UNC Basketball: Offseason Work Critical to Tar Heels' 2014-15 Success

Doug BrodessCorrespondent IApril 29, 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

Few college basketball teams will have the talent and depth that the North Carolina Tar Heels do in the 2014-15 season. 

UNC coach Roy Williams has a variety of backcourt options. He has plenty of ways that he can go on the wings. And there is no shortage of bigs who can do work for him in and around the paint.

Because there is strength in numbers, the Heels can keep fresh legs and rested bodies on the court for 40 minutes every game.

However, this offseason is critical for UNC to be able to challenge for an Atlantic Coast Conference Championship and to make some noise next year in the NCAA tournament. Many of the players who will be logging serious minutes in Williams' rotation need to invest significant time and energy into strength development, physical conditioning and skills building.

Let's look at some of the places that need the most attention in order for the Tar Heels to reach their potential in the upcoming season

Gerry Broome


Strength Development

One of the least known members of Williams quality staff is his strength and conditioning coordinator, Jonas Sahratian. He was with Roy at Kansas, and he has been working with Tar Heels players for nine years in Chapel Hill.

Past UNC stars have been generous in their praise of the job that Sahratian does in helping players reach their potential. 

The Daily Tar Heel's Max Miceli talks about "the man behind the muscles":

In the office of North Carolina men’s basketball trainer Jonas Sahratian, a Tyler Hansbrough jersey hangs prominently on the wall, with a signature and short letter inked on it by the 2008 Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year.

“Jonas, A lot of blood, sweat, and tears for the years. Thanks for helping me achieve my dreams and goals!” Hansbrough wrote on the only game-worn jersey he’s ever given out.

Sean May tweeted his props about Sahratian:

The Detroit native has plenty of work to do with next year's group.

ESPN.com's C.L. Brown pointed out that Brice Johnson went from weighing 187 pounds as a freshman to playing at 210 pounds as a sophomore. The 6'9" rising junior power forward needs to increase his strength even more and add bulk in order to become a consistent force in the middle.

Incoming freshman Justin Jackson is a clever scorer, capable of putting up points in bunches. But he is painfully thin and needs to get on a serious weight program and six-meals-a-day diet so he does not get pushed around.

One of the reasons Marcus Paige had a super sophomore year is that he worked hard, via Inside Carolina, to build his body and increase his endurance after his freshman season. Just think if Paige makes a similar upgrade to his physicality going into the upcoming season. He will be ready to make a run at ACC Player of the Year.

Incoming freshman Justin Jackson (right) needs to hit the weight room
Incoming freshman Justin Jackson (right) needs to hit the weight roomCharles Rex Arbogast


Physical Conditioning

Though all of the Tar Heels need to improve their conditioning before next season, no one's offseason training is as important as UNC's center, Kennedy Meeks.

The freshman man-child turned into an effective low-post scorer and a solid rebounder. But he only logged 20 minutes or more seven times in the 2013-14 season.

The News & Observer's Andrew Carter detailed Meeks' journey from arriving in Chapel Hill last summer weighing 320 pounds to playing under 290 pounds. Sahratian played a big part in reworking Meeks' diet and getting the excess poundage off the emerging post player.

Meeks said, "Other than my family, he’s probably been one of the most influential people in my life."

If Meeks can continue to remake his body, losing weight and adding muscle, he will be an imposing menace in the middle for the Tar Heels. He realistically could become a double-double guy who changes the way UNC's opponents think about coming into the paint.

Eric Gay


Skills Building

After finishing out a season, most college players take a short break, but then they are right back at it, getting ready for the season that is ahead. Players prioritize individual skills building, making improvements that will help them and their teams when they start official practices in October.

One area that needs a lot of attention among Carolina's perimeter players is three-point shooting. Other than Paige, who shot 39 percent from beyond the arc, the rest of the guards and wings need to log some serious gym time putting up hundreds of shots from distance.

Rising junior J.P. Tokoto only connected on 22.2 percent of his three-pointers. Backup point guard Nate Britt did not fare much better, knocking down 25 percent of his long-range attempts.

While Williams is bringing in three elite-level perimeter recruits in Jackson, Theo Pinson and Joel Berry, none of these talented young players is particularly skilled at outside shooting.

Any of these players will enhance their chances at getting more minutes in the 2014-15 season if they can demonstrate three-point shooting consistency. Without someone other than Paige hitting three-balls, UNC's opponents can pack the lane and make it harder to score in the paint.   

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/02/19/3637092/uncs-kennedy-meeks-losing-weight.html#storylink=cpy

Gerry Broome

Looking Ahead

There is no doubt that the raw materials are present on North Carolina's roster for next year to be an exciting one.

What Williams, his staff and the players do over the next five months will significantly impact what they accomplish when they open up their season in early November.

Even though weight lifting, weight loss and working on fundamentals does not make too many SportsCenter Top 10s, the results of committing to these priorities could make or break the Heels' 2014-15 season.