North Carolina freshman James Michael McAdoo often talked this season about all he had learned from starting forwards Tyler Zeller and John Henson: work ethic, timing, playing hard and focused, even in practice.
Now, he’ll have a chance to pass that on.
By opting to return for his sophomore season, McAdoo -- who likely would have been an NBA lottery pick -- will be the most experienced returning player in the post. (Zeller is graduating; Henson joined small forward Harrison Barnes and point guard Kendall Marshall in declaring early for the NBA draft.)
McAdoo's parents said the chance to grow by being in a leadership role -- as well as improving his overall game by starting and playing more minutes next season -- had an impact on his decision.
“He’s going to be looked at as a leader on this team -- and that’s another way he can mature as a player,’’ his mom, Janet McAdoo, said. “And I think that’s something he looks forward to.”
Which is a good thing. There is a chance that the Tar Heels could add some experience in the lane in forward Alex Oriakhi, who plans to transfer from UConn and reportedly has UNC on his list of possible destinations.
But either way, UNC is going to have to count on a lot of big-man youth.
Rising sophomore Desmond Hubert, who averaged 4.9 minutes, showed some athletic moves on defense, but will need to balance that out with scoring to make more of an impact. Two incoming freshmen -- Brice Johnson, a 6-foot-9 athlete from South Carolina; and Joel James, a 6-10 forward from Florida who has slimmed down more than 50 pounds since the Tar Heels started recruiting him -- should get immediate shots to contribute, too, depending how they fare, and adapt, in fall practice.
Which is where McAdoo’s new leadership role could come in handy (as well as his ability to steal balls out of the backcourt, finish on fast breaks, and sky for putback dunks).
The McDonald’s All-American was somewhat of a late bloomer last season, struggling to find his confidence (and exactly where he fit) in UNC’s scheme early on. But McAdoo averaged 10.6 points in his last seven contests, including a season-high 15 points during UNC’s loss to Kansas in the Midwest Regional final. He looked comfortable, finally, in his three starts for the injured Henson.
He said everything started clicking during the ACC season when he realized he needed to play harder and focus more in practice, like the veteran players ahead of him in the rotation. Finally, he realized, that would translate to games.
That experience is something he can (and will need to) pass on, now that he's decided to come back.
“He did have a tough transition early on,’’ Janet McAdoo said. “But we saw him start to come on with that extra playing time late in the season. … He’s exciting about continuing to improve [his game], that was part of his decision. But I think he also looks forward to his new role on the team … and the guys he’ll be playing with.”
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.