First look: UNC Men's Basketball

For the first time since winning the 2017 men's basketball national championship in Glendale, Ariz., the North Carolina Tar Heels team took the court. And boy, did they look good.

The Blue team defeated the White team, 35-30, in UNC's 2017 Late Night With Roy showcase. Cameron Johnson, the graduate transfer from Pittsburgh, (unofficially) led the team with 13 points as the only player to hit double digits. Theo Pinson and Luke Maye — the heroes from UNC's win over Kentucky in the Elite Eight — both had strong games, while 2017 Most Outstanding Player Joel Berry looked confident despite a mediocre shooting display.

Here are three takeaways from UNC's first "game action" of 2017-18:

Welcome to the Smith Center

While Berry, Pinson and Maye were the fan favorites Friday in the Smith Center, it was the team's newest members who made their presence felt.

Cameron Johnson showed off his smooth jumper with two three-pointers to lead all Tar Heels beyond the arc. He'll be hard-pressed to fill the shoes of Justin Jackson, the current Sacramento King whose name is firmly entrenched in the Smith Center rafters. But he looked like he belonged after an offseason that's drawn rave reviews from teammates.

Jalek Felton, UNC's top commit from the 2017 recruiting class, showcased his impressive driving ability and athleticism that might remind Tar Heel fans of his uncle, former point guard Raymond Felton. The younger Felton finished a lefty drive and drew the foul midway through the scrimmage. Should he provide that type of burst off the bench, Felton could mitigate the loss of longtime backup guard Nate Britt.

The surprise name in Friday's scrimmage was Garrison Brooks, the freshman forward from Auburn, Ala. Brooks scored the first points of the contest and added another bucket a few minutes later. It was a modest showing, sure, but Brooks' confidence inside was a good sign for a Tar Heel team lacking its usual frontcourt fire. With Luke Maye as the only returner from UNC's 2016-17 frontcourt rotation, North Carolina could benefit from a player such as Brooks emerging this season.

Joel Berry (2) looked confident as ever in Friday's scrimmage.

Joel Berry (2) looked confident as ever in Friday's scrimmage.

Back and better than ever

Neither Berry nor Pinson filled up the stat sheet Friday. But both showed why this year could be their finest.

Berry opened the contest with a heat-check three that didn't fall. He launched two more, neither falling. But Berry hardly cared. He looked composed running the winning Blue team, weaving through traffic and running at his pace. It was a familiar sight for those who watched Berry's Final Four run, but the senior point guard looked like a player poised to reach the national stage yet again.

Pinson, the team's other scholarship senior, looked sharp. The 6-foot-6 wing zipped passes through the White defense with reckless abandon, and he added two three-pointers to push the Blue team over the edge. For three years, Pinson has seemed on the verge of a breakout. Should he stay healthy this season, he'll have plenty of time on the court to prove it in his final year.

UNC's 2017 tournament hero, Luke Maye, played like the best version of himself. The 6-foot-10 junior had a game-high four rebounds and drained a three and a long two, both from the left corner. With a depleted frontcourt, Maye will be relied upon to be the team's leading rebounder, defender and long-range threat from the post. Friday's scrimmage was defense optional, but Maye excelled in the other two areas.

Kenny Williams (24) played his first "game" action since his injury in the 2016-17 season.

Kenny Williams (24) played his first "game" action since his injury in the 2016-17 season.

The return of Kenny Williams

After missing the second half of last season and the entire 2017 tournament run, junior guard Kenny Williams returned to the court for the first time Friday.

Physically, he looked great, running off screens and closing out on the perimeter without any obvious struggles. His shot was off — he finished 0-for-4, all from beyond the arc — but the most important stat was that he logged any minutes at all.

Williams said he's been practicing at 100 percent since September, but he's only felt like his old self for a couple of weeks. After mostly recovering in the offseason, Williams said he injured himself again in a pickup game in July. But on Friday, he was back on the court where he belonged. And if the Tar Heels hope to make another deep run this season, the dfeensive-minded veteran figures to play a key role.


photos by Gabi Palacio