Greetings from North Carolina (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday October 16, 2007 11:55AM; Updated: Thursday October 18, 2007 2:44PM
Breaking Down the Heels
Heart and Soul: Hansbrough. As Lawson says, "He's the hardest worker I've ever seen. Ever." It's difficult for the Heels to suffer lapses in intensity with Hansbrough around; he's such an obsessed workout warrior that, according to Williams, he skipped the Pan American Games trials because "because he felt like his own program is better than what he could have gained by going to the U.S. team."
If Monday's practice was any indication, Hansbrough is already operating at peak level. He looked more explosive around the rim than before, and was -- as expected -- the most aggressive player in nearly every drill. At one point when Williams was lecturing the squad, he pointed to Hansbrough and asked if anyone else was a two-time All-ACC pick and an All-America. "I'd be trying to learn from him," Williams said.
Most Improved: Thompson. This is a convenient development for the Heels, because Thompson is the guy who will likely start in place of the departed Brandan Wright. Thompson had a strong summer on the U.S. Under-19 team in Serbia, leading the squad in rebounding and blocked shots, and also worked on sculpting his 6-8, 240-pound frame. "You can see some definition on him, not just the chubby cheeks he had as a freshman," Frasor said of Thompson. "And his offensive game has improved a lot too. I don't know if he can entirely fill Brandan's shoes, but he's going to be a very good player for us this year."
Lawson claims Thompson will be the Heels' biggest surprise, and in practice he showed he could knock down a mid-range jump shot -- a huge development considering that the Achilles' Heel of last year's starting frontcourt (Hansbrough and Wright) was their collective inability to range away from the basket.
Glue Guy: Ginyard. The 6-5 wing who gave the Heels a spark off the bench in their Sweet 16 comeback over USC -- his two put-backs of offensive boards were huge momentum changers -- is a strong candidate to win the starting job at the three. "Marcus does all the little things that coach Williams likes," said Frasor. Williams calls Ginyard the team's best perimeter defender, and in a starting lineup with four polished scorers, the Heels could really use a fifth player who a) isn't concerned about points; and b) can defend up to three different positions.
X-Factor: Green. He was only on the floor 33 percent of the time last season as part of an overstocked perimeter rotation, behind Lawson, Ellington, Reyshawn Terry and Ginyard. But the 6-5 Green is in contention for the starting job at the three because he helps the Heels in two departments they need most: perimeter shooting and perimeter defense. A solid defender who racked up more deflections than any other player in Monday's practice, Green can potentially guard the one-four positions. Williams has talked to him about seeing a small amount of time at the four, and if Green is able to provide defensive relief for Hansbrough, Thompson and Alex Stepheson in the frontcourt, as well as fulfill his normal backcourt duties, it'll give this team a huge boost.
Lost in the Shuffle: Quentin Thomas. The way Williams likes to run and substitute, Thomas should earn a few minutes in his final season. But with Frasor healthy again, that means the top two point guard spots are spoken for, and Thomas can't contribute much as a shooter, so he's likely to see limited action. His veteran experience is valuable, and he had a solid assist-to-turnover ratio last season of 2.2-to-1, but both Lawson (2.6) and Frasor's (2.2) ratios are comparable.
Bottom Line: UNC lost a major talent when Brandan Wright and his pterodactyl-like wingspan left for the NBA after one season. But the Heels are far more equipped to replace him than, say, UCLA is after losing Arron Afflalo, Georgetown is without Jeff Green or Ohio State is without Mike Conley Jr. Thompson isn't a huge drop-off offensively, and Stepheson can pick up the defensive slack. If Lawson continues playing as he did during March, he'll be an All-America candidate, and Hansbrough is the frontrunner for the Wooden Award. This is the most well-positioned team to win the national championship -- and my pick for preseason No. 1.
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