UNC junior McAdoo primed to step into leadership role

After a disappointing sophomore campaign, James Michael McAdoo is ready for a fresh start.

James Michael McAdoo wants to get a fresh start to his junior season at North Carolina. And so the Tar Heels’ second-leading scorer from a year ago decided to start with a fresh haircut, much closer to his head than his previous somewhat puffy-haired look.


“It was just getting out of control,” McAdoo said with a grin.


Considering the up-and-down journey McAdoo has been on since arriving in Chapel Hill as a freshman, the fresh start might be necessary.


After a stellar end to his freshman season when he shot 50% from the floor and averaged 8.3 points in UNC’s final nine games, he was on most NBA scouts' radars. Some projected he’d be a lottery pick, despite shooting 40.4% from the floor in UNC’s first 29 games.


He got about eight more minutes a game to close out the year, though, and he was doing it on the biggest stage (the ACC and NCAA tournaments). And that’s what made him attractive to scouts. Still, he felt like he had a lot of work to do and that nine good games weren’t nearly enough.


This year, it was a bit of a different story when it came time to make his NBA draft decision. He had averaged 14.4 points and 7.3 rebounds for the Tar Heels, but he shot just 44.5% from the floor and had a team-high 96 turnovers.


“It was two different situations," McAdoo said. "(My freshman) year, I felt like it was a lot of hype. This past year, it was like, ‘All right, we’ve seen what he can do. We’re not sure what we’ll get out of him’, but I feel like I still had a lot of work to do."


But he was definitely leaning towards staying when he met with head coach Roy Williams to talk about his decision. Williams told McAdoo the things he thought he needed to work on and gave him his opinion about his NBA prospects, which is usually based on Williams speaking to NBA GMs and scouts that he trusts.


Then the ball was in McAdoo’s court.  


“I think for me, the biggest thing was just stepping back and looking at the type of player I want to be when I get ready to make that decision to go to the next level and knowing that I still have some areas of improvement that I want to work on,” McAdoo said. “I could have done that pre-draft ... but I’d much rather do it here as a Tar Heel.”


McAdoo has all the physical tools to be a great player.


At 6-foot-9, 230 pounds, he has catlike quickness and elite-level athleticism. But he is not a consistent shooter, he struggles with his ball-handling and was not comfortable in the smaller lineup UNC went to last year when he had to slide to the center.


It didn’t help that when he was learning to play center, he suffered a back injury that his head coach said was a bulging disc. Leaning against opposing big men down on the block is not exactly conducive to curing back pain.


“It was tough going up against a lot bigger guys. That’s obvious. But that’s what I had to do. I had to do it,” McAdoo said. “It definitely was tough on my back. It definitely was tough on really just trying to change my complete game to playing center, and realizing that with that I have to do so much more than I’m used to doing. I had never played center in my life and then having to do it for the second half of last year was definitely a learning experience, something that I’m grateful for.”


McAdoo came into last season with all the hype, and he was on a number of Preseason All-America ballots. He didn’t make any of those teams, and as the Tar Heels struggled to begin last season, the spotlight on him intensified.


That part might not have been entirely fair. But McAdoo says a lot of it was on him. He said that he has already done more work in the gym and on his game to this point in the summer than he did last summer. Last summer, McAdoo was starting to believe the hype about himself. He thought it was going to be easy.


Now, he knows better.


“Last year, I feel like I accepted those expectations, but I didn’t really do anything with them as far as I didn’t work as hard as I should have in the off-season," he said. "I feel like I took some of the success toward the end of my freshman year and really just felt like that was just going to keep going and carrying over into the next year.


“The game comes easy to me as far as learning plays and knowing what I need to do in (Williams’) system. But I think the other part is just realizing that I have goals here and I have things that I wanted to accomplish, and they’re not just going to fall into my lap.”


Of course, according to McAdoo (and the results in the early part of the year would back this up), the rest of his team might have taken a similar attitude. There wasn’t much on-court leadership.


When things started to get bad during games, it seemed as if the young Tar Heels didn’t quite know where to turn.


McAdoo knows that his teammates are going to look to him in those situations. And he’d rather set the tone now instead of waiting for things to go badly.


“Last year, we definitely had some lapses in leadership and things along those lines. Those didn’t start during the season. That was stuff that was going on during the summer,” McAdoo said. “So it’s definitely something that I took advantage of this summer, just being here, being able to train and work out, get my body right but also take on that role as a leader now as opposed to when we’re down by 20 at Indiana or something like that.”