October 31, 2006

Williams has hands full with Tar Heels

" I think Roy's approach is perfect. He has this team confident that they can do something special, and utilizing legitimate championship hopes as a motivator to go the extra mile."
-- Swamp_Donkey on the Blue Heaven message board on CarolinaBlue.com.

Rivals.com selected the top 25 storylines for the upcoming 2006-07 college basketball season and will be releasing articles daily, counting down from No. 25 to No. 1. The No. 8 storyline focuses on the amazing amount of talent on North Carolina's roster.

Roy Williams has never had this much talent on one team. Nor this much depth, unless you count the time he was an assistant on the 2004 Olympic team.

It's a remarkable realization when you consider Williams' history. This is the same guy who coached a team with four NBA lottery picks. The same guy who has coached 14 first-round picks. The man who has taken five teams to the Final Four.

Williams is also the same guy who transformed a young team without a starter coming back - and a leading scorer who averaged 3.9 points a game the previous season - into a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament in 2005-06.

It's that last accomplishment, combined with the addition of the nation's top-ranked recruiting class, that has many ACC coaches in fear of what's coming next.

"They were just so good last year; those young kids came along so well. What that really means to me is that they're no longer young kids," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. "You've got this experienced team, and you add some very talented freshmen, and you've got a juggernaut."

The media and coaches around the country agree.

The Tar Heels received 59 of 62 first-place votes in the ACC's preseason media poll. UNC came in at No. 2 in the national preseason coaches' poll. Only defending national champion Florida and its five returning starters kept North Carolina out of the top spot.

But not even the well-balanced Gators possess such a wide array of personnel. The Tar Heels seem to have someone for any role imaginable - and often two or three players capable of playing that same role.

It starts with sophomore Tyler Hansbrough, one of the nation's top big men. After averaging 18.9 points and 7.8 rebounds and capturing numerous national freshman of the year awards, Hansbrough was voted the preseason ACC player of the year.

"(Hansbrough) is just like the Energizer Bunny; he just doesn't stop;" Boston College coach Al Skinner said." He just keeps coming after it. Very few guys are that active, and that committed."

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Unlike last season, Hansbrough will have some help on the inside. Lanky freshman power forward Brandan Wright, one of three top-10 recruits added to the roster, is a tremendous shot blocker. His finesse game - Wright is 6-foot-9, 200 pounds - should be a great fit with the powerful Hansbrough. Muscular freshman Alex Stepheson (6-9, 230) has the size and post moves to contribute immediately as well.

But the most important addition might be in the backcourt. The Tar Heels played most of last season without a true point guard. Freshman Tywon Lawson gives Williams the type of floor general he craves. Built low to the ground and extremely fast with the ball in his hands, the 5-11 Lawson excels at getting into the lane and creating offense for his teammates.

The Tar Heels have the most depth on the wing.

Senior Reyshawn Terry (6-8, 235) can match up with guards and forwards, and is also a steady scoring threat - he averaged 14.3 ppg last season. His classmate Wes Miller is a 3-point specialist, hitting an ACC-high 44 percent from beyond the arc (64 for 145) last season.

Sophomores Danny Green, Marcus Ginyard and Bobby Frasor all complement each other. Green, a do-everything type, is one of the nation's most versatile players. Ginyard, one of the team's best defenders, can guard a handful of positions. Frasor is a dangerous shooter with great range. He did a solid job playing point guard, which is not his natural position, last season.

But the most talented player of the bunch is freshman Wayne Ellington (6-4, 195). Smooth and explosive, he can score in a variety of ways and excels in transition.

"It's like Noah's Ark; they have two of everything," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser joked.

Of course, having such an abundance of talent can have its disadvantages.

Can so many good players co-exist on one team? How will Willliams keep everybody happy?

"I don't know how (UNC) is going to look," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "I know they're talented, but I don't know who's going to start. Obviously, Hansbrough is the guy you've got to start with, but is it Lawson at the one, or is it Frasor at the one, or is both of them on the court?"

With so many different lineups to choose from, it looks like the Tar Heels have yet another advantage: the element of surprise.

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