North Carolina Basketball: 5 Lessons Learned About Tar Heels This Offseason
It's been a pretty busy offseason behind the scenes at North Carolina. As negative as the news of P.J. Hairston's arrest was, there are plenty of positives we're beginning to see at UNC—especially with the younger Tar Heels.
Through workout routines, pickup games and some eye-opening conversations with the media, we are beginning to see what these young players are made of. These are some classy guys with the work ethic it takes to reach their respective ceilings.
There is a lot of good news to spread around here. Unfortunately, there is also a bit of bad news for one of the rising sophomores folks were counting on to make an impact in 2013-14.
But even that could turn around and ultimately be forgotten.
Let's get into what we have learned thus far during UNC's offseason.
J.P. Tokto Has a Great Head on His Shoulders
J.P. Tokoto didn't play a very heavy role during his first season at North Carolina with Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston, Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald clogging up the wing positions. Now that Bullock and Strickland are gone, Tokoto will be a much more crucial piece of the Tar Heel puzzle.
And it appears he is at least mentally prepared for the challenge.
In a post-workout presser, via ICTV, Tokoto discussed everything from his workout routine to the freshman experience. He didn't hold anything back, either.
Tokoto had received a boost in playing time during the six-game period McDonald was unavailable (suspension and injury). He was averaging 12.8 minutes a game in McDonald's absence and playing his best ball of the season.
After McDonald returned to the court, Tokoto's minutes were reduced to just 4.6 over the final 16 games.
That "hurt" Tokoto. He didn't understand what he did wrong. Now he knows.
He was a freshman.
The Tar Heels have to be in a pretty dire situation for Roy Williams to allow a heavy dose of minutes to go to a freshman. Especially when said freshman is in the mix with three upperclassmen and a star sophomore.
He understands that now, and he is working his butt of to become a more efficient player.
Tokoto arrives early to the workouts to get in some time with the ball machine, hoping to hone his jump-shooting skills. When he's done there, he works with Hubert Davis on his off-the-dribble shooting.
He also has a bet with strength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahratian to weigh in at 210 by the end of the second summer session.
As Tokoto becomes a focal point on the team, we are seeing a young man with a great head on his shoulders. He's articulate, he's willing to be open with the media, he doesn't curl up in front of the camera and his work ethic is what you hope for from a D-I basketball player.
J.P. Tokoto isn't a superstar on the court—yet—but he certainly sounds like one from the podium.
That's a good start in my book.
Desmond Hubert Isn't Hitting a Weight Wall
Desmond Hubert is the same kind of guy as J.P. Tokoto, from a mental standpoint. He's a hard worker and 100 percent class.
But he was pretty lanky when he arrived at Chapel Hill in 2011. Hubert's 195-pound frame was reminiscent of John Henson when he was a freshman. In fact, Henson was an inch taller and weighed just five pounds more.
Henson was able to reach 220 pounds fairly soon after his first season, but he hit a bit of a wall after that. It's especially tough for some guys to pack on pounds, and it seemed Henson may have reached his limit.
That was a concern when Hubert quickly gained over 20 pounds between his freshman and sophomore seasons. He is up to 223 pounds now, and he's hoping to reach 240 by the start of his junior season.
Judging by Hubert's arms during his post-workout presser, I wouldn't be surprised if he reached that goal. He's looking more like James Michael McAdoo than John Henson.
Hubert's other goals are to become more aggressive on the offensive end and solidify a go-to move in the post. He's currently working on a hook shot from both sides and a jumper.
Don't put anything past Desmond Hubert. This kid only continues to grow—both mentally and physically.
Jonas Sahratian Didn't Even Wait for Freshman to Arrive
Speaking of work ethic, Jonas Sahratian doesn't sleep—or at least he doesn't let his players do so. Kennedy Meeks and Nate Britt are just arriving in Chapel Hill today, but they already had a workout plan given to them by Carolina's relentless strength and conditioning coach.
And when I say "relentless," that is a compliment.
“I got a workout from Jonas about three weeks ago,” Meeks told Inside Carolina (subscription required) this week.
The plan for Kennedy Meeks is a little different than the one guys like Marcus Paige, Desmond Hubert and Brice Johnson are receiving. They need to bulk up.
Meeks has to bulk...down.
He weighed in at 285 pounds at the McDonald's All-American game, which is hindering any kind of explosion or stamina. He will need both of those traits when he faces ACC competition.
“People are now asking me if I’ve been lifting weights more, but I’m just like ‘nah I’m doing the program they sent me,’" Meeks continued. "It has a lot of push-ups and stuff like that.”
Britt, however, is receiving the same treatment (subscription required) as the other guys. The incoming freshman point guard weighs around 165 pounds. As Paige found out, it isn't easy busting up screens and slowing down dribble-drives as a featherweight.
There hasn't been any news on the Isaiah Hicks front as of yet, but I'm sure the third member of the 2013 class has been formally introduced to Jonas with a workout of his own. He's another one that needs to bulk up.
If history is any indication, these bodies will transform under the watchful eye—and relentless coaching—of Jonas Sahratian.
And he didn't let a second slip by before he got started on them.
Brice Johnson Is Becoming Confident and Aggressive
Despite having to sit behind James Michael McAdoo, Brice Johnson always seemed to give the Tar Heels a spark off the bench. His turnaround jumper was quick and effortless, earning praise from his teammates. In turn, they nicknamed him "Easy B" (Easy Bucket).
Johnson shot 51.1 percent from the floor as a freshman.
But his confidence and aggressiveness seemed to wane as the season went on. Like Tokoto, that probably had a little to do with his playing time.
Through the first 23 games of the season, Johnson only finished two of those with fewer than 10 minutes of action. Once Roy Williams shifted to the small lineup, that all changed.
Through the final 13 games, Johnson only reached double-digit minutes twice. He was just 11-of-32 from the floor during that spell.
But Inside Carolina's recap (subscription required) of the latest pickup game at Chapel Hill suggests he is back—and possibly more aggressive than ever:
Brice Johnson was high energy and very active. That stood out above all else. He did a really good job on the glass (especially the defensive glass) and showed a lot more emotion than usual -- including jawing with the White team (especially with [Reyshawn] Terry and [Mike] Copeland). He still fired shots the second he touched the ball, but it was with good intentions.
Johnson led the way with 15 points, and even dropped a trey. He also had a steal-and-dunk play, a la James Michael McAdoo.
If Johnson bulks up some over this summer and continues to gain confidence, Roy Williams will have a hard time justifying his bench time—a la P.J. Hairston.
This kid is going to be something special. It's a shame the post positions are stacked up with seven guys.
Joel James Could Have a Setback with Tendinitis
Joel James was expected to be in the running for the starting center role in 2012-13—and he still might be—but he's having a minor setback in the form of tendinitis.
"He has received treatment for the tendinitis and is improving," Athletic Communications Associate Director Matt Bowers reported to Inside Carolina (subscription required). "He's been doing rehab and strength and conditioning work in the offseason thus far and is progressing in that process."
What's disconcerting is the location of the tendinitis, which is in his knees. This kid is somewhere between 260 and 270 pounds.
That's a lot of weight on bad knees.
Tendinitis is the inflammation of the tendons in a joint, which hold the bones together. As they swell, impact and simple movement of the affected joint can be very painful.
Just think about how much you use you knees, and you can understand what the big man is going through right now.
The worst thing about tendinitis is that there is no schedule for recovery. It could take anywhere from weeks to months, and it could pop up again at any time.
Let's just hope this doesn't follow James through his career. There is way too much potential above those shaky knees.