Tar Heels getting early boost from young big man Bradley

The freshman has looked anything but intimidated during his first two college games, following up a solid performance in Fridays win at Tulane by contributing 12 points and eight rebounds in Sundays 97-57 beatdown of Chattnooga

Evan Pike—X02835
Nov 13

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams has made no secret of his plans to use a small lineup more this season than he has in the past. Some of that comes from necessity, with only four scholarship players available to man the two inside positions. That thin frontcourt potentially got a little thinner Sunday with an ankle injury to sophomore Luke Maye. But even with Maye’s misstep midway through the second half of the Tar Heels’ 95-75 destruction of Chattanooga, the good news has far outweighed the bad through the opening weekend of the 2016-17 season. Among the post positive developments, besides the winning results, has been the play of freshman center Tony Bradley. The 6-foot-10 freshman has looked anything but intimidated during his first two college games. He followed up a solid performance in Friday’s win at Tulane by contributing 12 points, eight rebounds, an assist and a steal off the bench in his Smith Center debut. “He’s a very good player,” Williams said of his latest McDonald’s All-American. “He doesn’t try to do things he can’t do. He’s showing that right now. As time goes on, he’s going to be a really big-time basketball player for us.” Although UNC might not have the kind of frontcourt numbers Williams is accustomed to having, the lack of depth was masked by the numbers put up Sunday by the three big men that got most of the playing time. Senior starters Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks both did their share of damage while helping the Tar Heels run up a 52-20 scoring advantage in the paint and a 51-32 edge in rebounding. Meeks finished with a double-double by posting 14 points and 12 rebounds while also blocking three shots. He had 15 rebounds in the opener at Tulane. Hicks added 13 points and five boards. In all, six UNC players scored in double figures against a Chattanooga team that began the season by upsetting Tennessee in Knoxville, led by point guard Joel Berry’s 18 points. “That shows we’re working together,” Hicks said of the balance throughout the lineup and off the bench. A big reason for the early chemistry is the large percentage of returning players on the Tar Heels’ roster. But even the youngsters appear to be blending in with relative ease. Sophomore Kenny Williams, for instance, is thriving in his newly expanded role. Not only did he put up 11 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals in what his coach called “a Danny Green stat line” — a reference to the former UNC star now with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs — but Williams also ignited the 30-7 spurt that broke the game open late in the first half and early in the second with his defense and energy. Bradley also had a hand in the blowing the game open with a pair of three-point plays. While fellow freshman Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson both played well in their reserve roles, Bradley stood out as the most polished member of their class by battling on the boards, scoring in transition, playing confidently through contact and disrupting shots with his 7-foot-5 wingspan. “The transition has been pretty smooth,” Bradley said afterward. “Something I’ve noticed and have to improve on from my first game is that the speed of the game is much different from high school. “I just feel like I have to play my role and my role is to defend, rebound and hold it down when I sub for Kennedy and Isaiah.” He’s done more than just hold down the fort thus far. And according to his teammate Hicks, he’s only begun to scratch the surface of what he can do. “I’ve talked highly about Tony since ACC media day,” Hicks said. “It doesn’t look like he’s scared. I knew with his size and his his length he was going to have a big effect. I’m just waiting for him to realize how many shots he can actually block and deflect.”