By Turner Walston
They may not play a lot of minutes, but the student-athletes toward the end of the Tar Heel bench have played, and will continue to play, a vital role in Carolina's NCAA Tournament run in 2017. The Tar Heel scout team is charged with emulating an upcoming opponent's players and running their plays. Their job is to challenge the rotation players, to show them the best look possible in practice before the ball is tipped. And so just as Joel Berry is resting two banged-up ankles, Aaron Rohlman was on the floor of the locker room Friday with a foam roller to loosen his muscles. Whether or not it shows up in the box score, each Tar Heel has a job to do.
Aaron Rohlman: Jr F, 6'6, 210 pounds. 0.0 points per game, 0.2 rebounds per game, 1.7 minutes per game.
Jordan Bell: Jr F, 6'9, 225 pounds. 10.9 points per game, 8.6 rebounds per game, 28.7 minutes per game.
The numbers aren't comparable. Why would they be? If Carolina had a Jordan Bell on the roster, he wouldn't be on the scout team. But Aaron Rohlman is. The JV call-up from Gastonia has a job to do, and that's to prepare Kennedy Meeks and the Tar Heel post men to face Bell, to do his best Bell impression, despite the differences. "I'm just trying to make him work," Rohlman said of Meeks. "I just try to get around him, front him and kind of harass him the whole practice and run the court. That's the one thing that Coach Williams loves the bigs to do is to run, so I run every time and he has to get back with me, or he has to chase me down the court."
That much, at least, will help Meeks face Bell. Rohlman gives up 15 pounds and three inches to the Oregon big man, but he can bring the energy, the attitude that Bell will present. "Obviously, I'm not as athletic or tall, I'm not a shot-blocker like he is," Rohlman said, "but he plays really hard. He sets solid screens and rolls to the basket for alley oops. I'm just trying to do stuff like that so Kennedy can get an idea of what's going to be coming at him in the game on Saturday."
Shea Rush: Fr F, 6'6, 200 pounds. 0.8 points per game, 0.2 rebounds per game, 1.7 minutes per game.
Dillon Brooks: Jr F, 6'7, 225 pounds. 16.3 points per game, 3.1 rebounds per game, 25.1 minutes per game.
Dillon Brooks is the Pac-12 Player of the Year. Shea Rush is the son and nephew of three professional basketball players. Rush could potentially play a larger role for the Tar Heels in the future, but for now, he's in a limited role. "It's been fun," Rush said, with a smile that makes you believe him. "Scout team's always fun, because you get to kind of impersonate the best players in the country." And Brooks is that.
"I can emulate [Brooks'] game pretty well, because he's kind of a bigger body," Rush said. "He can take a smaller guy into the post and post him up, and I like doing the same thing."
Playing scout team also means that, for a change, Rush doesn't necessarily have to do what a Roy Williams player would do. It's an "ultimate green light," he said. "You get to lose yourself in the game, lose yourself in that person, and you don't have any worries, because that's what you're supposed to do. If you miss a shot, it's OK, because that's a shot that he's going to take."
Stilman White: Sr G, 6'1, 178 pounds. 1.5 points per game, 0.4 rebounds per game, 3.7 minutes per game
Tyler Dorsey: So G, 6'4, 195 pounds. 14.5 points per game, 3.4 rebounds per game, 29.8 minutes per game.
Tyler Dorsey has scored 20 or more points in seven straight games and earned the nickname 'Mr. March.' Stilman White was a freshman in 2011-12 and plays a reserve role off the Tar Heel bench. But just as he was called upon in a key moment last weekend against Kentucky, White is charged with an important task in acting as Dorsey in practice. "It's pretty good for me," White said. "I got to pull up from 30 feet and be really aggressive on offense. He's a tough guy to simulate, but I just try to be aggressive and look for my own shot and hope I did a good job. I don't know. We'll see."
We all will see on Saturday night. And watching from the bench will be Rohlman, Rush and White, watching to see if their counterparts in Oregon uniforms act like they acted this week in practice. Whether or not they make it to the scorer's table, they will have an impact on the game.
"We know that these are some high-level guards, probably some of the best that we've played all year," White said of Oregon. "They all have unique skill sets. They can all shoot and drive, and having four of them out there makes it even tougher."
"One of the big reasons why I was pulled up from JV is because I got a lot of rebounds on JV," Rohlman said. "I'm relentless. I just go after it. I'm not the biggest guy or the strongest guy, but I just go really hard until i can't go anymore in practice. A lot of times i'm just chasing all the rebounds. I feel like I make Kennedy work really hard to box me out all the time."
"It's awesome to see," Rush said. "A lot of people don't understand. They always ask me am I bummed that I don't play much. I don't think they understand how important our role is, because we get these guys ready to play them, and so every single play we're going at them, playing our best and so when I do something that a guy does, a certain move or something and then we see that exact same move in the game and Justin plays it how he's supposed to play it, that's satisfying for me because I know I've done my job. I've executed in practice to get him ready for what's coming."
And when Meeks boxes out Bell, when Theo Pinson steps in front of Dorsey, when Justin Jackson makes a play on Brooks, they'll get the applause and the notation in the box score. But the scout team players will know that they'll get an assist, if only unofficially.