CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Theo Pinson’s long-awaited season debut is expected to occur on Saturday in No. 14 North Carolina’s rivalry matchup with N.C. State.
Pinson, who missed UNC’s first 16 games after fracturing the fifth metatarsal in his right foot in preseason practice, was cleared to resume full practice participation on Monday.
“Right now, unless he screws it up at practice today, I’ll play him tomorrow,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters on Friday.
Pinson broke his foot in mid-October, although the junior wing told Inside Carolina last month he wasn’t sure how the break occurred. Dr. Robert Anderson, who also repaired the same injury in Pinson’s left foot in May 2015, performed the surgery at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte on Oct. 26.
Wednesday marked the 10-week point of Pinson’s rehab since surgery.
“I’m looking forward to him getting out there on the court,” junior point guard Joel Berry said. “It’s going to be fun having him back. He’s always in the media doing crazy stuff, so now it’s a good chance to actually see him play some basketball.”
Pinson was penciled in as the starting two guard during the preseason after averaging 4.5 points and leading the team in assists per minute in 40 games in 2015-16. The McDonald’s All-American returned to practice in limited scope last week, only working in halfcourt sets, before receiving the all clear prior to UNC’s trip to Clemson this week. His minimal practice time will factor into his playing time against the Wolfpack.
“He’s such an effective player and he’s such a stat sheet stuffer, he does a lot of different things and some of them are not positive,” Williams said. “So you have to say, can I go with this, and understand there’s game slippage, he hasn’t been in the games all year, or can I go with that, well, no, you can’t. So it’s going to be a by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of decision about how much to play him.”
Williams does not anticipate a smooth transition back into the lineup for Pinson, although he cited several examples of that happening, including former Kansas standout Raef LaFrentz scoring 31 points in his return after missing nine games.
“He hasn’t had much practice time, but he’s looking alright,” Berry said. “He’s trying to get his wind back after sitting out for so long. You can’t simulate our practices by doing workouts on the bike.”
Berry highlighted Pinson’s ability to serve as a facilitator on offense as a welcome addition, while noting the benefit of his length and athleticism on the defensive end.
Sophomore wing Kenny Williams and senior guard Nate Britt have split time at the two guard spot during Pinson’s absence.