Pinson set to return for No. 14 UNC against rival NC State

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina swingman Theo Pinson is finally set to make his season debut after October foot surgery.

Coach Roy Williams said Friday he expects to play the junior in the 14th-ranked Tar Heels' game with rival North Carolina State on Saturday night. Pinson's return would be a major addition for the Tar Heels (13-3, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) since he is possibly the team's top perimeter defender and a good passer, while his versatility was a significant factor in UNC's run to last year's ACC championship and the NCAA title game.

The 6-foot-6 Pinson had surgery Oct. 26 to repair a fracture in his right foot suffered during preseason practices. He was expected to miss 8-12 weeks after the surgery, and Wednesday marked 10 weeks since the procedure.

Williams said Pinson has been cleared for full practices for about a week and he's been doing at least limited practice work such as halfcourt drills for two weeks. He wouldn't commit to any specific role or minutes for Pinson.

''Right now,'' Williams said Friday, ''unless he screws it up at practice today, I'll play him'' on Saturday.

Point guard Joel Berry II said Pinson is ''trying to get his wind back'' after missing so much practice work and having to rely on an exercise bike for conditioning during parts of his recovery.

''I think it's going to take a little bit for him to be able to get back in the flow of things - what we're doing now, getting in synch with everyone else,'' Berry said. ''But that's expected being out so long.''

Pinson didn't speak to reporters officially, though he did make a cameo during Williams' regularly scheduled news conference. Much like last year when he crashed several team news conferences during the NCAA Tournament, Pinson popped in Friday as things were wrapping up to pester a chuckling Williams.

''He's always in the media doing crazy stuff,'' Berry said. ''Now it's a good chance to see him actually play some basketball.''

Also Friday, Williams said he had ''high'' confidence that the game would be played as scheduled despite a winter storm set to hit the region Friday night and Saturday.

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

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More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

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