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Saturday May 21st

Nate Britt returns to familiar role in UNC backcourt

<p>UNC guard Nate Britt (0) looks to pass the ball around a UNC-Pembroke defender on Friday.&nbsp;</p>
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UNC guard Nate Britt (0) looks to pass the ball around a UNC-Pembroke defender on Friday. 

Maybe the hullabaloo is unwarranted — just a blip on the radar for this North Carolina men’s basketball season. Maybe, when all’s said and done, history will scoff at the notion that this moment was ever even relevant.

After all, what is Late Night With Roy if not a glorified practice? A scrimmage, sure, but nothing can be gleaned from it — at least not anything of substance.

So what if Nate Britt, a senior guard and expected fill-in starter for the injured Theo Pinson, won the 3-point contest? So what if, in the final round, he didn’t miss a single shot?

“As everybody could see from Late Night,” Isaiah Hicks said, “his shot is looking pretty good.”

And maybe that’s the reason this moment does matter.

Britt, now in his final season with the Tar Heels, wasn’t expected to be a starter this season. Three starters from last season’s national championship runner-up squad returned, along with Hicks. The last starting spot would surely go to Pinson.

Then Pinson fractured his foot, which sidelined him indefinitely. For some teams, losing a starter with Pinson’s on-court talents and off-court persona would be catastrophic.

But most teams don’t have someone like Britt waiting in the wings.

Britt arrived in Chapel Hill as a four-star recruit not expecting to start. But circumstances forced Coach Roy Williams’ hand.

Suspensions to guards P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald left the Tar Heels shorthanded in the backcourt. The team turned to Britt, who started for 16 games. He mostly facilitated the offense, feeding the ball to stalwarts Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo. He only averaged 5.1 points per game.

As a sophomore and junior, his playing time shrank. Instead of running with the starters, Britt was reduced to backup status.

That isn’t to say he wasn’t valuable. The minutes he gave off the bench were crucial, allowing Paige and Joel Berry a chance to rest. This year, he was expected to do the same for Pinson.

Instead, Britt will likely be pushed into the starting lineup. The move might not be permanent, but for the time being, it’s the best option Williams has: a senior with starting experience and a constantly improving jump shot.

“I do have more confidence in Nate because I’ve seen what he can do,” Williams said.

So maybe Late Night With Roy does matter, then. Not as a prophecy that Britt’s 3-point stroke will carry the team, but as an option that it could. Maybe it proves that, instead of funneling the ball to his teammates like he once did, he’s worthy of having the rock in his own hands.

There’s no telling how this will play out, no saying how Britt’s last go-around in a UNC jersey will go. That might be unsettling for some, but not him. Not anymore.

“I’ve had a lot of different experiences just from being on this team,” Britt said. “I don’t think there’s too much that would surprise me at this point.”

@BrendanRMarks

sports@dailytarheel.com



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