After every season, North Carolina coach Roy Williams typically sits down with his players for their exit interviews and discusses the past season.
This year, things went a little differently. Conversations have shifted.
With the threat of the coronavirus canceling all sports and just about everything else for the near future, these days Williams has been focused on the health of his players and future prospects and their families instead.
“Everybody so far, knock on wood, no one has been touched by (COVID-19) in their immediate family,” Williams said of his players. “That’s a blessing, and hopefully it stays that way.
“But that is the first question I ask, and every player responded to that. It’s so weird, you can’t see it, you don’t know what to fight.”
Williams spoke with the media via a Zoom video call on Tuesdayfor the first time since the Tar Heels lost to Syracuse in the second round of the ACC tournament on March 11. The rest of the ACC tournament was canceled the following day to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Since the governor and counties implemented stay-at-home orders across the state, Williams said he’s tried to stay away from other people and heed the advice of medical experts. He said he’s spent most of his time at his home in the mountains with his wife.
Williams talked about a variety of things on the call, from trying to stay safe, to trying to recruit on the phone, to what went wrong last season, to the uncertainty of the upcoming college basketball season.
ON WHAT WENT WRONG LAST YEAR
When asked had he had time to reflect on the 2019-20 season, Williams said he talked about it some with his staff.
The Tar Heels finished 14-19 and were not going to make the NCAA tournament even if there was one. It was the first losing season in Williams’ head-coaching career, which began in 1988.
He said it wasn’t just one thing that caused the Tar Heels to have a bad year. He said the injuries to key players were a big factor. Entering the ACC tournament, 11 scholarship players missed 98 games combined, which made practices difficult.
He added that he also did not do a good job getting his players to play to their full potential.
“It was a lot of factors and I don’t think there’s one simple answer other than the fact that we just got our tails beat,” Williams said, “and we’ve got to put it behind us and learn from those mistakes and not do the same things again.”
INJURED PLAYERS PROGRESSING
UNC-Chapel Hill has gone to online classes since students returned from spring break last month. That also means students are not on campus, so injured players are having to rehab at home.
Williams did not seem overly concerned about the recovery of his injured players. He said strength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahratian has given all the players workouts.
And head athletic trainer Doug Halverson is constantly checking in on players like Anthony Harris, who had surgery to repair a torn ACL, and Sterling Manley, who also had a knee surgery.
“The better thing is this would be more scary if this had happened immediately after Anthony’s injury,” Williams said of Harris. “But he’s done a great job with his rehab and has really gotten off to a great start with that.”
Harris tore his ACL in December and had surgery shortly after.
Williams added that he talked to Halverson on Monday, who said Manley was doing well, also.
CONCERNED ABOUT RECRUITING
One of the biggest concerns Williams expressed was with recruiting. The NCAA has extended its dead period to May, which limits coaches’ ability to see players in person.
Williams said he expects the June evaluation period to be canceled, but hopes that they will be able to watch prospects play in July.
“And if not, what you’re going to do is really more heavily on tapes, rely more on high school coaches recommendations, word of mouth from people that have seen him,” Williams said.
That’s something Williams said he isn’t comfortable with. The Nike Peach Jam and other AAU tournaments are in July. Coaches from across the country attend the AAU events and evaluate players. It is unclear whether things will be safe enough by then to have those events. UNC is recruiting a number of top prospects, but does not currently have any commitments from players in the 2021 class.
“It’s the world we’re in right now and we’ve got to go with what we have,” Williams said. “But I’m not looking forward to making those kind of decisions without being able to put my eyes on somebody personally.”
WHAT HE’S LOOKING FOR FROM RETURNERS
Williams was also asked about what he’d like to see from the starters who are expected to return next season.
While Cole Anthony is expected to enter the NBA draft, junior Garrison Brooks will return, and Armando Bacot and Leaky Black are expected to return also.
Williams said Bacot must make the biggest leap of the three. He said Bacot, who finished averaging 9.6 points per game, while shooting 47 percent, said Bacot has got to be more efficient at finishing around the basket.
“And be able to do more defensively without getting silly fouls,” he said. He pointed to a costly moving screen call in the Notre Dame game.
Williams said Black must stay healthy and improve his outside shot.
“We want him to play multiple positions, because I think that’s important to him,” Williams said.
He added that he thinks Black can be the best perimeter defender in the country if he would slide his feet better and use his athleticism.
For Brooks, Williams wants him continue to build on what he’s already done.
Brooks won the ACC’s most improved player after increasing his scoring average from 7.9 points per game to 16.8. He also averaged 8.5 rebounds and shot 53.5% from the floor.
But Williams thinks Brooks can get better with his outside shot.
“Particularly the outside shot coming down and trailing in the secondary break, whether it’s a 3-pointer or free throw line or anywhere in between,” Williams said. “And also be able to slide his feet better to guard somebody out on the court, because I think that and his shot is what he is going to need more in his future.”
©2020 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
Visit The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) at www.newsobserver.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.