By R.L. Bynum
Regardless of your position or height, first-year coach Hubert Davis will demand greater versatility from this Carolina basketball team than in any previous season.
Junior Armando Bacot may be defined as a post player and RJ Davis as a guard but their roles will be expanded.
“One of the things that I tell the guys, that doesn’t matter whether it’s RJ and Armando, the only difference between those two guys is just size,” Davis said at a Tuesday press conference a little more than a month before the first practice Sept. 28. “I want them to be basketball players.”
With ball screens and defensive switching going on constantly, Davis wants 6–9 Brady Manek and 6–11 Dawson Garcia, two of the three forward transfers, to be able to switch out on guards and 6–5 sophomore guard Kerwin Walton to be able to defend a post player.
“I want to be able to put these guys in different positions,” Davis said. “I want them to be basketball players. I don’t want them to be one-dimensional, so we can put them in different spots where they can be successful. In terms of what we need you to work on? It’s just an overall skill set and get more talented and get better, and I just really feel like this summer we were able to achieve that.”
There may have been a few big men in recent years who wanted to attempt more perimeter shots but, with the notable exception of Luke Maye, that didn’t happen. Last season, Walker Kessler could often be seen putting up 3-point attempts after games but only attempted four all season.
That’s changing next season, not only to make it tougher for opponents to defend, but to make it easier for UNC big men to make the transition to the NBA.
“I told Armando, in order for him to have a chance, he’s got to continue to make the jump that he made last year but he’s got to be able to shoot the ball from outside,” Davis said. “This summer, he has worked so hard on his outside shot, even all the way out to three-point range, and that’s something that we’re going to encourage.”
Bacot missed his only 3-point attempt during his first two seasons at Carolina.
“We want his ability to be able to space the floor and shoot the ball from outside,” Davis said. “He did it a little bit last year but he also has the ability to put the ball on the floor. So, my hope is, from an offensive standpoint, we won’t go away from what made him successful last year, but he will show more versatility and what he can do on the offensive end.”
Creating a versatile front line was a big part of the offseason roster reconstruction after Davis lost Kessler to Auburn, Day’Ron Sharpe to the NBA and Garrison Brooks to Mississippi State. By bringing in 6–9 Manek, 6–8 Virginia transfer Justin McCoy and 6–11 Marquette transfer Dawson Garcia, he doesn’t need to coach them to be more versatile because they came to Chapel Hill with that skill set.
“All three of them have just been fantastic on and off the court,” Davis said. “We needed versatile bigs. We needed more depth. We needed more versatility. I couldn’t have asked for three better players to join our team. All three of them are going to play a lot of minutes and all three of them are going to be great for us this year.”
Last season, the only Tar Heels with at least nine 3-point attempts to shoot at least 30% were Walton (42.0%), Andrew Platek (32.7%) and Davis (32.3%). Walton and Davis are back and all three transfers met that threshold last season. Platek, incidentally, has another year of eligibility and is in the transfer portal.
On McCoy: “He’s had two years at Virginia and he has versatility being able to play on the wing and also at the power forward position. He’s an outstanding defensive player, rebounder. From an offensive standpoint, he’s a guy that can score inside and out and I’ve always loved coaching those guys, and I hated playing against those types of guys.”
McCoy was 3 of 9 from 3-point range last season for the Cavaliers.
On Manek: “He’s a four-year starter at Oklahoma. I think there was a stat that nobody in Big 12 history over 6–7 has made more 3-pointers. Now you have a guy at 6–9 who can stretch the floor, can give us spacing on the offensive end. He’s a really good rebounder, outstanding passer and, over the summer in practices and pickups and individual workouts, he’s even more skilled than I thought he was. I’m just so excited to have him here at Carolina.”
Manek made 235 of 628 3-point attempts in four years at Oklahoma (37.4%).
On Garcia: “He was a guy that we recruited out of high school, and we thought we had a really good chance of getting him and he went to Marquette and then we got a second try at him. Dawson is another big who, from an offensive standpoint, just has tremendous versatility being able to score around the basket and out on the perimeter. One of the things that people don’t realize about Dawson is he’s a lock-down defender. I mean, he can legitimately defend one through five. And so, from a defensive standpoint, that brings a lot of versatility to us.”
Garcia hit 26 of 73 3-point attempts (35.6%) during his freshman season at Marquette.
Carolina was 13th in the ACC in 3-point field-goal percentage last season at 31.8% and 3-pointers (5.6 per game) in league action. Another statistic that Davis wants to turn around is turnovers: UNC was 13th in the ACC in turnover margin at -0.93 per game in league games.
“We need to take care of the basketball,” Davis said. “We gave up more turnovers than anybody in ACC. So, just talking to our team about the importance and the value of taking care of the basketball and making easy play has been huge.”
Top photo: ACC pool photo