by Megan Morketter, UNC Athletic Communications
For sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo, this season is about carrying the load placed on he and the other big men after the departures of former forward John Henson and center Tyler Zeller.
With a career high 26 points and 14 rebounds Friday in the Tar Heels' first game of the season against Gardner-Webb, the Norfolk, Va., native made it clear he was ready for the challenge.
"Just knowing that last year I could mess up and John and Z would come in as opposed to this year, I'm out there starting," said McAdoo. "I feel like I have to take that responsibility and really step up and be a leader on the team. That doesn't mean I have to score the ball or do anything spectacular, but just fill my role any particular day in any particular game."
Starting in his first game in the Smith Center was a surreal moment for McAdoo, who admitted hearing "Jump Around" while Carolina prepared for tipoff was a dream come true. But the forward stayed focused on his one and only goal: win the game.
"I just wanted to win, honestly. We did. I did what I had to do as an individual, but it was a team effort on the defensive end and offensive end. In the end, we got the win, and that was the only thing I was worried about."
McAdoo was not the only one with few worries. Teammates Dexter Strickland and Reggie Bullock, who know the self-acclaimed "bad rebounder" works constantly on improving his defensive effort, were confident in McAdoo's ability to perform at a high level.
"That's his game. He's got a scoring mentality," Bullock said. "He helped us out a lot on the boards. That's what he does and that's the game he's going to bring every night."
Strickland added, "I know him off the court, and his personality and stuff like that, he takes pressure very well. I don't think he folds under pressure at all."
This reliability can perhaps be attributed to the increased confidence McAdoo has in his abilities. The forward feels that being a starter solidifies his newfound role on the team.
"I feel like it's night and day," said McAdoo. "I feel like now I know what I'm capable of doing, as opposed to last year I was going out there just trying to find a loose ball here and there, trying to fit in. But this year I feel like I've embraced my role and that's just to do what Coach Roy tells me. I've been working on it all summer, and I think it translated to the game today."
As McAdoo looks toward the rest of the season, he knows there will be tougher opponents, and as young team, the Tar Heels have a lot to work on. One thing he knows for sure though, is that he's in the right place.
"God's blessed me to be at the University of North Carolina, and I really appreciate that now that I feel like I'm really...out there starting and playing such a key role. It's just a blessing to be out there playing for the University. It's a dream come true everyday. That's why I just try to go as hard as I can and represent my school and myself."