Reggie Bullock has simple goals for his junior season at Carolina: "I want to be the best defensive player on the team," he says.
The stats suggest he might already be there. After winning just two defensive awards from the coaches during the nonconference portion of last year's schedule, he won five defensive awards during ACC play, more than any other player on the roster. So be honest, Reggie, weren't you already the best defensive player on the team?
The Kinston native allows himself a little grin. "Once Dexter (Strickland) went down, probably so," he says. "But everyone knows what he brings on defense. This year, I'm trying to be the best, though. I'm trying to be the best on both ends."
Assuming Strickland returns to his pre-injury level, Carolina has the potential to be an interesting-different than last year, with no John Henson and Tyler Zeller in the middle, but interesting-defensive team this year, with Bullock and Strickland causing problems on the perimeter, the long-armed J.P. Tokoto stepping in a few passing lanes, and James Michael McAdoo picking off a few of his signature steal-and-dunks from midcourt.
They'll need to create some steals to generate some offense while the halfcourt offense matures. Bullock, who made noticeable progress last year, should also be a factor on that end of the court.
By the time his sophomore season ended in the NCAA Tournament, with Harrison Barnes and P.J. Hairston struggling to find their shots and Kendall Marshall out of the lineup, Bullock was Carolina's most consistently reliable perimeter threat.
He not only made shots. He made them at important moments. Against Ohio in the NCAA Tournament regional semifinal, Bullock nailed four second-half three-pointers, and all of them came in either a tied or one-point game.
That's been the book on him since he arrived in Chapel Hill: he's a shooter. Quietly, though, he's developed a much more well-rounded game.
"There will be a lot of teams who know me as a shooter now," Bullock says. "They don't know the rest of my game. Over the summer, I tried to increase my ability to get to the basket. People might think of me strictly as a shooter, but I want to do it all. I want to get to the basket, finish, and make the one-two dribble pullup. I have some things to show they haven't seen from my first couple years of college basketball."
Bullock flashed some of that game in this summer's North Carolina Pro-Am, an annual collection of some of the best college talent in the area, plus a selection of numerous alumni from Carolina, NC State and Duke. Yes, it's essentially glorified pickup basketball, but it's noteworthy that Bullock put up back-to-back 30+-point games in the semifinals and finals of the league championship, on his way to earning MVP honors for his team.
His scoring outburst highlighted one of the biggest progressions in his game. When he arrived at Carolina, he largely needed someone else to set him up, to put himself in position to score. Now, he's more capable of creating a scoring chance on his own, maybe even flash that "one-two dribble pullup" that he loves to talk about.
One of Bullock's teammates on his summer league squad was a familiar face, both to Bullock and to Tar Heel fans-Jerry Stackhouse. The duo have a long-time relationship that goes back to their roots in Kinston, where Bullock grew up just down the street from Stackhouse's old home.
Bullock, like every young basketball player in Kinston, idolized Stackhouse. Flash forward a decade, and he's running the same court with the legend. Bullock still points to Stackhouse-who last played at Carolina in 1995, when Bullock was three years old-as the best player he played with this summer. But he also, well, acknowledges the age difference.
"When I first started playing with him, I was like, 'I can't believe I'm playing on the same team with Jerry Stackhouse,'" Bullock says. "But now, it's more like I'm passing the ball to my dad."