Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

North Carolina basketball relishes role as heavy favorite

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina guard Wayne Ellington's usual smile faded for a moment, and a grimace took hold.

Funny what the memory of a half of basketball from more than half a year ago can do to a guy. But then the first 20 minutes against Kansas in the NCAA Tournament semifinals in April in San Antonio were that bad for the Tar Heels; they shockingly trailed 44-27, and that was essentially that.

"It's something that hurts all of us," Ellington said recently, glancing around at his teammates in the gym. "It left a feeling in our stomach that we want to get rid of."

That's not some half-baked goal.

Although he, point guard Ty Lawson, forward Danny Green and consensus national player of the year forward Tyler Hansbrough all flirted with the NBA, all withdrew from the draft and opted to stay in college.

"It's unusual, there's no question about that," coach Roy Williams said of his Fab Four staying together.

But that's why his Tar Heels are just about everyone's preseason favorite to get to Indianapolis for the Final Four and another shot at the championship, even if it now comes with a caveat:

Less than two weeks ago, the school announced that Hansbrough has a stress reaction — the precursor to a fracture — in his right shin, and the three-time first-team All-American would be out indefinitely. He has done no weight-bearing work since and is expected to be re-evaluated again this week. Even if a bone scan shows Hansbrough is 100 percent, you can bet Williams won't rush him back.

No team, of course, wins a trophy in November and December.

No team is built better to withstand some adversity (assuming it is temporary) than UNC.

It has its top six scorers back from last year's team that finished 36-3, including senior guard/forward Marcus Ginyard. He's the fifth returning starter, the team's top defensive player and the perfect complement (read: unselfish) to his NBA-caliber teammates, but he had surgery in early October to repair a stress fracture in his left foot and is expected to be sidelined until December. Williams also welcomes a heralded freshman class, including 6-10 forward Ed Davis and 7-0 forward Tyler Zeller.

No matter who's in the lineup, the Tar Heels will be marked men.

"I like having the target on our back," Williams said. "I think it makes us play to a higher standard each and every day, concentrate to a higher standard; you can't take any days off. I've said many times, if everybody's saying you're going to be pretty good, you've probably got a chance to be pretty good.

"All coaches would love experience or talent, and if you can have both, that's the best of all worlds. And that is what we have."

He hopes, anyway.

He wants the kind of depth needed for his team to play his full-throttle style, insisting that this year's team can push the pace more frenetically than in the past. But he also realizes that depth is the answer to injuries.

Last season, for instance, backup point guard Bobby Frasor tore his left ACL in late December and was done. Then Lawson went out with a sprained left ankle in early February and missed six full games. But Quentin Thomas had been getting sufficient minutes at the point, which allowed him to gain the necessary confidence to keep the Heels winning until Lawson could return.

"I've always been about preparation, in case something happens," Williams said presciently before the start of practice a few weeks ago.

Not that he dared envision Hansbrough's situation.

Nor one where Davis and Zeller might be pressed into more prominent roles from the jump. Historical reminder: In the 2004-05 season, freshman forward Marvin Williams immediately became a contributor on a veteran UNC team.

"My second year here we had all five starters coming back, but the one who came in was pretty doggone good," the coach said. "You tell me one of those big young rascals out there is going to be as good as Marvin, I'll feel a heck of a lot better today."

Williams, the team's sixth man, helped the Heels win the NCAA title. He was then the No. 2 pick overall in the draft, ahead of upperclassmen Raymond Felton, Sean May and Rashad McCants.

Could 2008-09 bring a sequel?

"All these guys have come in here and have really worked hard," Hansbrough said recently. "They realize what they need to do, and we're all more focused."

Not a half-bad idea.

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.

North Carolina basketball relishes role as heavy favorite 11/08/08 [Last modified: Saturday, November 8, 2008 8:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. For starters: Rays at Twins, looking for another with Odorizzi starting

    Blogs

    UPDATE, 11:01: No Dickerson today as the Rays go with seven right-handers.

    Here is the lineup:

  2. Why the Lightning would consider trading Jonathan Drouin

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — This summer, the Lightning could trade one of its most dynamic young players ever.

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) celebrates with his team on the bench after beating Chicago Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling (33) to score his second goal of the period and to tie the score at 4 to 4 during second period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Monday evening (03/27/17).
  3. Why the Lightning should keep Jonathan Drouin

    Lightning Strikes

    Keep him.

    Jonathan Drouin is live bait. The Lightning is ready to run the hook through him and cast him out there again. Drouin has enough talent for the Lightning to meet some defensive needs in a deal.

    Keep him.

    Lightning wing Jonathan Drouin celebrates after beating Los Angeles Kings goalie Peter Budaj during the first period of Tuesday's win in Tampa. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  4. This Tampa Bay Lightning wing rides the newest wave of fan interaction

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — There are photos of Lightning fan Shaun Egger as a toddler at center ice at the then-Thunderome, aka Tropicana Field. He's played in the Lightning's high school hockey league for Palm Harbor University. But his closest personal encounter with players had been waving through a crowd after a training camp …

    Tampa Bay Lightning player J.T. Brown wears his anti UV glasses as he talks over the headset with a hockey fan while they play against each other on line in an XBOX NHL video game in Brown's game room at his home in south Tampa. The fan chose to be the Washington Capitals and Brown, of course, was the Tampa Bay Lightning. Brown interacts with fans through video game systems as he streams the games live on Twitch with plans for the proceeds to go to charity.
  5. ‘Biggest fight' behind her, Petra Kvitova returns ahead of schedule

    Tennis

    PARIS — Five months after a home invader's knife sliced into her left hand, Petra Kvitova will return to competitive tennis at the French Open, a last-minute decision to make her comeback earlier than expected.

    Petra Kvitova adjusts her hair during a news conference at Roland Garros Stadium, where she will make her tennis return at the French Open. Kvitova's left hand was badly injured by a knife-wielding intruder in December; she has recovered ahead of schedule. [Associated Press]