Reggie Bullock (right), earned MVP honors at the Greater N.C. Pro-Am. PHOTO: Robert Willett
DURHAM — The championship game of the N.C. Pro-Am summer league on Thursday night featured the likes of former North Carolina all-American Jerry Stackhouse, and current Duke players Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson.
Nobody, though, looked more impressive than Reggie Bullock, the North Carolina junior guard.
Bullock led his Banks Law Firm team (Bullock and Stackhouse played together) to a 91-84 championship game victory against Dream Works (which had all the Duke guys). The official scorers credited Bullock with 28 points but I think they missed one of six 3-pointers. I had him finishing with 31 – 19 of which came in the first half.
And this comes after he scored 30 points during his team’s semifinal victory on Wednesday.
Yes, it’s only the summer league, where defense is at times optional and offensive is at times – most of the time, even – improvisational. But Bullock looked good, shooting with confidence and playing with more speed than he did last season with the Tar Heels.
“My hard work over the summer has just been paying off for me,” he said. “I’m just trying to be able to create on my own, be able to shoot with confidence and just believe that I’m one of the best players on the court, so I’ve just got to play like it every night.”
Bullock’s numbers improved in every facet during his sophomore season at UNC. He averaged 8.8 points per game, shot 38.2 percent from 3-point range and became a solid player in the starting rotation after Dexter Strickland suffered a season-ending knee injury midway through the season.
But he’ll likely have to improve even more during his junior season if UNC is to reach its potential. The Tar Heels, of course, are moving on to life after Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller. Those four players were most responsible for UNC’s success the past two seasons. Now, new players will have to emerge.
Why not Bullock? He certainly seemed more than capable on Thursday night, when the normally-relaxed summer league at N.C. Central might have been mistaken, in a few moments, at least, for a January night in an ACC gym.
At one point, Bullock and Jefferson, the incoming Duke freshman, traded some words and some glares after Jefferson appeared to become frustrated with some physical play in the paint. At the end of the first quarter, Bullock made a long 3-pointer from the left side. The shot barely beat the buzzer, and Bullock gave a confident nod on the way back to the bench.
Bullock said that he hasn’t lost weight, that he instead was just “more toned up.” His physical difference is noticeable. He appears sleeker, and moves quicker. He drove with aggressiveness on several possessions to the basket, where he either converted a lay-up or set up a teammate with a shot.
“Coach told me that’s what he wanted me to do, get to the basket,” Bullock said. “So I’ve just got to be able to attack every time.”
Bullock didn’t come out and say this on Thursday night but, reading into his comments, it sounds like he wanted to use this summer to build some confidence. He arrived at UNC as a McDonald’s All-American, with plenty of expectations surrounding him. And while he has been solid throughout his two years at UNC, it seems he believes the best is yet to come.
“I’m just trying to believe in my game,” he said. “You know, I came in as a shooter, so I’ve just got to be able to knock down shots.”
He did on Thursday, when he made 12 of his 16 attempts from the field. He was 6-of-8 from behind the 3-point line and after each one he gave a satisfied but confident expression, as if he expected the shots to go in.