Hubert looked and played like a freshman last season. The Cream Ridge, N.J. native arrived at UNC with a lean 193 pounds stretched out on his 6-foot-9 frame and a nonexistent offensive repertoire to match his instinctive defensive abilities.
That combination was good for 25 appearances and a total of 123 minutes, 17 points and 37 rebounds. Hubert was the lone Tar Heel to finish the season with more offensive rebounds (21) than defensive boards (16).
“I remember playing a couple good minutes in some games and then not playing for two or three games in a row,’’ Hubert told a handful of reporters recently at the Smith Center. “It was kind of hard. I guess that kind of hurt my confidence a little bit. But I had some great guys ahead of me, so at the end of the day … I couldn’t be mad or anything like that, because the guys ahead of me were just terrific players.”
Things are different now. John Henson and Tyler Zeller are now preparing for their professional careers, while Hubert is working this offseason to improve his body and his game in an effort to play a significant role for the Tar Heels next season.
Thanks in part to a lower-body weight training regiment that includes squats and Olympic lifts, Hubert now checks in at 220 pounds to go along with his 7-foot-3 wingspan. Jonas Sahratian, UNC’s strength and conditioning coach, has yet to provide a target weight, but he has increased Hubert’s daily meal intake to six.
“It’s pretty difficult to eat that many times a day,” the sophomore said.
Henson, who at one point was required to take photos of his meals, provided support to Hubert last season in dealing with the difficulties associated with such lean builds.
“You can’t really worry about what everyone else is doing, because we’re not going to be as strong as some of the other guys,” the two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year told Hubert during one weight room workout. “So you just have to focus on yourself.”
That mindset also carries over to his offensive game. While Hubert has natural talent on the defensive end, scoring the ball has been a work in progress.
A staple of head coach Roy Williams’s instruction requires his post players to develop a go-to move and a counter move. That fundamental belief was emphasized yet again in sit-down meeting between Williams and Hubert.
“Right now, it’s definitely my right and left hook – that’s my go-to move,” Hubert said. “Starting and working on that and kind of building out and working on my mid-range jumper, that’s pretty much where I started to expand from.”
It can only help that he’s spent a lot of time with former Tar Heels Rasheed Wallace, Marvin Williams and Deon Thompson this summer – all three of whom are known for their multifaceted offensive games. From there it becomes a matter of practice and repetition.
“Just getting in the gym more and working on my offense and being confident in myself that I can make the shots,” Hubert replied when asked about improving his game. “And then coming out in the pickup games and doing what I’ve been working on. Actually seeing the ball go in basket really helps, too.”
Hubert joins James Michael McAdoo as UNC’s post veterans this season, despite both encountering difficult times as freshmen. They understand their expected roles for the 2012-13 season, but also realize that plenty of work awaits before the November opener.
“We talk about it every once in a while, but we don’t focus on that as much,” Hubert said. “We just try to go out there and play. Everyone is still trying to learn each other, especially like playing with Leslie [McDonald] and Reggie [Bullock]… and playing with Luke [Davis], who has been our point guard. We’re really just trying to learn how to play together, because we didn’t have that much experience in team play as all of the other guys did.”
Twelve months ago, Hubert was simply trying to survive the gauntlet of being a UNC freshman basketball player. Now he’s tasked with helping bring the new class of Tar Heels along this summer.
Yet he still doesn’t feel like a veteran, for good reason.
“No, not really,” Hubert said, laughing. “Everybody says I’m pretty much the vet now, but it doesn’t feel like it sometimes.”
With a year of learning in his mind and 27 additional pounds on his body, Hubert has roughly four months to embrace that veteran title before the season starts.
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