Going Small: UNC's Unprecedented Approach to an Unprecedented Problem

Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio? - Streeter Lecka

Watching Heels games this year, I can't help but feel an eerie and familiar incompleteness in the experience. It's the one (and only) thing this season has in common with--dare I say?--2010.

After watching Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, and Danny Green absolutely light up the three-point line en route to the 2009 Championship a year earlier (even Hansbrough shot 39% from three that year), we were now forced to watch Larry Drew, Will Graves, and Marcus Ginyard set new standards for ineptitude from beyond the arc. Our perimeter game had left us, and the emptiness was palpable.

The same thing is happening this year inside the three-point line--or, inside the lane, to be more exact. After feasting on two years of Zeller and Henson (not to mention Hansbrough before them and May before him), we are starved for post play in 2013.

I just didn't realize exactly how starved we really are.

An inside game is understood to be the traditional foundation of Carolina offense. But until you take a good look at our post personnel from year to year, it's easy to forget just how good we've historically had it.

The chart below lists the starting center, starting power forward, and first post player off the bench for the past 30 Carolina seasons.

It begins with the Brad Daugherty era, which ended in 1986 with a starting lineup that included the 6-11 Daugherty, 6-11 Joe Wolf, and 6-10 Dave Popson (with 6-11 Warren Martin coming off the bench).

The Scott Williams-J. R. Reid era immediately followed, with Pete Chilcutt helping bridge the gap to Eric Montross and George Lynch's Championship tandem of the early '90s.

Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse intervened in 1994-95 until Antawn Jamison arrived to play his way to National Player of the Year beside Serge Zwikker, Ademola Okulaja, and Makhtar N'Diaye.

Jamison's departure in 1998 opened the door for the Brendan Haywood-Kris Lang reign of terror--probably our weakest extended stretch in the interior, but one that still featured the best shot-blocker in UNC history, a Final Four run in 2000, and a regular season conference title in 2001.

Haywood's graduation also coincided with the departures of Joe Forte, Max Owens, Ronald Curry, and Julius Peppers, leaving the 2001-02 Heels with an 8-20 season and a post anchored by Lang, Hickory High phenom Will Johnson, and a freshman Jawad Williams. The only player taller than 6-8 on that team, besides Lang, was Brian Bersticker (a.k.a. "Stick Nasty").

This brief season of misfortune was allayed the very next year, as Sean May began the three-year reign that would culminate in the 2005 National Championship, playing alongside Jawad Williams, Marvin Williams, and David Noel.

When May left, he was immediately replaced by future National Champion and National Player of the Year, Tyler Hansbrough, who would own the court from the block to the free throw line for the next four seasons. When Hansbrough graduated in 2009, Tyler Zeller and John Henson would assume control of the post after the 2010 debacle, only to leave for the NBA's first round two years later, bequeathing the empty interior our small-ball lineup is countering today.

The chart below reflects the 37 most influential Carolina post players during this 30-year span. Among the 37 are 11 All-Americans and two honorable mentions (Okulaja, Henson), 14 National Champions, 3 ACC Players of the Year, and 2 National Players of the Year.

Twenty-three of the 37 would go on to play in the NBA (not counting James Michael McAdoo or Zwikker, who was drafted in the second round and signed by the Houston Rockets, but never played a single game), 18 would be first-round draft picks, 4 would become NBA All-Stars (with a total of 13 appearances), and 4 would become NBA Champions.

Every one of the 37 listed won either a regular season conference title or an ACC Tournament--18 won both.

Of the past 30 seasons, 21 featured an eventual National Champion or National Player of the Year in the post, and every season but two (1989-90 and 2001-02) featured a future All-American underneath.

For half of these seasons (if you include McAdoo and Zwikker), we brought a future NBA player off the bench in the post. This is true for 7 of the past 11 seasons, and doesn't even include two seasons with Pro Bowler Julius Peppers in reserve.

Don't blame yourself if you feel a little spoiled.

For a program with over 100 years of history, 5 National Championships from four of the past six decades, and a Hall of Fame coach who works in an arena named for another Hall of Famer, 30 years is not a very long time. It doesn't account for the George Glamacks and Lennie Rosenbluths, the Billy Cunninghams and Bob McAdoos, the Tommy LaGardes and Mitch Kupchaks--it doesn't even include the 1982 Championship with James Worthy and Sam Perkins manning the front line.

But 30 years does cover the entirety of my own Carolina basketball memory, which at least explains why I feel about as lost watching the Heels this year as Desmond Hubert with his back to the basket.

But I'm not complaining--at least we're making some threes.

SEASON CENTER POWER FORWARD BENCH
2011-12 Tyler Zeller John Henson James Michael McAdoo
2010-11 Tyler Zeller John Henson Justin Knox
2009-10 Deon Thompson Ed Davis Tyler Zeller
2008-09 Tyler Hansbrough Deon Thompson Ed Davis
2007-08 Tyler Hansbrough Deon Thompson Alex Stepheson
2006-07 Tyler Hansbrough Brandon Wright Deon Thompson
2005-06 Tyler Hansbrough David Noel Byron Sanders
2004-05 Sean May Jawad Williams Marvin Williams
2003-04 Sean May Jawad Williams David Noel
2002-03 Sean May Jawad Williams David Noel
2001-02 Kris Lang Will Johnson Jawad Williams
2000-01 Brendan Haywood Kris Lang Julius Peppers
1999-00 Brendan Haywood Kris Lang Julius Peppers
1998-99 Brendan Haywood Kris Lang Brian Bersticker
1997-98 Antawn Jamison Ademola Okulaja Makhtar N'Diaye
1996-97 Serge Zwikker Antawn Jamison Makhtar N'Diaye
1995-96 Serge Zwikker Antawn Jamison Makhtar N'Diaye
1994-95 Rasheed Wallace Jerry Stackhouse Serge Zwikker
1993-94 Eric Montross Kevin Salvadori Rasheed Wallace
1992-93 Eric Montross George Lynch Pat Sullivan
1991-92 Eric Montross George Lynch Pat Sullivan
1990-91 Pete Chilcutt George Lynch Eric Montross
1989-90 Scott Williams Pete Chilcutt George Lynch
1988-89 Scott Williams J. R. Reid Pete Chilcutt
1987-88 Scott Williams J. R. Reid Pete Chilcutt
1986-87 Joe Wolf J.R. Reid, Dave Popson Scott Williams
1985-86 Brad Daugherty Joe Wolf, Dave Popson Warren Martin
1984-85 Brad Daugherty Joe Wolf Warren Martin
1983-84 Brad Daugherty Sam Perkins Joe Wolf
1982-83 Brad Daugherty Sam Perkins Warren Martin

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