AUSTIN, Texas — When North Carolina lost by nearly 30 points at Indiana, James Michael McAdoo, the Tar Heels’ sophomore forward, said UNC needed to improve its on-court “camaraderie.” When the Heels won after a sloppy, mistake-filled second half against East Carolina on Saturday, Reggie Bullock, the junior guard, said, “I don’t feel like we have everyone all in yet.”
I asked Williams about those statements earlier this week, and about whether this time period – one devoid of class and focused entirely on basketball – might allow his team to come together. To which Williams said, “I don’t think that we’re apart.” After a disheartening 85-67 loss at Texas on Wednesday night, though, Williams acknowledged his team hasn’t exactly come together yet.
Williams was answering a question I asked about confidence, and whether he worried about the Heels’ self-belief.
“Yeah,” Williams said. “Definitely. But it makes no difference. You’ve still got to play. And if you’re real confident and your play stinks, you’ve got to understand that and get better and if you’re unconfident and your play stinks, it doesn’t make a difference if you’re confident or not, you’ve got to start freaking playing better. So far we haven’t been able to do that … I’ve got to do a heck of a lot better job and they’ve got to buy in. We’re just doing some of the silliest things out there that I’ve ever seen.”
That Williams said the Tar Heels need to buy in suggests they haven’t bought in. Which is troubling for a team that has played 11 games and is already more than one-third of the way through its schedule. If the Heels haven’t bought in yet, when will they? And what’s keeping them from buying in?
Bullock was outspoken over the weekend about UNC’s lack of cohesion, and he again focused on that after the game on Wednesday night. When I asked him about what went wrong during the first half, when Texas built a 19-point lead, Bullock said:
“We got out of synch of running the things that we wanted to run. We wasn’t getting to the backboards, we wasn’t doing the things that we know we can run against this team. And we just – just wasn’t coming together. A lot of individuals on the court.”
Individuals on the court? It’s somewhat alarming that Bullock, one of the Heels’ elder statesman, would accuse his teammates of being out for themselves. Williams earlier this week was dismissive of that kind of talk, but this is the second time now that Bullock has chastised his teammates for being focused on the wrong things. In this instance, Bullock said some his teammates cared too much about individual stats.
“A lot of players just don’t need to worry about individual stats,” Bullock said. “Just go out and commit to this team. We had a speaker come and talk to us, and was basically talking about how everybody has to commit to one team for it to be successful. So that’s what we’re trying – that’s one of the main things we have to work on with this team.”
That speaker, by the way, was Gen. George W. Casey, who served for more than 40 years in the Army, and led various operations in Iraq.
Bullock said he hoped UNC is just experiencing some “growing pains.” He said he talked to the team afterward, and told his teammates that they can’t keep “playing like this.”
“If we keep playing like this,” Bullock said, “teams are going to keep kicking our ass.”