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The Daily Tar Heel

Grandfather’s death inspires Nate Britt to excel

The sophomore guard scored a career-high 17 points Monday.

Sophmore guard Nate Britt (0) wards off redshirt junior guard Trevor Cooney (10).

Sophmore guard Nate Britt (0) wards off redshirt junior guard Trevor Cooney (10).

It was a simple electronic photo album Nate Britt and his sister were making for their paternal grandfather that day: Each would record a short, verbal message to remind him that they loved him, and Ned Britt would cherish it forever.

After all, there never was nor ever would be anything in the world that Ned loved more than the two of them.

So Nate chose his words wisely.

“I said, ‘Thank you, Grand-pop-pop,” the North Carolina sophomore guard said after UNC’s 93-83 victory over Syracuse (14-8, 5-3 ACC) Monday.

“I said Grand-pop-pop like three times, so it was like, ‘Grand-pop-pop-pop,’ and my mom and sister just constantly kept making fun of me about that.

“I think that’s one of my greatest memories about him.”

But now Ned, a native of La Grange, N.C., is gone. At 81 years old, he died Jan. 14 — the same night the No. 13 Tar Heels (18-4, 7-1 ACC) defeated N.C. State 81-79 and exactly a day after Nate’s 20th birthday.

Now, the younger Britt is left heartbroken and in a constant state of prayer.

“I pray a lot,” he said. “I always know that he’s watching over me.”

And on Monday night, Ned Britt got quite the show.

Against a stifling Syracuse zone in the two teams’ first matchup in Chapel Hill, his grandson scored 17 points — netting four of his five 3-pointers, three of his four free throws and five of his seven field goals.

In the meantime, Nate did it with 15 stitches in his mouth.

Exactly a week after Ned’s death, Britt lacerated his lip in the waning minutes of UNC’s victory over Wake Forest.

“Nate was awesome. I feel so good for him,” Coach Roy Williams said. “He has been battling, battling, battling.”

The 6-foot-1 guard became the first Tar Heel other than Marcus Paige to make at least three 3-pointers in a game all season and has seamlessly adjusted to shooting right-handed, a switch from his freshman campaign. The 17 points are good for the most by any UNC bench player this season.

“I’m just so happy for him. Ever since he’s changed his shot, he’s been trying to get his confidence up and he was really knocking it down,” junior forward Brice Johnson said.

“We call him ‘The Baby Burner,’ but tonight he was a flamethrower. He couldn’t miss.”

As he sat in the Tar Heels’ player’s lounge after the game, his lip hurting as he spoke and the 15 stitches visibly protruding from his mouth, Britt couldn’t help but smile.

Even if it hurt. He has someone to play for now, and that’s something he’ll never forget.

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“I know he’s watching,” Nate said of Ned. “I feel like he’s my guardian angel now, and I can attribute that to him. I can attribute this game to him.

“My dad always says, ‘He’s watching.”’

And on Monday, Ned smiled, too.