Freshman class can impact without starting

Last year’s freshmen class of Marcus Paige, J.P. Tokoto, Joel James and Brice Johnson contributed from the outset. Paige started in 34 games, Johnson appeared in all 36. Tokoto played in 35 and James in 30.

This year’s trio of freshmen will be relied on in a similar manner. Center Kennedy Meeks has the best chance to become a starter out of the class, but guard Nate Britt and forward Isaiah Hicks will have an opportunity to play immediately.

Meeks, who coach Roy Williams said has dropped 36 pounds since arriving on campus, is competing with Joel James and Desmond Hubert to solidify the Heels inside. Offensively speaking, Meeks has an edge.

“He gives us an inside scorer, a strictly low-post, inside scorer, that we didn’t have last year,” Williams said.

The challenge for Meeks, a 6-foot-9 Charlotte native, is keeping his weight down. He arrived on campus weighing 317 pounds. As of last week, Williams said he was at 281. For Meeks, stamina might factor into how much he plays as much as skill does.

“Somebody asked me what weight do I want him to be,” Williams said. “I can’t give you a number, but I know how fast I want him to get up and down the court.”

Williams has raved about Meeks’ ability to make outlet passes to start the Heels in transition, calling him “the best outlet passing big man I’ve ever had.”

The only two players locked into the starting lineup are Paige and forward James Michael McAdoo. That’s why it’s unlikely Britt and Hicks will crack the starting five. Although from Williams’ lineup experiments, there’s a scenario where McAdoo plays small forward in a big lineup and Hicks could play power forward.

Britt, who is 5-11, doesn’t need to challenge Paige in order to be effective for Carolina.

“Nate gives us another true point guard that we hadn’t had the last couple of years,” Williams said. “So I love that he really is understanding pushing the pace. Now we've got to get him to get under control when he does get there.”

Hicks, arguably the biggest signing of the trio, has been compared to former Cincinnati standout Kenyon Martin. Williams loves his athleticism but said right now he’s “just roaming around trying to figure out where he’s supposed to be.” Once he does figure things out, Williams believes the 6-8 Oxford, N.C., native has a chance to be special.

“Isaiah’s a guy that got 30 rebounds in the state finals,” Williams said. “That’s as big as it can get in high school basketball. So if he can rebound it like that on that stage then we expect him to do the same things.”