CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Theo Pinson is on track to return to practice this week, although his availability for Thursday’s game at No. 18 Duke remains in question, Roy Williams said on his radio show on Monday night.
“We’re going to do some running and shooting tomorrow, and if things go well, we’ll allow him to start [practicing] at that time,” Williams said. “And I have no idea what that means about Thursday night because we’ll have to see how he does.”
The junior wing, who rolled his right ankle in the Tar Heels’ win over Virginia Tech on Jan. 26, generated a buzz at the Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday when he warmed up on the court pregame.
The Greensboro, N.C. native has only played in six of UNC’s 25 games this year after missing the first 16 games with a broken bone in his right foot. Pinson is averaging 6.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists on the season.
Do you feel extra energy during practice in the days leading up to the Duke game?
“It gets so much attention that you almost have to, but I try to make sure that in practice we do it the same way that we did the week before regardless of who we’re playing. It does get so much attention… before Saturday’s games were being played they were doing promos of the North Carolina-Duke game on Thursday night. That’s five days of games before that. It’s a game you don’t have to say to much to your guys, you don’t have to talk about how good they are, because they see them play and know the guys… we recruited most of the guys over there, too. We know a lot about them. On Thursday it will be the biggest game we play, because it’s Thursday’s game. It does get a tremendous amount of national attention. We love the rivalry… we think it’s the best rivalry in college basketball.”
What do you enjoy the most about North Carolina-Duke?
“A little bit of (everything). I do enjoy going over there and playing great. I do enjoy them coming over here and us playing great. I don’t enjoy when we don’t play very well. The history and traditions of the programs, for the most part, has been just fantastic. I feel flattered to be involved in it and try to do as much as I can do to hold up my end.”
Duke has had some troubles this season, but it seems like the team is coming together at the right time.
“I think so. I think Jeff Capel did a nice job with them while Mike was out and that was not easy for Jeff. They played a tough schedule and some roads games. Big win the other night at Notre Dame for example. Early in the year they didn’t really have all their personnel, now they’ve got all their personnel back… during the course of the season we lost Joel (Berry) for a couple games, Tony (Bradley) for a couple games, Theo (Pinson) for a couple games… you have to be able to handle it. Their depth has enabled them to handle it and play at a high level."
What have you seen out of Luke Kennard?
“He’s a fantastic player. I even went and watched him play a high school football game in Ohio. I went and sat in a lawn chair on the end of the field and froze my rear end off… Luke is a fanstastic kid, a big time player, and is having a great, great year. Before he got hurt Amile Jefferson was playing as well as any big man in the league. Jayson Tatum is back healthy now doing something and has really played well the last three or four weeks… Harry (Giles) is finally getting a little more playing time and playing healthy again… all of those guys we liked them so much that we recruited them, too.”
What are the keys to winning in difficult road environments, like the one you will be in on Thursday?
“I want our guys to be confident regardless of where we play and just because the other crowd is cheering like crazy for them… freshmen, you can just tell them to pretend they're cheering for you… but I do want us to be poised, be confident, not let the crowd rattle us, pay attention to our bench and what’s going on on the court…. I like going into somebody else’s living room and beating them. That’s one of the greatest thrills there is for me.”
How often do you encourage your players to work on their game on their own during the season?
“All the time. If you want to be really good you’ve got to invest. You’ve got to put in the time. You’re not going to get it done during the two hours of practice. A basketball team is made during the season, a player is made during the offseason. Now the way the game is played, there’s so much time you need to spend in the gym. You’ve got to make sure the legs are fresh.”
What are the challenges of the two games in three days turnaround? UNC will play Pittsburgh and Virginia later on in the season in this scenario.
“It is really very difficult. Notre Dame was trying to see if Wake Forest would come play on Wednesday instead of having the Sunday-Tuesday turnaround. I think we have three of them this year. The worst one is when you play on the road on Saturday and then on the road again on Monday night. It’s hard to do because you’ve got to give them time to recoup and get better…. We’ve had a couple of times where it’s six games in eleven days, four games in eight days, and that’s really difficult.”