High Point (N.C.) Wesleyan
Class of 2014
In most cases during his decade-plus tenure at North Carolina, Roy Williams has pursued top in-state prospects early and urgently. Some of Carolina's most immediate commitments have occurred just after an in-state prospect received a scholarship offer, including most recently 2013 signee Isaiah Hicks.
But Theo Pinson's story followed a unique trajectory. He certainly emerged early, drawing raves even before he enrolled in high school. And he did attract almost immediate attention from the Tar Heels, making an unofficial trip to campus prior to his sophomore year.
Nevertheless, many local and national observers tabbed UNC's archrival, Duke, as the early favorite. Over the years Carolina has beaten most everyone — and frequently closed the show early — for the top N.C. prospects, but there were fears in Chapel Hill that Pinson could become another Shavlik Randolph.
He transferred from Oak Ridge Military to Wesleyan and continued to impress, and he enjoyed meaningful success playing on the 17-under EYBL circuit with CP3. Pinson had a strong junior year and continued to hold widespread major interest, but his recruitment became cloudy with respect to UNC and Duke.
The Tar Heels received a commitment from Justin Jackson and in the spring appeared very strong with blue-chip guard Rashad Vaughn. The Blue Devils, meanwhile, appeared to waver on Pinson and took a pledge from wing Grayson Allen.
At that point, Indiana made a strong move and hosted Pinson for an official visit in February, 2013. Many speculated into the spring that Tom Crean's Hoosiers may have nudged past the allegedly waffling blueblood programs closer to home, but Carolina's pursuit appeared to amplify in terms of intensity and the steady pressure enabled the Heels to win out last May.
He followed up that pledge with a rising senior summer that alternated between solid and terrific. He may have played his best ball at the EYBL Finals, where he shot 16-for-18 on for throws en route to 23 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks in a hard-fought championship loss to Each 1 Teach 1 (and UNC point guard pledge Joel Berry).
Through 25 games on 2013 EYBL circuit, Pinson averaged 15 points while shooting 44 percent from the floor. He made an impressive 83 percent from the foul line on 143 attempts, clearly an indicator how he may fashion his game early at UNC.
All-around utility contributions are likely to be Pinson's hallmark, but that description shouldn't be interpreted as a restraining box. He's capable of explosive offensive outbursts but, while that aspect of his game isn't yet consistent, so many of his other attributes are.
Pinson is a long-armed athlete who's quick and explosive. He isn't as springy as current Tar Heel J.P. Tokoto (few are), but he boasts a more potent first step and is much quicker laterally. For that reason he does some of his most vital work defensively, where he's a potential lockdown wing.
He can defend either wing spot and has guarded the occasional point guard and power forward as well. He brings not only quickness but height — he grew to 6-6 during the course of his prep career — length and excellent anticipation. He frequently jumps passing lanes for steals and is a perpetual nuisance to big men as a ball-stripper inside.
He also proved last July to be a workhorse slasher. In the past he has been less aggressive off the dribble, but 18 free throw attempts in a single game speaks for itself. And though not a great three-point shooter (more on that below), he knocks down his freebies.
The driving aspect of his game has developed substantially over the past 18 months. Even in Chicago this spring, defended by some of the country's best players at the McDonald's practices, Pinson was able to get to the rim and make plays. I wouldn't categorize him as a supreme slasher, but he's clearly a very good one. In fact, he's likely to become more efficient the more he shifts his offense to drives rather than jumpers.
He possesses outstanding body control for finishing in traffic, and more than anything else that may be what separates him from previous Tar Heels such as Marcus Ginyard and Jackie Manuel — invalid comparisons that get made frequently. Even if he doesn't assert himself liberally in the halfcourt game, he projects as an immediate contributor as a transition finisher.
Meanwhile, Pinson will be among UNC's best-passing wings in many years. He's a truly gifted assists-man who's both unselfish and creative, making bounce passes worthy of point guard status. That's not his position, of course, but he'll fool you on occasion while running the break.
Winning also has become rote to Pinson, and he has shown a desire to elevate his game in key moments. Carolina's class on the whole has demonstrated impressive winning credentials, and from that standpoint he'll fit right in.
Here it is. How can a guy with so much athleticism and skill not rank in the top 15 on a consensus basis?
The answer is that nagging jump shot. Pinson shoots with an unconventional, sometimes off-balance form that typically is very difficult to overcome versus college and NBA-level defenders. His mechanics must be the problem, because he actually possesses good overall touch (hence the free throw accuracy), while most non-shooters struggle from all ranges.
Interestingly, he did shoot the ball quite well from deep — 42 percent — his senior year. That, after hitting only 31 percent of his threes on the 2013 EYBL circuit. But the problem resurfaced at McDonald's practices, once again suggesting that better opposition and stouter defenses may pose difficulties, at least early.
He also can be a turnover machine. Pinson's talent as a passer tends to work against him at times, as he forces looks that aren't there or opts for more flash than would be ideal.
Pinson should be able to win immediate playing time given UNC's lack of wing depth, but the situation is more complicated than it appears at a glance. Because three legitimate high-major point guards will exist on next season's roster — Marcus Paige, Nate Britt and Berry — at least one of them (likely Paige) will spend time on the wing.
That means Pinson will compete for time over one shoulder against both Justin Jackson and J.P. Tokoto, and over the other he'll face off against the point guards. Matchup scenarios will exert a major impact as well, but it's safe to assume he'll be strongly in the mix.
The bottom line is that he does too many things well — and more importantly, he does uptempo things very well — not to play big minutes as a rookie. He actually made more aggressive offensive plays than Jackson at McDonald's practices, and again, his ticket to a key early role may lay in his slashing.
If Pinson exerts consistent pressure on defenses with his dribble and maintains sound decision-making both as a shooter and passer, he could win a starting position in 2014-15.
Rob provides basketball recruiting coverage for InsideCarolina.com, including reporting from events throughout the country. Rob is a recruiting analyst for Scout.com and is the editor of the national basketball recruiting website PrepStars.com and the print magazine Recruiter's Handbook. Rob is a member of the Naismith committee honoring the nation's best high school player and is on the selection committee for the McDonald's All-American Game.