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October 13, 2009

Freshman Impact

With less than a month to go before the official start of basketball season, there's a sense of confidence and swagger in the air around the town of Chapel Hill thanks to an impressive group of incoming Tar Heel freshmen.

After winning the national championship last season, the Tar Heels lost a bit of fire power. In fact, they lost a lot.

Gone is All-American Tyler Hansbrough. The 6-9 center had the work ethic, the motor and the clutch ability of a true champion. He left his legacy in the hearts of Carolina fans -- both young and old. He was indeed, one of the greatest Tar Heels of all time.

Gone is Tywon Lawson, arguably the fastest player to ever lace them up in Tar Heel blue. His ability to burst down the court and switch gears with blur-like speed allowed the Heel offense to fire on all cylinders.

Lawson was easily the most difficult player to guard in the Atlantic Coast Conference and arguably the best point guard in the land.

Gone is Wayne Ellington, the smooth and skilled wing with unlimited range and feathery soft touch. He was capable of crushing opponents with three-balls from all over the court.

His presence allowed Hansbrough, Ed Davis and Deon Thompson the ability to pass out of double teams to a reliable shooter.

Also gone is Danny Green, the 6-6 swingman with a knack for blocking shots inside and along the perimeter. He was vastly underrated nationally and was also a reliable offensive threat from the perimeter.

Green's presence allowed space for the post guys and he was another dangerous scorer who provided leadership, swagger and experience. And how can we forget his dancing?

The legacy that these four champions left will forever be remembered at North Carolina.

And like any school with the tradition and success of UNC, once the old guard has departed, a new group of talented rookies come to Chapel Hill excited and ready to take over the legacy that sold them on being a Tar Heel in the first place.

Here are the newest additions to the Tar Heel family.

We'll start with Leslie McDonald. The 6-4 shooting guard is superbly equipped physically to make his mark in the ACC. His broad shoulders, strong frame and long arms give him a big advantage over other wing guards in the league.

McDonald is best described as an all around wing who will do well in Carolina's system.

He's a smooth shooter who can knock them down from long range, mid-range and in close. We really think his ability to drive is also worth noting. And it's his ability to drive that helps create space for his jumper. He has a chance to compete for optimal playing time since the departure of Ellington and Green.

McDonald is one of the most physically strong guards that the Heels have had in a long time.

Dexter Strickland is a guy who could make an immediate impact with this team. And if I'm a betting man -- I think he will.

At 6-3, he's probably going to be the best manufacturer of speed on this squad. He sprints up the floor with the ball and looks to go all the way to the rim. He's on the slender side, but does a great job of slicing through the lane and making things happen with his dribble.

While he's not the most consistent shooter, 'Dex' has the ability to get hot from the outside, and when he does, look out. He can be explosive at times.

Another thing that will earn Strickland time is his desire and willingness to play defense. He exerts that effort that will make the UNC staff happy and seems to really take pride in his defense. We think that Strickland will see time in both backcourt spots at times this year, and look for him to take advantage of the playing time.

David Wear and Travis Wear have gotten the least publicity of all of the Carolina recruits. And a lot of it has to do with the fact that they played on the west coast despite playing for national powerhouse Mater Dei. But make no mistake about it -- these twins can ball.

Both brothers are skilled in terms of passing, shooting and handling the ball. They're both comfortable making plays on the perimeter, but have the bodies to go down low and secure rebounds on the blocks.

From my experience of watching them both, they are very similar. Travis is probably a bit better inside and a little bit stronger while David is more fluid on the outside and might be a slightly better shooter.

UNC has a lot of depth in the front court with Davis, Thompson and Tyler Zeller, and that might have an impact on the Wear's playing time. But when they do come in, UNC fans will see what they bring to the team. And you'll have good reason to be excited about the future.

Lastly, John Henson comes to Chapel Hill with the reputation of being a game changer.

At 6-10 and 195 pounds, Henson mirrors the bodily image of a young Tayshaun Prince or a Brandan Wright type.

His arms are probably the longest that anyone in a Tar Heel uniform has ever had. And yes, that includes Sam Perkins and Wright.

He's going to excel as a matchup problem inside and on the perimeter, as well as a shot blocker. And the best thing about a shot blocking presence like Henson is that even when he's not blocking shots, he's got the other team thinking about it.

In short, he gives the Tar Heels a new dimension.

UNC head coach Roy Williams has sold Henson on the idea of playing the 'wing forward' position and it seems to be something that he's determined to see happen. If Henson can make the transition to the wing, he'll be one of a kind. Not just in the ACC, but across the country.

So, there you have it---a look at the incoming freshman.

All five should see time on the floor for UNC and while they won't immediately fill the void left by Hansbrough, Lawson, Ellington and Green, they'll start making their own mark on the Carolina tradition soon enough.



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