Kennedy Meeks ahead of schedule

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks dropped nearly 40 pounds before the season began, yet he still knows quite well how to throw his weight around.

The 6-foot-9, 280-pounder was at it again Saturday night with 12 points, eight rebounds and two assists in just 15 minutes of play during Carolina's 81-50 win over UNC Greensboro, which is coached by former UNC guard Wes Miller.

"Down in the post, he still has that weight, so he uses it very well, spinning off guys getting other people in the air, finishing through contact and stuff like that," sophomore forward J.P. Tokoto said.

Had North Carolina coach Roy Williams decided to chart center Meeks' development through the first eight games of the season, chances are the freshman from Charlotte would be ahead of schedule.

Since posting 13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists against Louisville, Meeks continues to give the Tar Heels reasons to be optimistic about his potential. He has scored double figures in three of their past four games, and his eight rebounds against UNCG marked the third time he has led the team in a single game.

"I'm maintaining my goals right now; I can get better," Meeks said.

Who can argue with him after watching him mature the past few weeks? UNCG certainly was outsized by Carolina in the frontcourt and was outscored 40-26 in the paint.

But remember, Meeks also put up 15 points and seven rebounds in Wednesday's win over Michigan State. Those Spartans in East Lansing had comparable big men, and Meeks still stood tall.

"His confidence is slowly growing just because he's getting that experience, especially in some big-time games early in the year," sophomore guard Marcus Paige said. "He's had some success, and that's going to help him. I try to stay on him -- keep his highs not too high and manage his lows. He's a freshman; that's going to happen. He has a chance to be really good."

Last season, Carolina didn't really have a good scoring option in the post. This year, they have two. Brice Johnson added some strength and has become consistent as a sophomore. He is the team's second-leading scorer. But that was expected.

Meeks was a bit of a wild card, because no one knew how fast he would adapt to college basketball.

Williams has raved about Meeks' ability to throw outlet passes to get the Heels in transition. Against the Spartans, he showed he has good vision in the half court too. In a second-half lineup that featured all three of the UNC freshman, Meeks delivered a textbook backdoor pass to fellow freshman Nate Britt for a layup. By the way, Meeks has only three turnovers in eight games.

"Kennedy is great," Paige said. "He takes care of the ball, he makes good decisions in the post, and he can score … I know it's early in his career, but he's showing a lot of positive things."

They were virtually all on display against the Spartans, like a fadeway jump shot, or like an ability to step outside of the paint and shoot a 15-foot jumper with the soft touch of a guard.

And he's not only a scorer. His rebounding total of 53 through eight games trails Johnson for the team lead by only two, despite the fact that Johnson has played nearly 50 more minutes this season.

About the only thing Meeks doesn't have, he still can get as he sheds more weight.

"He's got to keep working on his body, because he needs to be explosive, and he's not explosive in there," Williams said. "He's tipping the ball a couple of times, and if you're more explosive, you go up and get it with two hands and follow or dunk something like that. But offensively he really helps us."

And for now, that's exactly what the Heels need.