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UNC alum Jeff Lebo bringing ECU to Chapel Hill

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UNC alum Jeff Lebo bringing ECU to Chapel Hill

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) Jeff Lebo is bringing his East Carolina program to the same court where he starred for North Carolina under Dean Smith and Roy Williams.

Lebo's Pirates (6-1) are making their first trip to Chapel Hill on Saturday to play the No. 21 Tar Heels, while Lebo is facing his alma mater for the second time in 15 seasons as a head coach.

``It's exciting to go back and it's exciting for our players to give them an opportunity to play on that stage in that atmosphere,'' Lebo said Thursday afternoon. ``I think it's going to be really helpful to our team and to our players. I think it's something they'll remember and they're really looking forward to this game.''

Lebo, in his third season leading the Pirates, played at UNC (7-2) from 1985-89 under Smith. Williams was an assistant to Smith during Lebo's first three seasons before taking over at Kansas.

Despite being about 100 miles apart, the instate programs have met only twice before due to Smith's policy of not scheduling instate opponents. The only meeting during Smith's 36-year tenure came in the first round of the 1993 NCAA tournament.

Williams, now in his 10th season as UNC's coach, said Lebo first called asking if the Tar Heels would play the Pirates in ECU's Minges Coliseum.

``My deal is, we'll play, but I'm not going to go play on your court because we can't do that for everybody (instate),'' Williams said. ``If you're opening up a building or something like that, we'll try to help you. ... But they decided they wanted to come here and play, and it was pretty easy, a 15-minute conversation.''

The game will also be the first meeting between Lebo and Williams, though they had tried at least twice before to set up a game.

Williams' move to UNC in 2003 nixed a deal for Kansas to play at Chattanooga while Lebo was coach there. Williams later agreed to bring UNC to play Lebo at Auburn as the school opened a new arena - a plan that fell through once Lebo was fired in 2010.

Lebo's first game against UNC was an 85-59 loss in Chapel Hill while he was at Tennessee Tech during the 1999-2000 season.

``You've got to remember now: Coach is going to do anything for a lot of the former players that he can,'' Lebo said. ``There's so many of us now that are coaching in the state that he can return every game. It's impossible for him to do that. He tries to play as many and helps as many people. He's been unbelievably gracious to me, in tough times, too.

``He's had a lot of former guys come back and play there. Not a lot of us have won back there. He doesn't treat you too good once the game starts.''

As a player, Lebo helped the Tar Heels go 116-25 with two Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season titles and one tournament championship. Lebo's teams reached at least the NCAA round of 16 every year and twice made a regional final.

Lebo also played in the Smith Center's first game - a Duke-UNC rivalry matchup - as a freshman in January 1986. He ranks 24th in career scoring (1,567 points), second in career 3-point shooting percentage (42.8) and fourth in career free-throw shooting percentage (83.9) in program history.

East Carolina point guard Miguel Paul said he hadn't seen any extra excitement from Lebo or change in his coach's demeanor leading up to this one. Paul also didn't sound intimidated by the prospect of playing in the tradition-rich Tar Heels on their home court.

``We're excited, man,'' Paul said. ``We know how good they are and they're just a great program and the basketball tradition is very high there. So we're just planning on going in there and giving a good show and this is a big opportunity to get our name on the board, too.''

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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.

MORE 2018 NBA DRAFT COVERAGE:

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