It only took nine minutes for Anthony Harris to establish himself as possibly — no, definitely — the best guard on UNC's roster during the Saturday afternoon against the physically imposing Florida State Seminoles.
Nine minutes is not a whole lot of playtime in a 40-minute basketball game, but given the circumstances, it was shocking to see Harris on the court at all, much less playing like North Carolina's most productive player in the Tar Heels' 82-75 loss to FSU.
The redshirt first-year guard hasn't played in a game since tearing his ACL against Yale on Dec. 30, 2019. Since he injured his knee in high school on Dec. 1, 2018, he has played in just five competitive games before this moment. He had only dressed for his first game on Jan. 12 against Syracuse.
Yet there he was, seeing game action in his Carolina Blues for the first time in over a year, settling for many excited people on Twitter to herald his return rather than a small crowd of UNC fans on the road in Tallahassee.
"It felt great to be on the court, I mean it's been over a year now," Harris said. "So, just getting some run in is always going to be good. I was ready to play today. I didn't fully expect to play but (head coach Roy Williams) told me to stay ready, so that's what I did."
As much as Harris' return to the court is great for North Carolina's chances to one day inspire a Disney movie about the season, it's even better for Williams and the Tar Heels, who sorely need steady play at the guard position.
The offense has looked out of sorts, often unable to get talented bigs like Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot and Day'Ron Sharpe in position to score. The Tar Heels ranked fourth in the country in assists when they won the national championship in 2017. This year, they're 144th coming into Saturday's game.
Caleb Love has been a high-usage player struggling in the ACC, and RJ Davis' scoring has been inconsistent. Things have been dire, even with the emergence of Kerwin Walton as a consistent outside threat.
Enter Harris, who was tied for first on the team with three assists in just his nine minutes with, crucially, zero turnovers. In the very limited action he has seen in his UNC career, he's looked the part of a competent college guard, playing under control, hitting open shots and putting his effort into defense.
"It's always great to have someone out there that knows what they're doing and they're comfortable with pressure," Brooks said. "It's great having him, especially having him on defense. I think that's really where he makes a difference for us."
On an incredibly young team, even a redshirt first-year counts as a heady veteran. North Carolina's motion offense is complicated — it's predicated on constant player movement, screens and ball reversal with few set plays, and it is difficult for new players to pick up. So while it may seem simple, having a player who already knows when to cut, relocate or pass goes a long way when the new players are still figuring out how not to bump into each other.
"He plays with a tremendous amount of energy," Williams said. "He's good defensively, but just the energy level that he brings. I could have played him the last game, but I didn't want to rush things. I didn't think he'd had enough reps of going up and down to court, full court every day in practice."
Harris' minutes will be limited to start after coming back from a serious injury and so much time off. It's unlikely that, as much as they need him to, he will be able to step into a major (or starting) role.
Nine minutes a game might be all that North Carolina gets from Harris for the foreseeable future while his conditioning improves — the guard indicated after the game that he was tired after his first action in over a year. It wasn't quite enough on Saturday, but maybe nine minutes is all the Tar Heels will need from him to swing a game in the future.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.