Henson improving, status still in question

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- To play John Henson, or not to play John Henson?

That will be the question facing North Carolina’s coaching staff this week as it prepares for the top-seeded Tar Heels’ opening-round game Friday in the NCAA tournament.

Tuesday afternoon, coach Roy Williams said the junior starting forward -- who sprained his left wrist the ACC quarterfinals and missed UNC’s next two games -- is improving.

However, “If I had to guess -- and this is merely a guess -- if the game were today he probably still would not play today,’’ Williams said. “But we’re being hopeful that he will by Friday.”

Williams said the team likely wouldn’t know Henson’s status until Thursday “at the earliest.”

Henson, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, sprained his left wrist trying to break his fall after he was fouled by Maryland on Friday. He did not dress for Saturday’s semifinal win over NC State, and was available only for an “emergency situation” during Sunday’s title game (when the Tar Heels lost to Florida State).

Williams said Henson did suffer some swelling in the wrist over the weekend, but the swelling had receded some since then. He also said the player would be held out of live drills during Tuesday afternoon’s practice.

“I saw John just a few minutes ago, and we started to shake hands, and I said, ‘No, let’s shake with the other hand,’’’ Williams said. “And he said, ‘Oh, I can shake hands with you.’ So he’s improving.”

The situation is already drawing comparisons to 2009, when point guard Ty Lawson injured his toe prior to the regular-season finale against Duke, sat out the ACC tournament and then sat out the Tar Heels’ first-round tournament game (which was also played at Greensboro Coliseum, the site of UNC’s first game this weekend).

Asked if he would consider holding Henson out of Friday’s game, like he did with Lawson, Williams pointed out that Lawson almost didn’t play the second NCAA tournament game either.

Then he said: “Yes, I would answer that question with, but I think we’re way too early to think about that. Because Ty really couldn’t go the day before the first NCAA game [that] year. We’re not at that point with John. But for the most part, other than Tywon, we were pretty healthy at that time. But we’re not exactly like that right now.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.