“He's still got it,” sophomore guard P.J. Hairston told InsideCarolina.com following Wednesday’s 79-63 win over Georgia Tech, “because I think I had five points and he had 21 in about five minutes.”
McCants, who led the ACC in scoring in 2003-04, returned home after concluding a pro league stint in China to visit family. The 28-year-old impressed the latest group of Tar Heels with his knowledge of the game.
“He know his spots on the court - his sweet spots,” Hairston said. “He has that game where if he gets in a rhythm you can't stop him. That's what he did against us. Reggie [Bullock] said he's probably the best player he's guarded in 20 minutes in his life. He's a great player.”
While Hairston offered a solid addition to the already plentiful McCants mystique – “he kind of talks (out loud while playing) like we aren't out there” – the attention to detail that he exhibits is telling.
“When we were playing and he was making shots, he'd get mad because he hit the rim,” Hairston said. “And I'm like, if I hit the rim and it goes in, I feel happy…
“He tells me and Reggie, 'Try not to hit the rim on your jumpshots,' and I hit too much rim on my first two (tonight) but I told him, 'On my third I didn't hit any rim, so are you happy?' And he said 'Nope, because the first two hit the rim.'”
McCants spoke with InsideCarolina.com about the current Tar Heel team after taking in UNC’s victory over Georgia Tech.
“I think they’ve got a lot of good talent, a lot of young talent,” McCants said. “I think they’re holding back a little bit. They’ve got a lot of guys who can surprise a lot of people. I think by ACC Tournament time they’ll start to surprise some people and come into their own. It takes a little time. They’re all young, so I think with P.J. and Reggie and Dexter [Strickland] being in a leadership role, they’ll be able to get these guys to be more aggressive and assertive and concentrate on taking each possession at a time.”
When asked to expand on what he meant by holding back, McCants said he thought some of the younger players were a little too reserved.
“The college game is different than it was when I was playing, so a lot of guys are hesitant about making plays,” McCants said. “I think these guys, if they get a little bit more aggressive in making plays, I think they’ll be able to beat the big teams and make the big pushes. I think that’s the one thing that Coach Williams likes about the players of the past and the players who he’s always coached; certain players have that ability to be aggressive at all times, make good plays and still play within the system and the team concept.
“With the leadership that they have, they’ve got guys who already do that, so it’s just about trickling down to the other players and making everybody feel comfortable to make good plays and be aggressive.”
It’s not a matter of being scared, according to McCants, it’s just a matter of being a freshman. It’s about being comfortable with making mistakes.
“You’re going to make mistakes,” McCants said. “Sometimes it is a fear thing just because you’re young. You’re playing in front of 20,000 people, you’re playing in front of the T.V., and so you don’t want to look bad. I think at a young age you want to play perfect. You want to play good. You don’t want to go home knowing that you made two mistakes and that put you on the bench.”
McCants joined Raymond Felton and Sean May to form a lethal trio of scorers for the 2005 national championship team. Bullock, Hairston and James Michael McAdoo combined for 46 of UNC’s 79 points on Wednesday, providing a possible glimpse into how the Tar Heels can excel moving forward.
“It just shows you that they’ve got the same kind of core that we had with a point guard, a shooting guard and a big that can all contribute and do their part,” McCants said. “I think when you have that the other players around pick up the slack of whatever else is left, so you have a complete team.”
McCants told the story of how Roy Williams let the ’03-04 squad know early that their goal was making the NCAA Tournament, not winning the championship. The championship goal would come the following year after the players had a better understanding of what they were capable of.
“With this team, it’s getting them to understand that they can make it to the dance and then next year they’ll be able to make a real push to win it,” McCants said.
When asked about the importance of leadership for a young team such as this one, McCants replied: “You don’t necessarily need a leader, you just need players with experience.”
It’s not a player’s job to do more than what he’s capable of, according to McCants, but it is a veteran’s responsibility to share his experiences with his younger teammates to help smooth the road.
That responsibility apparently extends to former Tar Heels that so often return to campus to offer their wisdom to the current roster.