When the media anointed top-ranked recruit Harrison Barnes a first-team All-America last preseason, North Carolina coach Roy Williams took issue with the choice—an objection he repeated when the tightly wound forward was less than transcendent early in the season. "It was problematic to overload a youngster based on reputation," Williams says. "He hadn't done anything yet."
But now? Williams is fine with anyone who wants to brand Barnes the Wooden Award favorite. Barnes began to realize his potential during a torrid late-season stretch in which he led the Tar Heels to an ACC regular-season title and averaged 21.0 points in four NCAA tournament games. And don't expect a sophomore slump. Williams proudly says that during his 23-year head coaching tenure, only Tyler Hansbrough, a notoriously maniacal worker, has had the same unrelenting desire to be great.
While Barnes's freshman season was about acclimation, this one will be about fine-tuning his skills. Williams, who has NBA-level talent at every position, hasn't asked Barnes to dominate games; rather, using language typically uttered by basketball eggheads, he wants Barnes to be more efficient. "Harrison's offensive efficiency can be so much better," Williams says. "It's about taking fewer marginal shots and making more of the good ones." While Barnes would have been a top five pick had he entered the NBA draft last June, his offensive rating of 1.06 points per possession wasn't on par with that of fellow Wooden Award candidates Jared Sullinger of Ohio State (1.20 ppp) and Jordan Taylor of Wisconsin (1.27). (Center Tyler Zeller, now a senior, was the top Tar Heel last season, at 1.20.)
When Barnes reviewed film of UNC's 76--69 Elite Eight loss to Kentucky, he lamented that he took too many threes in the final minutes instead of driving and forcing his way to the line. "Those plays," he says, "are the little things I need to work on." His two favorite players, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, are great closers, and Barnes says, "I have no fear in [decisive] moments, because I know I can deal with either outcome." He stayed in Chapel Hill to achieve one outcome, though: closing out his college career with a national championship.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
COACH Roy Williams (9th season)
2010--11 RECORD 29--8 ACC 14--2 (1st)
NCAA TOURNAMENT Elite Eight
*High school stats
37.1 PERCENTAGE OF available offensive rebounds grabbed by the Tar Heels in ACC games last season, best in the league. They controlled the defensive glass, too, finishing third with 69.9%.
Harrison Barnes stakes his claim as the best player in the nation, leading (but not carrying) a loaded team to the school's sixth NCAA title.
Stressed out by high expectations, the Tar Heels finish last in the conference in three-point shooting and get upset early in the Big Dance.
HARRISON BARNES He would have been a top five pick after his freshman season; as a sophomore, he should be the player of the year.