Fans in the lower bowl of the Smith Center are hereby advised: With freshman forward Brandon Huffman, there is now a flying glass hazard. “Brandon Huffman is going to break a backboard sometime,” Roy Williams said at Carolina men’s basketball media day. “(He’s) one of the most powerful dunkers I’ve ever had, and he’s a quick jumper.”
Huffman is one of a six-player recruiting class that will join the Tar Heels in their 2017-18 title defense. A three-star recruit from Goldsboro, N.C., may be the biggest dunker of the bunch, but four-star Lafayette, Ala., native Garrison Brooks may have the biggest impact early.
But Williams didn’t sound overly thrilled about his options. “I’m scared to death of those big guys,” the head coach said. “I don’t know which one, but somebody’s got to be a player.”
Three-star Sterling Manley and walk-on Walker Miller join Huffman and Brooks as the frontcourt freshmen. “You take the best characteristic out of each one of them and put them into one player, and you still wouldn’t have a player,” Williams joked. “But you know what? They’re my players, so we’ve got to figure out how to get that done.”
They may not be ready to play yet, but the freshmen forwards all have unique skillsets. For Huffman, it’s his power. “I think Brandon is amazing, like he dunks everything,” sophomore guard Brandon Robinson said. “If he catches it inside the arc, it’s a dunk.”
Manley’s length sets him apart. “Sterling is long,” Robinson said. “He has a nice turnaround jumper.”
Miller’s greatest asset may be his potential for growth. “I think Walker is a plodder that’s just going to keep getting better and better,” Williams said. “He’s not as explosive right now as I think he will be after several years with (strength and conditioning coordinator) Jonas (Sahratian).”
Brooks has a more polished all-around game than his freshman counterparts. “Garrison knows the game,” Robinson said. “He has a very high basketball IQ.”
Forward and probable starter Luke Maye also emphasized Brooks’ mental prowess. “Garrison has really done a good job of learning the plays fast,” Maye said. “(He) has really done well on defensive assignments.”
With the loss of former Tar Heels and current NBA players Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley, North Carolina has big shoes to fill in the frontcourt. The backcourt, however, is a different story. Returning its backcourt starting tandem of Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson, along with contributors Seventh Woods, Kenny Williams and Robinson, UNC is set at guard.
“I am really confident with the guys we have on the perimeter,” Williams said. And they will only improve this year. Jalek Felton, a four-star recruit from West Columbia, S.C., will provide depth to one of the best backcourts in the nation.
The nephew of Tar Heel great Raymond Felton, Jalek has lofty expectations. And with good cause. “He’s really gifted,” Williams said. “Maybe the most gifted player on the team. If I can get him to be more focused and tougher, I think he’s got a chance to be a really good player.”
Woods described what makes Felton so talented. “Jalek is a great passer,” Woods said. “He’s great at getting to the rim and finishing.”
Joining Felton will be Andrew Platek, a three-star sharpshooter from Guilderland, N.Y. Platek’s shooting can provide an instant boost of the bench. “Andrew Platek is a great shooter,” Woods said. “He can snipe it from outside.”
North Carolina’s status at guard seems to be golden. At forward, not so much . . . yet. But even if North Carolina’s freshman big men aren't at competition level now, they already have an intimidation factor somewhere else. “We’re big,” Williams said. “We look really good walking through the frickin’ airport.”
Brandon Huffman photo by Alex Kormann