Leaky Black is Finally Getting Healthy and Roy Williams has Big Expectations

Brant Wilkerson-New

Speaking after North Carolina’s exhibition victory over Winston-Salem State on Friday night, Roy Williams didn’t hold back on the expectations he has for Leaky Black this season.

“For us to be a really good basketball team, Leaky’s got to stay healthy and play and not make the silly mistakes he made today,” Williams said.

Ordinarily, that would be asking a lot of a player who averaged 2.5 points and 2.1 rebounds in 10.3 minutes last season, but the 6-8, 195-pound Black is no ordinary player.

That much was obvious during a five-minute stretch in the second half on Friday when Black took over at point guard as the Tar Heels ran off an 18-5 run during what was their most dominant portion of the game.

Black was the key, handing out four assists in a three-minute span while also dropping in five points.

Perhaps most importantly, on a night that the Tar Heels committed 23 turnovers, there were just a total of two — none by Black — during that run.

“He had one stretch today, I think he had three assists in a four-possession stretch and that was my favorite stretch of the game,” Williams said.

In all, Black made 2 of 3 field goal attempts, finishing with 9 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds.

“I don’t mind if he shoots more than that and I like him taking the ball to the basket, but seven assists and one turnover is the best part,” Williams said.

The best part for Black was being back in a competitive situation and feeling good about it.

Since going down with a high ankle sprain in January last season, Black is still battling to get back to 100 percent. This is the closest he’s been to himself in quite a while.

“I want to say it’s about 98, 99 but we’re right there, we’re flirting with 100 percent,” he said, smiling. “I’m just anxious to see what I can do when I’m 100 percent and I’m fully healthy and just ready to go.”

It’s been a frustrating process for Black, who missed all of February through the ACC Tournament before returning to give Carolina 17 minutes over three NCAA Tournament games. Still slowed by the ankle, his impact was minimal, missing the only shot he attempted while grabbing eight rebounds and handing out two assists.

Since then, Black has gone through five different recovery plans, with none getting him close to 100 percent until now.

“It gets to a point where it gets more mental than physical like, ‘Dang, man, is this ever going to go away?’,” he said. “The fact that it’s still here is like, ‘Man, that’s crazy.” Then again, it’s a process, and you’ve got to trust the process.”

The breakthrough finally came in the past several weeks.

“The first 10 practices, he barely practiced,” Williams said. “Since then, he’s been getting in more and more; we’ve been trying to go slow with him.”

Going slow might not be an option for much longer though, as injuries have left Black as Carolina’s only option as a backup point guard, and to make matters worse, the Tar Heels got even thinner on the wing on Friday when Brandon Robinson went down with an ankle injury.

Right now, Williams says he’s comfortable with an eight-man rotation, and because of that, Black will be one of two players in crossover roles. Within Carolina’s system, the point guard is separate while the two wings and two big men each have similar responsibilities.

Black will be called on to understand both the point guard and wing spots, while Justin Pierce will rotate at either a wing or big spot.

“Leaky is going to have to play 1, 2 and 3 … so, it’s harder to cross the line,” Williams said. “If you go across the line from one of those positions to the other, it’s difficult and Leaky and Justin are the two guys that are going to have to do it the most.”

Finally feeling comfortable with his ankle, Black doesn’t mind where he plays, just as long as he can help.

“I’m equally comfortable,” he said. “I’ve played point guard my whole life … I always played up, they used to guard me full-court back then, so that’s just kind of prepared for me this moment. On the wing, it’s equally as comfortable.”