By Adam Lucas
As a nine-year-old growing up in the Washington, D.C. area, Nate Britt had a point guard role model. His idol was a fellow lefty point guard, an older player who would go on to be a star at a nearby high school and then earn a Division I scholarship to one of the country’s most prestigious basketball programs.
Britt and his role model shared the court in a prep game just once that Britt can recall, a Bishop O’Connell win over Britt’s Gonzaga squad. This summer, though, he found himself spending virtually every day with that player, as he and Kendall Marshall both worked on improving their games.
Britt didn’t take any classes in the first session of summer school, which left him with plenty of time for workouts. He stayed in Chapel Hill and followed a routine: lift weights at 7 a.m., work out with Marshall, take a nap, play pickup with Tar Heel teammates and alums, then go through shooting drills either alone or with assistant coach Hubert Davis.
“I benefited a lot from Kendall being here,” Britt says. “I spent a lot of time with him. He wants to get better and the two of us are working on some of the same things with our game, so we had a common goal every time we got on the court. And I think we made great improvements throughout the summer.”
Roy Williams had a simple goal for Britt’s offseason improvement: knock down more shots. The rising senior shot 32.1% from the three-point line last season, down from 36.6% as a sophomore, when he made his much-publicized switch from lefty jumpers to righty jumpers.
But his junior percentage was much higher in the first half of the year. Britt made 17 of his first 38 three-pointers (44.7%), but sank just nine of his 43 attempts (20.9%) after ACC play began.
After reviewing film of both his hot start and late-season struggles, Britt saw only minor adjustments that needed to be made mechanically, with a little extra emphasis on his guide hand and focusing on preventing his elbow from flaring outward. The main correction, as Williams discussed with him, was with his confidence.
“Coach told me he almost got to the point that he thought every shot I was putting up was going in,” Britt said of the first two months of the season. “Most of the time, I think the biggest factor is confidence. The next biggest factor is shot selection. I don’t need to force shots, and I need to take shots I know I can make.”
On a team with numerous other options, Britt’s offense isn’t essential, but it’s a luxury that allows Williams to keep one of the squad’s best defenders on the floor. Britt won the team’s defensive player of the game award 18 times last year, and showed an occasional inclination to extend man-to-man pressure out to midcourt.
Even with Brice Johnson no longer protecting the rim to clean up defensive mistakes, Britt believes the Tar Heels can still be a disruptive defensive team.
“We can be great on defense,” he says. “We finally put it together towards the end of the ACC Tournament last year, and we have that same potential this year. We have to be able to defend and leave that light switch on like we did at the end of last year. We have so much athleticism. Joel (Berry) is strong and quick, and Seventh (Woods) and I are explosive and quick. Justin (Jackson) and Theo (Pinson) are long and athletic. We still have that potential to be a great defensive team. It’s just a matter of us being willing to do it night in and night out.”
Coaxing that type of effort out of his team is something Britt can talk about with Marshall, as the duo stay in regular contact even once the offseason workouts are finished. Their relationship has taken them from the playgrounds of Washington, D.C. to the slightly more palatial confines of the Smith Center. But the student, who has always shown a willingness to learn from his Tar Heel elders, still looks up to his mentor.
“I couldn’t have a better role model than Kendall Marshall,” Britt says. “I grew up watching him, and then we became friends in high school. For us to be at the same University only made our bond stronger. We have such a strong relationship, and I’m lucky to be able to follow his lead and learn from him.”