Wear art thou, skilled Tar Heel frontcourt? | Sports
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Friday, January 18, 2013

Wear art thou, skilled Tar Heel frontcourt?

Posted by on Fri, Jan 18, 2013 at 9:26 AM

Big man Tyler Zeller has been difficult to replace. Hes seen here in a game against Kentucky during his freshman year.
  • File photo by Jeremy M. Lange
  • Big man Tyler Zeller has been difficult to replace. He's seen here in a game against Kentucky during his freshman year.
North Carolina took a big step toward rescuing its season last weekend with a victory over a Florida State, a win which felt like an upset, especially when one considers that the Seminoles buried 50 percent of their three point attempts.

A pivotal role in the win was played by recruited walk-on sophomore Jackson Simmons. For one game at least, Simmons looked like the second most well-rounded big man on the Carolina roster, behind James Michael McAdoo.

A big guy who can rebound, handle the ball competently on the perimeter, and consistently hit mid-range jump shots. Didn’t Carolina used to have a guy like that…or two?

Yes they did, and their names are Travis and David Wear. The California twins who left Chapel Hill seemingly in the dead of night following the 2009-10 season are now enjoying productive seasons as redshirt juniors for UCLA.

Carolina fans, up until the early days of this season, have snickered at UCLA’s welcome to three Carolina transfers—the Wears plus Larry Drew II, whose last act in Chapel Hill was to pack his bags and split midseason without saying goodbye even to roommate Justin Watts.

But now Tar Heel fans aren’t talking so loud or acting so proud. While Carolina has been struggling, UCLA has rattled off 10 straight wins to claim a spot in the Top 25. Drew II, who tallied over 200 assists in 2009-10 for Carolina, is averaging more than eight assists a game, fourth in the nation, with an assist-turnover ratio of nearly 5:1.

Fair-minded people will feel pleased that Drew II, who clearly was never comfortable in Chapel Hill, has found a good situation in which to finish his college career. But he is irrelevant to the question at hand, as his eligibility would have been used up at the end of last season had he not transferred.

The Wears are a different story. They would be seniors this year and de facto leaders, and at least one would have been a starter. A Carolina team with the Wears would be significantly more skilled on the perimeter and stronger in the mid-range game, and also would probably be better on the boards as well. Brice Johnson would have had older role models to learn from, Joel James and Desmond Hubert would be less critical, and Jackson Simmons would never have entered the conversation.

Of course the die-hard Tar Heel fans will insist they would rather have the home-grown Simmons, an easy player to root for, than any more from the too-cool-for-school California crowd. Depending on how you look at it, they aren’t completely wrong.

But the fact is the Wears are more skilled and polished players than Simmons is likely to ever become. Travis Wear is averaging 12 points and six boards on 51 percent shooting in 30 minutes a night; David Wear is averaging 7.4 points and 4.6 boards on 50 percent shooting in 21 minutes a night. Both are shooting over 75 percent from the line—outstanding relative to Carolina’s numbers at the line this year—as well as (headed into last night's game) a respectable 30 percent-plus from the three-point line. Both players bring solid, all-round efficiency, with ability to score multiple ways. Get the Wears a wide-open shot from 12-15 feet and chances are it’s going in.

Is there any point in crying over spilled milk at this point? No, but it’s worth observing that some of Carolina’s 2012-13 struggles have their roots in the catastrophic season of 2009-10, the year when almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong for Roy Williams.

The whole point of bringing in players like the Wears was to have them be solid four-year contributors who would steadily improve and provide leadership as seniors. For a program like Carolina to meet simultaneously the goals of competing for national titles regularly and being NCAA Tournament quality virtually every year, you need your John Hensons and Harrison Barnes and you also need your Wears.

The Hensons and Harrisons give you a chance to be the best, and the Wears give you a chance to be consistent. It’s expected you lose the stars to the NBA early, but to lose the role players to transfer at the same time makes sustaining excellence an uphill struggle.

Right now Carolina doesn’t have senior leadership in the frontcourt, and the Heels arguably don’t have a Henson or Barnes-quality talent either (though Brice Johnson might get there in time). More practically, they don’t have the bigger guy who can stretch the court the way the Wears can or the way Ryan Kelly does (when healthy) for Duke.

So yes, Carolina does miss the Wears, and would be better off with one or both of them. Jackson Simmons, however, doesn’t mind, and Roy Williams likely couldn’t care less at this point. If Simmons and his compatriots in the frontcourt can build on their FSU success to go on to a good season, Carolina fans won’t either.

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