He reflects on the program’s turnaround during these last two seasons and finds himself daydreaming about what the 2011-12 Tar Heels might accomplish.
“I base it off the type of season that we had,” Strickland said. “Coming from two years ago, the way we turned things around to make it to the Elite Eight, I feel like us at least making to the Final Four next season is mandatory. We have all the right tools …”
He breaks down the impressive roster -- from the established point guard, to the depth at the wing, and through the star-studded frontcourt – and then concedes that he didn’t even think the key components of the roster would remain intact for next season.
“I knew (John Henson) was coming back, I didn’t know about (Tyler) Z(eller), and I figured Harrison (Barnes) was going to go – I’m glad he stayed,” Strickland said with a chuckle. “At first I thought (Harrison) was (going pro), but he sat down and talked to me and explained the situation, so when he made the decision I was as happy as everybody else.”
Heading into his junior year, above all else, Strickland wants to be healthy. He suffered a right knee injury in a collision with a courtside photographer on Feb. 6 against Florida State and elected to postpone surgery until after the season.
However, postseason evaluation by the team doctors led to a decision that surgery would not be necessary, according to a school official. The knee will continue to be closely evaluated, but Strickland's summer workouts have not been impeded.
In terms of working on his game this offseason, Strickland doesn’t hesitate when asked about areas for personal improvement.
“I’m just really focusing on my shot,” he said, noting a focus on hard work and repetition, as opposed to a complete form overhaul.
The New Jersey All-American arrived at UNC with the reputation of a scoring guard – both as a jumpshooter and as a finisher. Thus far, only the latter has been apparent.
“It’s going to be much better – I promise you that,” Strickland vowed.
He’s also aiming to continue his progression as a distributor, not in the sense of a true point guard role, but rather better facilitating his teammates and filling in at the lead guard spot if needed.
“I don’t think I’m going to play the one as much, but if Kendall (Marshall) is out and I have to come in and fill that spot, I know what to do,” he said. “(I’ve been) getting advice from Shammond (Williams) and Raymond Felton while they’re up here.”
And he’s also been learning from Marshall.
“There was a play yesterday (in pickup),” Strickland recounted about his backcourt mate. “He came off a screen off Z(eller) and Raymond stopped him. And you know Kendall doesn’t like to go right, but he had to go right, so he got to that spot and hit Z for an alley-oop dunk. If somebody stops him, he finds a way...”
Learning from teammates, rather than merely competing with and against them, is evidence of a team unlikely to be deterred by the chemistry obstacles that can plague deep rosters.
“We have fun together – off the court, on the court – I think that’s one of the reasons why we were so successful because our team chemistry is great,” Strickland said. “Just hanging out with each other. We all went to go see ‘Hangover 2’ as a team, just little stuff like that where you can have them not just as a teammate, but as a friend and as a brother.”