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November 4, 2009
North Carolina heads into the 2009-2010 season with several question marks in its backcourt with the loss of its starting point guard and shooting guard, but the team is rich with talented personnel in the low post and should be able to hang with any team in the country in that area.
"I have seen the depth we thought we would have up front is real," said UNC head coach Roy Williams. "I think five or six guys will be able to play up there with varied amounts of success because of their experience."
"Do we have depth in the frontcourt that I would say is about as good as anybody's? Yes. Do we have the best frontcourt in the country? I can't say that because I don't know what everybody else has," Williams added.
While the Tar Heels only have two players who have proven themselves on the highest stages in Deon Thompson and Ed Davis, the team is getting back a rejuvenated Tyler Zeller along with an influx of three skilled rookies in David Wear, Travis Wear, and John Henson.
"We only have two guys who have done it in crunch time, and that's Ed and Deon, and that's Ed in a supporting role and Deon in a supporting role," said Williams.
"If you're going to have the best frontcourt in the country you've got to have some people that can do that (produce in crunch time) and we don't have anybody that has shown that yet, but we do have a lot of depth that I think I will end up having a lot of confidence in," he added.
"I see a lot of potential with our 'bigs'," said senior Marcus Ginyard. "I know those guys are really excited this year and taking on a heavier load this year with Deon and Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis and even with these young guys, the Wears and John Henson. It's going to be great to see all those guys working together out there on the court, and they're going to be able to do some good things for us this year."
One of the best attributes of this group is that there are a lot of talented bodies to throw at opposing teams---guys that can go into the game and put lots of pressure on thinner, less capable foes.
"I feel like this year's team is deeper than last year's team," said Thompson. "We still have Tyler Zeller. We'll have the whole recruiting freshmen class that just came in. Those kids can all play, and they're all going to be able to help us. I feel like our team is definitely deeper in the frontcourt, and our backcourt is going to work together to fill the void left with Ty (Lawson) and Wayne (Ellington)."
"I'd much rather have too many (players) as opposed to not enough," said Williams. "The depth up front this year has to be a strong point for us. You have Deon, who performed and did well. You have Ed, who performed and did well."
"You have Tyler, who performed on a big stage for a couple of weeks and then got hurt and it was never an easy fit to get him back to the level that he was, but I think that (coming back) helped him immensely."
"Then you've got three unknowns in David and Travis and John, but it's a good problem to have," Williams continued. "I think all three of those kids potentially could do it offensively, but who can play it on the defensive end?"
"I said it last year that it's my job to get the guys who are playing the best the most minutes and get everybody else to try to challenge them for that, but I do like the depth," he added.
While Coach Williams is well known throughout his coaching career for employing fast, highly-athletic teams that like to run the floor, one of his primary basic philosophies is still one he learned during his years as an assistant to Dean Smith.
Offensively, you're better off most of the time getting the ball inside and attacking the post when you can't get out on the fast break.
"My philosophy has always been you've got to have great balance, but you've got to attack inside first," said Williams. "Every team that we've had that's had a chance to win the whole thing had that fantastic inside scorer first, and then had some balance of guys that could shoot the ball from the outside."
One advantage with this particular group is the fact that many of the UNC forwards, such as Henson, the Wears, and perhaps even Thompson and Davis occasionally, are capable of stepping out and playing the 'three' position.
The three freshmen, along with Zeller, are also each capable of handling the ball and stepping outside and shooting from long range, extending all the way out to the three-point line.
"I do like the fact that one or two or three of them are going to be able to play at the 'three' spot," said Williams. "
"I think that's definitely something we're going to have to use to our advantage, the fact that we have these big guys that are still very skilled and very capable of handling the ball that mid-range distance from the goal, being able to put the ball on the floor and taking it to the basket and things like that," said Ginyard.
"Some of our big guys can shoot threes, so we're going to be able to fill up threes. People probably don't think we can shoot, but we'll be able to shoot," said Thompson.
Having as many as six or seven guys that can play three positions on the court means that the Tar Heels won't need one guy to try and produce as much as Tyler Hansbrough did during his record-breaking career.
Between the group as a whole, the numbers should be there each game.
"It's by committee. It's by team, and I just like that part of it," said Williams about the UNC frontcourt. "As far as just one guy being out in front of the other guys in one particular position, I don't really care about that. I think we are so much more experienced, tested, and skilled with the big guys now than it is with the guards."
"We'll definitely be able to manage his (Hansbrough's) production that's going out with myself, Tyler Zeller, Ed Davis, the (Wear) twins. Our frontcourt is going to be able to manage that. I don't think there's any question about it," said Thompson.
Defensively, having so many tall players like Zeller, Thompson, Davis, and Henson means that Carolina should be quite disruptive.
Simply stated, this team has a chance to set a new precedent for UNC basketball in terms of shot blocking.
"I think our defensive potential, John can really block a lot of shots," said Williams. "Inside we'll be really good defensively."
"I don't know about me personally shot-blocking, but Ed and John, they're both great shot blockers, so we should be very, very good," said Zeller.
"This is probably one of the longest teams I've ever been on, just with the length of John and the length of Ed and Tyler Zeller," said Thompson. "This is the longest team I've ever been around, so we're definitely going to cause a lot of havoc on the defensive end of the floor"
"With John on the perimeter and Ed back there blocking shots and affecting shots, and myself back there and Tyler Zeller. He's seven feet tall, so you can't teach that. We're definitely going to be able to change a lot of shots on the defensive end with so much length on the floor," Thompson added.
Along with having the ability to attack opposing teams close to the basket both offensively and defensively, having a deep frontcourt rotation will allow Williams to use different matchups based on game scenarios designed to disrupt the individual strengths of opposing teams.
"I do like the versatility. We could have a really big team out on the court sometimes, and I think they (the UNC players) can handle the change," said Williams.
"I think it's going to be great to be able to make those matchup problems for other teams, and it's something we're going to have to use," said Ginyard. "Our size inside and being able to use that same size outside, it's just a great advantage. We're just going to have to look into that and trust that our big men are working hard to be able to do that for this team."
"We can do a lot of things with our lineup the way this team is shaped, and somebody who can think of a creative way to do that would be Coach Williams," said Thompson.
"He's the best coach in college basketball in my opinion, so he'd definitely find a way to throw other teams off their game with what he throws out there and what he puts out on the floor."
While the Hall of Fame head coach might be pulling his hair out and having some sleepless nights this coming season due to some of the concerns with the team's guard play, Williams should rest a little easier with such a deep, talented, and versatile frontcourt.