The media predicted the Tar Heels to finish second in the conference. Berry was voted first-team All-ACC, while junior forward Justin Jackson made the second team.
Here are five takeaways for UNC from the ACC’s media day.
Right away, Williams knew it was serious.
Before UNC’s scrimmage last Thursday at Ft. Bragg, junior wing Theo Pinson told a trainer his foot felt sore. Midway through, Pinson made a routine move to the basket.
“All of a sudden he’s yelling, ‘You’ve gotta come take me,’” Williams said. “And I knew then it was not good.”
Tests found a fracture in his right foot, sidelining him indefinitely.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll get him back,” he said. “But that’s all it is is hopeful.”
The early candidates to start at shooting guard are senior Nate Britt, sophomore Kenny Williams and first-year Brandon Robinson.
Roy Williams feels confident playing the experienced Britt, while he called Kenny Williams one of UNC’s best perimeter defenders. And at 6-foot-5, Robinson could emulate Pinson’s length.
But none of the potential starters entered this season with as much promise as Pinson.
“If we had to play a game last Thursday, I would’ve started Theo,” Williams said. “If we have to play a game tonight, I do not know who I would start.”
Beyond the loss
After falling to Villanova in the national title game in April, UNC players are still answering questions about what could have been.
Had Berry replicated his 15-point first half in the second, the Tar Heels could have been champions. And he could have been the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player — which would have landed his jersey in the Smith Center rafters.
“I’ve had things that were right there that were taken away from me,” he said. “But I can’t compare it to the national championship game.”
UNC knows it can’t dwell on that game. The regular season opens Nov. 11 at Tulane, and the players are using the loss as a catalyst for another Final Four run.
“Of course we wanted to win that game ...” Hicks said. “That’s what led to everybody working this hard this offseason — to try to get back there.”
Hicks’ first season in Chapel Hill was, in a word, forgettable. Now he’s doing his best to ensure the same doesn’t happen to his new teammate.
“Everybody says that’s my son,” Hicks said of first-year forward Tony Bradley. “I’m trying to keep him out the clear, from being like me my freshman year.”
At 6-foot-10, Bradley will play pivotal minutes in the post, but he isn’t the only newcomer for UNC.
Robinson and speedy guard Seventh Woods should see key minutes left by Paige and Pinson.
Robinson is even challenging for a starting spot.
“I love his aggressiveness,” Hicks said. “He tried to dunk on me in practice.”
Developing from deep
A year after finishing last in the ACC in 3-point percentage and makes, much of UNC’s optimism from deep stems from Berry.
“It just seems like the 3-point shot is a layup for him,” Hicks said.
It’s not just Berry. Britt won the 3-point contest at Late Night With Roy, and Berry doesn’t remember Robinson missing a 3-pointer in Tuesday’s practice. Even Kenny Williams is sinking shots.
But Roy Williams doesn’t care about practice. Accuracy on game night is all that matters.
“Everybody says they can shoot, and they can,” he said. “But I’m interested in guys that make.”
N.C. State’s Dennis Smith Jr. was named ACC Preseason Rookie of the Year, showing how much respect the guard from Fayetteville garners.
“I think he’s a phenomenal player, gonna be a phenomenal college player, gonna be a phenomenal NBA player ...” Roy Williams said. “We would’ve loved to have recruited Dennis more successfully.”
Smith isn’t the state’s only heralded first-year. Duke boasts two of the top four prospects in the nation in Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum.
Joining them is ACC Preseason Player of the Year, Grayson Allen, who returns to a team favored to win the ACC.
But Berry thinks the Blue Devils’ inexperience could cost them.
“They’ll still have those younger guys trying to give them a lot of minutes ...” he said. “So I think that’ll give them a tough time.”