CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Leave it to North Carolina’s most boisterous individual to be the team’s most underrated player, too.
Theo Pinson has yet to meet a television camera or microphone he didn’t like, and that will once again become evident as the postseason begins and personalities shine brighter. On the court, however, the junior wing doesn’t receive the same manner of attention as his teammates, such as ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson, second-team All-ACCer Joel Berry and Kennedy Meeks, who has emerged as one of the nation’s top rebounders.
While Pinson was the lone Tar Heel in the primary rotation to fail to score in the final week of the regular season, his role as facilitator and energy splash has been critical in UNC’s march to the ACC regular season title and ACC Tournament No. 1 seed.
His assist-turnover is nearly 4:1 (47:12), far exceeding A.J. Turner’s 2.9:1 ratio at Boston College, which leads the ACC (Pinson has not played in enough games to qualify).
“His assist-error ratio has just been off the charts,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters on Monday. “I think he was 7:2 Saturday night. He makes plays; he is a playmaker. I’d like for him to score and I’d like for him to defend better and get all kinds of rebounds, but he is a playmaker. That helps you in big-time games because baskets aren’t easy.”
Pinson’s court vision separates him from his peers, although he’s not infallible. His two turnovers against Duke were risky passes that ended up in the Blue Devils’ possession. Sometimes, however, taking chances are worth the risk.
“He knows where you’re supposed to be, and he’s not afraid,” Williams said. “He’s a risk-taker. He operates on the edge a lot. I don’t mind that. You’re going to turn the ball over sometimes when you’re trying to make plays.”
Pinson’s assist-turnover ratio over his past two seasons is 2.7:1 (162:61), which Williams described as “sensational” after an inconsistent but still productive freshman year (37:17).
How good is your team?
“On that question, I’m not an expert. And I’m being very sincere. I’ve had several people say, ‘oh, you’re better this year than you were last year.’ And I’m saying we don’t have the one great, consistent defender, we don’t have the rim protector, but we’re making more shots. Which is more important depends on the game. We’re making more 3-point shots. We don’t have that consistent [defender], especially now with Kenny [Williams] out. It’s a big, big positive for you when you take away a lot of easy baskets from the other team, and we haven’t done that this year. So, to answer your question, I don’t know. I hope that you’ll still be asking that question four weeks from now because that will mean we’ve had an awfully good four weeks.”
What’s your greatest concern entering the postseason now compared to what it was this time last year?
“I think I always have the same concern at this time of the year. Let’s stay healthy. That’s the biggest thing. Let’s stay healthy so our best players can play in the postseason. That’s what I’ve thought about every year. Last year, we ended the regular season on a great win at Duke. This time we had a great win at home. I sort of separate the ACC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament and don’t ever consider it a continuation. I did that last year. Let’s go to New York and play as hard as we can play and perhaps they’ll let us stay around and play longer. And then when we have Selection Sunday and we find out where we’re going, I think we start a new tournament right then and that’s the way I’ve looked at it.”
You finished second in ACC Coach of the Year voting. Do you feel under-appreciated as a coach?
“No. Steve [Kirschner] called me yesterday and told me I was second after we discussed all of the good stuff. I like one thing… No, I like two things. I like winning and I like the way the kids make me feel about what we’re doing. I’ve got 2-3-4-5 national coach of the year things, but I’ve got two that sit at my house up on the shelf that are by far the best national coach of the year awards. Not even close. And it’s the Winged Foot Award because they give it to the guy who won the national championship. Those are the two. Every time I come in my house, if I’ve been gone a half hour or 27 days, I walk by and see if my rings are still there and if those two trophies are still there. They can take my pool table, my television, everything, I wouldn’t even know it was gone. They’d take the surfboards… That’s the one I like to win. I like winning, and we’re doing okay.”
What kind of opportunity do you think this is for the ACC to bring its tournament to Brooklyn?
“It’s called the media capital of the world. More people will be aware of what’s going on. Going through New York and playing in the course of your tournament run is a fantastic experience for you. The New York media will really cover it and it will go everywhere. I love Greensboro and what they do, the whole town knows what’s going on and in New York the whole town won’t know what’s going on with the ACC Tournament, but still, I just think it’s a wonderful venue and one that the kids will be happy about if they play well. If they play poorly, they won’t care.”
What does the phrase “the ceiling is the roof” mean to you?
“They asked me about it when I was on Mike & Mike this morning and I said, ‘I don’t care what he said. He’s Michael Jordan. Any daggum thing he wants to say is okay with me. Anybody that wants to criticize him are probably those guys who aren’t Tar Heels.’ I have no idea. I haven’t talked to him since he left. I would assume the phrase probably got mixed up with the sky’s the limit and let it go at that. It means nothing to me whatsoever. It’s Michael Jordan. He can do what the dickens he wants to do.”