Most fans love to head to their school’s web sites and read about the incoming players, go to their favorite web boards and talk about the newcomers and why this recruit did not pick their team and why that one did, or just talk about this either by the water cooler or their favorite watering hole. But for me, who has been following North Carolina basketball and football for three decades and college sports in general for over a quarter century, the players I tend to watch out more for now are the returning ones. And while in the world that is college hardwoods nowaday senior leadership does not mean as much as it did ten or twenty years ago, it still means a lot in my opinion. This more so when the team is loaded with a lot of players that have talent but not so much playing experience at the college level. So when Dexter Strickland, who was injured on January 19th against Virginia Tech and has been rehabbing ever since, tweeted yesterday that he had been cleared to play it made me feel good, very good.
Finally cleared to play!! #LetsGoo
— Dexter Strickland (@DStrick01) August 27, 2012
Strickland, if he gets back to form, is going to give this year’s basketball team a lot of things. First his presence is going to take the pressure off incoming freshman Marcus Paige to having to be the starting point guard from day one. We all loved the way Kendall Marshall, who left Chapel Hill after two seasons for the NBA, lead the team as its floor general. But what some might not remember is that Marshall came off the bench for over a half a year in first season under head coach Roy Williams. With just him, Paige and walk on transfer Luke Davis playing the one spot, Strickland is the only player on this roster that has any experience running the show for head coach Roy Williams. Let’s also not forget that on last season’s squad, where the 6’3″/180 lbs guard was not a top choice when it came to scoring, he did have six double digit performances out of 18 full games he played.
Second, be it at the point or at the shooting guard positing, Strickland is going to be the senior leader that a good team needs. On a team that many feels has a lot of question marks and many new faces the senior is going to be the player that has the “been there, done that” mentality and can help all the newcomers get on the same page when it comes to both the offense and the defense. Whatever the starting line up will be the combo guard will be the one with the most experience on the court and the only one that will have been a starter for coach Williams for over a year. If his knee holds up through the season the senior will probably have the most minutes played than anyone else on the team.
Third, and maybe most important, Strickland is going to be part of what could be a very good defensive team in Chapel Hill. Before getting hurt last year the senior combo guard was the best perimeter defender for the Heels, once hurt, his replacement, Reggie Bullock, became the defensive stopper. This year the two could easily see a lot of time on the court together, and that can only mean good things for a team that will not be anywhere as big as last season but could easily be as good on defense as any that coach Williams has had in Chapel Hill.
It might not have changed the final outcome when it come to the Nationl Championship last season, but with a healthy Strickland I have to believe that the Tar Heels would have reached the last game of the year even with Marshall going down to injury. Now, returning to the hardwoods with something to prove to all, and maybe himself, Strickland might just be one of those players that opponents will not worry about before the game against Carolina and will wonder what happened after it. When this season is over and done I do not expect Strickland to be the team’s leading scorer, but I do expect him to be the team’s leader, and of course its captain as well. For more North Carolina basketball and/or football stories make sure to come back often to isportsweb!