CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina forward Desmond Hubert entered Tuesday’s game against Evansville with a lofty-sounding objective.
“I told myself ‘I want to get 10 rebounds,’” the freshman said. “I didn’t know what my time would be like, but I knew that was my goal: I want to get 10 rebounds. You’ve got to go after them.”
The fact that he came so close -- eight boards, including three offensive rebounds in 13 minutes -- during UNC’s 97-48 victory is a solid sign that the 6-foot-10 reserve is steadily (and stealthily) improving.
With so much tall talent logjamming the post, including 7-foot senior Tyler Zeller, 6-foot-11 junior John Henson and 6-foot-9 freshman James Michael McAdoo, Hubert has been having to make most of his strides out of the spotlight. (Before Evansville, he had played only 18 minutes.)
But during this nine-game homestand, coach Roy Williams has said he would like the opportunity to rest some starters while taking a longer look at some reserves. That includes Hubert, who is still working on adding weight to his 205-pound frame while adding some offense to his defensive-minded game.
Hubert has progressed at one of the fastest rates among the rookies in this freshman class early-0n, Williams said last month.
“I’m much better,’’ agreed Hubert, who also scored two points and blocked two shots against the Purple Aces. “When I first got here, I was just long and skinny. I was athletic, but I guess you could say that sometimes, I was just out there, not really making an impact. But now I feel like I’m a better defensive player, even though I don’t block as many shots as I did in high school. I’ve just learned the right spots to be in, and what to do, and [I have] just a better basketball IQ.”
Playing against the likes of Zeller (whose hook shot he is trying to emulate) and Henson (whose similar defensive-minded approach earned Hubert the moniker of “Baby John” during the offseason) has helped.
When Williams was recruiting the athlete from New Jersey, Hubert said the coach warned him that if the more veteran Tar Heels didn’t turn pro during the offseason, he probably wouldn’t get much playing time. But he still chose UNC last April, figuring he could absorb more waiting his turn on the bench in Chapel Hill than he might playing 25 minutes a game somewhere else. Especially if those potential pros opted to stay.
“The easy path isn’t always the best path, I guess you could say,’’ said Hubert, who averaged 16 points, 9 rebounds and 6 blocks as a high school senior. “Everyone here knows what they’re talking about. The coaches, Jonas [Sahratian, the strength and conditioning coach], my teammates. I felt like this was the best opportunity for me to get better as a player, rather than going somewhere I could have played more, but not gotten the same kind of teaching or learned as much.”
Teammates say they have noticed the freshman’s progress, as well as the extra shooting sessions (and meals) he has put into trying to make progress.
But it was nice to get the chance to show it off on the court for some extended minutes Tuesday, as well.
“Desmond has a really active body,’’ Williams said. “He played 13 minutes, had eight rebounds. We’ve got to work with him on the offensive end, give him a better skill set there, but he’s a player that could help us.”
Robbi Pickeral can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @bylinerp.