Bullock's return gives UNC another shooter
Reggie Bullock knew his knee just wasn't right last season.
The 6-foot-7 guard played through pain much of his freshman season at North Carolina before finally suffering an injury to his left knee that required arthroscopic surgery and sidelined him for the final nine games. His return this season could prove critical for the Tar Heels, who need outside shooters to take the pressure of their touted inside game and have already lost top outside shooter Leslie McDonald to his own knee injury this summer.
''Coming into the season, even before Leslie went down, I just knew it would be a big season for me,'' Bullock said Thursday during the team's preseason media day. ''I knew, Leslie going down, my game would have to step up a lot. Me and (freshman) P.J. (Hairston) are going to have to be able to spread the floor (by) knocking down shots. I know my role will be a lot bigger this year, so I'm just ready to step up to the challenge.''
Bullock averaged about six points per game last year, but the player regarded for his outside shooting was making just 30 percent of his 3-point tries as he played through pain much of the year. When he tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee in a win against Maryland, Bullock knew that it was time to shut it down for the rest of the year even though the Tar Heels would have just eight scholarship players left.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said Bullock appears to have responded to a conservative recovery plan, with players reporting to him that Bullock has looked sharp in offseason pickup games.
''I'm expecting big things,'' Williams said. ''I'm expecting him to make a higher percentage of those shots, play better defense and be able to do some more things with the ball, because I'd like to be able to find him some time at the 2-spot and not just the 3-spot.''
Bullock's return is a smaller note amid the news that Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson all passed on a chance to enter the NBA draft after last year and return to school. But with that front line and the return of starting point guard Kendall Marshall, Bullock - and Hairston, for that matter - know there will be plenty of open looks as defenses focus on stopping the Tar Heels' stars.
Last year, McDonald was the one often knocking down those looks, hitting 38 percent of his 3-point tries and averaging seven points off the bench. But McDonald, a 6-5 guard, tore his right anterior cruciate ligament in a summer-league game in July, putting even more emphasis on Bullock's healthy return.
Barnes remembers watching Bullock labor through pain as roommates for part of last year.
''I remember before games, he'd been in there doing treatments, and I'd be trying to take a nap and I'd hear this little machine going off that would retract his leg up and down,'' Barnes said. ''So we definitely had some growing pains there. But it's great to see him how he is now. He's definitely back active, working out again. He doesn't have too much pain anymore, so he's definitely going to help us with spreading the floor.''
Bullock is eager to play without pain this season.
''I'm not second-guessing anything,'' he said. ''I'm feeling OK with it. I'm trusting and building confidence back up with it, just still going hard in the weight room and doing what my trainer wants me to do.''