Main story photo by Smith Hardy
Our conversation with senior wing Theo Pinson continues. Revisit Part I here.
The theme of 16-17 was 'redemption,' getting back to where you were. Now that you've won, what's the theme moving forward?
Joel and I were talking about this just the other day. People are still giving us even more motivation this year than last year, because we did lose a lot of guys, and people just don't know . . . We firmly believe that we can do it again and people just don't think so. They're like 'Y'all are young, all you've got is you and Joel . . . you've got Luke Maye, used to be a walk-on . . . ' and stuff like that. Everybody has a chip on their shoulder, and everybody wants to do it again, and me and Joel talk about it all the time. The way we are as people, as soon as the ball goes up, we're going to compete and we're going to try to win the game.
Winning the championship last year is what we came here to do, so if we play another season, we're here to win it again.
How is Joel, going into his senior year?
That dude is just a fiery guy. He always wants to win. It's just a switch that turns on when he gets on the court. He has no friends (on the court). Me and him, we cuss each other out all the time on the court. We get mad at each other, and it's just the way he is. Yeah, he's a Final Four MVP, and he felt like he needed one more year to show that he can stay healthy, with the ankle problems, and he just felt like he wouldn't be at his full potential going into the Draft (this year).
Is there a stigma attached to guys who play four years in college?
You'd have to ask [NBA teams]. I think, in my opinion,
you look and see how many Carolina guys stay in the league for a long time. Why? They know how to play. They know how to play the right way, and the thing is that kids nowadays don't really understand that. When we leave Carolina, we know how to play the right way, and teams see that, and scouts see that, and coaches see that. They know when we come from Coach's program what type of guys and what type of people we are, and what type of player we are.
They can put us in any system and we can listen and play the right way and do what the coaches are telling us.
How has Vince Carter played 18 years in the NBA?
It's crazy. That just shows you, he just knows how to play, just learning from great coaches.
You and Joel are the two scholarship seniors on a defending national championship team. Is the role different? Do you feel a responsibility to make your mark in your last year?
I may be wrong, but at this point, we have so many young guys, I feel like we need to put them on our back and teach them as much as we can before the season starts, and then when the season starts, show them. 'This is how it's going to be every night.' Even when we play the exhibition game, we need to go at people and dominate. The youth can help us with speed. Everybody can just give us a little bit here and there to help us win, and once we get everybody to buy in to that, we'll be fine. And I personally don't think we'll have a problem with that at all.
You've got some 'name' teams on the non-conference schedule. The conference schedule is difficult enough as it is, but you get Stanford, Tennessee, Ohio State, Michigan, the PK80 . . . Do you like that challenge, to be thrown into the fire like that?
I mean (laughing), that's what you come here to do. Every year I've been here, our non-conference schedule has been tough. You think about at Indiana last year. That was ridiculous. My freshman year, me, Justin and Joel, our first away game is at Kentucky, at Rupp Arena. And that was the team that went 37-0. So we were like, 'Come on, dawg.' We've just been through so many situations. I don't expect us to have a light non-conference schedule. I don't even put my mind around it. We're going to take the challenge and do what we can.
What are you seeing from the guys coming back? Can Luke give you 30 minutes a night?
He definitely can, it's just going to be an adjustment for him. I don't think he's played 30 minutes yet since he's been here, but at the same time, he's taking on the challenge. He's putting in the work and you won't be able to tell Luke that he didn't work hard enough for this moment, because he has. He's going to surprise a lot of people.
I tell people all the time, 'Y'all are really sleeping on Luke, and I'm glad you are,' because that will help us, and he's going to do a great job, and we're looking forward to it.
Seventh and Brandon didn't play a ton as freshmen. How are they coming along in the summer?
It's been a big-time summer for them as well. Brandon has been working in the weight room since the national championship game, and been trying to get stronger, bigger, and being able to withstand those blows in college basketball that you need to, and he has showed so much improvement. He's stayed in the gym, stayed in the weight room, and I'm very proud of him about that.
Seventh is already strong enough and mobile enough to play college basketball, he just had to learn as he goes. The point guard position is the hardest position to learn here. He's done a way better job than he did his freshman year as far as just catching things, leading by example, limiting turnovers and just doing different things.
I feel like he's Seventh again. He's out there dunking, windmilling, going through the legs, stuff like that. Even Coach is thinking about letting him crash the boards, because the way he crashes the boards is probably better than me, Luke, all them guys, because of his athletic ability.
Seventh is one of those guys that's hard to get a read on.
He's just a real even-keeled guy. He's real quiet, but he's hilarious. You know the quiet ones are always the funniest ones. He's a real good guy. He wants to win just like anybody else. He came here for a reason, and he believes he can play at this level, and he's very good.
You've got a guy named Garrison (Brooks), which is like a fortress. You've got a guy named (Sterling) Manley. You've got a named (Brandon) Huff-MAN. Are those guys going to be beasts?
(Laughs) Yeah. It's going to be a learning curve, of course. Playing here, playing on this stage is different. You've got to understand that every single night, they see Carolina come out there and they're going to try to play their best game, and we've got to be on top of our game, so they've just got to get adjusted with the speed. They're trying right now. That's how I was; I was trying, just doing what I could at that moment. And just pick up what you can as we go along, because it goes fast.
I can't believe I'm a senior already. It's wild, but at the same time you've just got to cherish all these moments. That's why you see me having a good time all the time. You can never tell me I didn't enjoy my four years here.