North Carolina Basketball: 3 Tar Heels Who Will Find Their Strokes in 2012

Rollin Yeatts@@TSBRollinFeatured ColumnistJuly 3, 2012

North Carolina Basketball: 3 Tar Heels Who Will Find Their Strokes in 2012

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    Unlike those keys or that wallet you lost a few years back, a basketball player's stroke can be found again.

    That will be the challenge for three particular Tar Heels in 2012. Though there are many variables in the winning formula for North Carolina, one can't look past the importance of P.J. Hairston, Dexter Strickland and James Michael McAdoo finding their stroke.

    There is no doubt the incoming freshman will need to perform with UNC losing Tyler Zeller, Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes and John Henson to the NBA. But as we saw with Hairston and McAdoo for much of the 2011-12 season, Roy Williams can't count on the newbies to fill voids.

    Those holes are best filled with experience.

    Dexter Strickland is coming off an ACL tear, and he never really developed a stroke from the perimeter in his previous three years.

    P.J. Hairston is coming off a very poor showing through most of his freshman campaign—one only sprinkled with a few solid games.

    James Michael McAdoo put on a show in John Henson's absence late in the season. But aside from some spectacular dunks and grueling putbacks, he didn't make much of a name for himself on the offensive end of the court.

    All of this must change in order for the Tar Heels to compete in what looks to be a much-improved ACC.

    It will take dedication and perseverance, but that is a concept these three players shouldn't have trouble grasping. And they all have sharp-shooter and assistant coach Hubert Davis at their disposal.

P.J. Hairston

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    As I have predicted in previous articles, I believe P.J. Hairston will be playing behind Reggie Bullock at small forward. He will also share minutes at the 2 with Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald.

    That means he will be getting more than last year's 13 minutes per game. That also means he better find his stroke, or he will find himself trading places with someone deeper on the pine.

    On the season, Hairston shot 30.8 percent from the field and 27.3 percent beyond the arc. He finally showed signs of a pulse in the ACC championship, keeping Carolina in the game on 3-of-7 shooting from downtown.

    Then he flatlined again.

    Hairston's NCAA tournament performance was poor, to say the least. He was only able to hit six of his 21 attempts and was a paltry 2-of-13 on threes.

    P.J. Hairston must get better, and that is exactly what he has set out to do—with a little advice from his mother, according to Robbi Pickeral at ESPN.

    “I just called her one day, asked her, ‘What do I need to do?’ I was in the gym, I was doing everything I needed to do to get my shot right. She said, ‘You need to get your priorities straight, that has to be your No. 1 priority, other than school.’ She said, ‘You stay in the gym, get your shots up, get at least 500 shots up, but you have to do that yourself. … You’re grown now, you have to do these things on your own.’ And I thought about it, and thought, ‘She’s right. '”

    If Hairston's performance in the NC Pro-Am is any indication, it appears he has put 2011 behind him. Hairston put up 19 points and showed his high school form from the outside, knocking down some tough pull-up threes.

    If P.J. Hairston can get back to doing what he does best—lighting up the net from deep—and combines that with the rim assault he is capable of, he will become a force off the bench.

    Hairston will be the key to Carolina's depth. And he's doing the right things to make that happen.

Dexter Strickland

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    I feel most people that are North Carolina fans have a love for Dexter Strickland—and rightfully so. He is explosively fast and can get to the basket, he is the best perimeter defender and he covers both the 1 and 2 positions.

    To this point, though, he has yet to consistently bury the outside shot.

    As a matter of fact, he doesn't even attempt them very often. In 19 games and 461 minutes last season, Strickland was 0-for-1 from downtown. For his UNC career, he is 16-of-67 from that range.

    Is it really necessary Strickland finds his downtown stroke with Leslie McDonald, Reggie Bullock and possibly P.J. Hairston and Marcus Paige knocking down treys? Not really—especially if all four of the aforementioned players are consistent from deep.

    But I feel he will anyway. After all, taking jump shots is all he is allowed to do right now.

    “Dexter is being released now to shoot jump shots, but no sharp cuts, no playing, but just to do a little bit of different running and jumping on his knee,” Roy Williams said, according to Keeping It Heel. “I would expect by August that Dexter would be released for everything, knock on wood, as long as everything keeps going in the right direction.”

    Until that time, jump shots will be the bulk of his practice reps. If he can't improve his stroke from the outside this year, he might not ever have it. That could be detrimental to his shot at an NBA career—at least as a shooting guard.

    As a side note, Dexter Strickland did lead the team last year, shooting 57 percent from the floor. That's pretty impressive from a 1-2 combo guard.

James Michael McAdoo

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    James Michael McAdoo is a rising star, and many are looking to him as the primo player for the Tar Heels. In order for that to happen, McAdoo will have to develop more of an offensive game.

    That starts with a mid-range jumper and ends with shaking the defense in the post.

    After John Henson went down, McAdoo filled in with some big-time minutes and sparked the squad with outstanding hustle and electrifying dunks. Facing the basket, he showed he could knock down mid-range jumpers with some consistency and could get around defenders with his impressive athleticism.

    With his back to the basket, however, McAdoo's game is very raw. He didn't have any moves to put defenders on their heels, leading to block after block.

    Finding his stroke will be a matter of building consistency with his mid-range shot and possibly developing a three—the latter being less necessary on this guard-heavy squad. He will also have to find a hook shot and exploit his athletic advantage with a fade.

    This isn't like the Dexter Strickland situation, where it would be nice if he finds his stroke from downtown.

    McAdoo finding his stroke in the areas I mentioned is a must if the Tar Heels are going to compete in the ACC and beyond. There is no Henson or Zeller to establish real estate in the paint.

    Aside from McAdoo, Carolina's inside game consists of two players that rode the bench most of last season (Desmond Hubert and Jackson Simmons) and freshmen Joel James and Brice Johnson.

    Without an inside game, defenses can shut down guard play and stymie the offense. McAdoo will be looked upon as a leader and the go-to guy in the paint.

    The player we saw at the beginning of the 2011-12 season no longer exists. The “lackadaisical” freshman had to grow up fast when Henson went down. Now he has a clear role as a starter at the 4 and the mindset to dominate.

    As quoted by Stephen Schramm of the Fayetteville Observer, McAdoo had this to say about his mentality:

    “Mom and Dad (and) my sister weren't here. You've got to grow up quick, especially if you want to play D-I basketball at UNC. So I feel like I really lost my focus, lost who I was.”

    “Just because I'm a freshman doesn't mean I can just sit back and play good when I want to. They needed me every day.”

    That realization could be the start of something special.