Last season during Carolina's home game against Long Beach State, Roy Williams watched in exasperation as James Michael McAdoo attempted a finger-roll under the hoop. It was a repeat offense for the freshman, as coaches had been encouraging him to be more aggressive around the rim.
"If he doesn't dunk it next time," Williams told the Tar Heels on the bench, "everyone is going to run."
McAdoo must have felt the tremors coming from the sideline. Even though he was out of earshot of Williams's admonition to the rest of the team, he dunked on the very next possession. In many ways, it was the perfect snapshot of a first year at Carolina for McAdoo that seemed like a struggle--until, suddenly, everything fell into place.
During one four-game stretch in early January, McAdoo made just three of his 14 field goal attempts and occasionally looked tentative. But he closed on a tear, hitting 34 of his last 65 shots in the final nine games of the season and averaging 10.6 points and 4.9 rebounds in the year's final seven games. John Henson's injury opened the door for major playing time in the ACC Tournament, and McAdoo responded with three double-figure scoring efforts in the postseason.
"At first, when I wasn't playing well, people saw me as the kid who wasn't transitioning well to college basketball," McAdoo says. "They weren't necessarily being super negative about me, but they knew I wasn't doing what I was capable of. I wasn't believing in myself.
"Towards the end of the season, I believed in myself and started working hard, and I showed what I was really capable of doing."
McAdoo thrived as a complementary piece to Carolina's post-heavy 2012 attack. With opposing defenses focused on Henson and Tyler Zeller, he rarely drew the opposition's best or most bruising defender.
This year, with both of those players gone, the matchups are going to be much different. Williams's offense relies heavily on interior scoring, and McAdoo is the team's lone proven returning interior scorer.
"I know I have to take on the combined role they had last year," he says. "But I know I also have a lot of help with Desmond (Hubert) and Joel (James). I feel like I came into my own last year, and I'm excited about taking on that responsibility."
With much more room to operate in the paint, it will be interesting to see how the shots McAdoo gets as a sophomore differ from the field goals he attempted as a freshman. Williams's offseason tasks for the Norfolk native were designed to make sure he was ready for a variety of roles.
"He wanted me to stay focused in the weight room," McAdoo says. "On-court, he told me to be crisp in everything I do with my shot fundamentally. I worked on my footwork, and instead of just saying, 'I'm going to take 500 shots,' I maybe only took 200 shots, but I made sure that I was doing everything correctly."
In virtually every way, McAdoo seems more sure of himself than he did at any time last year. As a freshman, he looked like someone who knew he was supposed to be a star basketball player and wanted to live up to that expectation. Now, he just looks like a star basketball player.
"Leaving the house and leaving my family was a tough transition for me," he says. "Playing for Carolina basketball is a big deal, especially last year when we were so hyped. Off the court, I learned what I'm capable of doing and how focused I need to be to achieve those goals.
"I had always been a good basketball player. When I got to Carolina and played poorly, I had to work on some things outside of just the game. I had to pay attention to sleep patterns and time management and making sure I got things done. I learned so much last year."