Everywhere he went this summer, Vince Carter heard the questions
about not playing more, about not scoring more. There was no way
to ignore the fact that the shooting guard's playing time during
his first year at North Carolina was less than many--Carter, in
particular--thought it would be.
"Very tough, very frustrating," says Carter of last season. "I'm
really looking forward to this year so that all those questions
can be gone and I can just play basketball."
Although the 6'5" Carter averaged 7.5 points and 3.8 rebounds a
game, expectations of him were much higher. As a consensus
All-America from Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland High, Carter made
a big splash when he elected to sign with Carolina over Duke in
the spring of 1995. He had displayed tremendous athleticism and
potent shooting range as a schoolboy, and like every other
talented shooting guard who elects to go to Chapel Hill, he was
immediately pegged as the next you-know-who.
But Carter was much more a victim of numbers than of hype. While
the Tar Heels' frontcourt ranks were thin at the start of last
season--which allowed another freshman, forward Antawn Jamison,
to start from the outset--North Carolina had a set backcourt
with junior Jeff McInnis and senior Dante Calabria. Carter ended
up playing less than a half in most games and was rarely the
primary option on offense. Now that Calabria has graduated and
McInnis has jumped to the NBA (he was drafted by the Denver
Nuggets), the frontcourt is loaded and the backcourt may be a
problem. The Tar Heels are hoping that Carter is the solution.
November 15, 1996
"Last year it was all new for him," senior center Serge Zwikker
says of Carter. "He's looked great all summer and in the pickup
games this fall. I think he's ready to become the athlete
everybody thinks he can be."
If Carter emerges, and if the team can find a solution at the
point, North Carolina has the potential to challenge for both
the ACC and NCAA championships. Zwikker, a 7'2", 265-pound
center from the Netherlands, heads up one of the best front
lines in the nation. Jamison, who averaged 15.1 points and 9.7
rebounds per game last year, will start at small forward. The
Charlotte native became just the fifth freshman in conference
history to be selected to the All-ACC first team. The other
frontcourt spot will rotate among three foreigners, 6'9" junior
transfer Makhtar Ndiaye (Senegal), 6'8" sophomore Ademola
Okulaja (Germany) and 6'9" freshman Vasco Evtimov (Bulgaria).
Ndiaye originally signed a letter of intent to play at Wake
Forest. But in May 1993, when the NCAA determined that the Demon
Deacons had improperly used an interpreter in the recruitment of
Ndiaye, he transferred to Michigan without ever having attended
a class in Winston-Salem. After being lost in a shuffle of
bodies in Ann Arbor, where he averaged 18 minutes per game in
two seasons, he moved to Chapel Hill in August 1995, becoming
the first transfer from a Division I school that coach Dean
Smith has accepted in 35 years on the job. Okulaja, who finished
third on the team in rebounding (5.2 a game), showed some
defensive mettle during his freshman season. The 240-pound
Evtimov, who grew up in Sofia, was a record-setting rebounder
for Lutheran Prep in Brookeville, N.Y.
The Tar Heels will probably start out with 6'2" junior Shammond
Williams running the show, but Ed Cota, a dazzling 6'1" freshman
from Brooklyn, may wrestle the spot away. Williams is a point
guard by nature, but over the last two seasons he has primarily
been used as a long-range shooting specialist; last year he made
good on 39.7% of his three-point attempts. If Cota wins the
job--and a freshman is never guaranteed a starting spot in the
Dean Smith system--Williams will score points from the wing,
which would give the team a nice lift off the bench. "[Cota] is
very smart--he makes good decisions," Carter says. "It's just
going to be a constant battle in practice between the two of
North Carolina is intent on turning up the defensive pressure
this year. And with their prowess on the boards (the team led
the conference last season with a 6.3 rebounding margin over its
opponents), the Tar Heels should get a lot of easy baskets.
Carter is a superlative finisher, and all the big men save
Zwikker can run. "Having those guys finishing the break for you
is a dream," says Williams. Whoever the point man is, he'll
undoubtedly push the ball up the floor more than McInnis did.
Although the loss of McInnis, who led the team in points,
assists and steals last season, leaves a big hole in the
program, some describe his departure as addition by subtraction.
Though undeniably talented, McInnis was at times too eager to
create his own shot in situations in which the team would have
been better served if he had exercised his passing skills.
What's more, his somewhat unpredictable temperament did not fit
the bill for a team leader. McInnis not only drew three
technical fouls in the last two regular-season games, but he
also openly sulked on the bench when Smith, as is his custom,
took him out of the lineup immediately after the guard received
a technical in the second half of a Feb. 27 game at Wake Forest.
In the aftermath of last spring's 92-73 loss to Texas Tech in
the second round of the NCAA tournament--marking just the second
time in the last 16 years that North Carolina failed to advance
to the Sweet 16--it's no surprise that the Tar Heels are
emphasizing a sunny-side-up cohesiveness. "I felt that we
weren't focused as a team [last year]," Carter says. "Guys
wanted to go out there and do their own thing, which hurt us. I
think we could have done much better than we did." If the sundry
parts of the team jell, and if Carter is the athlete everybody
thinks he is, bank on North Carolina's doing just that.
THE DATA BOX
Coach: Dean Smith
Career record: 851-247 (35 seasons)
Record at UNC: 851-247 (35 seasons)
1995-96 record: 21-11 (final ranking: 25th)
ACC record: 10-6 (third)
PG Shammond Williams, 6'2", Jr.
Started only one season in high school
SG Vince Carter, 6'5", Soph.
Former top-five recruit looking to restore rep
SF *Antawn Jamison, 6'8", Soph.
Sixth-best freshman rebounder in ACC history
PF Makhtar Ndiaye, 6'9", Jr.
UNC is his third school in four years
C *Serge Zwikker, 7'2", Sr.
At 265 pounds is largest player in league
Nov. 22 vs. Arizona
Opener in Springfield against Pac-10 contender
Dec. 10 vs. UMass
Minutemen return to Meadowlands with less on the line
Jan. 4 at Wake Forest
ACC opener featuring two top teams in the league
Jan. 26 vs. Clemson
Coaches Smith and Rick Barnes renew prickly rivalry
March 2 vs. Duke
Still the best matchup in college basketball
PLAYER TO WATCH
Whether he was playing pickup with his first cousin, Minnesota
Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett, or varsity games with
national powerhouse Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy, Shammond
Williams was usually called upon to play the point. But in two
seasons at Chapel Hill, the 6'2", 180-pound junior primarily saw
action at the 2-spot. "Actually, last year was the only time I'd
ever been asked to score," Williams says. In 1995-96 he scored
in double figures 15 times, including a career-high 26 points
against Duke in the regular-season finale. Now, as the team's
most experienced man in the backcourt, he returns to the point.
"We might not have the big names that other backcourts have,"
says Williams. "I look at this as an opportunity to step up. I
feel that by the end of the season our backcourt will be
something to contend with."