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July 8, 2011As the summer rolls on, here are three things I currently think about North Carolina basketball.
I think Harrison Barnes is going to have a monster sophomore season
I know. I know. Master of the obvious. Projecting a big year out of Barnes is as easy as forecasting a World Series without my beloved Chicago Cubs.
But it's still worth pointing out that Barnes has spent most of this offseason doing exactly what coach Roy Williams wants his players to be doing: preparing daily with a concrete understanding for how truly special next season an be.
At his summer press conference in June, Williams pointed out the extra focus that helped his teams in 2004-05 and 2008-09 capture national titles.
"They understood what their possibilities were," Williams said. "So in the offseason they prepared that way. They didn't want to just take things for granted."
Barnes isn't just assuming success either. He's preparing to make it happen.
In late June, that meant a visit to the Kevin Durant Skills Academy in Chicago where Barnes had a chance to defend Durant some. He also continued working on his game and certainly was reminded of one of Durant's favorite adages: "Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard."
In the middle of last month, Barnes also went to Chris Paul's Elite Guard Camp, eager to work on his ballhandling skills to further round out his game.
And during his summer stay in Chapel Hill, Barnes has been played in pick-up games regularly at the Smith Center while also getting in as much extra shooting and weight room work as possible.
On top of all that, Barnes is dialed in from a focus standpoint, not afraid to set huge goals for himself and his team but also understanding how to pursue such goals.
"The biggest thing for us is to reach our potential," Barnes told me last month. "People ask me all the time whether I want to go undefeated or make the Final Four or win a national championship. All that is important and those are all dreams of ours."
"But I think that starts with maximizing potential. And that starts with guys sacrificing egos, everybody putting in as much time as they can to play up to their ability."
"That's the thing you can take care of on a day-to-day basis and then at the end of the season, you'll be in position to accomplish all those other things," Barnes continued. "But if you make getting to the Final Four the biggest priority on your mind, it sets things up with far more of a pressure mentality instead of just reminding yourself to take all the little steps it takes to get there."
I think the Tar Heels would be wise to escalate their recruitment of Class of 2012 big man Mitch McGary
The 6-foot-10-inch, 255-pound forward has become "that guy" this summer, the rising senior whose stock has shot up so fast that he's transformed from a middle-tier recruit into one of the top players in the nation. Rivals, Scout and ESPN rankings all agree that McGary is a top five prospect in the 2012 class.
There's plenty to love about his game. For a big man, McGary has a smooth shooting stroke and continues to expand his range. He also has impressive ballhandling skills and runs the floor with purpose and agility.
Yet aside from the impressive skillset, it's McGary's intangibles that elevate him to elite status. For starters, the kid seems to have only one intensity speed on his dial, playing with high-energy at all times and making his name as a balls-to-the-wall hustler.
On top of all that, McGary's selfless nature will provide added value to whatever college program is lucky enough to land him.
Here's what Jason Smith, his coach at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, had to say about McGary's personality: "People rave about his motor and how hard he plays, but Mitch is also a tremendous, tremendous teammate. He's constantly supporting his peers from the bench."
"Here's a kid who's rated by everyone as a top five player in the country now and he didn't even start on our team last year. Yet to his credit, never once did he ever complain or exhibit poor body language or act selfish in any way. Instead, he was a tremendous teammate."
The list of schools chasing McGary is long.
In addition to Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Connecticut and Texas are also all reportedly heavily involved.
But it is worth noting that Maryland has often been mentioned as the program recruiting him hardest.
That's due in part to the relationship that Terrapins assistant coach Bino Ranson has with Smith, the two having attended college together.
Smith knows the heavy interest from Maryland has left an impression on McGary, especially because it came before his spring blow-up.
"They believed in Mitch before he had a number by his name," he said.
Still, McGary is taking his time with his decision and will likely cut down his list at the end of this month.
UNC hopes to make that cut and the Tar Heels coaches certainly have to feel that McGary would be a great fit in their system.
I think the Greater N.C. Pro-Am is the perfect summer remedy for anyone going through hoops withdrawal
It's unanimous. Anyone who was inside McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium on the campus of North Carolina Central on Thursday night seems to agree.
The N.C. Pro-Am was alive and energized with fans able to see a terrific blend of Tobacco Road college stars past, present and future.
For a glimpse into the future, incoming Duke freshman Austin Rivers, who chose the Blue Devils over North Carolina, delivered his first public performance in the (919) area code, showcasing the offensive fearless and cockiness that made him one of the top high school players in the country last season.
Incoming UNC freshman P.J. Hairston was also in action and also exhibiting his own shooting range.
For a nostalgic look back, former Tar Heel All-Americans Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse returned to the floor and went to work.
And for a taste of the now, Carolina starters Barnes, Dexter Strickland and John Henson were all in action.
So too were Duke's Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Andre Dawkins.
With the stands at N.C. Central packed and the players competitive and intent on delivering a compelling show, the Pro-Am action certainly made everyone want to fast-forward to mid-October.
Alas, we will have to wait for next season to begin. And in the case of the NBA, we may not get a next season.
But in the meantime, the Pro-Am is a welcome summer treat to keep the adrenaline pumping.