by Megan Walsh, UNC Athletic Communications
When Dexter Strickland tore his ACL at Virginia Tech in January, Reggie Bullock came off the bench and filled his place on the court. The junior guard stayed in that role as a starter for the remainder of the season, stepping up just when his team needed him most.
Now, as coach Roy Williams prepares for a season with a UNC squad that needs to "play as close to their potential as they possibly can," Bullock is asked to step up again. This time, though, he's been preparing all summer long.
"My primary area of focus in the offseason was getting my body right and becoming an all-around player," Bullock said. "Getting to the rack and being able to put the ball on the floor and pull up for a little 17-footer, being a team rebounder and ball handler - all of those things."
With the departures of Kendall Marshall, Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and John Henson to the NBA and Stillman White embarking on his Mormon mission, Bullock now stands as the Tar Heels' only returning starter from the NCAA Tournament.
Although he admitted it was a strange feeling to be at media day last week without best friends and fellow recruits Barnes and Marshall, Bullock said wishes them the best and is grateful for what they taught him.
The end of their Carolina careers position Bullock as UNC's leading returning scorer. He averaged 8.8 points per game last season and finished first on the team in three-pointers, but the Kinston native is about to be battle-tested even more.
"Guys who were 'complimentary players' or 'role players' - or whatever name you want to put on there," Williams said, "like James Michael (McAdoo) and Reggie, who could score seven or eight or nine points a game because the defense was aimed at John and Z and Kendall and Harrison, now they've got to be able to do it with the defense aimed at them."
Thanks to last season's turn of events, Bullock considers himself prepared. Although Strickland's injury was nothing to cheer about, the open position in Williams' starting lineup ending up being a major contributor in Bullock's growth as a player.
"It was definitely a blessing in disguise for me because it was a confidence booster for me, just seeing that I could play with those type guys on the floor and not miss a link," Bullock said. "Those players that I played with were great players, and they taught me a lot. They've moved on, and it's just my turn to help lead the younger guys."
Gems like Bullock's double-double against Ohio in the Sweet 16 of last season's tournament show exactly that. With 17 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, Bullock led Carolina and hit five of 10 three-pointers - the second-most of any UNC player in an NCAA Tournament game.
Playing alongside Tar Heel great and current Brooklyn Net Jerry Stackhouse in the N.C. Pro-Am this summer only added to Bullock's growth. In the league's championship game in August, Bullock was dubbed MVP after scoring 28 points.
That hard work has been apparent to his Carolina teammates, new and old, thus far.
"Reggie has definitely experienced some things," junior guard Leslie McDonald said. "He's developing into a great leader, showing the young guys the ropes of what Carolina basketball is."
Along with leading the team's younger players by example, Bullock said a leader is someone who knows exactly what Williams wants. He pointed to himself as one of the key players to step into that role this year, especially in game situations.
And with Barnes donning a Golden State Warriors jersey now, that leaves the final shot in close games up for grabs. Bullock said the choice of who takes the last stroke is all Williams' decision. He also confidently added that he's ready to be that player.
"If coach calls my name for me to step up and take that shot," Bullock said, "I'll definitely be able to step up and take it."