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Theo Pinson is inaugural winner of Caulton Tudor Award, honoring cooperation with media

UNC’s Theo Pinson and Coach Roy Williams have some press conference fun

UNC coach Roy Williams has some fun with Theo Pinson and Kenny Williams at the postgame press conference following the NCAA Tournament win over Lipscomb.
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UNC coach Roy Williams has some fun with Theo Pinson and Kenny Williams at the postgame press conference following the NCAA Tournament win over Lipscomb.

Theo Pinson made a name for himself at North Carolina with his press-conference crashing almost as much as he did on the court. But his goofball antics at the podium were part of a larger willingness to interact with the media and enjoy the process, and his openness and honesty were as appreciated by the media as much as his antics.

It's fitting, then that Pinson is the first winner of the new Caulton Tudor Award, given to the Triangle basketball player who is most cooperative with the media and presented by Tobacco Road Sports Cafe.

And to underline the spirit of the award – and make sure a player from each of the schools gets one out of the gate – he'll be joined by three retroactive winners: Duke's Matt Jones (2017), UNC teammate Marcus Paige (2016) and N.C. State's Ralston Turner (2015).

Tudor, the longtime Raleigh Times, News & Observer and WRAL sports columnist who died at 70 in November, got to spend quality time with basketball players in March, when locker rooms were open during the ACC and NCAA tournaments, and he loved the ones who were willing to play along with him a little bit with his line of questioning, indulge a little silliness or hear out a theory.

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News & Observer columnist Caulton Tudor, center, accepts the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association’s Skeeter Francis Award from ACC Commissioner John Swofford, left, during the ACC basketball tournament in Atlanta, Ga. on March 10, 2010. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Tudor knew of what he spoke – not only as a Hall of Fame basketball writer but as a participant in the longest high school game in the history of North Carolina – and the players who would engage with him often found it as rewarding as Tudor did.

In search of a way to honor Tudor's memory, acknowledging the players whose company he enjoyed seemed the best way to do it.

With the blessing of Tudor's family and the sports-information and compliance staffs at Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State, the Tudor Award will be awarded each year by a rotating committee of media members. Tobacco Road will host displays in each of their restaurants, in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, so fans throughout the Triangle will see which players have been honored.

The hope is that the award encourages players to view their interactions with the media as a positive aspect of playing in this market, where there's more exposure to the media than most places, and if nothing else, a chance to grow as a public figure. It's a real phenomenon that can benefit everyone: Just last week, Luke Maye looked far more comfortable behind the podium at the Smith Center than he did at this time last year, and he had the confidence to speak honestly and forthrightly.

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Theo Pinson's Caulton Tudor Award

Jones, Paige and Turner were clear standouts in their classes and selected by acclamation as much as anything, but the first vote on the award was a difficult one. Pinson's teammate Joel Berry was equally as forthcoming and friendly with the media, as was Duke's Grayson Allen, even during difficult stretches of his career.

Former UNC player Theo Pinson speaks during a press interview after having a Saturday workout with the Charlotte Hornets ahead of the 2018 NBA draft. Among the items he addressed was his shooting.

In the end, Pinson's clear enjoyment in his various media responsibilities – real and, uh, imagined – put him over the top among three very worthy candidates.

In that respect, he's very much like one of his fellow honorees. While Jones was the veteran voice of reason in some very young Duke locker rooms and Paige was as much an analyst of the game as a player of it, Turner relished his interactions with the media and often shared their perspective on what was happening on the court.

“During my time at N.C. State, I always tried to treat the media with respect and also be honest with them,” Turner said. “In turn, I was treated with respect and that what's what I'm most appreciative of, so I want to thank you guys for making my experience a positive one, because I really appreciated it.”

There's a lot of that in Pinson, as some NBA team and its media will find out Thursday night, and it's something the Tudor family and members of the Triangle media are happy to recognize with this award, now and in the future.

North Carolina seniors Joel Berry and Theo Pinson talk about the realization that the NCAA Tournament upset loss to Texas A&M was their last game as Tar Heels.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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