By Megan Walsh, GoHeels.com
CHAPEL HILL - Junior Reggie Bullock calls him 'Easy B.'
When freshman Brice Johnson puts up a shot, Bullock said everyone on the team wonders how he makes an easy bucket, time after time.
Just two boards shy of a double-double, Johnson put his nickname into action against East Tennessee State on Saturday, notching 12 points and eight rebounds.
"Offensively he's doing great," Bullock said of Johnson's play so far this season. "He's running the floor well. He's playing a lot better than an average freshman would probably play for Carolina. He's doing really well for us and is definitely an energy booster for us and an offensive scorer coming off the bench early."
Fighting for North Carolina's fifth starting spot alongside Desmond Hubert and fellow freshman Joel James, Johnson waits to see if coach Roy Williams writes his name on the white board 30 minutes before each game.
Though that wasn't the case for the forward before playing the Buccaneers, when Johnson came off the bench in the first half he scored eight points on 4-for-4 shooting. Three of those baskets were assertive dunks.
The Orangeburg, S.C., native said practices are very competitive and intense thanks to the battle for the five spot. No matter what Williams decides before each game, Johnson is always supportive.
"Whoever comes in there has to play," Johnson said. "It doesn't matter. It's whatever coach wants me to do. If he puts me out there to start, I'll go out there and start. But if he doesn't, I just have to live with his decision. It's his decision."
So rather than worrying about the choice, Johnson puts his effort into improving each day. He said getting the generous amounts of playing time he has already received this season has been how he's made the biggest improvements thus far.
Adjusting to playing in college has been the hardest for Johnson on the defensive end. Switching from zone to man coverage has been a tough adjustment, but Johnson said he's eager to learn more from his coaches.
Bullock agreed and added that when Johnson adds more grit to his play on defense, he has the ability to be dominant. Still, his teammates have been impressed with his effort so far.
"Brice always comes to play," senior Dexter Strickland said. "People don't expect that from him cause he's skinny and he's a freshman and stuff like that. And I say that in a good way. You don't expect that from him, but it's good when he goes out there and proves everybody wrong. He had a great game. He has a nice feel for the rim and brings a lot of intensity."
Even though Williams said that he liked the defensive improvements Johnson showed in the first half, including four defensive boards, Johnson still is on a mission to get better. Though he said he played, "OK," Johnson wants more.
"I'm not where I want to be," Johnson said. "I have to get a lot better. You can never be too good."