For the fourth time in Roy Williams’ North Carolina tenure, he’ll entrust a freshman starter at point guard when the Heels open the season against Oakland tonight. It’s only the ninth time in school history a freshman point guard will start his first game. (It’s the fifth time since 2003.)
Nate Britt, however, is in a situation unlike Raymond Felton, Quentin Thomas, Bobby Frasor and Marcus Paige before him. Williams recruited Britt so he could go back to having a true point guard in reserve instead of using a combo guard, such as the role Dexter Strickland played the past few seasons.
The pending suspensions of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald leaves the Tar Heels’ roster short-handed and Williams scrambling to make the best of who’s available. So Paige moves to shooting guard and Britt gets the coveted start.
“If you had everybody at your disposal, he might not be starting,” Williams said. “But right now, of the guys, he gives us another dimension.”
Britt’s speed and ability to push tempo is essentially what earned him the start. The question in a live game situation against Oakland will be if he can direct the offense. Williams thinks so.
“He can attack. He can play at a fast pace. He’s a quarterback. Those things I really treasure,” Williams said. “He gives us another ball-handler out there. Wade Moody is a better shooter, but Wade doesn’t give us the ball-handling, so you have to pick and choose what’s important to you.”
Paige will likely play the majority of the game against the Grizzlies at shooting guard. That will leave Britt logging most of the load – with spells from Luke Davis – at point guard.
If history is any indication, Britt’s inexperience will show (and he won’t make a 3-pointer) in his debut tonight. Other freshman point guard debuts:
Felton scored nine points on 3-of-6 shooting, dished seven assists (to three turnovers) and grabbed four rebounds against Old Dominion to start the 2003-04 season. He missed his only 3-point attempt.
Thomas started the first game of the Heels' run to the 2005 national championship when Felton had to serve a one-game suspension for playing in an unsanctioned summer league game. Thomas made 1 of 3 shots, missing his lone 3-pointer, and finished with two points. He had three turnovers to go with three assists. He added one rebound and a steal as Carolina lost at Santa Clara to begin the 2004-05 season.
Frasor went 1-for-6 from the field, including 0-for-4 from 3-point range. He did compile seven assists but also had five turnovers. He added two points, two rebounds and a steal against Gardner-Webb to start the 2005-06 season.
Paige shot 3-for-9 and missed both of his 3-point attempts in his Carolina debut against Gardner-Webb last season. He had four turnovers and no assists to go along with six points, three rebounds and two steals.
Out of the group, only Felton got to the free throw line more than once, which suggests he possessed an aggressive approach the others did not.
Britt will look for his shot when he has to, but his biggest concern tonight will be trying to efficiently set up for others.