Following a year of disappointment that ended without an invite to the Big Dance, North Carolina is still left scratching their heads after a 4-2 start this season. The hype around this year’s Tar Heels surrounds the arrival of Harrison Barnes, the 6-8 versatile small forward who was seen by most as the No. 1 player coming out of high school. Story sound familiar? Barnes is in a similar situation as Carmelo Anthony during the 2002-03 season when he arrived at Syracuse. The Orangemen were coming off a 2001-02 season where they went 23-13 and also missed the tourney.
At Syracuse, Anthony joined a very young team with one senior and had to mature quickly, which he did while carrying them to the Promised Land and winning the school’s first NCAA title. Like ‘Melo, Barnes is capable of playing every position on the court and he’ll have to show the same versatility and leadership to yield the same success. The Tar Heels are also a very young team. There are no seniors within UNC’s 10-man rotation, and junior Tyler Zeller has spent most of his college basketball career on the injury list. The thing that baffles people most about UNC’s struggles is that they’ve had seven McDonald’s All-Americans each of the past two seasons, but Roy Williams has yet to get everyone on the same page.
Barnes has more than just this season to carry on his back – he has a program to maintain and stay competitive for the sake of future recruiting classes as well. Hated rival Duke sits only eight miles away, and they’re favored to win back-to-back National Championships. Not to mention, Coach K just reached 800 wins and his recent success at the professional level has given him a recruiting edge because he can offer the top players distinct NBA preparation.
As a UNC graduate who attended from 2004 to 2008 and lived nearby in 2009 – a stretch where UNC made three Final Four appearances and won it all in 2005 and 2009 – I can attest to the current frustration and panic that surrounds the program. The word “savior” may be an understatement in relation to the expectations Tar Heel fans have for Harrison Barnes and UNC’s return to the top of college basketball. Experts had the same expectations before the start of the season after they surprised many people by selecting Barnes as the first freshman ever be placed on the AP Preseason All-American Team.
Barnes obviously hasn’t showed us what he’s fully capable of, averaging only 11.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game so far. Where his situation differs from Anthony’s is that he may not be playing with the same mindset and motivation that ‘Melo had during his lone season at Syracuse. Barnes has mentioned on multiple occasions that he’s not going to be a “one and done” player, although a lot changes in a year. Also, with an NBA lockout looming on the horizon, Barnes has even more reason to return next season. When ‘Melo was a freshman, there was never a question that he’d forego his sophomore season at Syracuse to enter the NBA Draft.
Looking ahead, UNC plays non-conference games against Illinois, Kentucky and Texas in the next month before jumping into an always competitive ACC schedule. While it’s still too early to panic, Barnes needs to be in the mindset of “Now.”
What do you think?
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