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November 10, 2009North Carolina sophomore guard Justin Watts has a chance to help the Tar Heels this season in several different areas with his athleticism and his length along the perimeter.
"Justin has done a nice job in the preseason conditioning in the weight room and running. And he's done a nice job on the court," said UNC head coach Roy Williams during the preseason.
"Coming into this year I've been working hard this summer in the weight room and on the court, and I'm just coming in focused this year and confident," Watts said. "I've got one year under my belt, and I'm feeling good."
Watts played sparingly as a rookie with Carolina's deep and talented veteran presence in the backcourt, but this season he has a chance for his minutes to pick up considerably.
"Just being in the system one year allows you to do a lot more than just coming in as a freshman," Watts said.
Watts was able to get a basket in Carolina's NCAA title game victory over Michigan State in Detroit, so his name will always go down in the record books as part of that memorable triumph.
"It was a wonderful ride. That's all you can say. It was fun. I didn't want it to end, but it was a great experience. A lot of people don't get to do that," he said about winning the title. "Oh yeah, it's finally set in. We've got the banner up. We got our rings. We had our celebration and everything, so it's set in and we're ready to try to do it again this year."
Monday night, Watts played a total of nine minutes in UNC's season-opening win over Florida International, scoring five points on two-of-five shooting from the floor, including a three-pointer, along with two assists and one block.
He also had two turnovers, which is something that Coach Williams brought up in terms of determining whether or not Watts plays more substantially as the season progresses.
"I asked him (during the preseason) and he thought I was kidding, but I asked him if he was color blind, because if he'd stop throwing the dadgum ball to the other team then he would play a lot for us," Williams said of Watts. "I just wanted to make sure that he knew that he was on the White team and they were Blue, or he was on the Blue team and they were White."
"But if he would stop turning the basketball over, Justin would do some things that would help us, but he's going to get a chance. He really will get a chance," Williams added.
"(Coach Williams has been) just telling me to just fine-tune all my skills so I'll be able to step up and help us out this year a lot," Watts said.
Watts has been showing progress defensively, and naturally that's another area where he can earn himself playing time if he can stay in front of his man in Carolina's defensive sets.
"Off the ball, I've become a lot better defender, not losing my man, and just on the ball technique, keeping your man in front of you," he said. "Other than that, he (Coach Williams) is a big defensive guy, so you've got to be able to do that."
Watts is trying not to place extraordinary expectations on himself or the team this season.
Knowing that he's been down the road before at least one season does put him in a situation where he can help provide some leadership on the court in practice and games.
"We're just trying to be the best team that we can be. I'm not setting any expectations. We're just going to do what Coach says and try to be the best team we can be," Watts said.
"We're young (as sophomores), but we're still looked at as leaders because we have so many young guys. Deon (Thompson) and Marcus (Ginyard) and Marc (Campbell) and Will (Graves) have done such a great job being leaders for us this year stepping up in that position. I think me and Larry (Drew) and (Tyler) Zeller, we get our two cents in there too," Watts added.
Watts may also have the opportunity this season to take over the role previously taken by Danny Green with Carolina's pregame 'dance' along the sidelines before the opening tap.
He did so during Monday night's season opener.
While Watts will almost assuredly come off the bench this season, he has a golden opportunity to be a major impact player on the team if he's able to take advantage of all the opportunities he's given while minimizing his turnovers, shooting well, and playing solid defense.
"I think I've gotten stronger, faster, quicker. My ball handling has gotten better. My jump shot has gotten better, my decision making," he said. "I'm just looking forward to this season. All the hard work should pay off. I'm just going to go out there and have fun."
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