North Carolina coach Roy Williams predicted on Sunday that freshman forward Tyler Zeller would surprise some people. Now, he might have the chance to do it sooner rather than later.
With returning National Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough sidelined indefinitely because of a stress reaction in his right shin, several young big men will have more opportunities to impress coaches in practice — and perhaps more minutes to impress in games, if Hansbrough's injury lingers.
Williams was scheduled to meet with Hansbrough and medical personnel later today about the senior’s injury. Hansbrough’s father said Thursday night that he expects the team’s leading scorer and rebounder to heal quickly.
Zeller — who teammates and coaches have been calling ‘Z’ and ‘Big Z’ in practice — was impressive during last Friday’s “Late Night with Roy Williams” scrimmage, teaming with Hansbrough and finishing with an unofficial 12 points and 12 rebounds. The 7-footer, who is listed at 220 pounds in the media guide, looks amazingly thin beside Hansbrough, but Williams said Zeller has actually gained 21 pounds since he arrived on campus.
Williams also said Sunday that he thinks the freshman from Washington, Ind., “has a chance to be a really good player.”
“He has wonderful hands, and he can really run. … If you’ve got a big guy who can run and has hands, you’ve got something you can really work with. If he also has good touch, that adds more to it. If he also doesn’t mind trying to do things – he shot 70 percent in his high school senior year – there are a lot of things there that are pretty doggone good.
“In my own opinion, he’s going to surprise some people. Because yes, he was a McDonalds All American, but I don’t think people really thought he was as good as I think I can be.”
Junior Deon Thompson, who started at forward last season and looks leaner and more athletic after a summer spent in the weight room, will be the most veteran player in the lane without Hansbrough. He averaged 8.4 points and 4.8 rebounds last season, and started all by one game.
Freshman Ed Davis, a 6-10, 215 pounder from Virginia, returned to practice earlier this week after missing Saturday's because of a sore knee.
But with Alex Stephesen’s decision to transfer during the offseason and senior Mike Copeland sidelined until December after offseason knee surgery, Hansbrough could leave UNC’s frontcourt thin — and young.
Although UNC could be helped if Young Z has anything near the work ethic of Psycho T.