Joel Berry and Theo Pinson left North Carolina’s locker room after Sunday’s loss to Texas A&M.
The UNC seniors were taken to a different room to wait for the post-game press conference.
Starters Kenny Williams, Luke Maye and Cam Johnson were left in the stunned locker room in the Spectrum Center to answer questions about the 86-65 second-round loss to the Aggies.
It was a glimpse of what next season will look like for the Tar Heels.
“I don’t even want to think about that right now,” Williams said.
Before the loss to Texas A&M, Maye was asked about how he was dealing with the final days of Berry and Pinson’s college careers.
“I can't imagine a team without Joel or Theo,” Maye said.
UNC’s next game, in the 2018-19 season, will be the first without Berry and Pinson since 2014. It will be, to say the least, an adjustment.
Berry led the Tar Heels in scoring (17.1 points per game) and 3-pointers (93) this season. Pinson led the Heels in assists (5.1 per game) and was second in rebounding (6.5 per game).
Their collective leadership, and work ethic, was even greater than the sum of their statistical value.
“It's really cool to have such great seniors who lead by example and vocally,” Maye said before the Texas A&M loss. “Both are very different but they get the best out of all of us, which is really important.”
It will be up to Maye and Williams, who both started every game this season and excelled as juniors, to step into that void.
Maye, as UNC’s nominal big man, had a breakout junior season with 16.9 points per game. His scoring averaged jumped by 11.4 points.
Despite being undersized at 6-8 and 240 pounds, and playing out of position, Maye led the team with 10.1 rebounds per game.
Williams came back from a knee injury that cost him the final 14 games of the 2016-17 season and emerged as the team’s top defender and averaged 11.4 points per game.
The Heels are also expected to have wing Cam Johnson back for the 2018-19 season. Johnson, a graduate transfer from Pittsburgh, has another season of eligibility.
Maye and Johnson are expected to go through the NBA draft process but neither is projected to be a first-round pick.
The trio of Maye, Williams and Johnson accounted for nearly half of UNC’s offense (40.7 points) this season.
Backup forwards Sterling Manley (5.4 ppg) and Garrison Brooks (4.5 ppg) are also expected to be back, which will give UNC coach Roy Williams some options.
Williams went with a smaller lineup this season after Johnson returned from a knee injury in late December. This UNC team took more, and made more, 3-pointers per game than any of Williams’ other teams.
It wasn’t Williams’ preferred way of playing — which is with two bigs and working inside-out — but it was effective. The Tar Heels did win 26 games despite losing two-thirds of their offense from the 2017 national title team.
With the addition of highly-touted recruit Nassir Little, Williams might stick with the small-ball configuration.
Little (6-7 and 205 pounds) is rated as the No. 6 player in the 2018 recruiting class by 247 Sports. The McDonald's All-American is a long, athletic wing who excels at getting to the rim. He is considered a “one and done” NBA prospect.
Little could slide into Pinson’s starting spot but Johnson, who is bigger at 6-8 and 210 pounds, would have to defend the “4” spot.
The Tar Heels have also signed guard Coby White, a McDonald’s All-American from Goldsboro, and wing Rechon Black, from Concord.
Berry’s exit leaves a void at point guard. It has been Williams’ track record to go with a veteran option at point. Seventh Woods, who averaged 7 minutes per game, will be a junior. K.J. Smith, a transfer from Pacific, has also made significant progress in practice during his redshirt season.
But White (6-5, 170 pounds), rated No. 23 in the class, might be the best option. White has a shoot-first mentality but that’s not all that different from the way Berry played this season.
White averaged 31 points per game this season at the Greenfield School and is the all-time leading scorer in North Carolina high school history. So playing the point will be an adjustment but the talent and skill set is there.
Black (6-7, 175 pounds), rated as the No. 62 prospect in the class, is cut from the same mold as Pinson. He is a versatile athletic wing who can handle the ball and is excellent passer.
With guard Jalek Felton’s decision to leave the program earlier this month, the Tar Heels do still have one available scholarship for either another freshman or possibly a graduate transfer.
So Williams has options. Some roster parts could change during the summer but the Tar Heels will have another contender in the ACC and nationally. They just won’t have Berry and Pinson.