There has been a lot of talk about the sharp downfall the North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team displayed last season. The poor play has lead many fans and media to wonder who would help them bounce back this season?
The pressure has fallen on the shoulders of the No. 1 ranked recruit Harrison Barnes and his fellow freshmen Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock. These guys are heading to Chapel Hill with the ability and intention to add firepower to a team that lacked that go-to scorer last season.
Perhaps the media and fans are looking past the fact that the returning Tar Heels would like to get the monkey off of their backs as well.
John Henson has been ridiculed for his thin frame and lack of inside game. However he has been training hard in the offseason and has packed on some pounds, from his rail-thin 185 lbs to a current weight of about 208. Now granted that is not a beefy frame still, but it will help a lot for him to not be pushed around like he was in his freshman season. His showing at the NC-Pro Am games and footage from the Bahamas shows Henson with a stronger looking body and much more confidence in his offensive ability.
The pounds Henson found seemed to have come from Will Graves who has pushed himself to lose about twenty pounds preparing for his senior role for Roy Williams and the Tar Heels. Will Graves is more than aware of the disappointment of last season and the challenge from his coach to lose weight or risk losing his starting position.
He has stepped up to the challenge and has prepared his body and mind to be a leader both on and off the court for his teammates. Recent interviews would make any Tar Heel fan smile as Will is openly accepting anything his coach needs whether that be starting, a spark off the bench, vocal leadership whatever it takes to win. Now that is something to be proud of.
Tyler Zeller is another player who is looking to prove himself to the doubters. Plagued by the injury bug his first two seasons in Chapel Hill the seven-footer is determined to prove the critics wrong that he is not a fragile player, but that he is someone his team can count on on both ends of the court. He had a strong outing in the Bahamas and if he can stay healthy, he has an excellent chance to be one of the best big men in the ACC.
Another freshman from last season that has his own frustrations was Dexter Strickland. Dexter lacked an outside shot and at times looked reckless running the ball down the court. Strickland has looked to right these wrongs by focusing on his outside shot and ball handling over the summer, two things that appeared much improved during the exhibition in the Bahamas where he shot with confidence from the perimeter.
Maybe its the push for playing time from the highly touted incoming freshmen, or the fact that they are disappointed in their own performances, but the upperclassmen of North Carolina have put forth the effort in the offseason to return their team to the top of the ACC.
Will they? Three more months and we will find out.