Tar Heels will have different look next season without Bradley

Without a proven inside presence, UNC coach Roy Williams will likely have to scrap his favored inside-out philosophy for a more perimeter-oriented attack that takes advantage of a veteran returning backcourt

Bob Donnan—USA Today Sports
UNC coach Roy Williams cheers his team on last season while Brandon Robinson and Luke Maye watch from the bench. Robinson and Maye will have to play bigger roles for the Tar Heels in 2017-18

Tony Bradley’s decision to stay in the NBA draft was somewhat unexpected considering that the freshman center is projected at a marginal first rounder, at best.But it didn’t take Roy Williams by surprise.The North Carolina basketball coach knew Bradley’s departure was possible after the young player said he planned to explore his options in the aftermath of last month’s national championship victory against Gonzaga.So Williams took precautionary measures with the late addition Garrison Brooks, a four-star prospect who originally signed with Mississippi State.A 6-foot-10 power forward from Lafayette, Ala., Brooks will help offset the loss of Bradley, just as the earlier signings of big men Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley filled the void left by the graduation of seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks.But while the Tar Heels should have plenty enough size to go around in 2017-18, the one thing they won’t be able to replace is the experience Bradley gained in his one college season.The 6-11 Florida native averaged 7.1 points and 5.1 rebounds in around 15 minutes per game and was a key contributor off the bench during UNC’s postseason run. He scores five points and pulled down seven boards in his team’s title-clinching victory against Gonzaga.Bradley’s stats were expected to increase exponentially as the focal point of UNC’s low post game next seasonWith him, the Tar Heels were considered a legitimate threat to get back to win the ACC, get back to the Final Four and successfully defend their national championship. Without him, their stock has been devalued to that of just another ranked team with questions to answer.The most immediate of those concerns are what Williams will do about the gaping hole that’s been left in the paint.Given the lack of a proven inside presence, the Hall of Fame coach is either going to have to hope that at least one of the freshmen big men is capable of making a significant immediate contribution or scrap his favored inside-out philosophy for a more perimeter-oriented attack that takes advantage of his veteran returning backcourt.Next year’s team got a major boost when point guard Joel Berry decided to withdraw from the draft and return for his senior season.Not only is Berry an efficient scorer, as he showed while winning Most Outstanding Player honors at the Final Four, but he’s also a poised, intelligent playmaker who knows where and when the ball needs to be in virtually every situation.His experience and skill, along with the return of Theo Pinson, Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson will allow Williams to utilize a smaller, faster lineup designed to beat the opposition up and down the court.Luke Maye, the hero of UNC’s South Region championship win against Kentucky,, could play either the four or the five at 6-8 while incoming freshman wing Jalek Felton would also fit in at multiple positions.Williams is also working on an ace-in-the-hole by recruiting graduate transfer Cameron Johnson.A 6-8, 210-pound wing with two years of eligibility remaining, Johnson averaged 11.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists at Pittsburgh last season and would fit right in as an athletic veteran replacement for ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson.That is assuming he is able to gain his release from his former school, something that’s still a matter of heated contention.Even if he isn’t able to come to UNC, the Tar Heels will still have the makings of a solid team in 2017-18. Just not as good as the one it would have been had Bradley withdrawn from the draft and returned for his sophomore season.