CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – With three starters and three key reserves returning, expectations for Carolina entering the 2016-17 season are high.
And the Tar Heels’ showing at “Late Night with Roy” did nothing to lower those expectations.
In a 20-minute Late Night scrimmage that uncharacteristically showed efficient offensive execution, Justin Jackson and Isaiah Hicks led their respective teams with 13 points each. Nate Britt and Joel Berry both scored nine points.
Less Dancing, More Basketball
This was a revised version of Late Night with Roy. Sure, there were some typical dance routines – including members of the team dressed as milk men – but for the first time players competed in skills competitions. There was a three-point shootout (which was won by Britt), a two-man shooting contest and a dribbling competition
“It was a lot more fun for us, because it’s not as much pressure remembering the dance moves and all that,” Theo Pinson said. “It was fun for us to go out there and do what people want to see us do… shoot threes, dunk the ball, goof around, (have a) dance off and stuff like that.”
Added Berry: “We came together as a team. Usually it’s all about the dancing, but I like how we changed it up a little bit and did some more competition stuff with basketball. I think that brings out the best of us, because at the end of the day we all love to compete, so that’s one thing I loved tonight, but we still had fun at the same time.”
The 2015-16 version of North Carolina shot the lowest percentage of any team in school history, and that was with Marcus Paige, the school’s all-time leader in three-pointers made.
At Media Day earlier this week, Joel Berry told reporters he thought this year’s team could be much better from beyond the arc, despite losing Paige.
So far, so good.
Berry, Britt, Jackson and Theo Pinson shot a combined 8-of-17 (41 percent) from three-point range in the scrimmage.
“I’ve been shooting constantly with Coach (Hubert) Davis and on my own after practice,” said Pinson, who hit the open perimeter looks that he got in rhythm. “It’s all about just repetition and confidence and my confidence is at a high level right now. I feel like I can make every shot. (Coach Williams) has confidence in me. He’s told me that personally, he just says ‘When you shoot the ball I don’t think you’re going to miss it, so just shoot it with confidence and knock it in.’”
Though the younger duo didn’t make a three-point field goal during the 20-minute scrimmage, Pinson said sophomore Kenny Williams and freshman Brandon Robinson will also help the Tar Heels from distance.
“Brandon’s really been shooting the ball well in practice,” Pinson said. “He can really shoot it. We’re not surprised, but I’m glad he’s showing it.”
In winning the three-point competition, facing three racks of five balls, Britt recorded 12 points in both rounds, and then a perfect 5-for-5 in the finals.
It’s safe to say that Tony Bradley will be an important part of North Carolina’s team this season.
The 6-10 freshman showed what sources around UNC Basketball have said throughout the summer and into the fall – that he belongs. He was comfortable facing up from about 14 feet and didn’t look timid. After all, this was the largest crowd that’s watched him play. He finished the scrimmage with five points and three rebounds, while making both of his field goal attempts.
“He has great touch around the rim,” Pinson said. “He played really well tonight and he’s been doing really good in practice also.”
Pinson praised the shooting ability of Robinson, but the freshman impacted the scrimmage in different ways. He dished out an assist, grabbed a rebound and made two of his five field goals. What he showed most, however, was a lack of fear. He looked aggressive and confident on two scoring drives straight down the lane to the basket.
Woods received among the biggest ovations during his introduction. He’s still learning UNC’s system and the point guard position, which Roy Williams said he’s playing a lot of in practice, and is unquestionably the most difficult position in Williams’s system to learn.
“High school is one thing, but when you’re in the Dean Smith Center it’s another level,” explained Pinson. “I was talking to Brandon in layup lines; I said ‘How does it feel when you were over there last year just watching and now you’re out here officially playing?’” I’m really happy for them. They can get that under their belt and now, next time we’re out there it’s go time.”
All About Hicks
No player has been discussed by teammates, media members and fans more as a potential breakout star this season than senior forward Isaiah Hicks. After spending three years behind Brice Johnson, the power forward spot is Hicks’s and Hicks’s alone.
And he’s wasting no time showing what he has. Hicks finished the Late Night scrimmage a perfect 5-5 from the field and led the Blue team with 13 points. He scored in a variety of ways: facing up and shooting out to 15 feet, a turn-around jump shot (think Dirk Nowitzki) and on the low block. Hicks is poised for a big season and Late Night only reinforced his potential.