With every season comes change.
More than ever, that statement rings true for the 2012-13 North Carolina Tar Heels. Losing four starters to the NBA is no small task to overcome. Fortunately for UNC, they have Roy Williams' recruiting skills and a long history of winning on their side.
Even with the loss of four outstanding players, the Tar Heels still have five McDonald's All-Americans and four 4-star players (Scout.com) on their squad. That's a pretty impressive feat by the coaching staff in Chapel Hill.
But this is high-major college basketball, where the word "reload" becomes a common theme for teams in the upper echelon. Fans of North Carolina should be used to this by now.
Sometimes the reloading doesn't work out so well and change becomes an unwelcome thorn in the side. I don't think that is the case this season, and fans seem to be getting excited about the changes going on.
That said, it's time to embrace change.
Starting with the obvious, there will be some new faces taking place of the old—on the court and on the bench.
While Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall are preparing themselves to light up the NBA, freshmen Joel James, Brice Johnson, J.P. Tokoto and Marcus Paige are working to fill their shoes in Chapel Hill.
Joel James should get a good portion of time at center and Paige at the point. You can probably expect about 25 minutes per game from each.
Johnson and Tokoto will likely be in the neighborhood of 10-to-15 minutes per game, as they both have experienced players ahead of them. Johnson will sit behind James Michael McAdoo at power forward.
Tokoto is in a more complex situation at small forward. Reggie Bullock is pretty much a lock at the 3, even though he came in as a 2. P.J. Hairston will probably switch between the 2 and 3, so Tokoto will be feeding off their table scraps for much of his first year in Carolina Blue.
Even in his limited time, J.P. Tokoto will steal the hearts of fans throughout Tar Heel Nation with his electrifying dunks.
As far as the bench is concerned, Jerod Haase put in nine good years as Roy's assistant and moved on to become the head coach at UAB. Congratulations to Coach Haase, and welcome back Hubert Davis.
Coach Williams has been eying Davis for years, and it was an itch that had to be scratched. "For the last four or five years, Hubert has always been on my mind in case a spot did come open," Williams said, according to Andrew Carter at The News & Observer.
Not only does Davis bring a high basketball IQ and a warm personality to the table, but he also brings invaluable experience as an all-time marksman at both levels.
Davis finished up his career at North Carolina, shooting 43.5 percent from three-point range—an all-time Carolina record. He also holds the record for the highest three-point percentage in a single season at 48.9 percent in his junior year.
Beyond that, he is second behind Steve Kerr on the all-time NBA list at 44.1 percent from downtown. He also shot a career-high 49.1 percent during the 1999-00 season.
If his coaching ability is half that of his shooting ability, we should see marked improvements from Carolina's perimeter.
Which Hairston Will We See?
Though Hubert Davis will play a significant role in the improvement of North Carolina's shooting, it won't just be because of him.
Despite his unorthodox shooting motion, Kendall Marshall made a valiant effort to knock down threes at the end of last season, hitting on 35.4 percent of his 79 attempts. A job well done from someone who wasn't a shooter.
In his place at point is Marcus Paige, who became known among the high school ranks as a deadly shooter. Paige scored 28.1 points per game in his senior season and lit up the arc at a 44-percent clip.
The three-point line may be closer in high school, but 44 percent is nothing to balk at.
There will be no Harrison Barnes, but Reggie Bullock actually led the Heels in three-point percentage last season at 38.2 percent. The previous season leader was unavailable last year due to an ACL tear, but Leslie McDonald will be back and is looking better than ever.
McDonald shot 38.1 percent in 2010-11, and there is no indication of that percentage dropping off this season.
Aside from his team-leading free-throw percentage (83.9), P.J. Hairston had a very poor freshman season as a shooter. The formerly certified marksman shot a paltry 30.8 percent from the field and 27.3 from downtown. He'll be looking to get re-certified this year.
Though it's possible, it's hard to imagine he goes downhill from there.
To say their athleticism has improved should not be taken as a knock on Henson, Barnes, Zeller or Marshall. They knew how to squeeze out every ounce of their God-given talents out on the floor.
None of them would be considered superior athletes, however.
Henson had surprising athleticism for a kid of his stature. In no way was he even close to the athleticism of James Michael McAdoo, though. As of now, Henson is a better basketball player for sure, but not a better athlete.
Zeller was another unusual case, as we don't see many seven-footers flying down the court to catch an 80- or 90-foot bomb in transition. In his place is the 6'10” and 260-pound man-child, Joel James. They are about equal athletically, so the center position is somewhat of a wash.
Barnes may have stolen all the hype as the top recruit in the 2010 class, but Reggie Bullock is slightly more explosive and maintains control. Barnes may end up the better pro, but Bullock is no joke athletically.
Kendall Marshall would be the first to admit he isn't fast and doesn't exactly have springs inside those Jordans.
Marcus Paige may be a southpaw and a good passer, but that's about all they have in common. He is very quick on and off the ball. And though he's four inches shorter than Marshall, Paige can actually dunk (refer to the video above).
Beyond the replacements, J.P. Tokoto is being touted as the next Vince Carter for his high-flying acts.
Henson got a lot of his blocks from sheer length and positioning. Brice Johnson has that and will come flying in out of nowhere, too.
And you can't forget about the athleticism of P.J. Hairston, Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald. I'm telling you, this team is loaded with pure athletes.
Why does that matter?
Roy Williams is the coach. His strategy is to run and get as many possessions as possible. Has he ever had a team with eight players capable of taking it coast-to-coast and finishing with a slam?
Not that I remember. This should be a hell of a show.
The interior defense of Zeller and Henson was stellar, to say the least. However, the perimeter defense was horrible after Strickland went down, as opponents were constantly left open for threes.
I can't say the same thing won't happen on the perimeter. That will be a matter of everyone picking up switches on time and not getting stuck in screens. What I can tell you is there will be more turnovers.
What Carolina lost in blocking ability with Henson's early departure, they gained with McAdoo's propensity for steals. In his last seven games, he was averaging 2.1 steals over just 23 minutes per game. We haven't see what this kid can do full-time yet, but I'm predicting he will be somewhere around 2.4 per game.
I don't think I need to tell you Dex is Carolina's best perimeter defender, and he is back. Reggie Bullock improved his defense immensely last season and should be solid in his role at the 3.
Though I'm not with the crowd that thinks Marshall is a horrible defender (he wasn't allowed to pick up fouls, after all), he still wasn't as good as Marcus Paige will be. He averaged three steals per game in high school, and with his quick hands and feet, you can bet he will be in the range of 1.5 per game.
Then there is Joel James, who will likely put up similar defensive stats as Zeller. The difference here is not only will opponents fear the block or steal, but they will also have to fear the brick wall they may run into.
According to Coach Williams, Zeller said James "hit him as hard as anybody had ever hit him in his four years" during a pick-up game this summer.
Don't think his 260-pound frame won't be in the mind of opponents trying to get in the paint.
Defense runs up and down the 2012-13 roster, and turnovers will be a big part of their game. That, of course, will also have a substantial effect on the amount of fast breaks we see this season.
That means more points and more opportunity for these players to show off their athleticism.
Is This Part of Roy's New Late Night Dance?
Finally, there is the versatility on this squad—a recurring point I've made about this team in many past articles.
There is a reason for me harping on it. Even beyond basketball, when you're talking team sports, it's about creating mismatches. The flexibility of this Carolina squad will allow Coach Williams to create just that.
Dexter Strickland will get playing time at point and shooting guard. If an opponent is causing havoc for Paige or McDonald, Dex can slide in and lock them down.
Hairston will play small forward at times this year, but if Roy needs more height at the 2, he can slide Hairston back into his natural position. The same can be said of Reggie Bullock.
If a little more offense is needed in the middle, he could slide Brice Johnson in opposite McAdoo.
Because of this versatility, Roy Williams has numerous combinations he can go with on the floor to exploit opponents' weaknesses. Don't expect him to go crazy with it, but if the team is in a pinch and needs a spark, there are plenty of options to choose from.
Not everyone is on the same page as me with this, but I have no doubt that having unit combinations for speed, height and defense will pay off late in the season. The core group will still be on the court, and I don't think the shifting will have a negative impact on their performance or chemistry.
It's going to be a fun season to watch with all the changes in Chapel Hill. Last year's squad may have been a "Dream Team" of sorts, but this one has a chance to be even better and more exciting.
I won't go as far as to say they will finish the season the way of the 2009 squad, but you will enjoy watching them every bit as much.