Quentin Thomas had to guard Raymond Felton in practice last season.
Nov. 1, 2005
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The following story originally ran in the November issue of the magazine.
By Adam Lucas
For two seasons, Roy Williams's defensive gameplanning had at least one simple routine: identify the opponent's best scoring guard. Point him out to Jackie Manuel. Watch the opposing guard suffer through 40 minutes of harassment.
Manuel, perhaps Carolina's most recognizable defensive ace since Derrick Phelps, is gone. And that's only one of the defensive challenges facing the 2005-06 Tar Heels.
Also gone are two other players who were underrated defenders--Sean May, who had a knack for dominating Duke's Shelden Williams, and Raymond Felton, who evolved into a very capable defensive point guard.
There are no obvious candidates to replace the lost trio. Williams has called Marcus Ginyard "as good a high school defender as anyone I've ever seen," but the head coach's expectations on the defensive end are notoriously high. Don't believe it? Check out his post-Bahamas assessment of freshman Michael Copeland.
"Defensively, he couldn't guard his lunch," Williams says. "But there is hope there. He is a wonderful kid. When you talk to him he has a marvelous attitude and looks right down into your soul when he's talking to you. He wants to do exactly what you ask him to do. If he doesn't help us with rebounding, I will be surprised. Defensively, he's got some improvement to do."
Copeland shouldn't feel singled out--those same words could apply to almost anyone on the roster. Williams gets an inordinate amount of attention for his uptempo, crowd-pleasing offensive style, but attend a Carolina practice and you'll see many more drills devoted to defense than to offense.
"I spend so much more time on the defensive end of the floor," he says. "Everybody wants to talk about how pretty it is when we get out and run but we spend more time on defense. We have five freshmen that are going to be really important, and I'll have to spend more time helping them come along."
He'll also have to insert some more experienced players into different defensive roles. Several players may spend time guarding the opposing point guard (for more on the point guard's defensive role, check the site next week), including Quentin Thomas, Bobby Frasor and Wes Miller. Thomas and Miller may have already faced their toughest opponent--they had to guard the lightning-quick Felton in practice.
Noel was extremely successful last season serving as half of a thunder-and-lightning defensive combo with Manuel, as his size made him a difficult matchup for opposing shooting guards, but the shuffling of the roster means he'll likely face taller, burlier opponents this year.
"I know I'll be in the post more this year," Noel says. "In the post, honestly it's a little bit easier to guard people because they don't move around as much. I'll be smaller but I'll be quicker than a lot of guys I guard. I'll be able to get in front of them and make their moves a little more difficult than normal."
Exactly how much time he spends in the post defensively could depend on the progress of fellow senior Byron Sanders. The Gulfport native is not a shot-blocker and not overly athletic, but he does seem to have an understanding of defensive concepts. He played very well against Virginia's Travis Watson and Connecticut's Emeka Okafor as a freshman.
And as for those solid May performances against Williams, well, don't ask Sanders if he learned anything from them.
"Hey, I think Sean might have learned some things from me in practice," Sanders says. "Basic post defense isn't that hard. You don't have to jump to block a shot. You do have to stand your ground, and that's also how you get rebounds. And you always have to have your hands up."
It does sound rather simple when he puts it that way, but it's not quite that easy. Carolina still needs someone to pick up all the defensive rebounds that May grabbed last year, because an effective way to create easy offense is to control the offensive glass. Carolina was outrebounded only twice over the second half of last season, once in the ACC Tournament loss to Georgia Tech and once in the championship game against three-point-happy Illinois. Boxing out is a skill, but it's also partially desire and savvy.
The all-out intensity of Tyler Hansbrough, who hunts basketballs with a feverish intensity not often seen in today's game, would appear to indicate solid rebounding skills. He's likely to experience some growing pains trying to defend more athletic players, but he won't be pushed around in the paint.
Even if the Tar Heels find a rebounder, however, there's still no heir apparent to Manuel as the designated lockdown artist.
Consider what Manuel used to his advantage as a defender: a long, wiry frame, a spidery reach, a quick first step that enabled him to close perceived open space much more quickly than the average defender, and an innate understanding of team defensive concepts.
Now consider some of Reyshawn Terry's best physical attributes: a long, wiry frame, a spidery reach, and a quick first step. Terry has the physical characteristics to be a quality defender, but that last element possessed by Manuel--the ability to play quality team defense--has so far been elusive.
"I have to hold up my end of the bargain on defense," Terry says. "I learned a lot from watching Jackie (Manuel). He didn't let his size dictate his ability. Just because he wasn't as big, he didn't let that impact the way he played defense.
"I want to elevate my game to a whole new level. Before the summer Coach told me I needed to have the mentality that nobody was going to work harder than me. That's what I've been working on all summer."
And it's what he'll likely work on in preseason practice. Roy Williams taught an advanced course in practice last season. This year, he'll return to the basics--including defense.
"I've never been faced with this kind of challenge," the head coach says. "We'll probably have to be more patient and spend more time on the foundation of what we believe in...We have to do it every day and we may be way behind where I would like to be at a certain point in the season because we have to go slower. We may have to be a good bit more simple."
Adam Lucas is the publisher of Tar Heel Monthly and can be reached at email@example.com. He is the coauthor of the official book of the 2005 championship season, Led By Their Dreams, and his book on Roy Williams's first season at Carolina, Going Home Again, is now available in paperback with a bonus chapter covering the 2005 championship team. To subscribe to Tar Heel Monthly or learn more about his Carolina basketball books, click here.