WILSON, N.C. (AP) — No one questions whether Coby White is good enough to help North Carolina immediately as a freshman.
Rather, the pressing question as White heads to campus this week is this: can the instate McDonald’s All-American who scored more points than any high school player in state history help the Tar Heels replace departed point guard Joel Berry II?
“I want to play. Who doesn’t want to play?” White said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But I know it’s going to take a lot to learn the offense and defense of North Carolina. … I feel like I’m a quick learner and I have a high IQ for the game. Basketball is just reads to me. I think I always make the correct read.
“It’s going to be hard but I feel like it’s going to be a quick adjustment for me.”
The 6-foot-4 White is ranked as the nation’s No. 23 recruit by 247sports, joining McDonald’s game MVP Nassir White (a 6-7 small forward ranked third nationally) and four-star 6-8 guard Rechon “Leaky” Black.
The trio joins a team that returns three starters — including AP third-team All-American Luke Maye — but must replace Berry and swingman Theo Pinson, fixtures from a 2017 NCAA title run.
Berry’s absence could be the biggest void. He was a Final Four most outstanding player, floor leader and won’t-back-down competitor.
Rising junior Seventh Woods has struggled with injuries and inconsistency as Berry’s possible successor, while freshman Jalek Felton withdrew from school after being suspended at midseason by the university for an unspecified reason.
That leaves an opening for White, a scoring point guard with more than 3,500 career points for Greenfield School in Wilson before the school retired his jersey.
“Will he have to score 31 at Carolina next year? Absolutely not,” Greenfield coach Rob Salter said. “But when the opportunity is there for him to score, he can do it, and he can do it pretty naturally.”
UNC coach Roy Williams began recruiting White as a point guard and an “instinctive passer.” Of course, he’s not overlooking White’s scoring punch, either.
“If you’re the leading scorer in North Carolina history, it means you shot a hell of a lot,” Williams quipped. “He did, but he makes a bunch of them, too. … The one thing that will have to become more important to him is his field-goal percentage.
“But if he didn’t get 30 or 40 or whatever, they had a difficult time beating a good team. So if I was coaching him (in high school), I’d say, ‘If it feels like leather, shoot it.'”
To prepare for college basketball, White said he has worked to get stronger and is up to about 190 pounds. He’s honing off-ball skills to play on the wing, too.
His mother, Bonita, said it’s merely the latest example of how her son has always been “wired to work.” She pointed to his freshman year when he’d return from basketball workouts at Greenfield and then head to the YMCA near their Goldsboro home.
“I was like, ‘You just got home, why do you want to go to the Y?'” she said. “He said, ‘The ball never stops.’ That’s where I saw it became very, very serious for him. It became a goal, even as a kid at that age who in his mind knew that the only way he would get better is to continue to work. And that’s what he did.”
White is fresh off helping the United States claim the FIBA Americas under-18 championship Saturday night in Canada. By week’s end, he’ll be in Chapel Hill to begin summer classes and start prepping for an oncourt opportunity.
“I’m probably going to be more nervous about just going to school because I’ve always been (at Greenfield) and it’s a little school,” White said.
“But basketball, I’ve been playing basketball since I was 5. I’m not really nervous because it’s what I do. I practice it every day. I put 100 percent into it so I don’t see why I should be nervous about it.”