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McAdoo still developing into UNC’s go-to guy

North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo, right, is grabbing a lot of attention from defenses. (Associated Press)
North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo, right, is grabbing a lot of attention from defenses. (Associated Press)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – James Michael McAdoo is still learning how to be North Carolina’s go-to guy, from facing high expectations as an NBA prospect to overcoming defenses aiming to frustrate him.

At times, he’s been an athletic big man who beats defenders to the rim, flies into the paint to crash the boards and reliably knocks down a face-up jumper. At others, he looked tentative and content to blend in instead of seizing the lead role.

But McAdoo describes himself as a young player making gradual improvement that mirrors his team’s on-court growth.

“I’m not worried about myself in general,” McAdoo said. “I’ve been playing basketball my whole life. All I know is to just keep playing and keep working. I feel like I’m confident and I know as long as I do what I’m supposed to do – that I’m showing up every day ready to work and putting in the extra time – that everything will take care of itself.”

At first glance, the 6-foot-9, 230-pound sophomore from Norfolk, Va., is right on schedule. He leads the team in scoring (14.7) and rebounds (8.5).

Yet bring up McAdoo to fans or poke around online, and much of the talk centers on what McAdoo isn’t doing.

He’s not a dominant scorer. He’s not an elite rebounder. He’s a tweener who lacks a true back-to-the-basket game and some polish on the perimeter.

He’s also gone from playing behind three NBA first-round picks as a freshman to the top of the scouting report.

“The defense was never aimed at him – we still had Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson and those guys,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “It’s a lot easier when the defense is not aimed to stop you. And now who do they talk about? They talk about James Michael and Reggie (Bullock). It’s hard to handle that.”

He has remained an unselfish player who doesn’t dominate the ball, which seems to conflict with the expectations for an NBA prospect.

“There’s times at Carolina – and I’ve never said this to him – I’m sitting here and I’m saying, ‘OK James Michael, it’s time for you to take over now,’ ” said Ronnie McAdoo, James Michael’s father who played at Old Dominion and professionally overseas. “But he’s never been that type of player.

“The most amazing thing is everybody criticizes him for being this low-key, not bang-bang-hit-you-in-the- chest guy, but it works for James Michael.

“He’s been extremely successful with the way he plays.”

Michael Allen, McAdoo’s high school coach at Norfolk Christian, said the soft-spoken McAdoo has never been comfortable in the spotlight.

“He wants to be one of the guys,” Allen said. “He wants to show up and do his job and go home. That’s just his personality. You’re not going to change it.”

“Coming in knowing that I was going to play big minutes, I think that’s something I really had to prepare for mentally this summer,” McAdoo said. “But nothing could really help me other than going out there and playing it. We still have so much more room for improvement, me personally and as a team. I’m very confident with where I am right now and I’m happy with where I am right now.”