With injuries piling up – some guys in stitches, others in walking boots – some of the practices lately at North Carolina have been the “most bizarre I’ve ever had,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said Friday.
And it has been that way because his available personnel keeps on decreasing. Williams was preparing to practice a day before his team’s game against Florida State at the Smith Center without at least six players.
Williams received more bad news when he learned that Theo Pinson, the freshman guard, had suffered a broken left foot during UNC’s victory at Wake Forest on Wednesday. Pinson endured the injury – a fractured fifth metatarsal – when teammate Joel James stepped on Pinson’s right foot, which apparently caused Pinson to land awkwardly on his left.
“We’re still evaluating what all of his options can be,” Williams said. “But (it’s) not a very comfortable feeling for us because we feel like we’re down quite a few personnel wise, anyway.
“And I think he was starting to come (on), and I like that part of it, too.”
Pinson will join fellow guards Joel Berry (groin), Luke Davis (foot) and Stilman White (foot) at the UNC bench, where they’ll watch the game while wearing suits. Another player, walk-on Sasha Seymore, has been lost for the season with a torn ACL.
And two others – Marcus Paige (plantar fasciitis) and Nate Britt – have been limited in practice with injuries. Britt suffered a cut on his lip on Wednesday that required 15 stitches, Williams said, and he said it’s no guarantee that Britt would play Saturday. He didn’t plan to practice Friday.
“We’ve been advised not to make him laugh,” J.P. Tokoto, the junior forward, said of Britt.
Tokoto showed up to his portion of UNC’s press conference on Friday toting a large orange stuffed bear. Tokoto said the bear’s name is Gerry – “my boy,” Tokoto said, and “kind of the (team) homey” – and Tokoto joked that Gerry just might be called into action Saturday.
The Tar Heels will dress 11 players against Florida State. Normally, that number is 16.
Depth in the backcourt will be of special concern, given that Paige is UNC’s only natural guard whose status for Saturday isn’t in doubt. And even he continues to play through the pain of his foot condition, and a couple of other nagging ailments.
Aside from Paige, UNC’s backcourt rotation is likely to include Tokoto, freshman Justin Jackson and Britt, if he plays.
“As far as minutes and rotations, I guess it’s just going to be me and Justin just kind of sharing the minutes,” Tokoto said. “Going to have to make up for it. We have guards that can play. We still have a healthy Marcus. So we’ll be fine. We’ll be all right.”
Williams said he wouldn’t ask his team to play more slowly – he always prefers a fast, up-tempo pace – though he acknowledged that he might more liberally use his team’s timeouts. Williams used a 2-3 zone, too, in the victory at Wake to help his players avoid further foul trouble.
The Tar Heels’ personnel situation has reminded Williams of what he faced a season ago, when UNC’s backcourt wasn’t as deep as it became when Leslie McDonald returned from an early season suspension. Before McDonald returned, Williams experimented with rotations and lineups.
“But it’s hard to make those kinds of significant changes in the middle of the season right now,” Williams said. “But that’s what we have.”
Berry, who is still recovering from a groin injury, will also miss the game Monday against Syracuse, Williams said. White and Davis, who would add some depth and do add valuable contributions in practice when healthy, are still a while from being back.
As for Pinson, Williams couldn’t say how much time he might miss. Pinson is averaging 3.3 points and 3.7 rebounds, but he had been playing with more confidence in recent games and his role was expanding.
He suffered the same exact foot injury in high school. It’s unclear if Pinson might be able to return this season.
The Tar Heels’ personnel situation is so dire that Williams called up Spenser Dalton, a member of the junior varsity team, to add some depth in practice. And so these are some bizarre times, indeed, for Williams’ team – a time, short on health and numbers, that’s likely to challenge the Tar Heels’ endurance on Saturday.