AUSTIN, Texas — Roy Williams believes in his team. Believes it will improve. Believes, eventually, it will be OK. But for now, the Tar Heels are still finding themselves, Williams said on Tuesday, before North Carolina departed for its game tonight against Texas.
I wrote about the Heels’ journey of self-discovery in a story published today.
The good news? The next couple of weeks allows UNC a rare opportunity to grow amid few distractions. No class. Campus is quiet. Franklin Street, too. The focus will be solely on basketball, which is probably how Williams and his staff would prefer it, anyway.
Williams has entered some of his 10 seasons at UNC knowing what to expect from his team. He has entered some of his 10 seasons with an understanding of what his team’s identity might be. He entered this season, though, not knowing either of those things.
UNC’s first 10 games have come with an assortment of challenges: Lack of offensive rebounding, lack of transition defense, overall defensive lapses, lack of energy and urgency. Individually, several players – just about everyone on the team, when you think about it – are transitioning into new roles, or more prominent ones.
So it’s no surprise that UNC has struggled some in the early going. What is surprising, somewhat, is that a couple of players in recent weeks have questioned the team’s chemistry and cohesion. James Michael McAdoo did that after the Heels’ loss at No. 1 Indiana on Nov. 27. And then Reggie Bullock said on Saturday that he didn’t think all of his teammates were “all in.”
I asked Williams about that, and about how this team could use this time period to better come together:
Andrew Carter: You mentioned during your radio show on Monday night that this could be a good time for a young team to develop, without distractions. How much can your team come together and jell during the next couple of weeks?
Roy Williams: I don’t know if I’d say coming together and gelling but I’ve seen a lot of team improvement. But I don’t think that we’re apart. I think if you say coming together I think to me that sort of insinuates that there’s problems and I don’t think that it’s that. I just think we’ve got a bunch of young kids that are being challenged more than they’ve ever been challenged, playing at a higher level than they’ve ever been playing. But I do think this period is a time period where if you can stay healthy and not get guys sick and missing practice, this is an extremely important time for you.
AC: Do you guys need that at this point, a time just to focus on basketball?
RW: Definitely. I think every team needs it. I watched the other night a team on TV had four seniors and two of them were fifth-year seniors. And they’re going to get a heck of a lot better during this time period. But I do believe, for young teams, it’s even probably – you’ve got a chance to improve maybe a little more drastically.
AC: Some players have questioned the chemistry in recent weeks. What would your response be?
RW: There was one thing in the Indiana game, and I jumped on somebody because they don’t need to be jumping on somebody when you make the mistake yourself. And the other day, I didn’t really feel like we weren’t together. We just took bad shots and made turnovers. But I’ve really felt like this is a team that is together. I really feel like this is a team that is just still finding their way through things. I was just amazed watching the game the other night, and guys said, yeah, this guy was really good, this freshman here, he averaged one point a game. And his sophomore year averaged three points a game. Well, nobody ever gives our guys those kinds of statements or those kinds of opportunities, because it’s North Carolina. But, I mean, it was just glowing about how well this guy is really playing. And here if you’d had one point a game his freshman and three as a sophomore everybody would term that guy as a failure.
Williams also talked about how he hasn’t been surprised by some of his team’s struggles.
“I said in the spring, summer, fall – I said we really had a really young team, and who knows what’s going to happen. And some teams, some kids pick it up quicker. Tyler Hansbrough was a freshman, but he picked things up pretty quickly. And he had a tremendous amount of confidence that he was going to be successful. And other guys sort of fed off of his play, and fed off of David Noel’s leadership. And that was two phenomenal things that team had. And in 2010, when it was a similar situation, we didn’t have either one of those scenarios. But I said I felt like my team was going to get better and better as the season goes along, and I really still believe that. I believe at the end of the season, we’ll be a heck of a lot better than we are right now. As long as we stay healthy. If you get 24 guys hurt and have to play guys off the student body, it’s not going to be a very good team.”
The next chance to improve, of course, comes tonight in Austin. Just landed a bit ago.