UNC Basketball: What Kennedy Meeks Must Do to Be 2015 ACC Most Improved Player

Doug BrodessCorrespondent IJuly 24, 2014

Iowa State guard DeAndre Kane (50) tries to shoot as North Carolina forward Kennedy Meeks (3) defends during the second half of a third-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament Sunday, March 23, 2014, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks had a solid first year playing center for Roy Williams' Tar Heels.

He started half of UNC's 34 games, averaging 7.6 PPG and 6.1 RPG while logging only 16.3 minutes per game. 

The 6'9" center was selected for the All-ACC Freshmen Team.

However, Meeks' best basketball is still ahead of him in Chapel Hill. In fact, he is an excellent candidate for another award this coming season: ACC Most Improved Player. 

If Meeks earns that honor for the 2014-15 season, that will be the second year in a row a Carolina player's improvement would be recognized at the conference level. UNC point guard Marcus Paige won the 2014 ACC Most Improved Player award.

What does the rising sophomore post player from Charlotte need to do to be worthy of such a distinction?


Drop Some Serious Weight

Even when Meeks was starting, his playing time rarely exceeded half the game. In fact, he only logged more than 20 minutes in seven of 34 contests.

The biggest reason Meeks' minutes were restricted was because of his substandard conditioning. His limited stamina and endurance forced Williams to sub him out after just a few minutes on the court.

By playing mostly brief stretches, Meeks often struggled to get into the flow of the game.

But, one of the big stories of the offseason is what Meeks is doing to drop major weight and get in much better shape.

Yahoo Sports' Jeff Eisenberg reported:

The 6-foot-9 forward has shed nearly 50 pounds this offseason, dropping from his playing weight of 317 pounds last season to a more svelte 270 as he goes through summer workouts before his sophomore season. Meeks is hoping to still get down to 265 pounds by the end of the summer.

By shedding some significant bulk, Meeks will be able to play harder and stay on the court longer. Just by increasing his playing time, Meeks has a good chance of becoming the first Tar Heels double-double guy since John Henson in 2010-11 (11.7 PPG; 10.1 RPG).   


Step Up His Explosiveness

Weight loss may help extend Meeks' playing time, but he also needs to upgrade his ability to launch in the lane. To become an elite-level post player, Meeks must increase his explosiveness at the point of attack.

As a freshman, he found out early on that "being big" is not enough to get things done down low.

Inside Carolina's Greg Barnes quoted Williams during this past season when he said this about Meeks: "Right now, becoming more explosive is the big thing that's holding him back."

Evidently, Meeks took Williams' words to heart. This summer, Barnes pointed out this: 

Meeks has taken a more serious approach in the weight room this offseason to increase his explosiveness and jump with more power. Instead of relying on pump fakes, which often led to defenders establishing position for blocked shots, Meeks's improved burst will allow him to go up strong against taller opponents.

Instead of simply "outsizing" defenders, he is on his way to controlling the low post on both ends.

He will never be an "above-the-rim" skywalker, but if Meeks becomes more powerful in the paint, he will make life miserable for opposing centers.


Find a Nasty Streak

If you ran into Kennedy Meeks on Franklin Street, you would probably think, "That's a nice guy." In interviews, he is calm and composed. He smiles a lot and is genuinely pleasant.

Unfortunately, Meeks' easygoing nature carries over onto the court a little too much. He is even-tempered and unhurried to a fault as he goes to work down low.

Don't get me wrong. Meeks isn't a pushover, but finding a nasty streak would help him become more assertive and aggressive under the boards and with the ball in his huge hands.

RantSports.com's Gregory Philson states:

Meeks has the frame to be a dominating presence standing at 6-foot-9 and 290 pounds, but sometimes he’s skittish in the post and looks to pass instead of using his size to gain an edge. He must throw himself around in the paint more so he can either score easy baskets or force teams to double him. Meeks is a great passer and will be able to find open shooters if teams are forced to respect his inside game.

In one of the Tar Heels' workouts this summer, Meeks gave onlookers a preview of what may be to come. Barnes relayed what he saw:

With a trio of 33 sprints for his teammates hanging in the balance, a slimmed down Kennedy Meeks threw down a windmill dunk on his first try at the end of Monday’s practice.

Carolina does not need its starting center to become a dirty player or a raging maniac. However, if Meeks starts consistently playing with an edge this coming season, watch out.


Looking Ahead

Weight loss. Increased strength. Newfound nastiness.

Each of these will contribute toward what could be Meeks' breakout sophomore season.

If Meeks goes off this year, UNC will be a strong contender to get to the Final Four in Indianapolis.