Young guards audition for playing time in UNC exhibition hoop rout

With just one week remaining before the start of the 2016-17 regular season, North Carolina basketball coach said he is still undecided about the identity of his fifth starter

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
North Carolina guard Nate Britt (0) leaps for a lay up in the second half of the college basketball game between North Carolina and Syracuse at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill

CHAPEL HILL — With just one week remaining before the start of the 2016-17 regular season, North Carolina basketball coach said he is still undecided about the identity of his fifth starter. It’s a decision that became necessary when shooting guard Theo Pinson suffered a broken bone in his right foot at practice two weeks ago. Pinson will be sidelined at least until late December, if not longer. If Friday’s exhibition game against UNC Pembroke is any indication, Williams is mulling over all his options before making his decision. He used virtually every possible combination of players at the two backcourt positions during the Tar Heels’ 124-63 dismantling of their UNC System cousins. “We’ve gone through 24 practices now and I still haven’t played a, quote, starting lineup together every day,” Williams said on a night in which his team shot 65.7 percent from the floor in overwhelming its Division II opponent. “We’ve changed guys over every single day in practice, so they’ve played with different combinations. “Kenny Williams, Brandon Robinson and Nate Britt … there’s some minutes there that Theo would have been getting that they need to get right now. But probably this week I’ll start trying to put some guys together that I think will play more together once the season starts.” Williams got a look at all his options on Friday. He started the game with Berry, the team’s top returning scorer from last season, and senior Britt together and both played well. Berry finished with a team leading 20 points, six assists and four steals while Britt made two of his four field goal attempts while handing out two assists in just 17 minutes. Freshman Robinson also got plenty of court time with Berry, as well as a some run with fellow newcomer Seventh Woods at the point. While Robinson didn’t shoot particularly well, going 2 for 5, Woods was impressive while contributing nine points and seven assists while committing only a single turnover. Of all the young guards auditioning for extended minutes, however, none made a more positive impression Friday than Williams. A 6-foot-4 sophomore who struggled with his stroke last season while making only one of his 13 3-point attempts, Williams looked like a different player while hitting two of his four attempts from beyond the arc on his way to a 10-point effort. “I knew he was going to knock down shots coming into this season,” Berry said. “He spent a lot of time in the offseason working on his shot. I don’t think it’s him necessarily shooting the ball. I just think it’s his confidence level. You could tell he has a little confidence with shooting now.” It’s one thing to have confidence in practice and pickup games and another thing to keep it going once the season actually begins. Even though Friday’s game was only an exhibition against a clearly outclassed opponent, it was important for Williams’ state of mind to see the ball go through the basket on a consistent basis in a game setting. “Getting positive results definitely helps and definitely allows me to know that it works and that I can stay on myself and get back to being confident,” said Williams, who also played and shot well in UNC’s “secret” scrimmage at Memphis last Saturday. “I think everyone knows I can shoot the ball. Last year was a little different. To see it go down and see it go down early was a relief for (teammates and the crowd), more so than myself.”