North Carolina sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo doesn't consider this a rebuilding year for the Tar Heels. ROBERT WILLETT
CHARLOTTE — North Carolina lost its top four players from a season ago. Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller all were selected among the top 17 picks in the NBA draft. The Tar Heels lost nearly 70 percent of its scoring and rebounding, and nearly 80 percent of assists.
So it’s not surprise, then, that UNC arrived here in Charlotte at the ACC’s annual media day without the kind of hype and expectations that surrounded the Heels at the start of the past two seasons. Or is it a surprise? Reggie Bullock, the junior guard, said he hasn’t felt any difference without those high expectations.
“I don’t feel like it’s calmer at all,” he said. “I feel like we still have the bulls eye on our back.”
That might be true. After all, as Bullock said here on Wednesday, “North Carolina is still North Carolina basketball.”
But this is clearly a different UNC team than the one that entered last season as the favorite to win the national championship. Gone is Barnes, who never quite lived up to his own expectations but still was one of the best players in the ACC last season. Gone is Marshall, who rewrote UNC’s assists records. Gone is Henson, a capable scorer who was also one of the best defensive presences in the nation during the past two seasons. And gone is Zeller, who earned ACC Player of the Year honors during his senior season.
Amid all the losses, a reporter asked James Michael McAdoo, UNC’s sophomore forward, whether this is a rebuilding year for the Heels.
“I don’t know why y’all would really say that,” McAdoo said. “We still have a lot of the guys that are here from last year’s team. Granted, Leslie [McDonald] and Dexter [Strickland] were hurt. I think me and Reggie were two key players on the team last year. Most of that was seen at the end of the season when injuries happened to John [Henson] and Dexter.
“I can see why you might say it’s a rebuilding year. I think just for us, it’s another chance to prove ourselves.”
Bullock said he’s looking forward to this season in part because of the unknowns. The Tar Heels have a chance to grow up together, and grow together, he said. That wasn’t always the case a season ago, when a sloppy win might have sometimes felt more like a defeat given those high expectations.
When the ACC releases its annual preseason media poll later today, the Tar Heels for the first time in three seasons aren’t likely to be the league favorite. That honor is expected to go to N.C. State. UNC might be behind Duke, too.
Not that it matters to McAdoo.
“I think people are really just going with the sole fact that we lost four guys to the NBA,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we have a great team this year. People are really, I think, selling us short. But that’s fine. We’re not worried about that.
“We’re not worried about any of the preseason rankings or preseason accolades that other teams might be getting over us. It’s not even added motivation because we know that at the end of the day we’re North Carolina basketball. And coach Roy [Williams], he puts together championship teams. And that’s what we are this year.”