College Basketball: UNC poised for title run
CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams knows what teams have the potential to win an NCAA title.
Williams has seen it on North Carolina’s 2005 and 2009 teams that became NCAA champions and the 1984 UNC and 1997 Kansas teams that didn’t.
Williams said on Tuesday he accepted the challenge of being a heavy favorite by saying the 2011-12 team also has championship ability.
“If I’m advising Carolina people, I’d say, ‘Look forward to it,” Williams said. “‘Enjoy every day and every game and see what happens.’”
The Tar Heels have everyone’s attention because they return the heart of a team that went 28-9, led the nation in rebounding, won the ACC regular-season title and reached the round of eight as a No. 2 seed before losing to Kentucky in the NCAA tournament.
“It’s a target we want,” rising sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall said. “We want people to say, ‘Now we have to play Carolina.’ That’s how teams like the ‘05 and ‘09 teams did it.”
North Carolina brings in a strong five-man recruiting class with two McDonald’s All-Americans in forward James McAdoo and guard P.J. Hairston, but the biggest moves came in April.
ACC rookie of the year Harrison Barnes, rising senior center Tyler Zeller and rising junior forward John Henson all decided the NBA could wait. All returned for a shot at an NCAA title.
“We’re all levelheaded so I don’t think we’ll let it get to us,” Zeller said. “We’ll make our own expectations.”
Williams said he expects his leaders to start carrying the burden of expectations during the offseason.
“And once the season begins, something we can do as a staff is, ‘Don’t assume,’” he said. “I’ll be a little more demanding, too.”
The Tar Heel players stopped shy of saying they had to win a title.
Asked what failure would look like, Barnes described a selfish team.
“Last year we made the sacrifice of things like our social life and pride and egos,” Barnes said. “It’d be a failure if we didn’t do that this season.”
The team remembers the disruption caused by the departure of point guard Larry Drew II midway through the 2010-11 season.
“I hate to say this, but when Larry left we pulled together and became more of a unit,” Henson said.
Williams said the atmosphere is already calmer for the upcoming season, when Carolina will play a strong schedule that includes hosting Wisconsin in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and playing at Kentucky.
“I don’t foresee having to dismiss anyone from the team, so that’s more pleasant,” he said. “I don’t foresee having to watch anyone leave at midseason. That’s more pleasant.”
The players know they need the right attitude to win.
“We have this year where we want to be great,” Marshall said. “If we go in with a swagger and a killer mentality, I think we’ll end up being the team we want to be.”