NBA talent evident as Tar Heels visit Tulane

NEW ORLEANS — When new Tulane basketball coach Mike Dunleavy looks across the Smoothie King Center court at the No. 6 North Carolina Tar Heels Friday night in the season opener for both teams, he'll see more than a few NBA prospects wearing Carolina blue.

Even though Dunleavy's young Green Wave don't have the talent or depth to match up against Roy Williams' Tar Heels, Dunleavy knows his job is to create a culture built on the foundational lessons he learned in 17 years coaching in the NBA: Take good shots and share the ball.

“We really kind of want to play how the (San Antonio) Spurs play,” Tulane guard Malik Morgan said, giving voice to a lofty goal. “We really want to focus on good ball movement and getting open shots. Last year we kind of took some hard shots, but Coach (Dunleavy) really wants us to open the floor for shooters.”

Dunleavy, 62, is taking over a Tulane team that went 13-21 last season and finished with the second-fewest assists per game (10.9) and the second-most turnovers per game (13.3) in going 3-15 in the American Athletic Conference. The Green Wave also were second-to-last in the AAC in scoring (65.9 points per game) and second-to-last in 3-point shooting (30 percent).

“The first thing we want to emphasize is getting good shots and taking good shots,” Dunleavy said. “We need to take care of the ball and not turn it over. I thought last year it was a problem for them – shot selection and turnovers.”

The Green Wave return four freshmen from coach Ed Conroy's team who played at least 10 minutes a game last year (Melvin Frazier, Von Julien, Blake Paul and Kain Harris). They lost 96-72 to North Carolina last year in Chapel Hill, and the Tar Heels have not played Tulane in in New Orleans since 1977.

Carolina returns several key players from a team that went 33-7 and captured the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and conference championships and advanced to its record 19th Final Four appearance.

Junior Joel Berry II, who was named MVP of the ACC tournament and is a preseason first-team All-ACC selection, will start at point guard, and he will be joined on the wing by Justin Jackson, a second-team preseason All-ACC choice. Senior center Kennedy Meeks is back along with senior power forward Isaiah Hicks.

Hicks was voted the ACC's sixth man of the year last season and will help replace Brice Johnson, a first-round pick of the Los Angeles Clippers. Carolina will be without junior wing Theo Pinson, who broke a bone in his right foot last month and will be sidelined indefinitely.

The Heels were selected to finish second in the ACC behind Duke this season.

The 6-foot-6 Pinson had been expected to start at shooting guard for North Carolina and is an excellent perimeter defender. In his absence, Williams said he needs to see how sophomore Kenny Williams, senior guard Nate Britt and freshman Brandon Robinson perform.

“Somebody's got to get those minutes,” Williams said. “Whoever gets those minutes, if they do well and succeed and have good moments, that's really going to make them better at the end of the year. Then, if you do get Theo back and he's ready to play, then that makes you stronger.”