Hurricanes need frontcourt at full strength

Hurricanes need frontcourt at full strength

Published Jan. 11, 2012 1:25 a.m. ET

-- When Miami big man Reggie Johnson finally gets into full basketball shape, the ACC better beware.

The league already knows what kind of player Johnson has been, but as he wades through the process of getting in game shape after missing the first nine contests of the season healing a torn right knee, the Hurricanes learned to play without him.

As a result, 6-foot-11 sophomore Kenny Kadji has elevated his play several notches from where he was as a freshman at Florida in 2009. He played eight games with the Gators in the 2009-10 season before a back injury ended his season. He later transferred to Miami. Together, when Johnson finally steps onto the court feeling as he did last March, Miami should be a force.

Johnson and Kadji combined for 28 points and 11 rebounds in a 73-56 loss at No. 3 North Carolina on Tuesday night at the Dean Smith Center, but the outcome wasn't because of their mistakes.

Johnson certainly put up a few air balls, and at times just couldn't complete the spin or drop-step move he attempted. But in the mean time, Kadji, whose game extends to the 3-point line, though he's more comfortable from 14 feet and in, not only provides some of the offense Johnson did before the injury, but he lends the interior needed balance.

But this night offered just a small glimpse of what may become of the Hurricanes (9-6, 0-2 ACC). First-year head coach Jim Larranaga's team is a bit further behind because of Johnson's injury in addition to this being a new system.

"Our offensive chemistry is not what it needs to be," said Larranaga, who took Georgia Mason the Final Four in 2006. "Reggie has only been back less than a month, and those guys have really only played a handful of games together. We're trying to learn as a team with a new system how to take advantage of our big guys inside, but not turn our guard into being so passive."

Kadji had three double-doubles in the previous four games entering Tuesday's affair, and after averaging 4.4 points as a freshman in 2010, he's up to 11.1 points and 5.4 rebounds right now. He had 16 versus the Tar Heels, who respect his abilities.

"When I used to work out at IMG in the summers I'd see him down there," said UNC forward John Henson, who is from Tampa. "He's always been a great player, he's a load, and he scored on me tonight."

But the Canes need Johnson and they need him better conditioned.

"He's a load down there, he's a banger," Henson said about Johnson. "He gets as close to the rim and he puts it up and is hard to guard down there. We just had to double-down more and work harder to stop him."

Miami shot 39.9 percent in nine games without Johnson in the lineup but is at 51.7 percent with him. The Hurricanes were minus-2 every night in rebounding margin without him, but are plus-four with him. Opponents' field goal accuracy is also down two percentage points with Johnson on the floor.

Johnson's averaging 10 points and seven rebounds, but expect those figures to grow.

"Kenny's hard to guard. He's 6-11, can shoot the ball…," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "I thought that Kadji and Reggie were really good. They scored for them. Durand (Scott) is hard to keep in front of you, he really is hard to keep in front of you.

"Durand and Malcolm (Grant), I still believe they make the engine go, but that's like our team, I think you have to have every part, and I think Miami's got some good parts."

And those parts should develop into a formidable club as Johnson's conditioning improves.