ACC

Why Roy Williams has been so impressed with one UNC player’s performance

UNC’s Luke Maye: ‘We just needed to stay together’

UNC senior forward Luke Maye talks about UNC's 90-82 win over NC State on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019 at PNC Arena. Maye had 21 points and 11 rebounds.
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UNC senior forward Luke Maye talks about UNC's 90-82 win over NC State on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019 at PNC Arena. Maye had 21 points and 11 rebounds.

Three of North Carolina’s players recorded double-doubles in UNC’s 90-82 win over N.C. State on Tuesday.

But when asked who he thought was the player of the game, Roy Williams did not name one of those three players (Luke Maye, Kenny Williams and Cam Johnson). Instead, he said it was sophomore forward Garrison Brooks, who finished with 11 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and a block.

“Because I thought he was sensational defensively,” Williams said. He pointed to how Brooks hedged hard on screens to slow the progress of the ball handler, then hustled back to guard his man.

And for the second consecutive game, Brooks, who is 6-9, 230 pounds, also had five assists and no turnovers.

“I told Leaky (Black), and Seventh (Woods), and Coby (White), they better watch out, because Garrison the last two games is 10 assists, zero turnovers,” Williams said. “I may play his butt at the point guard.”

Back in the locker room after the game, Brooks wore a proud smile on his face.

The five assists are a career-high, and prior to the game against Pittsburgh last week, the sophomore forward never had more than three assists in a game. When asked was his game starting to resemble that of Denver Nuggets forward Nikola Jokic, an All-Star big man known for his passing skills, Brooks seemed to like the thought.

“Yeah man, I do what I do,” Brooks said jokingly.

Brooks’ play, especially in the last two games, has been critical to the Tar Heels’ success. Against Pitt, Brooks had 9 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals. Aside from the 20 points he scored in the season-opener on Nov. 6 against Wofford, UNC’s first two ACC games have been Brooks’ best.

The 12th-ranked Tar Heels (12-3, 2-0 ACC) have won both. It is the first time UNC has opened up ACC play with two wins since the 2015-16 season. That year, it won its first eight ACC games before losing. UNC will next play Louisville (10-4, 1-0) on Saturday at the Dean Smith Center.

Through the first two ACC games, Brooks is No. 2 in the conference in offensive rating, according to kenpom.com. He has been one of the best offensive rebounders on the team.

“I get it to the guys when they’re open,” Brooks said. “If I can play hard, it will just be better for the team every game.”

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North Carolina’s Garrison Brooks (15) harnesses a defensive rebound over N.C. State’s C.J. Bryce (13) in the first half on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

In October, prior to the start of the season, Williams said he would prefer to play a two-big men lineup. But he needed one of his sophomore bigs — Brooks, Sterling Manley, Brandon Huffman or Walker Miller — to step up.

There was also the option to go small, moving senior forward Luke Maye to the center position. But Williams’ most successful lineups and his preferred style of play is with two bigs. He started the season with Brooks in the starting lineup, and has not wavered from that.

Brooks has started every game this season. When it was announced that Manley was dealing with a sore knee before the Harvard game on Jan. 2, Williams needed Brooks to play well.

“He’s really getting in the right spots, and kind of continuing to grow as a player,” Maye said of Brooks. “I think he’s getting better offensively, and he’s starting to shoot a little mid-range, which is great...Right now we just need him to continue to do great defensively, offensive rebound and box out and make the plays inside, and I think he’s doing that right now for us, and that’s been big.”

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Jonathan M. Alexander has been covering the North Carolina Tar Heels since May 2018. He previously covered Duke basketball and recruiting in the ACC. He is an alumnus of N.C. Central University.

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