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The center of the Tar Heels' offense

Brendan Haywood shoots, passes and draws fouls well - and good things keep happening for UNC.

By BRIAN LANDMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


AUSTIN, Texas -- North Carolina center Brendan Haywood knew he wasn't getting his hands on the basketball much against Wake Forest in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

But it wasn't until after the disappointing loss nearly three weeks ago that he realized he had not touched the ball in the opening 10 minutes of the game.

"One of my friends taped the game for me and I was watching the halftime show and (CBS analyst) Billy Packer was saying, "Let's introduce the Carolina team to Brendan Haywood,' " he said.

Despite defenses designed to neutralize Haywood, a 7-foot, 264-pound junior, the Heels realized they had to make him the center of their attention. No touches in 10 minutes? Not again, they vowed.

Haywood's involvement in the offense has been a big reason why the No. 8-seeded Tar Heels have surprised the critics and even die-hard Carolina fans by advancing to the Final Four.

"All year long, we've tried to get the ball to Brendan and different teams have tried different ways of keeping us from getting it to him," coach Bill Guthridge said. "We've tried to come up with a few different ways recently."

Against Missouri in the NCAA Tournament opener, Haywood scored a career-high 28 points on 11 of 15 shooting.

"He's really stepped up," sophomore forward Jason Capel said. "He's really demanding the ball and when he gets it, positive things are happening; he either scores or gets fouled or makes the right play to us."

Although Haywood scored just 12 against top-seeded Stanford, 11 before fouling out against Tennessee and then eight against Tulsa on Sunday in the South Region final, he rarely disappeared from the offense.

During the four games, he averaged 11 shots -- the only time all season he's had more than two straight games with double-digit shots -- and the Heels' determination to get him the ball forced opponents to collapse on him.

"Definitely in the NCAA Tournament, we've tried to get the ball to me a little bit more," Haywood said. "We've been running our motion offense better. The guys have really been active and moving and it's hard to double-team me when you've got real active players.

"If your man is looking at me, then you're wide open somewhere if you keep cutting. I really feel we were standing still on offense a lot this (regular) season."

It's no coincidence that freshman guard Joseph Forte averaged 22 points the past three games, including a career-high 28 against Tulsa, and was named the South's most outstanding player.

Tulsa picked its poison and probably made its best choice. Haywood leads the nation in field-goal percentage (.698) and is poised to shatter the ACC single-season mark set by Clemson's Dale Davis (.670). He also is on pace to break UNC's career shooting percentage (.655), well ahead of Rasheed Wallace (.635).

"It's very easy to lob the ball to him for easy buckets," Tennessee senior center C.J. Black said. "He never puts the ball down, so he makes it tough for you to guard him."

Haywood also has been averaging nine rebounds and three blocks in the NCAA Tournament.

Last year, North Carolina was upset in the opening round by Weber State and, although Haywood had a 5-inch height advantage over his counterpart, he had one point and zero rebounds.

Fans wouldn't let him forget that, especially during an up-and-down season for him and the Tar Heels.

"I haven't had any questions about Brendan Haywood; I know a lot of people have," Guthridge said. "The expectations for Brendan is one thing that really hurt him."

He was supposed to come up big. All the time.

"The expectations are even higher than for the average Carolina player because when you're 7-feet tall, people expect you to go out and get 20 (points) and 15 (rebounds) every night, and that's not going to happen," said Haywood, 20. "Good teams are going to key on you and try to take you away if you're a good post player. People don't always understand that.

"Getting the finger pointed at me is nothing that bothers me; I've had it pointed at me for so long, I'm used to it. But it definitely feels good now to be on the biggest stage in college basketball and coming up big for your team."

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