UNC Basketball: What Isaiah Hicks Must Do to Break the Tar Heels Rotation

Doug BrodessCorrespondent IMay 20, 2014

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (22) guards Oakland's Tommie McCune (23) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Friday, Nov. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Gerry Broome/Associated Press

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks had a challenging freshman season.

The Oxford, North Carolina, native came to Chapel Hill slotted behind James Michael McAdoo and Brice Johnson. Hicks played most of his limited minutes (7.3 minutes per game average) last year out of position at small forward.

As we look ahead to the 2014-15 season, UNC will again have a ton of talent. But Hicks will have a chance to move back to his natural power forward position.

What does he need to do to break into and be a regular part of the Tar Heels rotation in his sophomore season? Even if he is likely to back up Johnson, Hicks has a chance to make a big contribution in what could be a special season if he focuses on these three goals.


Continue to Bulk Up

Hicks' body is a work in progress.

In high school, he was a sleek and active PF that dominated his opponents with sheer athleticism. Hicks has been slowly but surely adding muscle and mass to his agile frame since arriving on campus.

From now until official practices start in October, he needs to allow Carolina's strength and conditioning guru, Jonas Sahratian, to help him become an explosive frontcourt force.

Hicks can distinguish himself as a strong power forward if he commits to adding 10-15 pounds over the next five months.

Just think how lethal he could be if he checks in to camp at 6'8" and 235 pounds. He will be a handful coming off the bench, ready to mix it up down low.


Become a Lockdown Interior Defender

As a freshman, Hicks showed flashes of being a formidable defensive stopper.

Roy Williams rewarded his effort and effectiveness on the "other end of the court" with extra playing time in home wins against Notre Dame and Pitt. Hicks was selected as the Tar Heels' best defender against Northern Kentucky and in UNC's ACC tournament game against Pitt.

Gerry Broome/Associated Press

He has good natural anticipation in the passing lanes and is skilled at blocking shots. In his senior year in high school, Hicks averaged 5.6 blocks per game (h/t GoHeels.com). He swatted five opponents' shots in his first six collegiate games.

Especially since he will be spelling Brice Johnson, Hicks has a chance to carve out a distinctive role as an inside intimidator, ready to protect the rim and clean the glass.   


Tirelessly Run the Floor on the Break

One of the many benefits of Hicks playing on the perimeter last year was forcing him to get out and fill the lane on the Tar Heels' fast break.

He has a great motor and good wheels, and he has no problem sprinting the floor like he did here against Pittsburgh:

Hicks gets work done in transition, either hitting mid-range jumpers or getting to the rim to throw down some thunder. The more he and the other UNC frontcourt players can get into the Heels' break, the better.

With Johnson and Hicks' athleticism, North Carolina will be able to wear out opposing power forwards.


Looking Ahead

Hicks' playing time could easily double in his sophomore season. With him moving back to his natural position, expect him to be much more productive in all facets of the game.

He will have the chance to show the Tar Heel faithful why he was a top-20 recruit (No. 18 in the class of 2013).

Look for Isaiah Hicks to be a difference-maker in several of Carolina's nonconference and ACC 2014-15 games.