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Feb. 21, 2012
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – For the time being at least, the spotlight has left James Michael McAdoo.
And he seems to be fine with that.
A heralded recruit from Norfolk, Va., McAdoo has spent his freshman season learning the college basketball ropes at North Carolina. He comes off the bench with averages of 5.2 points and 3.6 rebounds in just under 14 minutes a game.
That’s quite a change for someone who was a high school All-American, played in several prestigious all-star games, participated in the Junior Olympics and was a key member of the Team USA Under-16 and Under-17 gold medal teams in international competition.
Not every player could make the transition from those accomplishments to being a substitute.
“It was a big adjustment at first,” McAdoo admitted, “but I feel like I know my role now. I know what’s expected of me. I know that I’m needed as much as the starters (because) everyone is not going to play 40 minutes a game.”
At 6-9, 220 pounds, McAdoo is the Tar Heels’ first big man off the bench, subbing for center Tyler Zeller or forward John Henson, whoever comes out first. He has developed an eye for what has happened in a game before he goes in.
“You kind of know what’s needed because you get to scope the game out (from the bench),” he said. “As far as preparation goes, you prepare just as if you were a starter, paying attention to details (about) their personnel and knowing what coach wants in execution.”
There have been moments along the way where he has flashed his immense talent – 14 points against Nicholls, nine rebounds against Monmouth. His best all-around game came against Virginia when he scored nine points, grabbed seven rebounds, added an assist and two steals. He had a highlight-film moment in that one when he made a steal near mid-court and finished with a breakaway dunk.
“It was my best showing,” McAdoo said, “but I’m my biggest critic and I felt I could have done a lot better. I’m trying to get better each and every day so I can keep up that play and help the team win.”
So far the Tar Heels have done their share of winning, compiling a 23-4 overall record. Heading into Tuesday’s road game against NC State, they are 10-2 in the ACC, tied for first place with Duke and Florida State.
Much was expected of North Carolina this season, with a starting lineup that includes four All-ACC candidates (Zeller, Henson, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall). The bench appeared deep, but when the fifth starter, Dexter Strickland, was lost to a knee injury, depth was weakened when Reggie Bullock moved into the lineup.
McAdoo remains one of the key players off the bench, along with guards P.J. Hairston, Stillman White and Justin Watts. All but Watts are freshmen.
“We do need for our bench to step up,” said coach Roy Williams. “When I say that it doesn’t mean that I need for our bench to score 35 points, but when they come in they have to help us.
“They’ve got to rebound, they’ve got to defend, they’ve got to set screens. And yes, if they can score there’s no question we would like that as well. But guys coming off the bench have got to give us something positive.”
When he’s on the court, McAdoo doesn’t want to be just out there eating up minutes. He has learned that doing something positive, like setting a screen or playing good defense, isn’t necessarily reflected in statistics.
“That’s something I’ve had to change since being here,” he said. “I’m not going to be the leading scorer or probably the leading rebounder, but coming off the bench with the minutes that I have I want to be productive in those minutes.
“Production doesn’t always mean points or assists or rebounds, it means making the good plays to help the team. Miami was a perfect instance where I didn’t make a field goal but I was still able to get to the basket and get some of their big guys in foul trouble. It’s just little things like that that don’t show up in the box score and you don’t read about in the newspaper that are helpful in getting the team the win.”
Williams said McAdoo is getting better and the team needs him to continue on the upswing.
“I think he’s had to overcome the trials and tribulations of being a freshman,” the coach said. “Some people come in and all of a sudden things are very good. But most of them come in and they struggle. There are very few Tyler Hansbroughs that come in and average 18 a game as a freshman.
“James Michael went from playing at a very small private school to playing at the top level of Division I basketball. The size and speed, quickness, strength of everybody that he was playing against, it really was a shock for him and he’s just been a normal freshman going through those time periods. I don’t think he ever lost confidence.”
If McAdoo was going to lose confidence, it probably would have happened a long time ago. His father, Ronnie, played at Old Dominion and is in its hall of fame. His mother, Janet, was a Parade high school All-American who also played at ODU. Both parents played professionally overseas. His sister, Kelsey, played at Charlotte.
Oh, and he’s also related to former UNC standout Bob McAdoo, a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
“It’s all fun and games, it’s good, there’s no pressure,” James Michael McAdoo said. “I know what I’m capable of.”
Like many freshmen, McAdoo was slow to adapt in his first semester with being away from home, going to classes and handling the demands on his time when basketball practice began.
“Mainly it just comes down to staying in the gym and being a gym rat and taking care of my body,” he said. “And having good time management. That’s something I struggled with the first semester a little bit, but the second semester it’s something I’ve been great at the past month and I feel like it’s showed in my play.”
In practices McAdoo is getting another kind of education by going against Zeller and Henson every day. He said they push him mentally and physically and believes that has helped shorten his learning curve.
“He’s a younger player with phenomenal potential and I think he’s gotten better as the year has gone on, like most freshmen,” said NC State coach Mark Gottfried. “He looks more comfortable now than he did maybe in December and I think (Williams) has been giving him some very valuable minutes off the bench.”
With four games left in the regular season, plus the ACC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament, there’s time left for McAdoo to make productive contributions. And while his best basketball is in the future, he’s by no means ignoring what he is doing now.
“This season I know I’m playing with a great team so anything I can to help them win is a blessing,” he said. “My time will come, but my time is now in the present and I’ll do whatever I can do to help the team win.”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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