|Strickland fires a few shots toward N.C. State and Kentucky, and we're OK with that. (US Presswire)|
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Dexter Strickland's knee is healthy -- and so is his mouth.
Strickland, minutes after finishing practice on Thursday afternoon and saying he was about 98 percent back from the torn ACL that ended his season prematurely, had some interesting comments. The senior guard talked about his role for this season, the other team in the state that's emerged as ACC contender and also how much he's thought about the "What If" game last season.
First, we'll go with the bulletin-board material provided to Mark Gottfried's N.C. State squad -- which has been picked by both coaches and media as the preseason favorite to win the league.
"They talk those guys up every single year and we beat them every single year," Strickland said. "They are the least of our worries. Beat us one year and then they can talk smack. Until then, you can't put them in the mix."
Terrific stuff. I may just move down this way for the year because it's going to be incredibly entertaining -- both on and off the court. The last time all three -- UNC, Duke and N.C. State -- were all at this level was back in the late 1980's when Jim Valvano was in Raleigh.
Strickland wasn't done, though.
I asked him whether he still thought about how everything might have been different last season if Kendall Marshall and he had been on the court for the NCAA tournament -- and John Henson had been healthy as well.
"All the time," he said. "I'll be honest. If nobody got hurt, you might as well have given us the trophy. Nobody had the ability to stop us."
I don't agree it would have been a sure thing, but it certainly would have been one heck of a game that could have gone either way. Remember, Kentucky needed an Anthony Davis last-second block to take care of the Tar Heels earlier in the season at Rupp.
Finally, Strickland said he has worked on his scoring ability over the summer and is trying to become a more well-rounded player instead of solely a lock-down defender.
"I feel like my role this year is going to be different," he said. "I want to get back to having the mentality I had back in high school, getting the the basket and creating for others. I'm still going to lock down on the defensive end, but I've been looked at as just a defenders. They're going to see a different player, someone who will attack the rim and score more."
North Carolina could certainly use more scoring punch after losing Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Kendall Marshall.
We'll have more on North Carolina later today after watching the Tar Heels practice Thursday afternoon.