Wednesday, October 20, 2010

UNC freshman Barnes impresses Williams

CHARLOTTE - It didn't take freshman forward Harrison Barnes long to impress North Carolina coach Roy Williams during preseason practice.

After North Carolina's "Late Night" season-opening public practice last week, Barnes met with the media, then headed back to the practice gym to get up more jump shots. That's not something that often happens with any player, let alone a freshman.

Williams is mentioning Barnes in the same breath as one of the program's most dedicated players, Tyler Hansbrough, whose work ethic became legendary as he led the Tar Heels to a 2009 NCAA title as a senior.

"Harrison at this age is even more focused and more driven than Tyler was," Williams said today at the ACC media tipoff.

Hansbrough's willingness to work increased as he spent more time in the program, and Williams said it remains to be seen whether Barnes continues on the same upward track. But Barnes, who was rated the No. 1 recruit in the nation by, is off to a good start.

Williams said Barnes is showing the ability to score off the dribble, from the perimeter and on offensive rebounds. And Barnes is doing it while still instinctively getting the ball to open teammates.

"He'll be able to get some shots up and do some things without dominating the basketball," Williams said.

Other news and notes from Williams' media availability:

- Williams said he has scaled back the intensity of practices because he only has 10 players on scholarship, and four of them have been dinged up with minor injuries.

Tyler Zeller (calf), John Henson (leg muscle), Larry Drew (ankle sprain suffered in April) and Reggie Bullock (bruised hip) all are OK to practice, but are bothered by aches and pains.

Because of the low numbers in the program, Williams has been using his scholarship players five at a time against eight JV players during practices.

"I can't push like I've done in the past," he said.

- The dismissal of senior Will Graves because of an unspecified violation of team rules was "a big loss," according to Williams.

Graves had trimmed down to 228 pounds, his lowest weight since seventh grade, according to Williams. He had emerged as a team leader during the offseason. And Williams had planned to use him almost exclusively at power forward to draw opposing big guys away from the basket.

"Think of what pressure that would put on the opposing four man to have to come out and guard Will as far as he could go," Williams said.

- Former Alabama forward Justin Knox, who is playing his senior season for the Tar Heels under the graduate student transfer rule, has made an immediate and positive impact in Graves' absence.

Knox's transfer bolstered the numbers in the program after the sudden transfer in the spring of Travis and David Wear, which caught Williams by surprise.

"He's a man," Williams said. "He's 22 years old. . . .That experience, it shows."

Ken Tysiac