CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The admonishments, critiques and occasional vile jeers found Nate Britt not long after Tennessee’s 26-6 run put North Carolina in a 15-point hole on Sunday.
Message boards and social media lit up with harsh criticism directed at the senior point guard, pleading for freshman point guard Seventh Woods or backup Stilman White to take his spot during a tough shooting stretch (4-for-22 over two games) with starter Joel Berry sidelined due to injury.
This was not a diversion from the norm. Britt has often shouldered a significant brunt of fans’ discontent following poor play or tough losses. Star players receive more than their share of free passes, while reserves outside of the standard rotation are applauded for the efforts. It’s that segment of the roster in between those extremes, the roles players critical to success, that are easy targets for scorn.
“For me, as a young person, it was hard,” Britt said after UNC rallied to beat the Volunteers. “Extremely hard, because sometimes you want to jaw back at fans and you may get sensitive or emotional about it, especially coming off a bad game. That’s usually when we get so much criticism. But after a while you get used to it.”
Britt’s not alone. Junior wing Justin Jackson heard the noise during his midseason struggles last year before finally eliminating the distractions by changing his mindset.
“Just forgetting about everything else,” Jackson said after UNC’s win at Boston College on Feb. 9. “What the media says, what fans say, what even my own family says. Whatever it has to be. Just forgetting about that and going out and playing how I know how to play. That’s all it is.”
That’s easier said than done for most. Senior center Kennedy Meeks has endured plenty of fan criticism over the years, and fans calling for him to lose his starting spot last season prompted a Twitter response aimed at the negativity.
It’s often easier to avoid the unwanted feedback than to read and then ignore it.
“Justin and I both have removed most of our social media apps on our phones,” Britt said. “I usually do it when the season starts just to block out all of that negative energy.”
Britt, who has played in 122 games during his UNC career, told reporters veteran leadership is important for younger players dealing with such harsh takes from the fan base.
“With me being so close to Marcus [Paige] and Brice [Johnson], even though they were only one year above me, they had been through it,” Britt said, “so I was able to talk to them about it. I think our young guys do the same thing now.”
It’s an indoctrination period of sorts for Tar Heel freshmen each and every year. Highlight tapes showcase the positives each player provides, which not only creates unrealistic expectations for his college career, but also prompts a steady stream of excitement and encouragement by the fan base during his recruitment.
The negativity doesn’t arrive until the player fails to live up to the hype.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s disappointing; it’s extremely unexpected,” Britt said. “Especially when you’re being recruited coming in and all of the support and love that you get as a junior and senior or after you commit. You’re like, ‘these fans are great.’
“But it comes with the territory. Tar Heel fans are extremely passionate about every sport and us being successful, so it is what it is.”