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No. 11 Tar Heels putting the pieces together

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No. 11 Tar Heels putting the pieces together

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina coach Roy Williams knew what last year's team could accomplish before the season. The Hall of Fame coach has more questions than answers this time.

``Last year we were picked first (in the Atlantic Coast Conference) and I thought that was fine because I thought we could be the best team,'' Williams said. ``I don't have any idea what the ceiling could be for this team. And I don't think we'll know until we get into conference play.''

The 11th-ranked Tar Heels (32-6) must replace NBA first-round draft picks Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller from a preseason No. 1 that went on to win the ACC regular-season title and reach an NCAA regional final.

Left behind is a forward who struggled most of his rookie season before coming on late in the year, a veteran guard, two players returning from serious knee injuries and several youngsters stepping into significant roles. That means UNC, picked to finish third in the league, will have less room for error.

``We won games last year when we didn't play great,'' Williams said. ``This year, we've got to play closer to our potential or we're not going to be successful.''

It has been a bumpy offseason for the Tar Heels. After the NBA defections, they lost longtime assistant Jerod Haase, who became head coach at UAB.

Then, a month before practice started, the 62-year-old Williams had surgery to remove a tumor from his right kidney. Tests eventually determined it was a benign growth - as was a similar one on his left kidney - but Williams has had to go easy during the first several weeks of practice as he recovered.

Now they're preparing to find out if sophomore James Michael McAdoo is ready to pick up where he left off late last season.

McAdoo, a 6-foot-9 forward, often looked lost through his freshman season as a reserve. But he averaged about 11 points and five rebounds in the ACC and NCAA tournaments when pressed into more minutes due to Henson's wrist injury.

The former McDonald's All-American is a preseason all-ACC pick entering the year. He's the closest thing the Tar Heels have to a proven frontcourt presence.

``I know there were certain things I just had to realize I had to do, and that's focus in each and every day in practice,'' McAdoo said. ``Practice makes perfect but perfect practices help even more. I think that's something I had to work on. It's not something that just all of a sudden clicked. It's something I really started to work on at practice in late January or early February, but it didn't show up until late March.''

Junior guard Reggie Bullock also returns to provide outside shooting and long-armed perimeter defense, while he's joined by two guards - Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland - returning from torn knee ligaments.

McDonald, the team's best outside shooter in 2011, redshirted last season after he was hurt during a summer-league game. While McDonald has had more than a year to recover, Strickland was injured in January and is still working his way back to full strength.

If both players return to form - Strickland was the team's No. 2 ballhandler and best perimeter defender - the Tar Heels will have three veterans in the backcourt along with the return of sophomore guard P.J. Hairston.

``With Kendall, Harrison, John and Z leaving, that's the majority of the points,'' Hairston said. ``It's up to us, the upperclassmen and the freshmen that just came in to step up. If we step up and do everything we're supposed to do, it can be a good season and we can do anything we want to do.''

Replacing Marshall at the point, however, will be the toughest challenge, one that will likely fall to freshman Marcus Paige. The 6-foot, 157-pound lefty is a McDonald's All-American, and Williams has said he expects Paige would have the first shot at the starting job.

Freshman forward Joel James (6-10, 260) could provide some needed bulk up front alongside McAdoo, while the Tar Heels also brought in 6-9 forward Brice Johnson and 6-5 wing J.P. Tokoto.

The pieces are there for another strong season. And after his recent health scare, Williams is going to enjoy putting the puzzle together.

``I really want to enjoy the journey a heck of a lot more myself,'' Williams said. ``I preach that every year to my kids and particularly the fans as well. My wife tells me I always do the worst job of it, but I'm really going to try and do a much better job of that myself.''

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Manny Machado pens goodbye to O's fans on Instagram

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USA Today Sports Images

Manny Machado pens goodbye to O's fans on Instagram

Days after being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a deal that captivated much of Major League Baseball, former Oriole Manny Machado took to Instagram to thank the only organization he's ever known. 

The 26-year-old's contract expires at the end of this season, which the Orioles chose not to renew as the last-place club enters a rebuilding phase. 

Machado put up big numbers in the team's first 97 games totaling career-highs in home runs (24), RBIs (65), OBP (.387) and OPS (.962). 

He is expected to play shortstop for a Dodgers club which finished the first half of the season 10 games above .500 in a competitive, tight NL West. 

The Dodgers will pay Machado $6.3 million. 

To my Baltimore family, I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure out how I would say goodbye but there wasn’t an easy way to do it. I first joined this organization at the age of 17 and these past eight years have far exceeded anything I ever could’ve imagined. Throughout the ups and downs, you embraced me unconditionally and you took a kid from Miami and brought me up as one of your own. I’ve enjoyed my time here and you all have played a big part in that!! Thank you Birdland! You are forever in my heart! To the Baltimore Orioles, it has truly been a blessing to put on that uniform every day. To the Angelos Family & Dan Duquette, thank you for making my dreams come true!!! To Buck and the coaching staff, thank you for your commitment and dedication to making me the best player and teammate I can possibly be…I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of you. To my teammates, we’ve shared some amazing times with lots of memories & friendships that I’ll cherish forever. Schoopy, I love you bro and I know you will carry the torch!!! ! Much love always, Manny #13

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Manny Machado trade rumors are dominating headlines at All-Star Game 

Orioles star shortstop Manny Machado traded to Los Angeles Dodgers 

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Inside linebacker

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Bob Youngentob for NBC Sports Washington

Redskins 2018 position outlook: Inside linebacker

Redskins Training camp opens next week, and we have a break here, giving us time to put the depth chart under the microscope.

Between now and the start of camp, we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.

Inside linebackers

Additions: Shaun Dion Hamilton (drafted in the fifth round)

Departures: Will Compton (free agent)

Starters: Zach Brown, Mason Foster

Other roster locks: Josh Harvey-Clemons

On the bubble: Hamilton, Zach Vigil, Martrell Spaight

How the inside linebackers compare

To the rest of the NFL: This is a difficult comparison to make since only about half of the teams use the 3-4 with two inside linebackers and there are many variations when they go out of their base defense. Brown certainly is in the upper tier of players at his position. Foster’s skill set may not be coveted by many teams around the league, but he is a perfect fit in the Redskins’ defense in many ways. The player who could differentiate this group from others around the league is Harvey-Clemons. If he turns into a top-notch nickel LB the inside linebackers will be a great asset. 

To the 2017 Redskins:  This is about health. In 2017, Foster missed 11 games, Brown was hampered by a variety of injuries before sitting out the last three games. Compton was the top backup to both players and he went to injured reserve after just three starts. They did re-sign Vigil, who had spent training camp with the team, and he played pretty well near the end of the season. If the front-line players can stay on the field for most of the season this should be a much better group than the one that was partially responsible for the league’s 32nd-ranked rushing defense. 

2018 Inside linebacker outlook

Biggest upside: The 2017 season was supposed to be a redshirt year for Harvey-Clemons as he transitions from college safety to NFL linebacker. He played a lot in the base defense during the offseason practices and that indicates that they are considering him for a bigger role beyond just playing nickel. You have to wonder how his size (6-4, 230) will affect his ability to get off of blocks. 

Most to prove: Spaight was a fifth-round pick in 2015 and he has yet to establish a regular role in the defense. It was telling that when they needed someone to start in the latter part of last year they brought back and started Vigil and mostly kept Spaight is going into the last year of his contract, but it would not be surprising to see Vigil beat him out for the last roster spot.  

Rookie watch: The Redskins traded up in the sixth round to get Hamilton. It wasn’t a blockbuster deal but the fact that they thought enough of him to move up says something. Gruden has said that he thinks Hamilton could be a starter at some point. He was one of the leaders on a strong Alabama defense before injuries struck. Hamilton is not going to start this year barring multiple injuries, but he should develop a role as the season goes on and be ready to compete in 2019.

Bottom line: The Redskins have not invested much in terms of free agent dollars or draft capital in the inside linebacker position in recent seasons. That changed somewhat this offseason as they made sure to spend to retain Brown and Foster. Neither commanded a huge contract but they did make a commitment and that is important. Last year Brown gave the defense a sideline-to-sideline dimension it hasn’t had in quite some time and retaining him was critical. Inside linebacker may not be a major strength for the defense this year but it should be able to get the job done. 

2018 Redskins position outlook series