Five proportions by those who cover college basketball recruiting.
The thing is, neither Williams nor anyone else in the college basketball world were prepared for just how good the Tar Heels were last year, despite the unprecedented loss of seven players who made up the core of the team that beat Illinois for the 2005 NCAA title.
Williams lost four underclassmen from that team -- juniors Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and Sean May and freshman Marvin Williams -- and three seniors, Jawad Williams, Jackie Manuel and Melvin Scott. No team in college basketball history had ever lost all five starters from a national championship team.
Expectations going into last season, then, were exceedingly low, at least by Carolina standards.
Williams brought in a solid, four-player recruiting class before last year, headlined by Hansbrough, the 6-9 forward from Poplar Bluff, Mo., who finished second to Duke's J.J. Redick in the ACC scoring race.
What happened was a perfect union of chemistry on a shortened roster, with a small dose of magic, created by the players' and Williams' desire to uphold the long-standing tradition of basketball excellence in Chapel Hill.
Playing with only two players -- senior David Noel and junior Reyshawn Terry -- who saw regular action on the title team, the Tar Heels took the ACC by storm, relying heavily on Noel's leadership and Hansbrough's near unstoppable presence inside.
Along the way, shooting guard Wes Miller went from walk-on filler to productive player and freshmen Danny Green, Bobby Frasor and late addition Mike Copeland played their roles to perfection. The only disappointment was a second-round loss in the NCAA Tournament to George Mason, which used the victory as a stepping stone for its Cinderella journey to the Final Four.
"It was an extremely satisfying year," Williams said. "It was a marvelous year for me as an individual. It taught me a lot of things about team play and team chemistry. It taught me how important those things can be if everybody has a single-minded purpose.
"I think you can achieve more than most people think you can."
Now, of course, everybody wants to know what Williams plans to do with that embarrassment of talent, most of which the coach cajoled and wooed following the national championship. There's little doubt that his 13-player roster is the envy of just about every coach in the country.
The answer is simple: Williams won't do anything. He'll let the players do it all.
"I am not really worried about (managing all the talent)," Williams said. "I know everybody else is. We have such good character kids, I am not worried at all about how we will fit together."
And here's an example of that: senior Wes Miller, a North Carolina native who transferred from James Madison to be a walk-on teammate of good friend Rashad McCants, gave up the scholarship he earned prior to his junior year so Williams could expand his recruiting class from five high school All-Americas to six and stay with the NCAA scholarship limit. Miller, who started 16 of the team's 31 games and was the team's leading three-point shooter, is a walk-on again.
"The other thing is, players determine who plays what minutes and players determine who starts," Williams said. "It's not in my hands, it's in their hands, based on what happens in the preseason conditioning program and what happens in those preseason practices.
"I can tell you that is not a worry of mine at all."
Besides, Williams fully expects to run his young players ragged, going up and down the floor at a breakneck pace. If the Tar Heels are not in the top three in the country in scoring this year, Williams will eat a toupee-size divot leftover from his summer golf games with his buddies.
"We want to try to play faster this year," Williams said. "I think we finally have the kind of depth that we can do that, if we can just get them to do it the way I want them to do it. I think it could be a lot of fun. I also think it is necessary when you have a lot of players, you play at a faster pace and you have more possessions and guys get to play more."
Williams ensured this would be a high-scoring team when he made point guard Ty Lawson and shooting guard Wayne Ellington the foundation of the heralded recruiting class. The two players, who each averaged about 22 points as high school seniors, were both ranked No. 1 in the nation at their position by recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons. They are eager to match the style the Tar Heels had when Felton and McCants shared time in the backcourt.
There will be adjustments, however. Junior point-guard Quentin Thomas will get the opportunity to play. Miller, who made 64 of his 145 three-point shots last year, will still be the designated marksman. And sophomores Bobby Frasor and Marcus Ginyard will compete for time in the backcourt.
"We will mix in the freshmen out of necessity," Williams said. "But we also have five sophomores that were extremely important to us last year. We have a solid core of guys coming back who did some really nice things. We also have some talented individuals coming in that I hope will add to that."
Hansbrough – who became the first player in ACC history to be voted unanimous ACC Rookie of the Year and a unanimous first-team All-ACC selection in the same season – will have some help this year, thanks to the arrival of 6-9 forwards Brandan Wright and Alex Stepheson and 6-8 center Deon Thompson.
Williams welcomes the help in the post, something that Hansbrough did not have last year, which is why he averaged more than 30 minutes-per-game.
"I have had (similar depth in the post) before and I think it does nothing but help each individual because that means you are playing against better competition every day," Williams said. "You are not depending on one guy having a good game every night.
"Last year, if Tyler struggled, our team struggled. He had to get a certain number of rebounds and a certain number of points for us to have a chance. I think having some depth can allow him to be even fresher and put up the same kind of numbers with a couple of minutes less playing time."
And 6-6 swingman William Graves, who helped lead Greensboro's Dudley High School to consecutive state championships, gives the Tar Heels another versatile scorer who averaged 25.1 points and 10.5 rebounds last year.
On concern Williams has going into the season is how Terry, the team's only scholarship senior, and Miller will handle their roles as leaders.
Terry has had an up-and-down career in Chapel Hill and isn't naturally a vocal leader. Miller, a scrappy player who fought hard for his playing time, has earned the respect of his teammates and opponents. But that doesn't necessarily mean he can handle the responsibilities of herding so much youth.
"We will see what develops," Williams said.
Of course, that is what Williams said last year when expectations were so low. He surprised everyone with his ability to win with a roster that had been decimated by early departures and was rewarded with his first ACC Coach-of-the-Year honor. The season was almost as satisfying as winning another national championship.
Now, the expectations are exceedingly high, thanks to the six-player recruiting class that is the envy of college basketball. Williams has no problem letting the players decide who will carry on that legacy of excellence that has been established by teams with more – and less – talent than this one has.
He'll just see what develops.