CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – While the sample size has been incredibly small, Theo Pinson’s playing the best basketball of his North Carolina career this season.
The Greensboro, N.C. native is averaging 6.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists and one steal per game, while also shooting 43.3 percent from the field, all of which are career highs.
Pinson’s maturation as a facilitator has allowed him to establish an identity and his growth as a player has been evident in his play and his stats.
“His freshman year his appreciation of having the basketball was not what it needed to be,” head coach Roy Williams said at his press conference on Tuesday. “His assist-to-error ratio wasn’t very good. Last year as a sophomore it was very good. I think he’s continued to add onto that (this year).”
Pinson has only turned the ball over twice in 116 minutes on the court this season.
It’s not just his ability to take care of the ball that has impressed Williams, but also his ability to know when to let go of it, albeit with a few omissions.
“He is a playmaker,” Williams said. “He sees things that a lot of other guys don’t see. Other times he doesn’t see the defensive player, too, but that’s continued to grow.”
Pinson has missed 19 games due to injury this season.
What’s the status of Isaiah Hicks?
“He’ll practice today and we’ll see how he goes, how he does things in practice from a playing standpoint. Then we’ve got to see how he is after and what his recovery is like. He’ll do probably half of practice today, we’ll switch him and he’ll have a substitute or be a substitute for somebody else. If he makes it through and has his play to a level where he can do some things, then it’s a medical decision. It’ll be after practice and maybe even tomorrow morning. Hamstrings are something we try not to mess with.”
With the time you’ve had off, what are some of the lessons you’ve taken from Thursday’s game?
“It’s been unusual. Part of it has been driven by the injury to Isaiah. Part of it’s been driven by the fact that we’ve kept Kennedy (Meeks) out of practice. It’s been more rest. We gave them Friday off, brought them in Saturday to look at clips from the Duke game and try to show them some things that we did okay and some things we didn’t do okay… we came back Sunday and tried to have a really good practice. We didn’t have Kennedy or Isaiah at practice. I gave them yesterday off to try and be the correct program for Isaiah more than anything else. It’s been more rest than anything.”
Is there any secret to your success against N.C. State?
“We’ve had good teams. That’s the secret right there. I get enthused to play them, but I get enthused to play a lot of people and we don’t do as well. The game here I had a great deal of respect for their team – I had just watched them beat Virginia Tech easily after VT had beaten Duke. Everything went our way early and Dennis (Smith) getting in foul trouble early was a huge part of it. Since then they’ve been a widely different team… In a couple of games they’ve really struggled. It’s hard to gauge. I’m sure Mark (Gottfried) feels it’s a lot harder to gauge than I do. State’s game against Virginia Tech and against Duke, they were just outstanding at that point. We realize that the game got out of hand here and they’ll be more enthused, they’ll be fired up, and maybe make amends for some of the things that have happened.”
With some of the defensive issues over the past couple of games, are you seeing improvement behind the stats?
“Not really. I thought we played better defensively at Duke but we had some major breakdowns as well. Notre Dame we did some good things defensively but we still had some breakdowns. I’ve probably spent more time going back to the original foundation of our defense and done more drills over-and-over-and-over over the past couple of weeks than we ever have. I’m hopeful we’ll see some improvement but I haven’t seen it yet.”
How much of a disruption is it not having Kennedy practicing as well as Isaiah?
“We had Shea Rush playing power forward on the blue team. That’s not exactly the kind of competition you want at four… he’s a great kid and he’s going to play for us some here, but he doesn’t even know the plays so we can’t run things. Sunday’s practice, and that is the only practice we’ve gone full speed since last Thursday, is not what we wanted. We’ve had two games all year when we’ve had everyone on our team.”
What have you seen behind the scenes in terms of Justin Jackson’s improvement?
“He’s working and has worked extremely hard on his shot. That gives him more confidence, that gives the players more confidence, and that makes him a better leader. I think he’s worked harder in the weight room to change his body a little bit and I think that gives him more confidence and he plays better, which also gives his teammates more confidence. I just think it’s the sweat he’s put in. He’s put in the time, he’s put in time to shoot extra shots before practice, after practice. He spends some extra time in the building and did a great job academically in the first semester. He’s got his priorities right.”
What was the thing you wanted Justin Jackson to work on the most?
“Two things. Your body has got to get better, you’ve got to get bigger and stronger, and the ball has to go in the hole. It’s pretty simple. I think he’s really put in the time to do that.”
How does having a back loaded schedule in ACC affect the way the team operates?
“You need more practice time. You’re getting ready to play Virginia, play Duke, play Louisville, Notre Dame, at State, and at Pittsburgh… This schedule is by far the most difficult in the league. Especially with all those teams trying to be in the top half of the league. The bottom line is you’ve got to play it. Playing Duke, Virginia… not playing them at all for 20 games and then playing them twice each in a three-week period is pretty difficult getting your team ready.”
What kind of environment are you expecting at State considering all that is going on over there?
“I think they’ll be a little bit enthused. They look at us and think we can right a lot of bad nights and make some things not as bad.”