CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- North Carolina’s Reggie Bullock proved himself a capable outside shooter as a freshman. As a sophomore -- especially after he was inserted into the starting lineup for the injured Dexter Strickland -- he showed he can rebound and defend, too.
This year, the junior wing is aiming to round out his game even more.
“At the end of the season, coach gave us a list that he wanted us to improve on, and one of the things he wanted me to improve on was getting to the basket,’’ Bullock said. “… Because he knows what I’m capable of doing, and he knows I can get to the rack. And he just wants me to be confident in doing those things.”
Bullock, the only returning starter from the team that lost to Kansas in the NCAA regional finals last March, said he worked on a plethora of skills during the offseason: his mid-range jumper, defense, being a team leader. But honing his ability to penetrate to the basket was a top priority.
Despite averaging 25.4 minutes and starting the final 18 games of the season, Bullock managed only 22 free throw attempts in 2011-12 -- and only three in ACC play. That ranked last among the top eight scorers on the team, and to put that into perspective: even Stilman White, the third-string point guard who played mostly mop-up minutes until he started the final two games for the injured Kendall Marshall, recorded 24 free throw attempts for the season.
For a team that usually makes more free throws than its opponents attempt, getting to the foul line is key for UNC this season -- especially because four of last year's top five guys in that category are gone. Bullock knows it, and it helped shape his summer drills.
“It starts with ballhandling,’’ Bullock said. “You can’t walk to the basket; you’ve got to be able to dribble the ball, and just go through traffic and be able to finish. So that's one of the things I’m going to, just get to the free throw line and knock down some points.”
What position he plays could help in that effort, too. Although Bullock is expected to start at either shooting guard or small forward, it will be interesting to see if coach Roy Williams ever opts to go with a small lineup, using the 6-foot-8 Bullock at the "4."
As of last Wednesday’s ACC media day, Bullock said he hadn’t played the post in practice, but the player’s eyes lit up at the possibilities.
“It would definitely be a crazy lineup if you go with Marcus [Paige], me, P.J. [Hairston], Leslie [McDonald] and Mac [James Michael McAdoo], all in at the same time,’’ Bullock said. “I feel like we could definitely do a lot of work with that lineup.”
Bullock acknowledged it would be more of a challenge for him to defend a taller player in the post, but that possible mismatch would also give Bullock some advantages -- including a line to the line.
“If coach wants me to play that position, I definitely would. Because by me being a true 2 or a true 3 guard, if we played me at 4, there shouldn’t be a 4 that could stop me or contain me from getting to the basket,’’ Bullock said.
Whatever position(s) he ultimately plays, Bullock, who averaged 8.8 points and 5.1 rebounds last season, said his goal is to diversify his game in order to help the Tar Heels swell their win total.
With most of last year's starters now playing in the NBA, he expects a more balanced offense. Which means, he said, that everyone must live up to their potential and do their part.
“Individually, I believe I’ve improved on getting to the basket better, posting up smaller defenders, rebounding better, increasing my offensive ability and defensive ability,’’ he said. “I’m just trying to expand my game to new heights.”
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.