Lucas: one of these days
You have heard a lot about bad practices. You’ve heard of days where coaches get heated and players get frustrated and nothing goes right and that ends up being a catalyst for a turnaround.
And then there are days like Thursday, when the Tar Heels got together for one of the NCAA-sanctioned summer practices at the Smith Center. The recap of the day is pretty simple: Carolina looked like an experienced, talented, and deep team that will be vying for conference and national honors. The heels, in other words, looked really good.
There are no banners hanging in the rafters of the Smith Center for July Achievements. And there’s a huge difference between looking good for a 90-minute session and being able to sustain it for several months against the best competition in the country. But Thursday was a great window into what the Tar Heels could be.
It started even before the 3pm start time. One hour before training Jackie Manuel was talking to Johnson Puff and Dontrez Styles as they prepared to take part in a tough pre-practice shooting session. “The first way to prepare for training,” barked Manuel, “is to prepare our mind for training. Prepare your mind for training, and your body will follow your mind.”
Johnson and Styles, two key pieces of Carolina depth, were so visibly engaged that even one observer stopped to watch them shoot mid-range jumpers. “I like your energy right now,” he said.
That pre-workout energy, which came as Seth Trimble and Tyler Nickel worked on jumpers, Jalen Washington refined some post moves, and leaky black did some ball-handling drills – remember, it’s still July – carried over to training. The Tar Heels were sharp as they worked on offensive half-court concepts. Several Tar Heels, including Johnson and Trimble, even earned Davis praise for deflecting sets and, as the head coach put it, just being a basketball player. “We never worked on what you did here,” Davis said. “You just did it because you’re a basketball player. Just play basketball. I love it.”
It’s times like this, when things are going well and everyone is feeling good, that a head coach loves any opportunity to find an area for improvement. So when Styles flew out from outside the contact charge circle and elicited “Ooooooh’s”, attempting a one-handed thunderbolt, Hubert Davis quickly intervened. Styles, unfortunately for him, had missed the slam.
“Weighted ball!” Davis immediately yelled, referring to the inside penalty for missing a layup or dunk, as offenders must perform an out and back while holding a weighted ball above their head. “Get a weighted ball for Trez! We’re not short on layups or dunks.”
But that was largely the exception of the day. There were enough highlights for everyone to get at least one. leaky black reminded everyone that he grew up as a playmaker, throwing a magnificent pass 50 feet above traffic to D’Marco Dunn for a lay-up, followed by the next possession by dropping a bounce pass to RD Davis which ultimately led to a lay-up. Trimble has always proven that it’s not afraid to step into the lane and challenge bigger defenders. Caleb Love threw a smooth rebound pass to Bacot on a fast break. Pete Nance blocked a shot one end under the basket, then ran across the floor and was fouled under the rim on the other end, covering the full 94 feet.
The practice ended with an extended scrum. In perhaps the highlight of the afternoon, the Bleue de Noir team, RD DavisNickel, Dunn and Nance – don’t read anything in the lineups, it was only for competitive balance – flashed a beautiful ball move going from corner to corner that ended in a Nickel at three points (By the way, the Brady Manek-invented, “Bang bang” entered the Tar Heel lexicon. As in, a three-pointer is thrown and a teammate immediately says “Bang bang!” in anticipation of his entry). A few possessions later, Bacot grabbed an offensive rebound, hit Johnson at the three-point line, then rested hard and scored after a clinic-worthy entry pass. It was classic basketball, not the sometimes sloppy July action you might see.
The winner of the scrum came on a Trimble three-point penetration from Bacot. Yes, you read that right. It was that kind of day at the Smith Center.
And an hour after it ended, it still wasn’t over, as several Tar Heels, including Dunn, Nickel, Justin Mc Koy and Go Shave– were still on the court shooting.
A July workout is absolutely no guarantee of future performance and might as well be followed by a clunker next week. It’s a long road to April, every team thinks they look good in July, injuries are unpredictable and all the usual caveats. But Thursday was still enough to remind you that November can’t come soon enough.
Check back tomorrow for an exclusive feature on new Tar Heel Pete Nance.