By Adam Lucas
The seeds of one of Carolina basketball’s most-discussed offseason decisions might be traced to John Thompson.
“In that speech, John Thompson said, ‘Basketball will end one day and the basketball will go flat,’” Meeks says. “He said, ‘When the ball goes flat, which is going to happen eventually, you have to be ready and know what you’re going to do.’”
That’s how Meeks describes his offseason decision to pledge Kappa Alpha Psi, where he was inducted in April of 2016. Of course, that was a busy time for Carolina basketball, and even more so for Meeks, who decided that same month to enter his name for NBA Draft consideration.
The senior acknowledges that the timing and confluence of events might have looked ill-conceived, and says it required some lengthy conversations with Roy Williams to persuade the head coach Meeks had his priorities in order.
“I had wanted to do it before (April),” says Meeks, who has multiple family members who have experienced Greek life. “But I felt like I wasn’t ready. It’s a good position for me because the people in the fraternity were already my friends. They were some of the first people I met when I came to campus. For me, it’s the best of both worlds. Basketball has gotten me to many places and I’m thankful for it. And my fraternity has also put me in the position to talk to other people in fields I might want to pursue after basketball.”
For the remainder of his senior year, however, Meeks realizes his top priority needs to be basketball. That was the core of the conversation he had with Williams after his junior year, and Williams asked him to focus on three things in the offseason: being more explosive, being a better leader and prioritizing his activities to help him achieve his basketball goals.
Those goals received a stark dose of reality when Meeks was not invited to the NBA combine despite submitting his name for eligibility.
“I thought for sure I would be invited,” Meeks says. “That hurt me. It’s heartbreaking, but now it’s time to move forward, and that’s going to be my motivation for this year. I won’t miss out on that opportunity again. I’m much more focused on what is best for the team and for my goals.”
In addition to improved focus, Meeks is also trying to make physical strides. Part of his offseason has been devoted to rehab on a nagging left knee injury, trying to strengthen it to increase his ability to handle the rigors of what he hopes will be a long 2016-17 season.
He’d like to be more consistent as a senior. He was sometimes terrific last year (15 points and eight rebounds against Syracuse in the Final Four, 15 points and nine rebounds against Indiana in the regional semifinal) but realizes the last game of his junior year—1-for-8 from the field against Villanova, which overshadowed his six offensive boards—was a difficult one. But those struggles also helped the player gain some insight into what his head coach has so frequently asked of him.
“My championship game wasn’t a good game for me at all,” he says. “Coach Williams has always told me it’s important to prioritize basketball, but as a player, you always want to figure things out for yourself. I can honestly say our relationship has grown since last year. I wasn’t as good a teammate as I could’ve been. I want to get to the level where my teammates can respect me for doing things the right way. Coach and I have a better understanding now of what we want out of each other. I’m thankful for him, and I’m really excited about the season.”