It wasn't what Nate Britt expected, the vitriol – the nastiness, at times – from North Carolina fans. Not after how gracious they appeared when the school was recruiting him during his high school years.
Back then, Britt said, “You're like, 'These fans are great.'”
Now he knows the other side, too, how those same people can be not so great amid a stretch of missed shots, or maybe an untimely turnover, or maybe after a few shaky possessions when the offense doesn't flow quite right. Britt, the senior guard from Upper Marlboro, Md., has taken on a larger role in UNC's past two games.
He has started at point guard in place of the injured Joel Berry, who continues to heal from his sprained ankle. Berry wore a boot while he sat on the bench during UNC's victory against Davidson last week and by the time UNC rallied for a 73-71 victory against Tennessee on Sunday, the boot was off.
Perhaps that's a positive sign that Berry will be well enough to play against Kentucky on Saturday. With Berry out, Britt's increased visibility has come with opportunity – and plenty of criticism, too, on social media and Internet forums where fans, hiding behind screen names, empowered by their anonymity, often rant and rave.
Britt became an easy target after he missed all eight of his attempts from the field during the 83-74 victory against Davidson. In the victory against Tennessee – a game that was much more competitive than expected – he made four of his 14 attempts from the field.
Roy Williams, the UNC coach, scanned the box score on Sunday and found easy pickings, too.
“You don't want anybody to go four for 14, so it's four for 22 (with) his last game,” Williams said. “You've got to make some shots if you're going to shoot the dadgum thing that often.”
Nonetheless, Britt also on Sunday finished with seven assists and five steals – some of those instrumental during the Tar Heels' comeback. During the final 8 ½ minutes on Sunday, Britt made two shots – a 3-pointer and a layup – that cut UNC's deficit to one, which allowed it to keep hanging around.
The criticism, the ire, surrounding his play is nothing new. Britt has dealt with it for years.
“After a while you get used to it,” he said.
In years past, he said he leaned on Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, the Tar Heels’ senior captains a season ago. Britt said they helped him learn how to handle the negativity. Britt said he and Justin Jackson also removed “most of our social media apps” from their phones.
“Just to kind of block out all that negative energy,” Britt said.
It's routinely there waiting for him: on Twitter, on message boards, delivered from the same general group of people who once seemed so kind. Britt said he knows it “comes with the territory.” He tries to ignore it all.