Three Things: Tar Heel freshmen

By Adam Lucas | 0 Comment(s) | Posted

Earlier this summer, we caught up with Carolina's incoming basketball freshmen. In case you missed them, those features are here:

Joel James

Brice Johnson

Marcus Paige

J.P. Tokoto

But there were a few tidbits that didn't quite fit in those stories...

1. “This is going to sound bad,” J.P. Tokoto says almost sheepishly. The subject is which players he likes to watch play, and who might remind him of himself. “My freshman year, I was on a visit at Duke.”

You’re right, J.P., this story isn’t starting off promisingly. Fortunately, it gets better.

“I was sitting in Coach K’s office with my dad, and we were talking about my game and what he liked about it. One of the comparison’s he drew was Scottie Pippen. I’ve grown into liking that comparison.”

It’s OK, J.P. You’re not the first Tar Heel to correspond with Krzyzewski. In fact, some of them have even gone on to great things.

2. Summer basketball is very rarely about defense. But Marcus Paige knows he needs to make some improvements in that area, and has tried to work on guarding the other team’s best ballhandler over the summer. “I’m pretty solid on defense,” Paige says. “But being able to apply pressure to the ball higher up the court is something I can work on. The good thing about the summer is that I can work on it and there aren’t any penalties. In a real game, if you make a mistake defensively, it’s big trouble. But in the summer, if I make a mistake defensively, it’s something I can learn from.”

Several of Paige’s classmates also indicated a defensive mindset. Tokoto’s coach, Dan Leffel, said Tokoto’s frame made him a defensive nightmare. “His defense improved, and as a senior we usually put him on the best player from the other team,” Leffel says. “We also used him on the wing of our 1-3-1 press, and he was always in the passing lanes. Some of his best highlight dunks came from stealing that pass from guard to guard.”

Carolina’s new big men also realize they’ll have to play defense to earn playing time. Brice Johnson mentioned he’s heard comparisons to John Henson defensively because of his knack for blocking shots, and Joel James—who already has the size to be a formidable obstacle in the paint—says his significant weight loss has made him a better defender. “I’m playing with more confidence,” he says. “I play with a lot more aggressiveness and energy, and I’m starting to understand more about how to play the game.”

3. You want to feel old? Try talking about Carolina basketball with a group of incoming freshmen. Paige’s favorite Tar Heel is Vince Carter…but not because of his high-flying dunks at the Smith Center, like the epic two-handed slam over Tim Duncan. Nope, Paige first noticed Carter as a Toronto Raptor. Tokoto also mentions Carter, and acknowledges he’s heard his dunking ability compared to that of Carter. Johnson said his favorite Tar Heel team as a kid was the 2005 squad, which feels like it just happened yesterday.

The kicker? None of the members of the incoming freshman class were born yet when Carolina beat Michigan in the 1993 championship game.

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