Hubert blossoming into defensive role

North Carolina coach Roy Williams, explaining how fast junior forward Desmond Hubert can get from basket to basket in transition, caught everyone in the interview room off guard with his analogy.

“I mean, he’s got Jadeveon Clowney kind of speed for a big dude,” Williams said.

Think Hubert can knock the helmet off a running back, too? Probably not, but Hubert is developing his own signature play, just like the South Carolina defensive end. He doesn’t score often -- Hubert only has six made baskets the entire season -- but when he has lately, it’s been on dunk put-backs.

He did it against Duke and Florida State and nearly pulled it off in the first half against Pittsburgh, too. (Four of his six baskets this season are dunks.)

Let’s be clear: There’s no reason to make Hubert out to be more than what he is. Carolina won’t win or lose based on how much he scores. But he is quickly becoming a key reserve in the frontcourt.

When Brice Johnson got into foul trouble against Duke, Hubert played a season-high 11 minutes and grabbed a season-best five rebounds. With Kennedy Meeks nursing an injured knee and ankle heading into Wednesday night’s game against NC State, Hubert could again get more playing time.

“He’s been important to us, but perhaps the last couple of games he’s realized it even more,” Williams said. “Everybody wants to play 50 minutes in a 40-minute game. I’ve been trying to sell everybody on when you’re in there, do the best that you can do and you’re important to us. In the Duke game, I thought Desmond was really important to us.”

Hubert only plays 5.5 minutes per game on the season, but in the past three games he’s almost doubled that average. Williams has called Hubert the best defensive post player the Heels have. Meeks takes it one step further.

“I always tell Desmond that he’s the best defensive player I’ve ever faced from any team,” Meeks said. “His defense is insane.”

Hubert is especially effective at defending ball screens, which at times has been a major weakness for Carolina.

The most telling aspect of Hubert’s development is that his teammates call him dependable. They trust what he’s going to give on the court, and he never attempts to do more than he's capable of doing.

“Desmond has always been an uplifting guy. He’s always working hard in practice and when his name is called on, he produces,” senior Leslie McDonald said. “... There’s never been a time I’ve never heard from him getting disappointed with his playing time. He does whatever he can, and I’m pretty sure that’s the same for all our teammates. When we get a chance to get in the game, we want to produce.”