By Adam Lucas
The answers are close to unanimous.
When asked which teammate they believe is poised to surprise people this year, the Tar Heels independently come up with the following answers:
According to Joel Berry II: “Theo made good gains in the weight room and has gotten stronger. That’s the one guy who will be our X factor. I still feel he has something to prove to Carolina fans and to us as a team.”
Senior Isaiah Hicks: “I think it’s going to be Theo. People don’t see the hard work Theo put in this summer. What he’s going to do this year will surprise some people.”
Justin Jackson: “Of the guys who people already know about, Theo is going to open some people’s eyes.”
When these comments are relayed to Pinson, he smiles. The Greensboro native knows he made some gains as a sophomore; he increased his three-point shooting percentage, field goal percentage and free throw percentage, and led the team with an assist every 6.5 minutes. But he also thinks there is room for improvement as a junior.
It starts with good health. Pinson spent much of last summer rehabbing from foot surgery. This summer, he was able to focus on specific areas he wants to improve while participating in the regular pickup games against the Tar Heel alumni who return to Chapel Hill in the offseason.
“Last year, it wasn’t until the first practice that I was really running and competing,” Pinson says. “This year, I’ve had the whole summer to go against the pros, and that’s helped me tremendously. That’s the big part of what I didn’t have last year. I just came back in the first practice and started running and competing.”
During those summer workouts, Pinson made efforts to focus on two areas Roy Williams emphasized to him when the pair met after the conclusion of the 2016 season: committing to being the best defender on the floor, and being even more conscious of his assist/turnover ratio.
Williams cited Marcus Paige’s ACC Tournament defensive performance against ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogden to Pinson, and added that Pinson has the potential to be that kind of shut-down defender. Now, it’s up to Pinson to take his physical gifts and add the mental approach necessary to reach that level.
“I can’t take plays off,” Pinson says. “When we watched film, there would always be one or two plays where the coaches are like, ‘Theo, what are you doing here?’ It was usually a case of me being tired or being lazy. I’ve got to get rid of those plays and try to be a complete player for the entire game.”
And while Pinson has made some small tweaks to his shot during offseason sessions both on his own and with assistant coach Hubert Davis—he’s not bringing the ball down quite as much before his shot—he knows some of his most important contributions come via his floor game.
“You have to get more satisfaction out of seeing a teammate score than in scoring yourself,” he says. “I would rather have a nice pass than a nice layup. Some players don’t understand it. What I’ve learned since I’ve been here is you have to be aware of time and score. When you first get here, Coach preaches the bounce pass all the time, and you’re like, ‘Why does he always want a bounce pass?’ When you play in a game, you see exactly what he’s talking about. Everything we do in practice translates to the game.”