Meeks Looking to Bounce Back

Meeks Looking to Bounce Back

SAN ANTONIO – Kennedy Meeks apologized to his teammates for his recent play following North Carolina's early exit in the ACC Tournament last weekend. The NCAA Tournament presents an opportunity for redemption that the freshman forward intends to secure with both hands.

"I just feel like I haven't played to the best of my ability," Meeks said on Thursday afternoon, sitting in front of his locker at the AT&T Center. "Defensively, I've been bad. It's been very bad play on my part."

The Charlotte, N.C. product is averaging 7.2 points and 5.9 rebounds during his rookie season, although he's managed just eight points over his last four outings. Meeks deserves a pass for his scoreless effort in the regular season finale at Duke – he was throwing up during UNC's pregame meal due to a stomach virus – but he's not even looking for a reprieve in that performance.

The 6-foot-9, 290-pounder understands that he has to elevate his play if UNC intends to make it out of San Antonio with its season still intact. Meeks's recent downturn parallels his team's struggles, starting in Blacksburg three weeks ago and culminating in a disastrous quarterfinal exit in Greensboro last Friday.

Despite starting for the 15th time this season against Pittsburgh, Meeks was limited to one point and three rebounds in eight minutes.

When asked earlier this week if there any lingering issues to explain his freshman's recent struggles, UNC head coach Roy Williams was pointed in reply: "No, just bad play."

It was that bad play that prompted Meeks to apologize to his teammates earlier this week.

"It was really sincere because I know I can play way better than that," Meeks said. "It's really been hard, but I think these last couple of practices have really been good for me, as far as defensively…

"It always frustrating when you don't play to the best of your ability. Every game I need to bring it and I haven't been doing that the last four games. "

Inconsistency has plagued his rookie season, as it does most others, although the highs and lows have tended to be more extreme for Meeks. He was an outlet-pass magician in UNC's upset over No. 3 Louisville in November, dishing out seven assists to go along with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

He was instrumental in UNC's rally from a 15-point deficit to outlast Florida State in Tallahassee, scoring 23 points on 11-of-12 shooting, but was a minimal factor in the Tar Heels' home loss to Miami (5 pts, 4 rebs).

"Kennedy has had some unbelievably good games for us," Williams said last week. "At the same time he's had some games where he hasn't played as well."

Meeks dismisses the freshman wall notion, saying that the physicality of the long season hasn't been as difficult to overcome as the mental demands.

"It's just effort," Meeks said. "Giving full effort for all 40 minutes or as long as I'm in the game. It's frustrating. But like Coach says, it's time for us – all of us freshmen - to grow up because we're not freshmen anymore. We're in the part of the season where all of us have to become grown men and really focus on winning some games."

Meeks's locker, tucked away in a corner of UNC's designated space at the AT&T Center, was right next to a television airing No. 12 seed Harvard's upset over No. 5 seed Cincinnati. His excitement level in being a part of March Madness was evident on his face and in his interactions with teammates.

His play on Friday will help determine how long that jubilation lasts.

 

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