Quick Fix Three frisky freshmen have helped rejuvenate North Carolina

December 09, 2002

Every fall at North Carolina one freshman is chosen to carry the
Green Bag for the entire season. The privilege of schlepping the
duffel, which contains the trainer's equipment, is usually
extended to the player who is, shall we say, least overcome by
shyness. So it was that Rashad McCants walked out of the Tar
Heels' locker room at Madison Square Garden late last Friday
night, barely an hour after being named the Most Valuable Player
of the Preseason NIT, with the Green Bag slung over his right
shoulder. As McCants passed coach Matt Doherty in the hallway, he
shook his head and said, "I can't believe you picked me to carry
this."

"I didn't pick you, your teammates did," Doherty said.

"It was you," McCants replied.

"No, no. I said to everyone, 'Let's take a vote. Everyone who
thinks McCants should carry the bag, raise your hand.'"

Such lighthearted moments were in short supply last season, when
North Carolina went 8-20, the Tar Heels' first losing record in
40 years. But with their 5-0 start, including last week's
shocking routs of then No. 2 Kansas and Stanford en route to
winning the NIT title, the Heels served notice that they have the
strong shoulders--and young legs--required to lift their program
back to prominence. North Carolina's top six players are freshmen
or sophomores, so the Tar Heels are sure to stumble at times this
season, but rarely in recent memory has a team gone from being so
bad to so good so quickly. The players profess not to be
surprised by their success. "Just because we're young doesn't
mean anything," said freshman point guard Raymond Felton after
making four of six three-pointers in the 74-57 win over
Stanford. "The only thing that matters is how badly you want to
win."

What mattered in New York City was how quick the Tar Heels were
with their hands and feet. Last season North Carolina forced an
average of 12.8 turnovers per game, but at the Garden the Tar
Heels caused both the Jayhawks and the Cardinal to commit 21
turnovers, which they converted into a total of 51 points.

North Carolina derives much of its unselfishness from Felton and
a great deal of its court presence from 6'8" freshman center Sean
May, who Doherty says also has the best hands he has seen since
James Worthy's. The Tar Heels' cockiness, however, comes largely
from the 6'4" McCants, an explosive scorer who in the five wins
averaged 21.2 points on 66.7% shooting. McCants, a native of
Asheville, N.C., was known as quite a woofer while he played on
the summertime AAU circuit. Though Doherty has put the kibosh on
those antics--"He hasn't pounded his chest once after a dunk,
knock on wood," Doherty says--McCants's swagger has injected life
into a program that last season had scarce opportunity for
chest-thumping. "I've been taught by my mother and father to hold
my head high and keep strutting," McCants says. "That's what I
plan on doing."

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN The once mouthy McCants, who scored 25 points, was too hot for Kansas to handle.

three Points

1. Indiana is better than advertised. Coach Mike Davis's claim
that the current Hoosiers are superior to last year's NCAA
tournament runner-up may be an overstatement. But with freshman
guards Bracey Wright and Marshall Strickland helping to set a
quicker tempo, Indiana looked sharp in beating Gonzaga and
Virginia to win the Maui Invitational.

2. Beware the ACC. Besides North Carolina's surprising gallop to
the NIT championship, Virginia knocked off Kentucky in Maui, and
Georgia Tech upset Georgia. Presumed to be headed for its worst
collective season in more than two decades, the ACC might have
enough firepower to get six NCAA bids.

3. It's going to be a loooong year in Ann Arbor. Michigan dropped
to 0-4 with its 56-52 loss to Western Michigan last Saturday,
three days after coach Tommy Amaker dismissed backup point guard
Avery Queen for violating team rules. Think the NCAA will let the
Wolverines wipe this season from the record books?

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)