Dec 4, 2013; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Denzel Valentine (45) looks to pass the ball against North Carolina Tar Heels forward Kennedy Meeks (3) during the 2nd half a game at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

UNC Basketball: Rookie of the Year is Kennedy Meeks

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While he did not arrive with the same amount of hype as fellow McDonald’s All-American Isaiah Hicks or with the same need to produce right away as point guard Nate Britt, Charlotte native Kennedy Meeks has been the Tar Heels best freshman so far this season thanks to providing the Heels with a much needed scoring option in the low post. After arriving on campus at 320 pounds the big man has worked on his diet and his conditioning with UNC strength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahratian and has lost over 30 pounds while earning a spot in the starting lineup in his first season.

Currently Meeks is averaging 7.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game this season while shooting 56% from the floor. He is 2nd on the team in field goal percentage and 3rd in rebounds and has been the leading rebounder in 9 games this season, while he has been the leading the scorer 3 times.  The same way Marcus Paige has the trend this season of having incredible second half performances after struggling in the first half, Meeks has his own trend of playing great games after having a subpar performance in the last game. The trend began early in the season after a 1 point, 3 rebound game against Richmond Coach Williams call him “maybe the worst player ever”. He responded with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists in 24 minutes in the upset of Louisville. He had only played 5 minutes against the Spiders. After the UAB game where the entire team struggled and seem disinterested Meeks would lead the team in scoring in another upset win, this time over the number one ranked Michigan State Spartans who were completely healthy at the time. Meeks had 15 points and 7 rebounds in the win.

The freshman admitted that he hit a wall at the end of the nonconference season and the early part the conference season. Over a five-game stretch in late December and early January, Meeks only averaged 3.5 points per game and was held scoreless twice. His season and the team’s season would turnaround after the disaster at Virginia, following that game where Meeks was one of the only positives with 15 points and 9 rebounds Coach Williams inserted him into the starting lineup for the 3rd time this season. He would play a career-high 26 minutes while chipping in 11 points and 8 rebounds against Clemson, he has not left the starting lineup since that game nor have the Tar Heels lost a game. The Tar Heels are 11-1 with him in the starting lineup this season with their only lost coming in the first game at Wake Forest. His best game of the 10-game winning streak came right after possibly his worst, continuing his trend. Against Pitt, Meeks only played 11 minutes and had 2 points and 4 rebounds. The following game against Florida State on the road with James Michael McAdoo saddled with foul problems, Meeks would score 23 points on 11-12 shooting with 7 rebounds while playing 24 minutes.

The freshman forward has shown great improvement throughout the course of this season, from improving his conditioning and working on his weight to become a reliable low post scorer. Also, outside of the Louisville game he has not had much of a chance to show off his remarkable passing skills that he was known for in high school. With the potential that Meeks has shown this year there is no reason to believe that he can not make a similar jump next season that Marcus Paige has made this season and develop into an All-ACC caliber player and become Coach Roy’s next great big man.

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Tags: Basketball Kennedy Meeks North Carolina Tar Heels

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