UNC freshmen ready for ACC grind

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – After North Carolina handled UNC Wilmington 84-51 to complete its non-conference schedule, coach Roy Williams warned the young Tar Heels of what lies ahead in the ACC. Williams told the team as a whole, but the rookies in particular, the intensity in conference play “goes up about 10 levels and you better be ready to go up with it.”

Coming from Williams, it was taken as hyperbole by freshman guard Nate Britt. So he approached sophomore Marcus Paige for confirmation.

“He asked me if it’s really that much of a difference,” Paige said. “I was like, ‘Uh, yeah.’ I struggled a lot the first few games of conference just because the attention to detail, the effort, and the level of intensity in every game just jumps to a whole ‘nother level, but I think he’ll be ready for it.”

The Heels trio of freshmen in Britt, center Kennedy Meeks and forward Isaiah Hicks each developed on his own time, but all seem to now be prepared.

Meeks nearly had a triple double against Louisville with 13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. However, his first start against UNCW wasn’t his best showing. The 6-foot-9 center from Charlotte has averaged 7.3 points and 6.0 rebounds but was held scoreless for the first time this season.

Britt, who has started every game, had two of his best games in the wins against Louisville and Michigan State. Britt has had 19 assists and six turnovers over his last five games that included his six assists and no turnover performance against UNCW. He averages 6.2 points and 3.0 assists.

“Nate and Kennedy really stepped up, it seemed like they’re not even freshmen,” Hicks said. “Kennedy at Louisville had probably the best game he’s played. Nate at Michigan State came through with the clutch free throws and all that. Me, I’m just now stepping up and feeling more comfortable out there.”

Hicks’ development has been slower because he has had to learn how to play small forward, but he appears to be turning a corner now, too. He scored his season-high seven points including making his first 3-point attempt of the season.

“I didn’t even know it was a 3 until coach told me after the game,” Hicks said. “I would have shot another one if I would have known.”

He believes playing against ranked teams including the road trip to Michigan State has prepared the freshman trio for what is to come in ACC play beginning Sunday at Wake Forest.

“Marcus told me it will be close to the Michigan State game,” Britt said. “We’re playing away at the No. 1 team. He told me the intensity of conference play will be around what that game was.”