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UNC’s Theo Pinson out indefinitely with foot injury

North Carolina’s Theo Pinson at the Final Four

Video: North Carolina’s Theo Pinson describes his ability to spark the Tar Heels during an interview in the locker room on Friday, April 1, 2016 at the NRG Stadium in Houston,Texas.
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Video: North Carolina’s Theo Pinson describes his ability to spark the Tar Heels during an interview in the locker room on Friday, April 1, 2016 at the NRG Stadium in Houston,Texas.

North Carolina junior wing forward Theo Pinson, who has been in line to become a full-time starter this season, will be out indefinitely after breaking a bone in his foot, the school announced on Friday.

Pinson on Wednesday broke the fifth metatarsal in his right foot – the same bone he has twice broken in his left foot. During a phone interview on Friday his father, Theo Pinson Sr., said his son was scheduled to have surgery on Wednesday.

“Hopefully, we can get him back before the end of season,” UNC coach Roy Williams said in a statement.

A formal timetable for Pinson’s rehabilitation and potential return has yet to be determined. Pinson Sr. said, though, that he expected his son to miss eight to 12 weeks.

“It just depends on how he heals,” Pinson Sr. said.

Pinson’s indefinite absence represents a significant blow for the Tar Heels. He played in all 40 of UNC’s games last season, and was third on the team in assists, with 115. He’s UNC’s most versatile player and is capable of playing every position except for center.

Pinson started seven games at the beginning of last season while Marcus Paige, then a senior guard, worked his way back from a hand injury. Entering this season, Pinson was expected to slide into the vacancy in the starting lineup created by Paige’s departure.

“I’m so disappointed for Theo,” Williams said in a statement. “Number one, he’s been playing well and he does so many positive things for our team.”

If Pinson misses eight weeks, he could return in time for the start of conference play in late December. If his recovery and rehabilitation stretches into late January, though, UNC, which begins the season on Nov. 11 at Tulane, might well evaluate the possibility of keeping him on the bench to preserve a full year of eligibility.

I’m so disappointed for Theo. Number one, he’s been playing well and he does so many positive things for our team.

Roy Williams

Pinson Sr., though, said, “we’re optimistic that he’s going to be back” this season.

Part of his optimism is a result of Pinson’s history with a fractured fifth metatarsal. He broke that bone twice in his left foot – once in high school and again during his freshman year at UNC.

The first time he endured that injury, Pinson was unable to play for eight weeks, his father said. He missed 10 games after breaking the same bone midway through his freshman season, but Pinson Sr. said doctors treated the injury especially carefully, given its history.

Since this is the first time Pinson has broken a bone in his right foot, Pinson Sr. is hopeful that translates into a relatively shorter recovery time – similar to the eight weeks it took Pinson to return after the first fracture in his left foot.

“The foot he got injured is his first time on that foot,” Pinson said. “That helps the optimism a lot.”

In the meantime, Williams must determine how best to compensate for Pinson’s absence. Nate Britt, the reserve senior guard who has played an important role off the bench, could stand to enter the starting lineup. If he starts alongside Joel Berry, that would give UNC a two-point guard lineup.

Pinson won’t be easily replaced. As versatile as he is, he’s also the team’s “energy guy,” as Williams described him in his statement.

“He defends, he’s our best passer, a threat on the offensive boards, he can play four different positions, and he gives our team personality, and I mean that in a good way,” Williams said.

Pinson became an integral part of the Tar Heels’ success last season, which ended with UNC on the other side of perhaps the most memorable finish in NCAA tournament history. Entering this season, Pinson used as inspiration that national championship game defeat against Villanova.

On the day of UNC’s first practice, he posted a picture on Instagram – the image capturing the aftermath of that loss, a towel over his head while he sat in the locker room. He wrote that it was “a feeling that I don’t want to feel again.”

Weeks later, Pinson is dealing with more pain. Familiar pain.

“We’ve been down this road before,” Pinson Sr. said.

He’s hoping for a happy ending, both for his son and for this team. Pinson Sr. said he’s hoping for a day when the memory of this injury is overshadowed by something else.

“Hopefully we’ll be holding a national championship trophy at the end of the season,” he said, “and (looking back) we won’t even see it.”

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