- C.L. Brown, ESPN Staff Writer
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North Carolina’s Nate Britt didn’t expect to learn how to function as a freshman point guard from playing beside sophomore Marcus Paige. He thought he’d have the comfort as a rookie of watching Paige from the bench.
The playing status limbo of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald took away that luxury. Paige slid over to shooting guard and Britt has been forced to start immediately at point guard in what’s arguably the toughest position to play under coach Roy Williams as a freshman.
“I can only imagine starting as a freshman point guard -- Marcus did it last year, Nate’s doing it this year,” forward James Michael McAdoo said. “Trying to keep all of us happy, including coach, has got to be a tough thing to do.”
Britt said the toughest part of his transition has been trying to learn the defensive responsibilities. His lack of understanding is what got him benched for much of the second half against Belmont.
“There’s a lot of things he wants a point guard to do defensively and offensively,” Britt said. “That position just has the most things to learn as a freshman coming in, and some of it’s been overwhelming.”
Paige knows the feeling very well. He, of course, started at point guard as a true freshman last season. The only difference being Paige knew he would have to start with Kendall Marshall’s departure to the NBA.
Britt, who missed most of his senior season at Oak Hill Academy (Va.) while recovering from a torn meniscus in his right knee, was recruited to be Paige’s backup. Ideally Britt would have come in and played 10-12 minutes a game to relieve Paige. Instead, he’s having to play twice that and his growing pains are playing out very publicly.
Luke Davis replaced Britt for all but five minutes in the second half of Sunday’s loss.
“He had a tough game (against Belmont). I can tell him I had a bunch of those when I was in his position last year,” Paige said. “He’s going to be fine. Freshmen, they have bumps along the way. I have no worries about Nate.”
Through three games Britt is averaging 2.7 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. By comparison, Paige averaged 7.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists through his first three games last season. Britt is also tied with J.P. Tokoto for the team lead with six steals.
Britt said he’s trying to play more instinctively, but he’s still over-analyzing in most situations. That’s the exact thing Paige said affected him through most of non-conference play last season.
“He’s just been telling me to relax and play my game because he knows how it can be kind of nerve-racking and overwhelming at times,” Britt said.
The Tar Heels are inclined to be patient with Britt’s development because, truthfully, they don’t have many other options while Hairston and McDonald are out. But McAdoo said the team has seen how much Britt has developed since arriving on campus.
“I look at his whole body of work, not just the games, and just see how far he’s come in practice learning the offense, you know, just learning each and every day,” McAdoo said. “I think he’s doing a good job and will continue to.”