Brown, who scored 12 points in the 2005 national championship loss to the Tar Heels last April, will represent the only returning scoring from that game on the court Tuesday night at the Smith Center, other than David Noel’s one free throw.
The 6-foot, 185-pound senior has made the move to point guard from the two-guard spot, and is averaging 14.2 points per game and 4.0 assists in leading No. 12 Illinois to a 5-0 mark to start the season.
“They’ve never seen anything like what they’re about to see,” Roy Williams said during Monday’s press conference. “For such a little guy, Brown is a big load. He has such tremendous speed and acceleration when he’s coming at you that is about as good as anybody in college basketball. I can’t think of anybody that pushes any faster than he does.”
It’s no secret to Carolina fans the diminutive Brown is quick on quick and can nail the three.
“He’s is one of the fastest players I’ve ever faced,” Noel said. “I think he’s more comfortable at the two-guard spot handling the ball more. But he’s still Dee Brown. We’ve got to do a good job containing him and keeping him from going to the basket.”
Brown led the Big 10 last year shooting 43.4 percent from behind the arc, but his percentage on three-pointers is down so far this season, having connected on 13-of-40 (.325).
And while the Tar Heels won’t determine the official match-ups until practice late Monday, the challenge facing UNC freshman Bobby Frasor, along with sophomore Quentin Thomas, is evident. Not to mention next Saturday at Lexington, when the Tar Heels will face Kentucky point guard extraordinaire Rajon Rondo, who had an incredible 19 rebounds in the Wildcats’ win over Iowa last week.
But Thomas is still suffering from a sore foot, putting the initial onus on Frasor, who has admired Brown since the two were high school stars in Illinois.
“When I was an eighth grader, I used to watch him as a senior in high school making plays,” Frasor said. “I’ve never been able to match up with him before. It’s going to be a great challenge for me and I’m looking forward to it.”
“Brown has such a tremendous balance of speed and being able to shoot from the outside,” Williams added. “That’s a hard combination for anyone to guard, whether they’re freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors.”
Trying to simulate Brown’s speed in practice is next to impossible. He can try to give himself as much of a disadvantage as possible in drilling with his teammates, but Frasor admitted he won’t know what to really expect until after tip-off.
Williams added just how difficult a task it is to guard Brown. “It’s pretty doggone hard," he said "He can come at you so hard, and you give ground and give ground before finally you have to say that’s enough and draw a line in the sand. If you don’t, you’ll end up in the bleachers somewhere.”
Thomas, who Williams said asked to come out of the UC Santa Barbara game Friday night on at least one occasion when his foot was bothering him, along with Wes Miller, will be called on to help as well.
When asked about his confidence level in the team’s current point guard by committee format, the coach replied, “I have to be confident; I can’t put them on waivers and see if I can get anyone better.
“I’m a fairly tough grader on point guards. But I feel they’re trying to do the best they possibly can and eventually are going to be very good for us.”
Williams went on to say he’ll know a lot more about his team after the two games against ranked opponents this week. What he determines will likely depend on how well the Tar Heels’ point guards respond to the challenge.