While we don't know if Dexter Strickland will be in the starting five, expectations of him in the 2012-13 season fall in more places than just stat lines. But, make no mistake, the stats he does put up will be instrumental to the success of the North Carolina Tar Heels.
The same can be said of his leadership on the court.
After losing four starters to the NBA draft, this Carolina squad just got younger. The team consists of only three upperclassmen in Reggie Bullock, Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland—the lone senior of the group.
I had a great conversation with Dexter (Strickland) two days ago, assistant coach Hubert Davis said, according to Brandon Moree of The Daily Tar Heel. He’s the only senior on this team; I was the only senior on my team. So we had a great conversation about the importance of leadership, being the only senior, the responsibilities of a senior leader vocally, being an example.
More so than any other year in recent past—with the exception of the 2009-10 squad—leadership will be essential. There was no freshman starter last season, but there could be two this season in point guard Marcus Paige and center Joel James.
Strickland must be the voice that keeps them competitive and grounded at the same time.
The coaches' reach only goes so far, but peers can make all the difference. And the last thing this team needs is freshman coming in with the same mentality as James Michael McAdoo last season, whether they ride the pine or not.
In a rare summer interview with reporters, McAdoo spoke about his approach to the game last season:
I feel like at the beginning of the year, I was really lackadaisical in my approach to the game. And mentally, I feel like I was out of it, I didn’t really tell myself that this team needed me. But as the year went on, I would talk to Coach [Williams], and talk to the other coaches, and I realized that this team really did need me, and I needed to step up my responses. Just because I’m a freshman didn’t mean I could just sit back and respond when I wanted to -- they needed me every day.
This team doesn't have time for "lackadaisical"—Strickland needs to hone in on that mentality and give them a fresh slap of reality. J.P. Tokoto and Brice Johnson will be coming off the bench for sure, and they don't need to travel that same path.
And though the freshmen appear they have their heads on straight, Strickland also must be wary of said heads growing with their stat lines. Nobody can ground a player faster than a teammate, as they can put it to the player however they want.
Coaches are kind of limited in that aspect.
These are the things that weren't there for the squad that followed the 2009 championship. The talent was there, but the lack of leadership was evident in their run to the NIT championship—and loss to Dayton in the title game.
As far as his performance is concerned, we know what to expect from Dexter Strickland. He's a hard-nosed point and shooting guard combo, with a knack for slashing through the paint with his speed and agility.
Sometimes his offensive prowess is lost in the hype of his perimeter defense—the best on the team, heading into the 2012-13 season. But Dex has excellent handles, and his quickness and ability to finish shouldn't be overlooked. It can be pretty frustrating to defend.
However, the lone dark spot in his game is his poor perimeter shooting.
In Strickland's first two seasons, he was 16-of-66 from downtown. After a career 24 percent shooting, he only attempted one three—a miss. And though his season was cut short with an ACL tear, it was obvious Strickland was avoiding the perimeter shots.
Between Leslie McDonald, Reggie Bullock, Marcus Paige and P.J. Hairston—assuming he shoots better than his 27 percent mark last season—Strickland likely won't be "expected" to bury threes. However, it's undoubtedly something he is working on in the offseason, as that aspect of his game will be crucial in upping his draft status.
Lucky for him, he has the great Hubert Davis at his disposal.
Whether he plays point or shooting guard, starts or comes off the bench or knocks down 35 percent of his three-pointers, he will not lead the team in scoring. But, rest assured, Dexter Strickland will lead the team with his voice, and his never-waning intensity on the floor.