CHAPEL HILL — After referee Mike Eades held up the start of an inbounds play to scold John Henson for standing too close to the opposition player as he guarded the pass, Henson reached out, put his arms on Eades shoulders and shared a laugh with the official.
Some of these North Carolina players have been around so long, they know the refs better than most of the league's coaches do.
That combination of experience and talent made the Tar Heels the preseason No. 1 team in the country, although it was hard to tell for much of Friday's exhibition against Division II UNC Pembroke.
With locked-out NBA products Tyler Hansbrough and Raymond Felton watching from behind the bench, those returning players struggled to find the form that made them the preseason No. 1 team.
The Tar Heels trailed for more than 13 minutes before taking their first lead, and even that didn't last long. It took four players who weren't here last year and one who didn't play much to make the difference for North Carolina, with the end of the bench taking over the game at the end of the first half and the Tar Heels pulling away in the second for a 100-58 win.
The novelty was welcome, in all its guises.
"It was good for our guys to see somebody new, see somebody who plays differently than we play," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
In a season where so much is the same for North Carolina basketball, the little changes stood out at its unofficial beginning.
The voices: Jones Angell replacing Woody Durham on the radio broadcast, Tony Gilliam replacing Kearney Andrews as the Smith Center's public-address announcer. Durham and Andrews each spent four decades putting North Carolina basketball into words.
The changes: Dexter Strickland got plenty of work at the point, where he's expected to back up Kendall Marshall this season.
The newcomers: Two freshmen, P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo, figure to feature heavily in the rotation - Hairston in particular with Leslie McDonald hurt - and they had plenty of chances with the first team Friday.
Three other freshmen actually had the biggest impact on the game. With the Tar Heels' starters struggling, sophomore Reggie Bullock and freshmen Hairston, Stillman White, Desmond Hubert and Jackson Simmons tore off a 14-0 run to give North Carolina an 11-point lead at the half.
The second half went more as expected, with the regular rotation ripping off a 23-4 run of its own, any first-half struggles long forgotten. Tyler Zeller had a game-high 18 points, Henson had five blocks and order had been restored.
"For the three years I've been here, in these exhibitions I don't think we've ever come out and played well," Henson said. "Just first-game jitters."
With those out of the way, it's on to bigger and better things now for the Tar Heels. North Carolina's official opener is still 12 days away, when the Tar Heels will face Michigan State in one of the most unique college basketball games ever played, on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego.
Those will be very unfamiliar surroundings for a team that could hardly be more familiar at this point. Friday didn't start out the way the Tar Heels expected, but it finished that way, which is something they'd like to say about their season in a few months.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-829-8947