The RTC Interview Series: One on One With Andrew Carter

Posted by Chris Stone on October 6th, 2016

RTC interviews one on one

The college basketball season is just around the corner, so it’s the perfect time to start getting in the mood for hoops. To get the juices flowing, we reached out to North Carolina beat writer Andrew Carter to talk about the upcoming season, some of his Tar Heel favorites and the Duke-North Carolina rivalry. The following interview was edited for brevity and clarity. 

Rush the Court: Talk to us a little bit as an introduction about how you came to become the North Carolina beat writer for The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

Andrew Carter: This’ll be my sixth basketball season. I grew up in North Carolina. I grew up in Raleigh, so I’m familiar with the area. This is definitely home for me. Before this, I was covering the Miami Dolphins for the (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel and before that I covered Florida State for four years for The Orlando Sentinel. The News & Observer had this job open and being from this area and having grown up here, it was especially of interest to me. I knew a couple people here and it just kind of worked out. Here I am.

Andrew Carter is the The News & Observer’s North Carolina beat writer. (The News & Observer)

RTC: Last year, the Tar Heels obviously had a pretty successful season, winning the ACC, the ACC Tournament, and making the national title game. What would you say are some expectations for the program this year?

Carter: I think expectations are always high at North Carolina, regardless of the roster and who they have coming back in a given year. The expectations are always going to be high. People always think that UNC should be good because it’s UNC. Naturally, with what they have coming back next year, I think those expectations are justified. They lose a couple really important pieces in Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson and Joel James was a valuable reserve by the end of his tenure. But everyone that could have come back is back. They bring back a solid nucleus: Justin Jackson, Joel Berry, Isaiah Hicks, Theo Pinson. You just go on down the list and I think they have a lot of solid pieces back. Last year, the expectations entering the year — it was a Final Four or bust kind of year. I don’t think it’s necessarily that for UNC this season, but certainly this is a team that probably is going to enter the year somewhere around the top 10, if not certainly in the top 10. It’s going to be a team that if it doesn’t make the second week of the NCAA Tournament, it’ll probably be viewed as something of a disappointment this season. There’s a lot of high expectations, that’s obviously nothing new. If pieces come together and things fall the right way, I think this is certainly a team that has the potential to get back to the Final Four.

RTC: Is there a player among the guys that you listed that you think might surprise people there?

Carter: Well, I feel like the players that I just listed are pretty known commodities. In terms of surprise-type guys, I would look at a guy like Kenny Williams, who was a freshman last season. He didn’t play a particularly large role. He was a guy that they brought in late in that recruiting class last spring/summer. He was originally a VCU commitment, so when Shaka Smart left VCU to become the head coach at Texas, he reopened his recruitment. UNC liked him. He’s known for his shooting. I think he can possibly play an expanded role this season that might surprise some outsiders. I don’t know if UNC fans would be surprised because I think they think he’s pretty good. I don’t think that if Theo Pinson has a good year people would be surprised, but maybe if he has an especially good season scoring, that might surprise some people. He was the Player of the Year in North Carolina as a senior in high school out of Greensboro. He’s been solid so far, he’s certainly been a valuable contributor, especially down the stretch last season, but probably a bit under the radar so far. I think people might have been expecting a little more out of him, not that he’s been bad by any means. I would say those two — Williams is much more under the radar; Pinson is going to be a guy who starts for these guys and big things will be expected from him.

Kenny Williams Might Be Under the Radar Heading Into the Season (Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

Kenny Williams Might Be Under the Radar Heading Into the Season (Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

Then, they have a three-man freshmen class. Seventh Woods was actually a recruiting sensation, one of the first kids who grew up in this YouTube era of highlight videos where one of his highlight tapes that he put on YouTube has some insane number of views in the millions. So, he was a guy that people have known a lot about for a long time. I’m not sure how much he’s going to play just because there’s not a lot of minutes in the backcourt, but I think he’ll be in a position among the freshmen. Then, they have Tony Bradley, a 6’10” freshman who some people have been comparing to kind of like a Tim Duncan-type player. He maybe resembles him physically, so that’s where some of that is coming from. Bradley is going to be a guy that has an opportunity to contribute as a freshman. But, in terms of returning guys, Pinson’s going to be one that people look to break out and Kenny Williams could go from not playing much of a role as a freshman to being a valuable contributor as a sophomore.

RTC: Is there something about the team that sticks out to you as the biggest question mark?

Carter: For the past several years, it’s been the ability to shoot well. I think that’s going to be the same thing this year. UNC for a long time has just not been an especially good shooting team. They’ve have some good shooters individually. Marcus Paige was a guy that could knock down some clutch shots and certainly did that throughout his time. He made a huge one in the National Championship game to tie that up late before UNC lost at the buzzer. Paige is a guy who could hit the three consistently. Joel Berry is that way, but team-wise, it just hasn’t been a very good three-point shooting team for quite some time. UNC was in the 300s last year nationally in three-point shooting. Perimeter shooting has been this team’s Achilles heel for the last several years. I think it’s going to be that way again because you lose Paige. They have a couple guys coming in that they think can shoot. Seventh Woods is not known as some kind of deadly three-point shooter; neither is Brandon Robinson, their other freshman guard coming in. That’s going to be a question mark again. Berry is by far their most proven outside shooter this season. Nate Britt has shown the ability to make some shots. In moments, he can string together some hot streaks here and there, but he’s not necessarily the most consistent shooter. So, I think it’s just going to be that. I think they’re going to have to have better outside shooting from Justin Jackson who has the ability to shoot well, but hasn’t necessarily shown it all that often. Theo Pinson’s going to have to be a better shooter from the outside. How those two develop along the perimeter is going to say a lot about whether UNC can finally become a more reliable perimeter shooting team. More than anything, that’s probably the biggest question surrounding these guys again.

That, and then obviously how you replace the production from Brice Johnson, but I think they’re a bit more comfortable there because they have Isaiah Hicks back. Kennedy Meeks has been kind of so-so inconsistent. He’s faded each of the past two years. He’s back. Between those two guys, they should be relatively okay on the inside. The question is whether they can make some shots and take the pressure off the guys on the inside and keep defenses honest.

RTC: Let’s shift a bit to some historical questions. What’s the most memorable game you’ve covered while on the UNC beat?

Carter: Well, it would have to be the game last year, the National Championship game. People immediately when that one ended were comparing it with some of the greatest college basketball games in history. I think it was probably the best National Championship game however you define best at least since the ‘83 NC State game, NC State-Houston, if it didn’t even surpass that. I think just in terms of the drama that you had in the final seconds of that game. You had two of the most memorable shots in NCAA Tournament history coming just a few seconds apart with what Marcus Paige did with the double clutching three-pointer that he made to tie the game, and then seconds later Villanova wins it at the buzzer with the most crazy, dramatic of shots by Kris Jenkins on a perfect play that Villanova drew up. So, obviously that’s going to be one to top. That would definitely be the most memorable game that I’ve covered and I’ve covered some very memorable Duke-UNC games in my time on the beat.

Regardless of Outcome, Marcus Paige's Shot Was One for the Ages (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)

Regardless of Outcome, Marcus Paige’s Shot Was One for the Ages (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)

I think the first Duke-UNC game that I covered was the Austin Rivers game back in 2012 where Duke, I want to say, was down eight points with three minutes to go and they came back and win that one at the buzzer with a three-pointer from Austin Rivers over Tyler Zeller. That was one that really stuck with Roy Williams for a while and really kind of hurt them psychologically. That was still a really good UNC team that probably would have made the Final Four if they didn’t have some injuries. The last couple Duke-UNC games at Cameron have been really good. Last year, UNC held on. The year before that, they gave away a 10-point lead with less than four minutes to go, but I think that one went to overtime. Tyus Jones kind of took over that game for Duke late, so that’s memorable, but nothing can top the National Championship game from last year.

RTC: In terms of interviews, who’s been your favorite UNC person to interview over the years?

Carter: I think if you’ve asked anyone who’s covered UNC in recent years, I think they would say Marcus Paige and I would agree with that. Marcus was always very insightful, very patient with us. He always took the time to explain things in a way that a layman can understand. He was really good at breaking down Xs and Os, breaking down how things happened and why on the basketball court. He’s interested in becoming a broadcaster after he’s finished playing whenever that is and I think he’s going to really successfully slide into that role when the time comes for him. People always believe that he could make a very good head coach one day and I think he could do that, too. I see that within him. He really had a great grasp of the game the way a coach would, he was really good at explaining things. He’s open and willing to give his time with us, which a lot of guys always aren’t. Sometimes, a lot of guys get burned out or get sick of talking to the media and Marcus was always good — even if he was sick of talking to us, he didn’t act like it. Just being generous with his time and insightful.

RTC: Last question. You’re from the area and you’ve covered UNC for six years now, so you’ve also covered plenty of the Duke-UNC rivalry. It seems like the biggest challenge to that rivalry in college hoops is Kentucky-Louisville, but what in your mind tips the scale in favor of UNC-Duke as the best rivalry in college basketball?

Carter: Well, for one thing, they’re in the same conference. I think that hurts the Louisville-UK rivalry a little bit. Obviously, that’s a very intense rivalry. I will say that I’ve never seen anything like what I saw in Lexington the few times that I’ve been there in terms of the attention, the interest around UK basketball, the media microscope that that program is under. It’s not the same here. Obviously, this is a huge deal in North Carolina, but I would compare Kentucky basketball to Alabama football where that’s just kind of the epicenter of that state. It’s a little bit different here. I think interests are more varied. The fact that you have three big time schools in close proximity, you have some fracturing among the fan base. In Kentucky, it’s about Louisville and Kentucky, but then you add in North Carolina, you add another school into that mix. You have Wake Forest fans. You have East Carolina fans who don’t care so much about the Triangle schools, so it’s just kind of a different environment.

But in terms of Duke-UNC, that’s just in a league of its own because they’re in the same conference, they play twice a year, the stakes are always high, and they’re fighting for ACC championships. They’re meeting in the ACC Tournament; the stakes are even higher there. They’re separated by eight miles just like that old corny ESPN promo: eight miles of pine trees and two shades of blue is what separates these two schools. It’s just different. As intense as Louisville and Kentucky is, it’s just not quite the same because they’re not in as close of proximity as Duke and UNC, they’re in different conferences, and I think when you have two schools like this here in each others’ backyards, that just amps it up a little bit more. I don’t think there’s any two schools in the country that can compete with that. Geographically, UNC and Duke just have that advantage in terms of making that rivalry a notch above any other in college basketball.

Chris Stone (136 Posts)

Chris Stone is a contributor to the Big 12 microsite. You can find him on Twitter @cstonehoops.

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