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Wednesday December 7th

Preview: UNC men's basketball wings looking to provide versatility to deep lineup

UNC graduate forward Leaky Black (1) dribbles the ball during the exhibition game against JCSU at the Dean Smith Center on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022. UNC beat JCSU 101-40.
Buy Photos UNC graduate forward Leaky Black (1) dribbles the ball during the exhibition game against JCSU at the Dean Smith Center on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022. UNC beat JCSU 101-40.

On a roster highlighted by the play of its dynamic guards and dominant bigs, the North Carolina men's basketball team's wings are often the unsung members of the rotation. 

In modern basketball, reliable three-point shooting and lockdown defense makes for ideal wings. UNC has a familiar cast of players with such skills returning, as well as a promising first-year who looks to add depth to a Tar Heels squad at the top of the preseason rankings.

Here's a look at how each of them can make an immediate impact:

Leaky Black

Black is one of four returning starters for UNC, and the 6-foot-9 graduate was the defensive heartbeat of the Tar Heels last season. Black was named to the ACC All-Defensive Team and was consistently relied upon to guard some of the best players in the country. 

In the Final Four matchup with Duke, Black notably held A.J. Griffin to just six points on 1-for-7 shooting from the field. Defensive performances like that are what make Black vital to the Tar Heels' success.

Not only is Black heralded as one of the conference's best defenders, he is also a versatile two-way weapon. He was just the sixth Tar Heel to ever reach 500 career points, 400 rebounds, 200 assists, 100 steals and 50 blocks in their collegiate career.

Now, in his fifth season, Black will resume his leadership role, as his gritty play should serve as an example for the young players on the team.

Puff Johnson

Johnson is no longer simply known as the younger brother of Cameron Johnson — a former First-Team All-ACC player at UNC in 2019 and current Phoenix Sun — making a name for himself during the Tar Heels’ Final Four run last season. 

Before the 6-foot-8 junior became the sixth man to the famous "Iron Five," Puff Johnson had a breakout game at N.C. State in which he scored 16 points for his first game in double-figures.

He is one of six returning players that appeared in last year’s national championship game. That experience will pay dividends for a UNC team hungry for redemption. 

As the projected the sixth man for the Tar Heels, after averaging just 3.1 points per game last year, he will look to increase his scoring in an expanded role this season.

Justin McKoy

The 6-foot-8 transfer from Virginia was one of the only Tar Heels to play off the bench in a small rotation last season. Now a senior, McKoy looks to provide relief for Black and starting forward Pete Nance. 

Like Black and Johnson, McKoy is one of six returning players who saw the floor in last year’s national championship game.

Dontrez Styles

Styles saw limited minutes during his first season at UNC, but began to crack the rotation entering postseason play. He played a major role in the team's second-round NCAA Tournament win against top-seeded Baylor, as he scored nine points and recorded two steals in UNC's overtime victory.

As a sophomore, Styles looks to earn more minutes and work on his consistency as an effective three-point threat after shooting just 16.7 percent from deep a season ago. 

Tyler Nickel

The only major new face on the wing for the Tar Heels will be first-year Tyler Nickel. Rated as a four-star, Nickel was ranked 81st in the class of 2022 according to 247Sports’ composite recruiting rankings. 

Nickel is touted as a high-level shooter from three and should add another perimeter threat off the bench for UNC this season. The 6-foot-7 first-year even garnered a pair of votes from media members projecting him to win ACC Preseason Rookie of the Year. 

@BenMcC33

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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