North Carolina men’s basketball player Leaky Black went up to block a Georgia Tech shot on Jan. 29, only to land at an awkward angle.
What appeared to be a weird landing became worse. Black grabbed his ankle with his hands, rolling in pain. Teammates Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman carried the first-year off of the court while Black’s head hung low. He came out on crutches and in a boot after the game with a left ankle sprain.
He has now missed five games and he has not returned to practice.
Although Black will likely not play against Duke on Feb. 20, he’s still a key player because his presence will be missed for the Tar Heels on the bench.
Black is one of the best on-ball defenders for UNC, thanks to his long arms and athleticism, and he can play almost every position on the court. This season, he has averaged 2.9 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.3 assists in 11.0 minutes per game off the bench.
In a fierce rivalry, his minutes could have given valuable rest to other players. As a 6-foot-7 guard, his size is notable. Typically, Black subs in for first-year Coby White if he needs a breather in the game due to his speed and efficiency, or for Kenny Williams when the senior guard needs a break. However, junior Seventh Woods, the team's second-string point guard, will step up to fill the gap.
When Black played on the court, he primarily played point guard, shooting guard or small forward, and while it may be contradictory, UNC has been more successful with him in those positions. He looks to lock players up, a technique key to being a strong defensive player.
Black may have had a strong start in limited playing time at UNC with being a unique, versatile player because of his ability to play three out of the five positions; however, there is still room for growth. He is a first-year, which allows him to push through the growing pains that come with the role.
One of the games where he stood out the most was in a 103-82 win over Virginia Tech on Jan. 21. Black only played seven minutes but he sparked a 20-0 run that included 18 straight points scored by first-years. Black hit a 3-pointer during that run and finished the game with two assists and a steal.
Black has impressed this season with his shot-making success in small doses. He's shooting 47.9 percent this season and 45.5 percent on 3-point shots.
Black may not be the main player jumping for a rebound and making the 3-pointers, but he is a hustler, one who won’t give up and will continue to lock players up in the defensive half of the court.
Against the Blue Devils, the Tar Heels may have trouble filling in for Black's versatility in offensive and defensive plays if he remains on the bench.
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