UNC Basketball: Highlighting Tar Heels' Early Season Unsung Heroes

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UNC Basketball: Highlighting Tar Heels' Early Season Unsung Heroes
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The North Carolina Tar Heels are only nine games into the 2013-14 season but have already beaten three of the country's top teams and put together quite a resume.

But while the stellar play of Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo has fueled North Carolina's impressive start, it's been the timely contributions of some other talented players that have ultimately made the difference in the end.

Below, we'll highlight three early season unsung heroes for North Carolina as the Tar Heels look to finish the nonconference season on a high note this December.

J.P. Tokoto

What a difference a year makes for J.P. Tokoto. The 6'5" sophomore has earned a spot in North Carolina's starting lineup this season after averaging just 8.6 minutes per game last year as a freshman. As a result of his increased playing time, Tokoto is playing with much more confidence. 

In addition to shooting 48 percent and averaging 10 points per game, Tokoto is pulling down five rebounds per game and doing an excellent job of creating for others, averaging 2.6 assists per game. Only Paige is averaging a higher mark thus far.

Even better for Tar Heels fans, Tokoto has saved his best basketball for the big stage, posting 12 points and 10 rebounds at Michigan State and scoring 15 points on 70 percent shooting against Kentucky.  

Brice Johnson

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Sophomore forward Brice Johnson has seen his minutes increase and his production skyrocket in 2013-14. 

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After averaging 5.4 points and 3.2 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game as a freshman, the 6'9" Orangeburg, S.C., native is averaging 13 points and nearly seven rebounds per game in just over 20 minutes per night.

What's more, Johnson's field-goal percentage has climbed from 51 percent to nearly 60 percent. He shot 86 percent in the Tar Heels' win over Louisville last month, connecting on six of seven shots from the field en route to finishing with 13 points in 21 minutes. 

Johnson has also been a defensive stud, blocking at least two shots in six of North Carolina's nine games this season.

Kennedy Meeks

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Tar Heels freshman Kennedy Meeks hasn't seen a ton of playing time thus far in 2013, but he's certainly made the most of it. 

The 6'9" forward is North Carolina's fifth-leading scorer (7.7 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (6.3 rpg) despite averaging slightly less than 15 minutes per game. Meeks is also shooting 56.5 percent from the floor through nine games.

Although he went 0-of-4 from the field in North Carolina's win over Kentucky, he brought down four rebounds, blocked two shots and helped the Tar Heels spring the upset with endless hustle. 

In previous upset wins over Michigan State and Louisville, the freshman made even more of an impact, scoring 15 points in 18 minutes of action in East Lansing and scoring 13 points and pulling down a career-high 12 rebounds in 24 minutes against defending national champion Louisville.

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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