I wrote my column today about Harrison Barnes, the UNC forward who may be the best player in college basketball this year and is at least in the conversation.
Barnes was at "Operation Basketball" -- the ACC's annual college basketball preview event. It was in Charlotte this season and provided a one-stop shopping opportunity for reporters to talk to players and coaches from all 12 ACC teams.
It was also interesting to listen to Duke's Ryan Kelly, who didn't lack for confidence. Kelly's Duke team was picked No.2 behind UNC in the media preseason poll (last year, UNC won the regular-season championship and Duke won the tournament title).
Kelly said Duke definitely could win the regular-season title this season, saying: "We believe we can win the ACC. Winning games and winning championships is what we do.”
Kelly said freshman guard Austin Rivers had impressed him so far, too. “He’s a dynamic scorer with a great ability to break down defenders," Kelly said. "There are not many people in the country who have a first step like that.”
And, on Duke itself, Kelly noted: "Some people love us, some people hate us, but everybody knows us."
The same could be said of UNC's program, where three players (Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson) made the preseason all-conference team. N.C. State... not so much.
It was interesting to hear new coach Mark Gottfried talk about the fact that although the Wolfpack can boast of two national championships, the most recent came in 1983 and that doesn't make much of an impact on the 16- or 17-year-old he and his staff might be recruiting these days. (The Wolfpack was picked by the media to finish No.8 in the ACC this season).
Gottfried said N.C. State to today's recruits might not be "fashionable" or "cool," so the program had to "sell the future" more than the present.
It was also interesting to note coach Roy Williams talking about the differences between the '09 Tar Heel national championship team and this current team. "This team simply doesn't have the scoring options that '09 team had," Williams said. He said Harrison Barnes was a natural scorer, that Tyler Zeller was a "great complementary scorer" and that everyone else on the team was also mostly "complementary scorers."
On the other hand, Williams said, this team will be able to defend the basket better than the '09 team and perhaps better than any team he has ever coached.