SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- His eighth-ranked team left Puerto Rico a disappointing 1-2, but North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he’s not panicking.
Maybe that’s the case. It’s a long season, after all. But UNC also departed here late Sunday night without knowing if it truly has a leader on its team.
Williams is taking on the responsibility of trying to develop one amid the locker room, but it remains to be seen if anyone among the current Tar Heel personnel has the right personality to take charge of the team.
“Right now, we don’t have one,’’ said Williams after Sunday night’s 72-65 loss to Vanderbilt. “It has to be the coaches until the players develop it on the floor. We don’t have bad kids. They all want to do the right thing. They just don’t know how to do it. It’s up to me to teach them and it might be by running the dickens out of them or they’ve go to accept it themselves.’’
North Carolina struggled with Lipscomb in their opener before pulling away in Chapel Hill. And then the Heels dismantled Hofstra in the first round here Thursday. But North Carolina was essentially manhandled by Minnesota in Friday’s semifinals and never had great flow Sunday against the Commodores. And there was no player to shake them out of their funk.
There is undoubtedly plenty of talent, led by AP preseason all-American Harrison Barnes. But the freshman thus far hasn’t exhibited the personality of taking over a game from a vocal standpoint. He also struggled against a more physical team (0-for-12 against Minnesota). Point guard Larry Drew II doesn’t have that extroverted personality on the court, either. Neither does Tyler Zeller or John Henson and it’s too soon to say whether or not the newcomers like Kendall Marshall can command that role.
“I’m not panicking by any means,’’ Williams said. “I feel 100 times better than I did last year. We’re still a work in progress.’’
The Tar Heels lost an unthinkable 17 games last season. Williams called the season the most frustrating he has had as a coach. Carolina had leadership -- at least some outspoken types like Deon Thompson -- but could never mesh. Thompson is gone and the offseason brought about the abrupt departure of the Wear twins to UCLA, as well as the dismissal of senior shooting guard Will Graves, the top returning 3-point shooter.
The Tar Heels will have their moments when they’re not a proficient 3-point shooting team (like Sunday’s 3-of-11 performance) and there will be games where they’re on. The ability to score on the break and from the wing shouldn’t be a question. But North Carolina shouldn’t be as dominated physically as it was by Minnesota and Vanderbilt. If that’s a trend, then the Tar Heels will be in trouble.
“I said after the first home game that this team will get better as the season goes along,’’ Williams said. “Z and Larry are the only guys we’ve had that have ever started a game before this year. We’re a work in progress.’’
Williams said the Tar Heels will show flashes of being a really good team.
Whether or not that can come on a consistent basis -- especially with plenty of quality games left on the nonconference schedule -- remains to be seen.