North Carolina guard Cam Johnson said he expects to play in Friday’s NCAA tournament game with Lipscomb. UNC coach Roy Williams is not as sure.
Johnson suffered a minor back injury in the ACC tournament. He was held out of practice on Tuesday as a precaution. UNC, the No. 2 seed in the West region, opens with 15th-seeded Lipscomb on Friday in Charlotte.
I don’t know how things will progress,” Johnson said. “I have been improving so if I stay along that path, I feel like I should be good.”
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Johnson, who averages 12.7 points and has started the past 18 games, went to the bench in pain with 6:20 left in the ACC championship game and did not return.
The Tar Heels (25-10) played four games in four days in the ACC tournament and were worn out when they left Brooklyn early Sunday morning.
Williams gave the team off on Sunday and Monday. They had an abbreviated practice on Tuesday and the team lifted weights but Johnson did not participate, Williams said.
“If we had to play (Tuesday), he wouldn’t play at all,” Williams said.
That could change, Williams said.
“I think that he will be able to play,” Williams said. “We’ve got three days. I would think that he would be able to make a lot of improvement.”
Dealing with injuries during the tournament has become a rite of spring for the Tar Heels. Point guard Joel Berry had a balky ankle last year. Point guard Kendall Marshall had a wrist injury in 2012 and point guard Ty Lawson was held out of the first round of the 2009 NCAA tournament with a toe injury.
Berry was able to play through it, Marshall could not and Lawson did come back to lead the Tar Heels to the national title.
If Johnson can’t play, freshman Garrison Brooks would likely get the start. Brooks started the first 16 games of the season and had a strong showing in Brooklyn. Brooks had 10 points and four rebounds in UNC’s semifinal win over Duke.
“I think Garrison has earned some more time,” Williams said.
Williams said they will monitor Johnson’s progress throughout the week. The team will practice in Chapel Hill on Wednesday and then leave for Charlotte. They will practice off-site in Charlotte on Thursday morning and then go to the Spectrum Center for their open NCAA practice.
Johnson, a graduate transfer from Pittsburgh, watched the NCAA tournament last year. One of the main reasons he transferred to UNC was to play meaningful games in March.
He said he’ll leave the decision to play against Lipscomb up to Williams.
“If I feel like i can go, and he wants to hold me back, you can’t really question coach,” Johnson said. “I’d push to play, but at the end of the day, he’s coach and what he says goes.”