North Carolina’s 124-63 exhibition basketball rout of UNC Pembroke last Friday might have been a lot of fun for the Smith Center crowd and players that don’t normally get much court time. But for coach Roy Williams, it was anything but a laughing matter. The Hall of Fame coach was in a sour mood because of one troubling line on the postgame stat sheet — offensive rebounds. UNCP had 30 of them, more than half the number Williams’ Tar Heels pulled on both ends of the floor combined. Williams knew coming into the season that rebounding could be a problem in the absence of graduated All-American Brice Johnson. UNCP’s dominance of the offensive boards on Friday was a warning sign that the situation could potentially be worse than originally feared. “It does concern me that we had some guys that I’m counting on being big-time rebounders that didn’t box out,” Williams said. Williams was specifically referring to starting big men Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, who managed only 10 rebounds between them in the exhibition game. Needless to say, that aspect of the game was a major point of emphasis both in the postgame locker room and at practice in the week leading up to tonight’s regular season opener at Tulane. UNC will return to Chapel Hill for its first home game on Sunday against Chattanooga. “I told them about a kid that we had that came and visited when I was at Kansas,” Williams said. “He said he didn’t realize there were 11 commandments because he said after watching our practice that the 11th commandment was ‘Thou shalt box out.’ We did not believe the 11th commandment” last Friday. The disappointing performance on the glass may have had as much to do with a lack of interest in a lopsided game than a lack of preparation. Though both are troubling possibilities if left unaddressed. The saving grace to the Friday’s situation is that UNCP was only able to convert those 30 offensive rebounds into 14 second chance points. The Tar Heels also got encouraging performances off the bench from freshman Tony Bradley and sophomore Luke Maye, who contributed a team-leading eight rebounds apiece. Clearly, though, UNC’s effort on the boards is still a work in progress. “Obviously, Brice got pretty much every rebound that came off the backboard, and we’ve got bigs that can do that,” said wing Justin Jackson, who stressed the importance of getting rebounding contributions from perimeter players as well as the bigs. “They just haven’t gotten there yet.” Bradley, in particular, could be a major factor on the boards this season because of his athleticism and a wingspan that has been measured at 7-foot-4. Although the 6-10 McDonald’s All-American is being counted on more heavily than his fellow freshmen Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson, Williams is being careful not to put too much responsibility on him too soon. “Tony is as ready as he can be,” Williams said Thursday. “He’ll be nervous because it’s the first game. How he handles the nervousness is a question you have to answer. I think he’s good enough to not to lose his confidence.” Bradley won’t be the only one fighting a case of the nerves tonight. Even though this will be Williams’ 29th opening night as a head coach, he said he still isn’t completely comfortable that his team is as ready as it needs to be. “Is any coach ever satisfied where they are at this time?” Williams said. “No. You’re afraid you’ve missed something, afraid you’ve left something out — asking everybody is there anything you can think of that we haven’t covered? Going through all those bases.” Williams added that after 27 practices a private scrimmage at Memphis and that exhibition rout of UNCP, it’s about time for his team to play a game that counts. They’ll get that chance tonight.
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