NCAA Tournament

James Michael McAdoo’s game at North Carolina shaped by strong basketball roots

Given the bloodlines, it would been difficult for North Carolina’s James Michael McAdoo not to have been an excellent basketball player.

His father, Ronnie, played at Old Dominion and professionally overseas.

So did McAdoo’s mom, Janet, and at the time Old Dominion was among the premier programs in women’s basketball.

Then there’s second cousin Bob, who helped take North Carolina to the Final Four in 1972 before becoming an NBA star and a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He’s currently an assistant coach for the Miami Heat and still schools rookies in shooting exhibitions.

But even with that background, there was no guarantee McAdoo, the Tar Heels’ scoring leader when he takes the floor Sunday against Kansas in a NCAA Tournament game at the Sprint Center, would pursue a basketball career.

“I never felt any pressure to play basketball and I played other sports,” said McAdoo, who grew up in Norfolk, Va. “But I figured basketball was my best.”

It’s worked out well. McAdoo, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, shares the team’s scoring lead with P.J. Hairston at 14.5 points and leads the Tar Heels in rebounding at 7.3 per game and in steals.

It’s a McAdoo family-sized production.

McAdoo said he gets competitive spirit from his mom, who also played at Long Beach State, and skill set from his dad. He’s also watched film of cousin Bob, who like James Michael, could fill up a stat sheet.

“He could do everything,” McAdoo said.

It will take a bit of variety for North Carolina to succeed Sunday in a way it didn’t in last year’s NCAA Tournament against the Jayhawks. In the Midwest Regional final in St. Louis, the teams traded offensive haymakers in the first half and the score was tied 47-47 at the break. But Kansas clamped down on the defensive end in the second half, and held the Tar Heels to two of 17 three-point shooting for the game on the way to an 80-67 victory.

“It was a hard-fought game,” McAdoo said. “It hurt that we lost. It was a competitive game, that’s what I remember.”

McAdoo was North Carolina’s top threat that day with 15 points off the bench.

In Friday’s 78-71 victory over Villanova, McAdoo had 17 points, and twice the Tar Heels had to fend off Wildcats’ rallies. Villanova erased all of a 20-point deficit in the first half, and after North Carolina took a nine-point lead late, back came the Wildcats again, cutting the margin to one.

But North Carolina has become a confident team over the past few weeks. Coach Roy Williams made a lineup switch, going smaller by replacing forward Desmond Hubert with Hairston, more of a perimeter threat.

Hairston knocked down five three-pointers against Villanova and finished with 23 points. The new lineup put more responsibility on McAdoo’s shoulders.

“I was going to have to block more shots and really pick up the rebounding,” McAdoo said. “On offense, a lot of screens have to be set. Being the center, that’s really one of my primary things I have to do. We have four other shooters on the floor. It makes my job easier.”

With the lineup change came a style change. Williams referred to his Kansas days when describing his comfort level with at least two post players — Scot Pollard and Raef LaFrentz, Drew Gooden and Nick Collison. Same at North Carolina when he won his first national championship in 2005 with Sean May, Jawad Williams and Marvin Williams.

“It was scary,” Williams said. “I was not comfortable with it. I’m still not comfortable with it.”

But with a 9-3 record since the switch, it’s working, partly because McAdoo has carried the load in the middle.