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Lock and re-load at UNC

Ah, the July baseball All-Star Break: that time of year when it’s always a little challenging to write about those big-time sports we all love.

I know, I know, any true fan will tell you there are still NASCAR, the WNBA, Wimbledon tennis, and the USWNT just back from that thrilling World Cup victory. Are you still awake out there!?! Hello!

But we’re getting closer: The ACC held its annual Football Media Days last week in Charlotte; ditto, for the American Athletic Conference where ECU’s Mike Houston was well received. So, before I make football predictions, last take one longing, lasting look back at the hardwoods.

NBA Draft Night must’ve felt like the old days with a trio of Carolina players, Coby White, Cam Johnson and Nassir Little, among the night’s first 25 selections. But their departure also represents a loss of 43 points per game for the Tar Heels. But two players Roy Williams may miss the most went undrafted.

Luke Maye, who’s mainly responsible for one of those banners hanging in the Dean Dome thanks to that game winning shot that crushed Kentucky, and who posted double-digit rebound averages his final two seasons in Blue-and-White. Plus, top defender Kenny Williams who also helped win a National Championship and make two Final Fours with the Heels while being recognized for his outstanding defense on the perimeter; so much so that by the time he left Chapel Hill he was regarded as one of the best defenders in the country.

While it hasn’t rivaled Duke – on paper! – Carolina did a much better than average job of reloading. Much-coveted Cole Anthony, the top high school point guard at Oak Hill Academy, collecting as many rebounds and points as assists. A couple more grad transfers – though hardly on the level of Cam Johnson – Christian Keeling from Charleston Southern and Justin Pierce from William & Mary. Incoming freshman Armando Bacot, considered one of the top big men in the high school class of 2019, certainly held his own on the glass against his peers during the Geico Nationals and the all-star games. Plus, UNC returns all three post players: Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman, who collectively averaged 9.4 boards a game in 2019 and should add to those totals as juniors.

With White’s departure, the offense starts with Anthony, who excels both as scorer and distributor. He takes the ball to the hole, or dish to a big man, or kicks to an open three-point shooter, or just takes the shot himself and finish. He’ll likely team in the backcourt with Keeling, who’ll bring a ‘team-first’ doggedness to the Dean Dome.

Elsewhere, Brandon Robinson showed much improvement at the two-guard last season and will have to earn playing time. Four-star recruit Anthony Harris could be in the backcourt mix as well.

Carolina won’t be as deep up front, where the Heels have to replace Johnson, Little and Maye, not just on the glass, but with scoring, too. Pierce would seem to be the guy at the three position, if he can be the man with the three’s, which is where Johnson excelled. Bacot should get the nod at the power forward spot, but he has to develop a jump shot over big guys since he primarily plays with his back to the basket.

Roy Williams prefers playing two big men and some of his best teams featured bigs that both stepped back and let it fly, as well as played close to the basket. Also, both Bacot and Brooks will benefit greatly by playing with Anthony. Brooks, who does the little things well, should be counted on for a big season as Williams’ only returning starter.

Anthony’s ball-handling will present a defensive challenge to almost any team that doesn’t have a strong on-ball defender. Look for Carolina to see more zone defenses next season. How well they develop their three-point shooters will be a key to 2020 success as much as will defense and rebounding.

But on balance, that’s why Williams is in the Hall of Fame.

Ah, basketball. Yes, maybe that’s why I’m ready for some football.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.