ACC blog: UNC's Williams goes 'whacko' just once - WHLT 22 Connecting the Pine Belt

ACC blog: UNC's Williams goes 'whacko' just once

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -

The ACC basketball coaches and players are meeting with the media on Wednesday in Charlotte. WNCN's Dane Huffman and Jeff Reeves will be covering the event and you can follow on Twitter at #ACC.

NOT WHACKO OFTEN: North Carolina was picked third in the ACC in basketball Wednesday, behind top pick Duke and Syracuse, but Tar Heels coach Roy Williams appeared quite happy with the development of his team as the season approaches.

"I've loved coaching my team. I've only gone whacko once in 12 practices," Williams said. "That's pretty much a record for me."

"Whacko" means screaming, yelling – you get the idea. And "going whacko" can depend on what he expects from the team, and how much pushing they can handle.

So far, Williams likes what he sees. Sophomore Marcus Paige is making smart decisions on when to shoot and the Tar Heels have new depth inside with a strong recruiting class. Freshman Kennedy Meeks, a burly recruit from Charlotte, has been particularly impressive with his ability to snare a rebound and get the ball upcourt.

"He's the best rebounder/outlet passer I've ever had. Kennedy does that better than anybody," Williams said.

The big question for UNC remains the future of guard P.J. Hairston after multiple off-season incidents, and there was no new development on when he will return.

Williams praised Hairston for being "more mature," but he also said he was stunned by some of the reaction to Hairston's off-the-court problems.

"I was surprised by the intensity, the level of discussion, over everything that's happened with P.J.," Williams said.

Earlier this month, longtime UNC tutor Jack Halperin resigned, and he called the decision not to dismiss Hairston "disgraceful" in a letter to The Daily Tar Heel. Hairston's future also has been hotly debated by fans on message boards and in social media.

In another matter, Williams isn't saying colleges should pay athletes, at least not yet, but he did say the scholarships for elite athletes should be "enhanced."

"Paying players? I'm sort of on the fence. I do believe that college basketball players who make so much money for our university should get the best scholarship on campus," he said.

He noted that the University of Tennessee sold thousands of Peyton Manning jerseys when Manning was a student there.

"Men's basketball at North Carolina makes a lot of money, and that pays for 28 sports," Williams said.

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DUKE IS THE PICK: The new-look ACC is expected to have a familiar face on top as the ACC media voted Wednesday that Duke will win the league in men's basketball.

Duke received 50 of 54 first-place votes and 805 points overall. New member Syracuse is picked second with three first-place votes and 753 points.

North Carolina is picked for third with one first-place vote and 668 points.

N.C. State, the preseason favorite last year, was picked for 10th with 332 votes.

Senior forward C.J. Fair of Syracuse is the ACC preseason Player of the Year and freshman Jabari Parker of Duke if the preseason Rookie of the Year.

The first team All-ACC is Fair, Joe Harris of Virginia, Rodney Hood of Duke, Jerian Grant of Notre Dame and Parker.

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THINKING OF HATCHELL: North Carolina coach Roy Williams wore an orange ribbon to Wednesday's media day as a show of support for UNC women's basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. The school revealed this week that Hatchell has leukemia.

"She's a fighter," Williams said. "It really rocks your world [to hear that news]."

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NEW FACES AT ACC: This ACC basketball media day has a bit of a surreal feel to it, with Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame coaches and players here and the event being held, for the first time, at the swank Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte.

For example, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim drew the biggest crowd of the day when he arrived in the media room at 3:45 p.m. There were at least 15 reporters around Boeheim, but only one with Pitt coach Jamie Dixon. For long-time ACC followers, it feels bizarre to see Boeheim here.

But don't count Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski among those who wishes the ACC had stayed the same. Krzyzewski isn't feeling at all like the league will lose touch with its traditions and culture with the new look.

Krzyzewski pointed out that basketball reasons weren't necessarily what drove expansion. But now that the three new teams are in, and Louisville is on the way, Krzyzewski is thrilled with what he sees from a basketball perspective.

"I think we fell into something that's going to be remarkable," he said.

Krzyzewski said he has been close friends with Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim for years, and Krzyzewski's former assistant Mike Brey is the head coach at Notre Dame.

The rivalries between the teams, he said, will be instant.

"It won't take any time to develop a Duke-Syracuse or Notre Dame [rivalry]," Krzyzewski said.

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SYRACUSE FANS THRILLED WITH ACC: Ticket sales for Syracuse basketball – which have always been strong in the Carrier Dome – have shot up for this season with the Orangemen entering the ACC.

Syracuse had been averaging a whopping 15,000 or so season tickets each year, but that rose to 20,000 this year with Duke and North Carolina scheduled to visit the Orange. Expect more than 30,000 to be on hand in the Carrier Dome when those two programs arrive.

"I think the fans are excited about it," Orange coach Jim Boeheim said Wednesday. "They're not unhappy about the league at all."

But, Boeheim said, "They'd rather go to New York City for the tournament."

New York City was the longtime host of the memorable Big East Tournament, and Boeheim irked many along Tobacco Road when he made fun of the ACC playing in Greensboro.

Boeheim told the Birmingham, Ala., News. "Where would you want to go to to a tournament for five days? Let's see: Greensboro, North Carolina, or New York City? Jeez. Let me think about that one and get back to you."

On Wednesday, a good-natured Boeheim shrugged and said that any snarky comments about ACC venues were just jokes. Asked if he'd found a good restaurant in Charlotte, he said, "I've found one in Clemson. If I can find one there I can find one anywhere."

The ACC Tournament – with Syracuse in it – is set for Greensboro in 2014 and 2015. After that, there's a chance the league will be in New York City at least some (see below).

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NOT ALL BLACK: In case you were wondering, the famously dark-haired Mike Krzyzewki is finally showing some gray hair. He actually has some on his temples, and a bit in other places.

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STRENGTH? UM ... N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried had a funny comment Wednesday when asked the strength of his young team.

"Whew. I don't know if we have any yet," Gottfried quipped.

But, he said, "I think we're going to be a fun team to watch."

Gottfried is high on the scoring potential of T.J. Warren, who is at least 20 pounds lighter, and point guard Tyler Lewis, who is emerging as a team leader.

"He accepted that role. He's become a good voice for our team. With Tyler, our guys respect his approach because they respect him," Gottfried said. "He's a great worker. He's not for himself, he's for the team. Our players respond to somebody like that, who has a pure agenda."

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ACC STILL LOVES NEW YORK: The ACC is still looking at moving the ACC Tournament to New York, but there is no timetable yet for when that might happen. 

The 2014 and 2015 tournaments are scheduled for Greensboro. The ACC is looking to decide where the tournament would go in years after that, and the league is clearly interested in a date in New York now that Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame are in the league.

"There's certainly some logic to the tournament being in the New York market at some point in time," Swofford said.

"Some of that is dependent on venue availability."

Swofford the ACC has already received bids for future tournaments. When WNCN asked directly if a New York venue had bid, Swofford hesitated and said, "Ah, we've had conversations with New York."

But where the tournament would go is hard to define, which is why the league is being noncommittal.  But a senior ACC official confirmed that the league will only go to New York if it can go to Madison Square Garden or the Barclay Center in Brooklyn.

But that depends on dates and availability.

The ACC, in the past, has announced tournament dates for many years in advance. Swofford said that possibly could still happen, but that there was a chance the league would announce only a few years.

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HEELS BULK UP, SPEED UP: North Carolina was third in the ACC in scoring last season, at 76.7 points per game. But ask the Tar Heels, and they are talking about playing at a higher pace this season.

"I definitely think we'll play faster than last year – much faster," UNC point guard Marcus Paige said.

Forward Brice Johnson echoed that sentiment. Johnson said that Carolina sometimes walked the ball up the court last season. He doesn't expect that to be the case often this season.

Part of that, he said, is that freshman Kennedy Meeks, a 6-foot-9 forward from Charlotte, is marvelous at the outlet pass. That may seem like a small thing, but it makes a major difference when a player is snagging a rebound and whipping the ball upcourt.

Johnson said Meeks' ability to get the ball up the floor has stood out in practice.

Also standing out: Carolina's depth inside. The Tar Heels have gone from a wing-oriented team to one that features 6-9 James Michael McAdoo, 6-9 Johnson, 6-9 Meeks,  6-10 sophomore Joel James and 6-8 freshman Isaiah Hicks of Oxford.

"There are a lot more players, a lot more big guys," Johnson said.

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PACK SEEKS TO IMPROVE LEADERSHIP: N.C. State finished just 24-11 last season in ACC basketball, when many thought the Wolfpack had as much talent as any team in the league. 

One key problem, Wolfpack point guard Tyler Lewis pointed to Wednesday, was leadership.

Lewis, in a candid conversation at the ACC's Operation Basketball in Charlotte, said State just didn't have players who were willing to challenge others when teammates fell short.

"Last year I didn't feel like we had a leader that stepped up and got in people's faces," said Lewis, a sophomore point guard.

That's surprising, in that State had such an experienced team. Lorenzo Brown, Richard Howell, Scott Wood and C.J. Leslie were all talented players who had been through the ACC wars and knew what it took to win.

Lewis had high praise for Brown, the tough-nosed point guard who helped him adjust to college basketball. But he said Brown, and others, weren't the type to challenge others.

"We were too worried about friendships than worrying about the team," Lewis said.

This year, Lewis said, he is making a conscious effort to push others in practice. And that may be necessary with a Wolfpack team that is short on experience and will depend on a strong freshman class.

"I get on people every day," Lewis said.

In fact, Lewis said that was the point Coach Mark Gottfried made to him in their first off-season meeting. Lewis said Gottfried said he needed to be the vocal leader on the team.

And so far, Lewis said, he's perfectly comfortable with that. He said at the start of the season that he and other key players told the team they'd be pushing them, but to not take it personally off the court.

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DUKE DEFENDS PHOTO: The Duke Blue Devils are used to playing defense, and have been doing just that after a surprising photo showed the team holding assault rifles on a recent trip to West Point.

That photo zoomed around the Internet and made popular sports blogs like Deadspin. Some questioned why Duke seemed to be promoting assault rifles.

But Duke's Tyler Thornton said Wednesday that Duke was involved in an exercise at West Point that stressed communication.

"A lot of people didn't know we were at West Point," Thornton said. "The purpose of the activity was to stress communication."

For example, Thornton said that in warfare, you have strategies in place but things go awry, and those in combat must communicate.

While sports certainly isn't warfare, the exercise was designed to help the basketball players understand how important communication was in competition.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is a West Point graduate who coached Army before coming to Duke.

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TO FOOTBALL WE SAY ... GOOD RIDDANCE: So who's ready for ACC basketball? In the Triangle, who isn't?

The three ACC teams in the Triangle are a dismal 0-7 in ACC play, and if you throw in Wake Forest, the ACC teams in North Carolina are 1-9 in league games. Of course, the only win in that group was Wake's victory over N.C. State.

When the big story in the market is that Duke is 4-2, but that includes wins over N.C. Central, Memphis, Troy and Navy, you know there isn't much to crow about.

But basketball, well, that's a different story. Even in the new, crazy-quilt ACC, two of the teams to beat remain Duke and North Carolina. And how the teams stack up will be the focus on Wednesday when the ACC clubs meet at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown - oops, uptown! - Charlotte.

One team to watch - Virginia. More on that as the day unfolds. But if you don't love the way Joe Harris plays, then you're following the wrong sport.

On a different note - the Ritz-Carlton website says the hotel has honey bees on the roof and they use the honey to make Honey Pecan Ice Cream at the hotel. Not sure it beats the Peabody ducks, but you have to appreciate the effort. WNCN's crack sports team definitely will keep an eye open for that. If we stop blogging, you'll know why.

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NBA ALREADY LIKES PARKER: Not that anyone's looking ahead just yet, but the NBA Draft Express has Duke freshman Jabari Parker as the No. 7 pick in the 2014 draft.

James McAdoo of UNC is No. 15, T.J. Warren of N.C. State is No. 21 and P.J. Hairston of UNC is No. 22.

Rasheed Sulaimon of Duke, who is going to have to battle for starting job, is ranked No. 27.

Jerami Grant of Syracuse is No. 29.

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MORMON CONNECTION: Speaking of Duke freshman Jabari Parker, Parker is actually Mormon. But he's not the first Mormon to play for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. Can you name the other two? (answer below)

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ACC TOURNAMENT: The ACC Tournament will have a completely new feel when it comes to Greensboro in March. In fact, the tournament is expanding to five days, with three games now scheduled for Wednesday.

That raises the question of how the ACC will sell tickets - for example, would Duke fans, with a possible No. 1 seed, really want to pay to see three games Wednesday with the six lowest seeds?

ACC commissioner John Swofford said Wednesday that the ACC is evaluating what to do.

"With the 15 teams we have, it there will still be some good basketball on Wednesday," Swofford said. "But we've got to make some decisions on how we ticket that."

Here's the way it will work:

Wednesday, March 12: No. 12 vs. No. 13, No. 10 vs. No. 15, No. 11 vs. No. 14.

Thursday, March 13: No. 8 vs. No. 9, No. 5 vs. 12/13 winner; No. 7 vs. 10/15 winner, No. 6 vs. No. 11/14.

Friday: No. 1 vs. 8/9 winner, No. 4 vs. 5/12/13 survivor, No. 2 vs. 7/10/15 survivor, No. 3 vs. 6/11/14 survivor.

Saturday: Semifinals

Sunday: Finals

Look at it this way – if you finish 10th or below, you have to win five straight games to win the ACC title.

Of course, it's unlikely the No. 10 seed would ever win it anyway. N.C. State made a miraculous run to the 1987 title as the No. 6 seed, the lowest seed to ever win the tournament.

Here's a link to the entire bracket: http://tiny.cc/0p4y4w

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DUKE'S MORMON CONNECTION: Forward Chris Burgess, who played for Duke for two years in the 1990s before transferring to Utah, was Mormon as well. So was Matt Christensen, as two alert readers pointed out to WNCN.com.

Last year, Burgess told The Deseret News that Coach Mike Krzyzewski told him, "I know BYU also wants you. I'm Catholic, but I never felt I had to go to Notre Dame. You shouldn't expect everyone to go to their religion's team. I don't feel like I need to coach at Notre Dame."

 

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