GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Freshman Stilman White is North Carolina’s former third-string ballhandler who plans to take a two-year Mormon mission after this season.
Justin Watts is a senior reserve who has played four positions -- but only two stints at point guard.
These will be the Tar Heels’ top two choices to replace Cousy Award finalist Kendall Marshall in Friday’s NCAA Regional Semifinal game, if the sophomore can’t play (or is limited) because of his fractured right wrist.
“You just have to have that mentality the whole season, that whenever your number is called, you’ll be ready,’’ said White, who was averaging 4.2 minutes before Sunday’s win.
Said Watts: “I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win. We just don’t know all the details yet.”
White, a 6-foot, 160-pound ballhandler from Wilmington, N.C., averaged 20.5 points and 3.0 assists last season as a senior at Hoggard High, where he even occasionally jumped center. He was signed last spring as insurance, to play behind Marshall and starting shooting guard/back-up point guard Dexter Strickland.
Ends up, the Tar Heels needed that insurance. White played sparingly -- for an occasional minute or two in the first half, and at the end of the game with the walk-ons -- until Strickland tore the ACL in his right knee at Virginia Tech on January 19, and was lost for the season.
Since then, White’s minutes have increased, particularly around timeouts. But so had those of Marshall, who set UNC and ACC records for assists in a season.
“I’ve still got to have the same attitude I’ve had: when Dexter went down, I knew my role was going to increase a little,’’ White said Sunday. “ And right now, I’m not sure, but if that’s what’s happening, that’s what has to happen.”
Watts is a 6-5 athlete from Durham, N.C., who had played both in the post and on the wing for his first three seasons. But this year, the defensive-minded player added another position: point guard. Two games after Strickland was injured, he was inserted at the ‘1’ for a few minutes during the Tar Heels’ double-digit win over Georgia Tech. Then during the ACC tournament semi-finals against N.C. State, Watts was tabbed again to play a couple of point guard stretches because Marshall was in foul trouble.
“I was just catching and pitching ahead; I wasn’t trying to do much,’’ Watts said after the win over the Wolfpack. “When you’ve got guys to throw it into like [Tyler] Zeller and Harrison [Barnes], they make you look a lot better than you are."
Indeed, the hope is that if either reserve has to play long stretches at point guard, the talent around them will hopefully pick up the slack. Marshall, who was still hopeful Sunday that he might be able to play Friday, said he has confidence in his squad, whether or not he can play.
“This is not a one-on-one sport, it’s a team sport,’’ Marshall said. “So no matter what happens, we’ll band together like we’ve always done and find a way to win.”
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.