One game into the 2013-2014 season for the North Carolina basketball team and a fair amount of skepticism lingers for fans everywhere regarding the level of success for this year’s team. Even with the team ranked 12th in the nation, basketball fans nationwide are unsure what to expect from the Heels.
Although it is very early in the season, the Tar Heels of North Carolina have been overshadowed by a number of factors, both internally within their own program and externally from other programs. All the talk in the ACC here in the early going has been about the Duke Blue Devils and freshman phenom Jabari Parker. To be fair, Parker is absolutely as good as advertised, as we were given a little taste of what he can do with a basketball in his hands Tuesday night against Kansas.
Although the Blue Devils lost to the Jayhawks, Parker finished with 27 points and 9 rebounds while displaying his ability to finish around the basket, hit the mid-range jumper, and his sharp-shooting from beyond the arc. But enough about Parker already.
Externally, it is players like Parker and teams like the Jayhawks and Blue Devils that have caused the overshadowing of the Tar Heels. However, the Heels haven’t exactly helped themselves when it comes to instilling confidence for the fans. All the talk this offseason around Tobacco Road was about the off-the-court issues of arguably the Heels’ best player, P.J. Hairston.
Hairston, a Greensboro native who became known for his strength at the two-guard position at Dudley High School before transferring to Hargrave Military Academy to finish his high school career, did not invest his time wisely this offseason, to put it nicely.
Twice this summer Hairston was pulled over in rental cars linked to a felon which led many to believe he was receiving improper benefits, and many fans in Chapel Hill feared that Hairston would be kicked off the team after the second violation. One of the times he was pulled over involved drugs and a gun in the car, although the two men in the car with Hairston took the heat for the gun and drugs (no pun intended).
However, Hairston wasn’t the only Tar Heel who found himself in the center of an NCAA investigation. Leslie McDonald, a senior guard for the Heels, was rumored to be the “posterboy” for a mouth guard company. McDonald and Hairston were both suspended for the Tar Heels’ season opener last Friday against Oakland, and watched as their teammates soundly defeated the Golden Grizzlies 84-61. The investigations by the NCAA surrounding Hairston and McDonald have been ongoing, and it is unknown how long each player will be suspended for, which has the Tar Heel faithful unsure what to expect in terms of team chemistry once the two return.
One of the bright spots for the Heels has been James Michael McAdoo, from whom big things are expected. McAdoo is one of fifty players on the Wooden Award watch list, and is expected to be one of, if not the most dominant player in the conference.
Although his numbers last season weren’t overly impressive, McAdoo was projected to be a lottery pick because of his athleticism, but decided to stick around for his junior campaign. McAdoo led the Heels in the season opener with 21 points and 9 rebounds while shooting 9-13 from the floor. The Heels expect McAdoo to continue carry the load in the next game, tomorrow November 15, at home against Holy Cross.
James Michael McAdoo takes a hard foul in the Heels’ season opener against Oakland.
There is no denying the talent level that the Tar Heels possess. They have one of the best big men in the country in McAdoo, length and athleticism from guys like J.P. Tokoto and Brice Johnson, outside shooters (although we don’t know when they will be able to play) and a good floor general in sophomore point guard Marcus Paige. The Heels also brought in another strong freshman class, including McDonald’s All-Americans Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks, and former Oak Hill point guard Nate Britt. However, even this talented freshman class has been overshadowed by other freshman across the country like Parker, Andrew Wiggins for Kansas, and Julius Randle for Kentucky.
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But maybe this is exactly what the doctor ordered for this year’s Tar Heel team: to fly under the radar. Every year the Heels seem to be one of the handful of teams in the center of the national spotlight, which has led to extremely high expectations. With much of the attention on cross-town rival Duke and their freshman standout Parker, maybe this is the perfect recipe to allow UNC’s freshman to really develop into young stars.
With the ACC spotlight on the Blue Devils and the welcoming of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame to the conference, it will allow the Hairston and McDonald situations to be resolved and allow the Tar Heels to improve team chemistry. With the Tar Heels being ranked 12th in the nation to start the season, it’s clear that the Associated Press has set the bar high for the Heels, and quite frankly, so should everyone else.
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