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Saturday May 21st

Injury sets back Theo Pinson, Tar Heels

<p>UNC forward Theo Pinson (right) celebrates after a teammate made a shot in the men's basketball team's game against UNC-Pembroke.</p>
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UNC forward Theo Pinson (right) celebrates after a teammate made a shot in the men's basketball team's game against UNC-Pembroke.

Don’t look away now. This is the guy who relishes the spotlight. This is the guy who invited himself to an NCAA Tournament press conference. This is the guy who impersonated Larry Fedora with the man himself standing right there. This is the guy whose dance moves are rivaled only by his basketball skills.

And this year, the junior wing might have been “the guy.” The one to have the breakout year that the North Carolina men’s basketball team will need to fill the shoes of its graduated seniors.

He might have been.

On Oct. 11, Pinson’s sense of humor drew laughs at UNC men’s basketball media day. But 10 days later, the team announced Pinson had broken a bone in his right foot and would be sidelined indefinitely. He had suffered the same injury in his left foot twice before, most recently during his first year in Chapel Hill.

Among all of Pinson’s lighthearted moments at media day — before he could have imagined the unlucky fate that befell him days later — his serious comments on his first-year injury are haunting.

“I felt like I was starting to get it my freshman year, and then (the injury) was a big step back,” Pinson said.

“You can’t go for that long and then come back and play in our system, because we are going up and down and everything is happening so fast.”

For Pinson, this is another big step back.

And for a team losing two of its brightest stars to graduation after a run that culminated in a title game loss, a step back is not what the Tar Heels need. The attention must be on moving forward to what might still be for these guys.

One way or another, this team is determined that Pinson will be a part of what might still be.

“If you came to one of our practices you would probably hear Theo more than anybody,” Joel Berry said.

“He’ll still be on the sideline.”

It was just a year ago when a preseason injury to Marcus Paige propelled Berry into the role of the team’s vocal leader, much sooner than he expected. Now it is Berry’s team, and he knows the vacancy on the court left by Pinson is met by a next-man-up attitude from the Tar Heels.

“Whoever gets those minutes, if they do well, if they succeed and if they have good moments, that’s really gonna make them better at the end of the year,” Coach Roy Williams said.

Make no mistake — the Tar Heels would prefer to have Pinson on the court.

“I’d rather make my team stronger just by everybody improving themselves instead of losing a guy,” Williams said.

But don’t take your eyes off Pinson. Even with a recovery timetable that would hold him out until at least conference play, you cannot forget about Pinson.

“If you do get Theo back, and he’s ready to play, that makes your team stronger,” Williams said.

Come conference play, the spotlight will be on North Carolina. It always is. So remember the guy whose most memorable moments come when everybody is watching.

Whatever you do, keep the camera on Theo Pinson.

@James_Tatter  

sports@dailytarheel.com



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