Watching Coby White sprint down the floor with breakneck speed, his hair flowing behind him as if it is frantically attempting to keep up with his pace, it’s easy to see the potential. To go along with his scorching pace is a 6-foot-5 frame that will make NBA scouts drool imagining him running a pro offense.
But for now, the UNC (5-0) guard is young, raw, inexperienced and armed with the tough task of replacing Joel Berry II, one of the most accomplished point guards in program history, while attempting to lead a veteran-filled lineup back to national glory.
On Monday night, he played in his fifth regular season game as the North Carolina men’s basketball team took down Saint Francis (1-3), 101-76, at the Smith Center. The first-year added 16 points and one assist. Through five games, he’s shown his breathtaking potential as one of five Tar Heels to average double figures in points (11.6), while making plenty of mistakes (12 turnovers).
His head coach Roy Williams seemed to note the inconsistent play from his young point guard, while pointing out positives in his game on Monday.
"I don't like one, four (turnovers); that is not good," Williams said. "You like 5-6 from the foul line. You like 3-8 from 3-point line. But he knows he can play better than that."
White was a mixed bag from the start against the Red Flash as he has been so far this season, combining his brilliant talent with a certain reckless abandonment. By the time the first half was over, he had racked up nine points on 3-8 shooting, including three successful 3-pointers. He also only turned the ball over once. However, he quickly started the second half by making mental errors, turning the ball over three times in less than five minutes.
In his first three games, he made a fair amount of those mistakes, turning the ball over six times while making just 10-28 shots. However, against Tennessee Tech, the game seemed to slow down for White, as he scored 11 points on 3-7 shooting and added four assists.
Needless to say, White played the part of a first-year on Monday as he has all season. One strong play is followed by a questionable sequence as the good is complemented by the bad. If he was a shooting guard, or small forward, his actions would likely not be judged so harshly. But he is the point guard, expected to lead his team while making few mistakes. The help of his veteran teammates has guided him along the way.
"All the upperclassmen have helped me tremendously since I've got here," White said. "I'm pretty sure all of the freshmen feel the same way. It goes from Garrison, sophomore, Sterling, sophomore, Walker, sophomore, all the way to Luke, Cam, so they help us a lot on and off the court, especially off the court, I feel like they're a big help."
Perhaps his biggest supporter has been former Tar Heel point guard, Kendall Marshall, who now works with the team while completing his degree. White says Marshall constantly supports him and has worked as a mentor to try and show White the best way to grow as a player.
"Three-to-one ratio," said White, regarding Marshall's biggest area of emphasis. "Which is three-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio. That's the main thing he preaches to me."
Although White has yet to achieve that stat line, he has certainly impressed his veteran teammates with the way he has adjusted to the college level.
"I think he's making a great adjustment," said Kenny Williams, a senior guard. Although he did note with a smile that he thinks White is ugly as the first-year guard walked through the room for postgame interviews.
"He's adjusting well. He's starting to figure out when to attack and get all the way to the rim and when to dish it off, or when we need to get into the offense, and that's the key because he's playing a little more under control and I think it's showing more on the court, especially today early when he was attacking, and we were getting the early layups and easy baskets we were getting."
It's clear that White is far from a finished product, as he continues to learn the ins and outs of the North Carolina offense.
One thing is certain, though: the potential and talent are there. The size, athleticism and speed are evident and all that is left is for White to grow and mature into the next great Tar Heel point guard.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.