KANSAS CITY, Mo. – With North Carolina set to play Kansas on Sunday, Reggie Bullock can’t help his mind from wandering back to nearly a year ago.
Paige called Bullock the team leader.
In the 2012 Elite Eight, the Kendall Marshall-less Tar Heels were trailing Kansas by one in the closing minutes. Bullock, looking to make an up-court pass for a go-ahead opportunity, instead threw the ball directly into the hands of Kansas’ Tyshawn Taylor. Several seconds later, Taylor found Elijah Johnson for a 3-pointer that effectively crushed UNC’s Final Four dreams.
That play still burns Bullock as the Tar Heels prepare for a rematch in the round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament.
“It was a terrible play. I just remember them shooting it from the left wing, and it was a big three for them. That was one mistake that I made in that game, and it was something that definitely turned the game around,” Bullock said, shaking his head as he spoke. “It still stings because it ended my dreams of going to the Final Four.”
A lot has changed in the year since that play. Four Tar Heels went pro, UNC went small, and, all of a sudden, Bullock has grown from role player to star.
If UNC is going to pull off the upset of No. 1-seeded Kansas, it will have to be because Bullock carried his team. He’s no longer able to lurk in the shadows behind a star-studded lineup.
“Last year, his role was limited. Then, when Dexter (Strickland) got hurt, he came in and was more of a defensive player. And, now, he’s stepped into that role of being that guy for the team,” sophomore Desmond Hubert said. “It’s pretty exciting to see him go from coming off the bench to filling a role where we needed him and, now, stepping up and being that guy.”
Quietly, Bullock embraced his position as one of the Tar Heels’ most-experienced players. Although he’s not always the most outspoken player on the roster, he leads the team with his actions.
P.J. Hairston gets the credit for UNC’s turnaround since going small, but Bullock made it work by committing himself to living on the boards. An after-thought reserve a year ago, Bullock is now the steady performer who, in many ways, kept the Tar Heels’ season afloat after a troublesome start.
Bullock is ready to redeem himself for last season's tough loss to the Jayhawks.
“He’s really emerged as a leader for us,” freshman Marcus Paige said. “Emotional leader, on-the-court leader, vocal leader. He’s done a great job ... He didn’t have to lead last year because they had Kendall and Z (Tyler Zeller), so to see him grow into that role is great.”
Leslie McDonald said it took the Tar Heels well into summer to finally get over that loss to Kansas last year. The Tar Heels have the chance on Sunday to get that one back. Moreover, Bullock has the chance to avenge his mistake, all the while proving to the Jayhawks how far he’s come ever since.
“He’s grown as a player, and, most of all, he’s grown as a person,” Strickland said. “I think that (turnover) kind of motivated him to play harder and have a better game this year. He’s a great player, and I know he’ll bounce back from it.”
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