UNC confirmed Friday afternoon that P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald would not suit up for Friday's exhibition game due to potential NCAA eligibility issues. Roy Williams told reporters following his team’s 82-63 win that he had no update on their status for next Friday’s season opener against Oakland.
J.P. Tokoto also sat out due to playing two games in a Wisconsin summer league without filing the necessary paperwork.
Without that trio of wings available, James Michael McAdoo started at the 3-spot and remained there throughout the game’s entirety, alternating with freshman forward Isaiah Hicks, who Williams said had never played at the three before.
McAdoo possesses the athleticism to play on the wing, but lacks the ball handling and perimeter shooting ability to maximize the role. He misfired on his lone 3-point attempt – an open look from the left wing – and committed five of UNC’s 23 turnovers.
McAdoo was efficient, however, in his standard mid-range game applications, scoring a team-high 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
“It was a lot of fun just trying to get up and down,” McAdoo told reporters following the game. “There’s only so much I can do at practice to get used to playing a new position, so I enjoyed it. I’ve got to limit my turnovers; that’s probably the biggest thing.”
McAdoo has worked at the three in practice despite the wing trio’s participation and shared the role with Marcus Paige during UNC’s secret scrimmage against Vanderbilt two weeks ago.
“I feel for Mac, because it’s a big struggle, it’s a big transition from playing the four or five since he’s been here and then automatically shifting to the three within a matter of months,” sophomore forward Joel James said. “He has to learn all of the plays all over again.”
Williams told reporters in Charlotte last week that McAdoo and Paige were the only players that had secured starting roles, but Paige (8 points, 5 turnovers) joined his junior teammate in starting at a new position on Friday. The sophomore slid over to the two to allow Nate Britt and Luke Davis to man the point guard spot.
And although Paige logged time on the wing against Vanderbilt, he remained in the backcourt against the Braves. According to Paige, assistant coach Hubert Davis has pushed him this preseason to look for his shot when playing off the ball.
“Because I've never done it, I have a tendency to stand on the wing and not be active - not screen, just sit and wait for the ball - so I'm still getting used to being active as a two rather than just being the two," Paige said.
Williams described Paige’s assimilation to the two as going “okay.”
“I wanted him to shoot one more tonight I know that he should have shot,” Williams said. “But again, it’s the reason we’re practicing. We’re trying to find some consistency. We’ve practiced with three guys and then we play the scrimmage a couple of weeks ago without them and then we practiced with three guys and then we played without them again tonight. So that’s probably in the mix a little bit, too.”
Despite the lineup modifications, there was a semblance of structure in Williams’s substitutions. Davis and Britt, who looked impressive in posting six points, six assists and five steals, rotated at the point, while Britt and Paige shared time at the off guard position. With McAdoo and Hicks playing on the wing, Brice Johnson and Jackson Simmons logged the most minutes at the four.
The five spot, however, was a revolving door of large bodies, starting with James and working through Simmons, Kennedy Meeks and Desmond Hubert.
The Tar Heels allowed 13 first-half offensive rebounds and 18 for the game, although the boys in blue finished with a 56-34 edge on the glass.
“Tonight was a little shaky at the 5-spot,” James said. “Coach is looking for a guy ultimately who can rebound. In the first part of the game, we were just giving up a lot of loose rebounds so he kept rotating fives in and out to see who would step up and rebound the basketball.”
Williams has been firm in his stance on having a decision on Hairston and McDonald ahead of next Friday’s opener, although there doesn’t seem to be a guarantee in place. Even so, with both players potentially missing early season games, the juggling act will likely continue in the coming weeks.
“I'm not close to a set lineup by any means and we have a lot of guys who are going to get a chance to play anyway," Williams said.