What If James Michael McAdoo Was Back in Carolina Blue?


They are two seemingly ordinary words found in the dictionary that when combined some provoke powerful thought.

They can ignite contemplation about alterations in the course of history and can stir debate about what may create foundations for the future.

Or heck, their union really can just be fun and send us guessing about what could be… or what could have been.

“What if” is a tandem of words that can lead to plenty of head scratching when pondering what might be awaiting a team in the not-so-distant future, or what might have been if one catch had been corralled or one stop had been made.

For North Carolina basketball fans, last season’s gut-wrenching 85-83 NCAA Tournament loss to Iowa State screamed with “what ifs”, among which was “What if Brice Johnson isn’t shelved for the game with a first-half ankle injury?”

Monday evening’s 71-70 ACC setback to Notre Dame seemed to present a bevy of “What ifs”, including “What if the Tar Heels prevent the Irish from snaring one last offensive rebound?” One that would lead to the eventual game-winning score.

But as each act concludes on North Carolina’s hardwood stage this season, one significant “What if” continues to emerge.

What if one of the Tar Heels’ principle actors from a season ago hadn’t exited stage left? What if he had returned for one last curtain call?

What if James Michael McAdoo decided to suit up in the baby blue and white for one last season?

Reflecting on McAdoo’s three seasons in Chapel Hill can prove vexing for Tar Heels nation. Billed as the next in a lengthy line of North Carolina superstars, the former McDonald’s All-American never seemed to live up to the hype.

He may not have a jersey one day hanging in the Dean Dome rafters with past Tar Heels legends, but that’s not to say McAdoo’s career wasn’t productive or impactful.

Most everyone agreed at the time of his announcement of entry into the NBA Draft, the 6-foot-9 forward was making a mistake. McAdoo’s game seemed to lack the physicality needed on the interior at the next level. Those suspicions were confirmed when he went undrafted and after signing as a member of the Golden State Warriors summer league team, these days he is toiling for the Santa Cruz Warriors in the NBA Development League, where he has shown NBA potential.

He is currently averaging over 17 points and nearly 8.5 rebounds a game, and when looking at the numbers he put up in his last two Tar Heel seasons maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. They actually paint a pretty productive picture.

McAdoo produced over 14 points and pulled down nearly seven boards a contest, and was a second-team All-ACC selection each of his last two seasons. And it’s that kind of production that might have had North Carolina off to a smoother start this year.

If he had remained in Chapel Hill for his senior campaign, the Tar Heels would have featured one of the nation’s première front lines when teamed with Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson. It’s hard not to think that while McAdoo’s presence may not have changed the outcome of North Carolina’s matchup against what may be a history-making Kentucky team, it quite possibly could have pushed the Tar Heels over the hump against Butler, Iowa and Notre Dame, three defeats by a combined 14 points.

North Carolina’s triple option attack in the paint would have featured fewer double teams inside, but then again, so would a more consistent perimeter game. Which leads to a second perspective produced by the McAdoo “What if”. What would the Tar Heels perimeter rotation look like this season.

Thus far, last year’s all-everything in Marcus Paige has occupied the point at opening tip, with freshman Justin Jackson and junior J.P. Tokoto giving North Carolina a three-guard look. Without a doubt, Paige would remain the fuel that runs the Tar Heels’ engine, but who would get the nod at the wing? Tokoto has shown an improved jumper and is one of the country’s top defenders, so maybe he has the edge.

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Jackson would likely still grab valuable minutes, but with the improved play of Nate Britt and the addition of Joel Berry, Paige could often slide in as the two-guard with Britt or Berry taking the reins at point. Oh, and where would Theo Pinson and an emerging Isaiah Hicks fit into the equation?

The minutes garnered by Jackson, Pinson and Berry, along with the elevated play of Britt and Hicks, lay the foundation for possible future of deep postseason runs if not this year, maybe the next two. While the Tar Heels appeared to have made deposits for the future, however, how much would they have cashed in with a veteran producer in McAdoo this year?

It’s a question that won’t reveal an answer. But one can’t help but believe that the road traveled early on — and the one North Carolina hopes to venture on in the postseason — might no be so bumpy if the man presently working in the D-League might have ventured down the collegiate path one final time.