North Carolina will start the season without injured star Joel Berry.
The Tar Heels, who are used to these situations by now, are trying to turn the injury into a positive.
The senior guard, the top returning scorer and expected leader of the Tar Heels, is expected to be sidelined for four weeks with a broken bone in his right hand. UNC coach Roy Williams said on Wednesday that Berry suffered the injury on a door after he lost a video game to Theo Pinson and a team manager.
Without Berry, who averaged 14.7 points per game last season, UNC will have to lean on Pinson, sophomore Seventh Woods and freshman Jalek Felton to handle the ball more.
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Given how UNC adapted in 2016, without star Marcus Paige for six games and again last year without Pinson for 16 games, the players aren’t necessarily worried about Berry’s brief absence.
“I think it helps us in the short-term with guys like Seventh and Jalek just really stepping up and early in the season gaining come confidence and showing Coach what they can do,” junior forward Luke Maye said.
Woods played less than 8 minutes per game last season but would have had an expanded role, even with a healthy Berry.
Felton, a 6-3 combo guard, was rated as a top-30 recruit out of West Columbia, S.C.
“He’s an unbelievable scorer,” Maye said of Felton.
Pinson, who led the team with 3.7 assists per game last season, said the expanded opportunity at the start of the 2015-16 season – when Paige had a hand injury – paid off.
“When Marcus went down, I had to step up and play those minutes,” Pinson said. “It gave me confidence. It helped me and it helped coach trust me.”
Pinson believed Felton and Woods could benefit in the same way. He did laugh when asked if the injury might actually be a good sign, given UNC has had an injured player to start the past two seasons and finished each one in the national title game.
“Hopefully we can stop with the injuries and just get into the season with everybody healthy,” Pinson said.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio