Summer's the time to get ahead
Hard work in July has paid off for Roy, Heels

By Eddy Landreth, July 11, 2006

Many a college basketball game is won or lost in a hot, stuffy July gym. July is the magic month in college basketball. NCAA Division I coaches chase recruits from camp to camp, tournament to tournament across the continent. When they arrive, the coaches stand, watch and are seen.

They observe closely, too, because there are still decisions to make. The ones who pick the right player and entice him to sign stands to win more games come fall and winter than the guys who choose poorly or whiff.

Some players commit in the spring or earlier. That happened a year ago for UNC's Roy Williams, when his future point guard and shooting guard said yes before the summer grind even got started.

"With Ty (Lawson) and Wayne (Ellington) committing so early in the spring," Williams said, "we could bring kids in for official visits in the spring. We knew both of them wanted to go ahead and get it over with early. Those two were crucial to us, to say the least.

"They helped us with the other kids. We lost some, too: Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young. But we originally wanted five guys, and if we could get a sixth guy, a big guy, that would give us three big guys in the class."

Normally, most of the top players still haven't made a choice in July. Carolina's top target this year is 6-9 center Kevin Love, who is dominating at the camps and tournaments. He may not announce between UCLA and Carolina until November.

Some kids who were not considered top guys can emerge at this point. Suddenly, the people at a Kentucky, Carolina, Duke or N.C. State want them.

UNC incoming freshman Deon Thompson did that by losing weight and making an impact the summer prior to his senior year. He's a powerful guy in the mold of Elton Brand and Sean May. He may not be as polished as those two, but he says he's running every day this summer in order to be in good condition for the season.

His presence gives Williams three distinctively different styles among the freshmen on the Carolina front line.

"Brandon (Wright) is so skilled, athletic, long and smooth," Williams said. "Alex (Thompson) is such a physical specimen and a relentless worker defensively and on the backboards he's gotten better and better. He's an extremely bright individual that understands his good qualities and his bad qualities.

"Then Deon is a little bit of a diamond in the rough. As a freshman he was 6-4, 305 and an offensive tackle on the football team. Now he's 6-9, 257. I'm anxious to see him and what he looks like. I haven't seen him since January."

Over at N.C. State, there is an excellent chance Coach Sidney Lowe is going to make an enormous impact on recruiting for the Wolfpack. Lowe has a great personality and carries himself in an impressive fashion.

He will be on the losing end for a while because Duke and Carolina have a head start, but the fans will understand for now. He'll get a chance to recruit and become successful. He is one of the most popular players in school history. He was the point guard for one of the school's two national championship teams.

Monte Towe, the leader of the 1974 title team, is the other, and he is a key assistant to Lowe.

Lowe knows there are always questions when a new coach arrives, but he says he should have answers.

"I think I'm the right person, for one, because basketball-wise, I've had the experience of being in this game for a long time," Lowe said. "I played this game on this level in the biggest game. That is something I can pass on to our players, in terms of being able to compete in games like that and keep your composure. I can speak from experience. When you talk to kids, they know you've been through it. I think that is an advantage.

"I have coached on the highest level, which is the NBA. That's something a lot of college players aspire to do. I can work with them and teach them the things they need to know. My love for this area and for this university goes deep. My commitment here will be second to none to anyone who would have gotten this job.

"I will certainly talk to our players about perseverance and sticking to things and really being committed," Lowe said. "Academically, what I accomplished by sticking with it and accomplishing that (earning his degree) shows what I'm all about. I think I have a number of things I bring to the table, and I feel I'm the right person for it."

Time will tell. It always does in ACC basketball.

Eddy Landreth is a freelance writer who lives outside Pittsboro.

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