With his back turned, Coby White looks a lot like the player that wore his number before him.
Even in his style of play, his teammates say White resembles Joel Berry II, too.
“Joel had it,” sophomore guard Andrew Platek said of last year’s team captain. “He wasn’t the most vocal leader, but he always knew what to do. He was in the right spot, and he led by example because he played his guts out every game. I think Coby has some of the same qualities as that.”
This summer the North Carolina men’s basketball team welcomed its most attention-grabbing first-year class in six years — White, four-star recruit Rechon “Leaky” Black and top-10 recruit Nassir Little. Each received a different amount of publicity coming in, but like any year, they all arrived with plenty to prove.
White, though, a five-star point guard recruit from Wilson, N.C., has separated himself as the leader of his class, said his teammates at UNC’s media day on Tuesday.
“Coby has that alpha dog mentality ...” junior guard Brandon Robinson said. “He’s a great competitor. He reminds me a lot of Joel, just the way he can score, the way he competes in practice and he gets to the cup like nobody I’ve ever seen before.”
Robinson was in the same AAU program, Team Loaded N.C., as White and Black, so he’s seen White play since he was a junior in high school. This summer, specifically, Robinson was able to compete with the first-year when they, Platek and K.J. Smith worked out together and played one-on-one games.
“I’ve seen a lot of guys that have been able to finish great above the rim, but for layups, his lay-package is crazy,” Robinson said of White. “Never seen anything like it.”
Sophomore forward Garrison Brooks said White has made a concerted effort to become friends and develop chemistry with everyone on the team — a primary duty of any team’s point guard.
“He’s been really just trying to be comfortable with everyone because, I mean, he’s a point guard and he gets everything going for us,” Brooks said. “He’s been getting along with everybody, trying to get along with everyone.”
The three first-years became acquainted with each other in different ways. White and Little played together in the 2018 McDonald’s All-American game and the Jordan Brand Classic game. White and Black, of course, played on the same travel team.
“I think we got a great chemistry going so far,” senior Kenny Williams said. “They’ve all been open. They’ve been able to be themselves, and we welcome that, and they just fit in great in the locker room and on the court. They haven’t come in and tried to steal the spotlight or anything.”
Head coach Roy Williams, who rarely gives compliments to a player's game without offering an area for improvement, said his trio of newcomers poses “no negatives whatsoever.”
“Nassir got a tremendous amount of publicity, and he’s tremendously athletic and wants to be really good,” Roy Williams said. “Coby got a little less publicity but is really gifted and plays really hard and pushes the pace I like it to be pushed at. Leaky is maybe as versatile after six or seven practices as anybody I have ever had.”
Because it’s a team rule that no first-years are allowed to speak before the Tar Heels’ first game of the season, White didn’t step on the Smith Center floor on Tuesday until the official team photo for the year was taken.
In the picture, White was in the back row, standing between juniors Caleb Ellis and Shea Rush. A moment before the picture was taken, the first-year — who’s been compared to a Tar Heel whose name will soon be in the rafters, and who’s made all the right impressions thus far — tried to appear taller, propping himself up on his tippy-toes.
He seems to know that he has a lot to live up to.
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