This is our fifth and final installment in a series of previews where our UNC contingent (Zeke & Will) looks ahead to next year's Tar Heel squad. Click on the links to read our first four previews of next year's point guards, next year's shooting guards, next year's small forwards and next year's power forwards.
Will: Two questions loom in the center discussion for the Heels next year: 1) Will Roy give upperclassman Desmond Hubert another chance to prove himself as a starter?; and, 2) Will Joel James or Kennedy Meeks step up as the post threat we've been missing for a season?
I hope the first answer is a definitive no. The McAdoo-Hubert experiment can only be chalked up as a failed endeavour. I think Hubert's hit the ceiling for what he can offer as a starter, and I see no reason to return to him as our first option next year. But you can't say Roy didn't give him a chance. Hubert started 18 games for us last season without things ever clicking, yet Roy made the lineup change only after exhausting all other options (by his own admission, he stuck with Hubert five games beyond the dawning notion to yank him). I'd expect Roy to be just as stubborn after making such a decision as he was before making it.
Hubert's a great back-up, however, alongside more offensive-minded players. He brings good energy, has a nose for rebounds and provides a considerable defensive presence as well (he led the Heels with 30 blocks, despite only 9.4 mpg). But he's been a support player from day one, and it'd be a shame to waste any more starting time on him when there are two young, eager, and promising prospects behind him who would better benefit from that experience.
To that point, and to answer the second question, I'd say yes, one of these guys will step up--with my money (and hopes) riding on Meeks. A Hicks-McAdoo starting frontcourt is certainly not out of the question, but if Roy opts for the more traditional power forward-center combo, we'd do well to get Joel James and Kennedy Meeks some serious minutes this year. Much like Paige was able to benefit from an entire year in the starting rotation, with Roy sticking it out even when he faltered, both James and Meeks would benefit from logging significant time, even if it came with some growing pains. I think Meeks will probably be the better player over the long haul, but James's seniority probably makes it his spot to lose when practice opens up in the fall. It would be a fun practice battle to watch.
Zeke: Hubert strikes me as the type of guy who provides great per-minute production in limited minutes, but if you give him a bigger role he doesn't have quite the same impact. Like you said, he has his shot and it didn't turn out great. However, I love having that kind of guy at the end of our bench - Hubert and Jackson Simmons are guys that can be plugged in for 5-15 minutes every game between the two of them and as you said they give energy, rebounding and and have even proven they can supply the occasional highlight-reel play. Carolina fans, myself included, appreciate that kind of contribution and I'm going to say that while Hubert may not be skilled enough to earn back his starting spot, he's going to have a couple of big-time moments this year where he earns himself an ovation from the crowd and a shout-out from Roy in the postgame press conference.
As for the other question, I'm going to actually disagree and say James gets the nod. Between Hairston, Paige, McDonald and McAdoo in the starting lineup, that's a lot of shots to go around. From what I see about Meeks he's a very talented offensive player but he's going to need a year of playing college basketball to get his body into playing shape (so probably not a great idea to give him starter's minutes only to watch him wither down the stretch) and Meeks also seems to have a really talented midrange game for a big man, but that means he hangs around the 12-15 foot range a lot. What we need to compliment those other four starters is someone who doesn't care about touches (James=check) and can spend 99% of his time banging in the paint giving our team the best chance for offensive rebounds. I also think Meeks is a little on the shorter side for a 5, and will probably be better equipped to defend someone's second-string center than he will to bang with some of the really big boys Carolina will be going up against next year. I think he'll be kind of Shaun May-esque as we get glimpses of his talent next year but it'll take him getting into shape in the following seasons to really show how high his ceiling goes.
Will: Very true. You've completely sold me on James. My biggest concerns with him are: 1) conditioning (which clearly makes this not an argument for Meeks), and 2) his Josh Hairston-esque foul problem. Seeing what kind of shape he's in next year (and this summer) will be high on my look-for list, and, hopefully, with the options we have behind him, the second concern won't be that significant an issue.
Zeke: Exactly. I love the thought of bringing in Brice Johnson, Isaiah Hicks and Meeks (in some combination) as our backups in the frontcourt. We have a ridiculous amount of size to throw at opposing teams, and I bet there are going to be games where UNC just wears opponents down through the course of a game and dominates inside in the second half due to the sheer amount of very capable bodies they can throw out there.