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September 19, 2012

Healthy Strickland eager to perform

North Carolina could have really used Dexter Strickland in last year's NCAA Tournament, especially when point guard Kendall Marshall went down to a fractured ankle in the round of 32 against Creighton.

Who knows how things might have gone had UNC had its crafty, athletic veteran at its disposal when it needed him most?

It's easy to torture oneself with scenarios, but perhaps, just maybe, UNC would have been able to fight their way out of St. Louis and the Midwest Regional final against Kansas had Strickland been in the lineup.

Everybody knows Strickland isn't likely to beat you game in and game out with scoring, but he might have made one or two defensive plays, or led one or two fast break drives, that could have really made a difference against the Jayhawks and ultimately on to the Final Four in New Orleans.

But of course we'll never know.

Strickland, as everyone knows, was on the bench in St. Louis, having torn the ACL in his right knee in UNC's road victory at Virginia Tech in January.

The Tar Heels were still a very good basketball team without 'Strick, but without their fastest player and best defender, they simply were never a great team last winter, save the team's outstanding regular season finale performance at Duke.

Now, heading into a season where the Tar Heels desperately need veteran leadership with the loss of four starters, Strickland returns as the team's only returning starter and, as it turns out, the team's only senior.

Remember that five-man 2009 class Roy Williams put together that got so much publicity? Only two of them, Strickland and Leslie McDonald, are still on campus, and with McDonald redshirting last year following his own knee injury, Strickland is the team's only scholarship senior.

Tar Heel Illustrated got a chance to chat with Strickland Wednesday afternoon after the news broke that Coach Williams had surgery to remove a kidney tumor.

"He (Coach Williams) means a lot. His name speaks for itself, him giving us the 2005 and 2009 (NCAA titles). His passion for the game rubs off on us, and just his presence being here, not even as a basketball coach, just being a regular person, a great human being we love," Strickland said of Williams.

"(We have to tell him) just stay strong. Keep believing. Have faith. Just simple words like that, always thinking positive and just hope for the best."

In terms of Strickland's own summer progress, he tells us that he's coming along nicely. He's been working out for several weeks at 100 percent 'go,' participating in pickup games and other workouts with his teammates with no limitations.

"It's been good. The process has been great so far. I think Jonas (Sahratian) and the trainers have done a great job of getting me back," he said.

"My knee is nice and strong, ready to go. I've been doing pickup every day. I've been working out with Jonas every day. It's been going great so far."

Back to his old self, running the floor and making plays on both ends of the court, Strickland is eager to return to Carolina's starting lineup and make a major impact in what will be his final run in the powder blue.

"I'm excited, man. I can't wait. Sitting out last year was a nightmare. But I'm ready this year. I've been training every day this summer, flying all across the country and training with different dudes and stuff like that. So I'm ready to showcase."







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