CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- By averaging 17.7 points over his past four games, North Carolina junior Reggie Bullock is turning into a leader on the court.
By calling a players-only meeting on Monday -- the day after UNC lost at Virginia -- the sometimes-too-unselfish wing showed he is trying to become a much-needed leader off the court as well.
“[The] coaches can tell us all the things they want to tell us, but it’s up to us to go out there and do the job they want us to do,’’ Bullock said Wednesday. “I just felt like it was my time to step up; me being a junior and being a vet and knowing what Coach wants, I just felt like I should be able to call that meeting.”
Bullock said there was no anger or frustration at the get-together, which occurred after watching film of the defeat in Charlottesville with the coaches: “It was just a lot of people letting a lot of things off their chest.”
He spoke. Senior Dexter Strickland spoke. Sophomore James Michael McAdoo spoke. The gist: That after losing three straight road games, falling out of the top 25, and failing to meet expectations, they must play better. Play smarter. Carry what they’ve learned from workouts into games.
While that’s all good, more important than the details of what went on in the meeting might have been the fact that the meeting was called at all.
As much as this team has lacked consistent defense, a veteran low-post presence and poise when it gets behind, it also has been missing an emotional leader -- that certain someone it can look to, trust and follow in tough, tight situations.
Point guard Marcus Paige has the potential to be that guy, eventually, but he’s a freshman and still learning the ropes.
Strickland is a senior starter, but he spent the second half of last season on the bench, rehabilitating from an ACL tear.
McAdoo is trying, but he tends to be soft-spoken. And none of the young centers have stepped up enough to be a permanent starter, much less become the loudest voice in the crowd.
“If you’re winning, nobody’s asking about leadership,’’ coach Roy Williams said during his Monday night radio show. “If you’re losing, everybody’s asking about leadership. … Good teams have it; teams that are struggling don’t have it as well.”
Enter Bullock, the lone returning starter from last year’s NCAA Elite Eight team. As part of a recruiting class that including Kendall Marshall and Harrison Barnes (both first-round draft picks last summer), he said it was easy to stay in the background the past two years.
There, he was part of player-called team meetings that helped clear the air and lead to turnarounds; so, he said, he knew he was the right person to call this one. And that this was the right time.
“Overall, it’s a brotherhood, everybody likes each other,’’ Bullock said Wednesday. “But as a team, we just have to take those things we do in practice onto the court. I don’t think there’s no selfishness between nobody, I think we just have to tune in and buy in more when it comes to taking things from practice into games.”
Whether Monday's players-only meeting works remains to be seen, beginning Thursday night when the Tar Heels play Miami at the Smith Center. And how Bullock continues to develop as a leader, both on and off the court, will be important to his team's progression, as well.
Although Williams said Monday that Bullock “has been our best leader by far,” the coach also pointed out that it’s not usually the junior’s personality to grab people and tell them to get their act in gear.
The Tar Heels had that in 2005-06, when they lost their top seven players to the NBA but returned senior David Noel, who Williams calls “the best leader I’ve ever coached” because of how his teammates looked up to him in the locker room.
They had it for the following three years, too, when one of Williams’ other favorite leaders, Tyler Hansbrough, was a constant example on the court.
“He didn’t say ‘boo’ in the locker room, he just played his buns off,” Williams said. “And if you didn’t do what you were supposed to do, he screamed at you or gave you a look or beat you up. Leadership comes from different players in different ways.”
Getting it consistently, though, is key.
Which is why Bullock's continued advancement as a go-to scorer on the court is important. As well as his voice in the locker room.
“[Reggie] is developing into one of our leaders that everyone keeps asking me about, he’s getting more involved in that,’’ Williams said. “Generally, the best leadership comes from respect.”