Pinson Embracing the Spotlight

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – High Point (N.C.) Wesleyan Christian coach Keith Gatlin's insistence on playing a national schedule this season had a lot to do with his star player, Theo Pinson.

When the most eyes are watching and the stakes are the highest, Pinson doesn't shy away from the spotlight.

He embraces it.

Saturday's 38-point (10-18 FG, 3-5 3pt, 15-17 FT), 12-rebound game in a 68-67 loss to Prime Prep (Texas) at the Under Armour High School showcase was just another in a long line of sensational national performances by Pinson.

"Theo is fabulous," Gatlin said. "He's a joy to coach. He's a great leader, great kid. We always knew he had it in him. The game is serious for him now. He knows he's about to go to Carolina and stuff, so he's ready."

Three years ago, Pinson was one of only a handful of freshmen playing on a 17U AAU team. In the summer of 2012, Pinson went toe-to-toe with Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 player in the class of 2014, at the Nike Global Challenge.

He led Wesleyan to its first NCISAA 3A state championship in 2013, and that summer led his CP3 All-Stars to the title game of the EYBL Finals. Last month he was named to the All-Tournament team at the Under Armour Holiday Classic in San Diego.

"Bottom line is that people are coming to see what you can do against the best competition," said Pinson. "You've got to go out there and show out. That's one thing I always pride myself in, just competing against the best."

With Wesleyan point guard JaQuel Richmond out due to injury, Pinson was forced to shoulder more of the scoring and ball-handling load against Prime Prep's aggressive full-court pressure on Saturday. Pinson had mixed success with his jump shot in the first half, hitting a three and a pair of runners.

"When we're playing teams like Prime Prep, who is top 10 in the nation, I've got to come out and show my team that we can play with them," explained Pinson.

In the second half, Prime Prep, almost exclusively, put Mudiay on Pinson.

"(He's) one of my good friends," said Pinson. "We always like competing against each other. We have similar games. We get to the cup, we draw fouls, we can shoot. Basically, he's a scorer, he can do it all. That's what we're going to college to do. Do it all and be an impact player."

The second half saw Pinson relentlessly driving to the basket. With no one else on his team in double-digits scoring, Pinson was forced to isolate and drive to kick start Wesleyan's offense. He made 10 FTs in the second half and disrupted Prime Prep's defensive strategy.

It's a skill he hopes will help him contribute at North Carolina next season.

"(I) just want to come in and impact the program at a high level," he said. "Do whatever I have to do to help us win the national championship is the main goal for me, Justin (Jackson) and Joel (Berry). I can speak for them because we're all going in with the same mindset."

Over the last year, no part of Pinson's game has been scrutinized more than his jump shot. Scouts wonder if he'll be able to make jumpers in college, and fans want the Tar Heels to recruit someone with a bigger reputation as a shooter.

"You always hear it," Pinson said of the criticism and chatter. "Who cares how it looks if it goes in? If it goes in, what are you going to say? Everybody doesn't have the prettiest jump shot in the world. Coach Keith (Gatlin) could shoot the ball in college, high school, all that. So he's helping me out a lot with my jump shot."

With both his team and UNC in the middle of their seasons, Pinson hasn't had as much contact with the Carolina coaching staff recently. In December, however, he took his official visit during the Tar Heels' win over Kentucky.

"It was fun, especially with them beating Kentucky," he said. "Everybody was talking about how good they were and stuff like that. I got to go in and jump around with them and everything like that. All the guys, they were very excited."

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