CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Nate Britt’s sophomore season may best be described as a test of mental fortitude.
The Oak Hill Academy product changed his shooting hand from left to right after a freshman season in which he lacked confidence in his perimeter shot. The right-handed approach provided a more natural motion, lacking the hitch that found its way into his former shot. The transition was slow and methodical at first, as he shot 32.5 percent from 3-point range (13-of-40) through UNC’s first 20 games.
While everyone knew about Britt’s shooting hand switch, as well as his busted upper lip that required 15 stitches following a win at Wake Forest, what very few knew was that his grandfather, Ned, had died at a hospice care facility in mid-January. Britt’s grandfather, a native of La Grange, N.C., played a significant role in his decision to attend UNC. Two weeks after his death, and a week after the lacerated lip, Britt found an outlet against Syracuse’s matchup 2-3 zone, scoring a career-high 17 points and knocking down a career-high four 3-pointers against the Orange. He closed the season by shooting 41.9 percent from 3-point range (13-of-31) over his final 18 games.
Britt’s minutes as UNC’s backup point guard diminished as Joel Berry got healthy over the final month of the season, which only added to a challenging season, both physically and emotionally. The offseason workout plan, according to Britt’s father, Nate Sr., focused on a dedication in the weight room to increase physicality and add explosiveness at the rim, as well as further improvements defensively and shooting the ball. J.P. Tokoto’s NBA departure leaves the Tar Heels shorthanded on the wing in 2015-16, which should provide Britt with more opportunities in the backcourt.
By Eric Montross
When you look at every player - but particularly Nate Britt - you see a player who continues to improve. His shot looked much better last season, and he showed more ability to slash and get to the basket. I expect to see continued improvements from Nate.
Roy Williams loves to be deep in the backcourt, and everyone is vying for playing time. I think that's part of the unique camaraderie of the preseason - this team has a very strong chemistry, and the competition for minutes is only going to strengthen that bond. Nate Britt will continue to prepare regardless of how many minutes he plays per game, and I really like his capability to make shots. He also shoots very well from the free throw line, which is a big plus.
When he changed his shooting hand after his freshman season, he found a way to be more comfortable - it's all about personal preference. He felt more comfortable as a sophomore, and you could tell when watching him shoot. I really don't believe there is any more to be made of the hand change at this point, but it's still very unique and quite remarkable that a college basketball player at this level of competition and age was able to make such a significant adjustment to his game.
By Rob Harrington
Based on last year’s rotation, Britt may be the one player whose role actually diminishes this season. Joel Berry is likely to earn significantly more time at point guard, and the Tar Heels also will look to make Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson highly prominent factors on the perimeter. Still, Britt has established his value during his two seasons in Chapel Hill and raised his three-point shooting impressively, and he’s arguably the squad’s most clutch free throw shooter as well. Improving his defense and effectiveness as a finisher on drives will be keys for him to carve out a substantial role in the face of intense competition.
Xs & Os INSIDER
By Tyler Brooks
Historically, Carolina’s system is at its best when it has a true floor general leading the charge. Britt will often assume sole ownership of this role. As quarterback, he will be expected to establish the tone, tempo, and movement in the half-court and in transition, in addition to facilitating the offense for quality looks at the basket. To succeed, he’ll need to provide greater ball security than he has in the past. He will also need to continue to knock down open shots as shooting windows open via the constant movement and screening of the freelance offense. Defensively, he has the quickness to meet the demands of his coach by pressuring the ball out to half-court. Overall, he must become smarter on this end of the floor.
By Adrian Atkinson
After making the off-season switch to shooting jumpers right-handed, Britt’s progress from behind the arc was stunning. His 3Pt% jumped from 25.0 to 36.6, but, even more significantly, his 3PtA Rate skyrocketed from 7.6 to 44.7. If he can maintain (or improve upon) those numbers, Britt will give Carolina the perimeter punch it needs off the bench. And from the stripe, where he still uses his left hand, Britt remains a weapon. His FT% climbed from 79.4 as a FR to 88.2 last year.
His lack of strength has made him a liability as both an on-ball defender and a finisher at the rim (where he shot a team-low 35.3% (12-34) last season. He’s not a true point guard/distributor either. Still, after emerging as one of UNC’s best long- and mid-range threats (his 42.6% on non-close 2s was the second-best mark on the team), there seems to be a rotation spot for Britt (at least situationally). How prominent that spot is will depend on the development of higher-upside players like Joel Berry and Theo Pinson, and might be affected by freshman Kenny Williams’s ability to hit threes off the bench.
The presence of an upperclassman like Britt remains a luxury for the Heels for several reasons, including: 1) insurance against the loss of Paige or Berry to injury; 2) his ability to close out games as a reliable ball-handler and nearly automatic foul shooter; 3) his ability to get hot and single-handedly win a game or two (a la Syracuse last season).
“He’s going to have to battle it out with Berry to figure out who is going to play the majority of the minutes in the backcourt with Paige. Berry gave them more down the stretch, but I think he potentially gives them a little bit of a different gear when he is in there compared to what Joel does.” – ACC Coach
“I thought he took a big step forward last year confidence wise. And if we're talking about him as a No. 3 point guard, that's a real luxury to their team. He's easy to play with and he's become someone we have to account for when defending perimeter shots.” – ACC Coach
(J.B. Cissell, Evan Daniels, Sherrell McMillan, Jack Morton, Ben Sherman contributed to this feature.)