After a strong end to his freshman season, UNC sophomore James Michael McAdoo expects greater things next season. PHOTO: Ethan Hyman
CHAPEL HILL — Six months ago the questions that surrounded James Michael McAdoo sounded like this:
--Why does he appear so timid?
--What happened to the confidence of a player many thought to be among the best prospects in the nation?
--When will he emerge to become a reliable force for North Carolina?
Now the questions that surround McAdoo sound like this:
--Is he ready to become a leader for the Tar Heels?
--Can he begin his sophomore season the way he ended his freshman season?
McAdoo, the UNC forward, has completely transformed himself during the past six months. And now, on a team that lost its top four players, he says he’s ready to take on an even larger role. That’s the crux of a story I wrote here.
As you’ll notice if you read it, McAdoo talks about the evolution that he experienced during his freshman season. He arrived at UNC amid great expectations, but McAdoo struggled to meet the hype. In fact, he struggled to do much of anything.
About his early struggles, McAdoo said:
“I feel like at the beginning of the year, I was really lackadaisical in my approach to the game. And I felt like mentally I felt that I was out of it, and I didn’t necessarily tell myself that this team needed me. But as the year went on, I talked to coach, and talked to the other coaches, I just realized that this team does need me, and I do need to step up my game, because I have responsibilities.
“Just because I’m a freshman doesn’t mean I can just sit back and play good when I want to.”
As he said, McAdoo for a while believed that UNC didn’t need him. On a team that included John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes, McAdoo didn’t see where he fit in, or how he fit in. And as a result, he simply didn’t fit in. McAdoo’s early-season appearances were at times uncomfortable to watch. At one point, UNC coach Roy Williams pleaded with McAdoo to dunk when he had the opportunity, instead of settling for an open layup.
“I don’t know,” McAdoo said, when asked how it came to be that he became lackadaisical. “I mean, it’s college. Y’all know how it is. You get to college, there’s a whole other atmosphere. Mom and dad, my sister, weren’t here. You know, you kind of got to grow up quick. Especially if you want to play D-I basketball at UNC. So I feel like I really lost my focus, lost who I was. But I was able to just make up my mind and do what I know I’m capable of doing. And it finally showed on the basketball court.”
Indeed, it did. McAdoo showed signs of progress in late January and throughout February, and then truly emerged in March, after Henson suffered a wrist injury. All of a sudden, McAdoo was thrust into a starting role, and looked like a different player.
Williams said as much on Thursday:
“You could take his number off and do some things to hide who it was,” Williams said. “And watching those last 10 games to the first 10 games, there’s nobody in the world that would say it’s the same kid.”
McAdoo played so well in March that leaving school to enter the NBA draft – which once would have seemed nonsensical for him – became a realistic possibility. Williams said he spoke with personnel from 21 NBA teams, and they all told him that McAdoo wasn’t ready for the NBA. But they also assured Williams that McAdoo would be a first-round pick, if he chose to leave.
But McAdoo listened to the advice of those who told him to stay. And now here he is, continuing a journey that already has him far away from where he began at UNC.