by Turner Walston
Nate Britt is making the switch. The ambidextrous Tar Heel point guard (who writes and plays tennis left-handed but throws a baseball with his right hand) will be shooting the basketball with his right hand in 2014-15.
Primarily a left-handed shot during his freshman season, Britt struggled from the floor. He missed 100 more field goal attempts than he made (58-158) and was just 3-12 from the three-point line. Interestingly, Britt was second-best on the team at nearly 80 percent from the free-throw line and hit some clutch shots at the stripe last season.
Prior to high school, Britt was equally comfortable shooting with either hand. He’d shoot right-handed or left-handed as the situation dictated. By opting to go with one hand, he was able to double his workouts, so to speak. “It’s kind of like, if I get up ten shots and you get up ten shots, I’m only getting up five with each hand, you’re getting up ten with one hand, so you get a little bit more of an advantage,” he said. “So we just thought it was a good idea for me to concentrate on one hand.”
Tar Heel fans may have noticed a bit of a hitch in Britt’s shot last season. He often had a tendency to let that pushing (left) hand slide out from underneath the ball, causing the ball to take a less direct path toward the basket. After the struggles of last season, and after Hubert Davis saw Britt shooting right-handed, the decision was made to try going the other way. Britt feels stronger and more comfortable with the right hand and hopes to be able to be reliable from the perimeter. “I think I’ve always felt like that right hand felt a little more natural, because even when I first picked up a basketball, my natural instinct was to shoot with my right hand, even though i was left-handed,” he said.
Britt has already displayed high offensive awareness and good defensive tendencies, so anything he can bring scoring-wise will be a bonus. He can drive and lay the ball up or find a teammate, so a consistent jumper would help him be a more complete player, and help his team win games. “In the beginning of the (2013-14) season when Leslie (McDonald) was not playing, Marcus (Paige) was really our only outside threat from the three-point line, and he was taking the majority of the shots,” Britt said. “I feel like if I have the confidence and the capability to knock down an outside shot, then that can help us a lot.”
The NCAA instituted freshmen eligibility for men’s basketball and football in 1972. Just 30 Tar Heels have started their first game (Phil Ford was the first, in 1974). You can add Britt to that list as well. He became just the ninth point guard to earn that distinction when he opened the season in the starting lineup against Oakland. Britt was thrown into the fire when McDonald was unavailable during the early portion of the season. He started the season’s first 16 games at point, with the eighth point guard to start as a freshman, sophomore Marcus Paige, by his side. “I had to grow up very quickly, and Marcus helped me out a lot with that transition,” Britt said. “It wasn’t easy, but I don’t think it would have went as smoothly as it did (without Marcus).”
Britt found out how important the point guard role is in the system of Tar Heel coach Roy Williams. The first priority is to execute the coach’s game plan. Secondly, it’s incorporating what made you a great player, what attracted the coaches to your skill set, within those parameters. “That’s definitely been a part of my transition,” he said. “Maybe deep in conference play I started to figure that out and make that adjustment.”
And just as Paige mentored Britt last season, Nate is looking toward helping freshman Joel Berry with that same transition. “I’ve been trying to make sure I do that for him, and try to help him out as much as I can, make sure I tell him all the little things before Coach has to tell it to him,” Britt said of Berry. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do since he’s gotten here.”
Nate Britt grew up a lot in his freshman season. Now, he’s looking forward to taking another step and living into the role of the Tar Heel point guard as on-court leader and mentor. Like his teammates, Britt is using the off-season to get better. If that progress continues, come November, Britt will be Roy Williams’ right-hand man.