This year’s North Carolina team hasn’t yet identified its starting center. And that might not be a bad thing.
Both of the contenders’ talents were on full display during the Tar Heels’ 20-minute Blue-White scrimmage at “Late Night with Roy” on Friday.
“It's good to have that problem at this point, with two guys playing well, challenging each other for minutes and it's only going to make us better,” Marcus Paige said.
In his official introduction to Carolina fans, Meeks, a 6-9 freshman center, did what he’s done throughout his basketball career – posted a double-double.
"He's great in the half court,” Paige explained. “Once we get him running he's going to be even more effective. You see what he can do - carve out space, get offensive rebounds. That should help us out a lot. He's a big presence and he has good hands."
Unofficially, he was the game’s second-leading scorer with 16 points and leading rebounder with 16.
“He did a nice job on the backboards,” Roy Williams said. “He came in at 317 in July; he weighed 284 before practice yesterday. He’s done a really good job. He’s just got to maintain it; he doesn’t have very good stamina. He’s got great hands and touch around that basket.”
The 6-foot-10, 280-pound James hit a pair of hook shots and knocked down a jump shot just inside the three-point line. Although it was his second "Late Night," James is still adjusting to the atmosphere.
“Honestly, I never like playing in front of crowds so it was a little scary,” he said. “It was exciting. After I made my first 15,000 mistakes I calmed down and Coach Williams wasn’t pulling me out for those mistakes, so I was like ‘OK, now I can just play regular basketball.'”
In addition to eight points, James pulled down eight rebounds. He looked more fluid and more confident from a season ago, when he admitted he sometimes let doubt overwhelm him.
“He really did work hard… He’s done some nice things this preseason through 18 practices,” Williams said. “He is progressing and we need him to progress.”
James and Meeks make each other better with daily battles in practice. In fact, James said he often pulls Meeks to the side and helps him better understand the UNC staff’s expectations and requirements.
“He’s such a big body,” James said. “And he has nose for the ball. I will go help side to defend on (James Michael) McAdoo driving baseline, he’ll slide right in and get an offensive rebound. I feel like he’s going to cause a lot of problems for other players trying to box him out because if you give him a little crack, as big as he is, he’s going to slide in and get a rebound and he’s gonna put it right back up.”
That doesn’t mean James is going to concede the starting role to Meeks, however.
“We sit there and trash talk all the time,” James said. “He understands that, at the end of the day, we’re both competing for a starting spot. Whoever loses out is going to be happy for each other and cheer as hard as we can when we’re out of the game.”