If last season was all about “Getting to Know You,” then this season’s theme might be “Shall We Dance?”
North Carolina struggled to a mediocre 19-11 record while adapting to newly-hired head coach Roy Williams’ up-tempo style of play a year ago. The Tar Heels got off to a hot 10-2 start but tired down the stretch, finishing with a .500 ACC record and quietly exiting the NCAA Tournament after a second-round loss to Texas. This year, North Carolina is hoping for a much deeper postseason run.
Senior Jackie Manuel put his team’s goal bluntly:
“To win a national championship, nothing less,” Manuel said. “We have the pieces to reach that goal. We just have to come together and listen to Coach Williams.”
The Tar Heels certainly bought into the offensive half of Williams’ program, ranking fourth in the nation with 83.1 points per game.
North Carolina’s mediocre defense undermined the team’s superb attack. Its opponents shot 44.4 percent from the floor, and the Tar Heels allowed 83.4 points in their 11 losses.
“We’ve got to guard the basketball better,” Williams said. “We’ve got to buy into the fact that we can beat people by what we do on the defensive end of the floor and not just what we do on the offensive end of the floor.”
Center Sean May, who was criticized for fading defensively down the stretch, said his team is working very hard in the preseason to improve their conditioning and defensive hustle.
“Scoring is not the problem—it’s the defense,” May said. “In pick-up games and whatever we’ve been doing, everybody has been working on their defense and defensive principles and trying not to pick up bad habits from the pick-up games.”
Fortunately for Williams, all five members of North Carolina’s starting lineup will return for the 2004-2005 season. The squad includes the conference’s leading scorer Rashad McCants (20.0 per game), leading rebounder May (9.8 per game), and leading assist man Raymond Felton (7.1 per game). Seniors Melvin Scott and Jawad Williams round out the starting five, who are all ready to excel in Williams’ system.
“We know what [Williams] expects and we know what we need to give him everyday in practice, and if we don’t there are consequences,” Jawad Williams said. “So now, at practice, we go out there and give him everything we have.”
The Tar Heels will also benefit from added depth this season. They now have a surplus of point guards after the addition of freshman Quentin Thomas and sophomore transfer Wes Miller. Williams’ prize recruit, Marvin Williams, will strengthen a frontcourt that was plagued by injuries last season.
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“I expect him to try his rear end off,” Roy Williams said of his freshman forward. “He’s a very gifted youngster. He’s the kind of guy that can make me a better basketball coach.”
This year the Tar Heels have experience on their side. With five upperclassmen the Tar Heels expect to show the rest of the conference how they’ve learned from their mistakes.
“I think it will be totally different from last year where we had a couple bumps in the road,” May said. “I think it will be a smooth process just because we know what to expect from him.... We were pretty immature the last couple of years and that’s part of the reason why we haven’t been as successful”