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With NBA defections, UNC ready to go guard-heavy

June 16, 2012

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina is going from attacking inside with several scoring options to focusing its attention on the perimeter.

The Tar Heels lost senior 7-footer Tyler Zeller and a pair of early NBA draft entrees in Harrison Barnes and John Henson off their front line. That leaves sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo as the veteran up front for a team that returns four experienced guards, though two are returning from serious knee injuries.

"If they make shots, I'm going to be excited about it," Williams said Thursday afternoon at his annual offseason news conference. "You've got to have some kind of inside threat."

The Tar Heels should have some of that with McAdoo, a 6-foot-9 forward who played so well late in the year after Henson's wrist injury that he even flirted with entering the NBA draft. Now it's his turn in the forefront.

"I feel like I'm ready for it," McAdoo said. "I feel like being a leader is something I'm good at, something I did all through high school, something I'm excited about. ... I feel like I'm more than ready and capable of doing that."

But there's no other proven options to put alongside him. Desmond Hubert offers some size but played about five minutes per game as a freshman. The Tar Heels are bringing in a recruiting class that includes center Joel James (6-10, 270 pounds) and forward Brice Johnson, who at 6-9 and 190 pounds has a lean frame similar to Henson when he first arrived here in 2009.

With that inexperience inside, it could mean plenty of shots for guys like Reggie Bullock, Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston on the wings.

"I think it will be a little bit of a change," said Bullock, who thrived as a starter after Dexter Strickland went down with a knee injury in January. "It's going to be more of a guard-oriented team. We're going to be quicker on the ball, guarding, defensive-wise. We just need for players to be able to knock down shots for us this year."

McDonald's return should help in that area. Williams said the junior — one of the team's best outside shooters in 2010-11 — has fully recovered from a right knee injury that sidelined him all of last season.

Williams said Strickland has been cleared for light work such as jumping, shooting and some running. He said he hopes the team's top perimeter defender is fully cleared for workouts by August.

With point guard Kendall Marshall also leaving for the NBA draft, the team would also likely offer significant minutes to rookie point guard Marcus Paige. The Iowa native is recovering from a foot injury in the spring that required surgery.

Williams said Paige's recovery has gone well.

"There's no question we're going to ask him to do a lot," Williams said.

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