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Following a 20-17 record last year, the Tar Heels suffered through a long offseason but Friday's first practice was worth the wait. Fans got their first glimpse at the much-heralded recruiting class of Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock and Kendall Marshall, and while the game ended in a 31-31 tie, the freshmen made their mark.
Barnes led the White team with 13 points on 6-for-10 shooting, mixing up slashes to the hoop with pull-up jump shots.
"That's his game," John Henson said. "He works hard. He's a good player. It's going to be fun watching him progress through the year."
A hint of Barnes' killer instinct popped up late in the game. After Bullock (five points) tied the game at 31 with a three-pointer in the final 15 seconds, Barnes sprinted to get the ball on the inbounds so he could take the final shot. He lost the ball while trying to split a double team in the final seconds, but his teammates were still impressed with his performance.
"He's a great shooter - he can create plays," Tyler Zeller said. "He knows how to play the game very well and ... he does make it look easy."
Dexter Strickland carried the scoring load for the Blue team, scoring 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Strickland scored the majority of his points on drives to the basket but also knocked down both of his three-point attempts.
"He's working hard, getting shots up," Zeller said of his sophomore teammate. "He's got the potential to be a great player. We'll see what he can do."
The freshmen weren't the only ones making their debut for the Heels at Late Night. Alabama transfer Justin Knox scored six points in his first effort in Carolina blue. The senior aims to provide the big body and defensive presence this year's team sorely needs.
"I wouldn't even call him a role player," Zeller said. "He comes in and he can hit shots and make post moves. I think he's a well-rounded player."
Before Barnes and the freshman got the Heels going on the court, they also set the tone for the skits for the evening. The three freshmen appeared in the first two skits, parodying the Coors Light press conference commercials and LeBron James' decision. The skit ended with the trio dancing to Miley Cyrus's "Party in the USA."
Other highlights included Henson, Leslie McDonald and Strickland dancing in snuggies; a parody of the Troy Polamalu shampoo commercials with Larry Drew sporting an afro; Tyler Zeller, Justin Watts, Drew and Justin Knox impersonating MTV's Jersey Shore and finally a parody of Budweiser's Real Men of Genius accompanied by a video of a team snowball fight from last year.
"That was the first time I've ever worn a wife beater -- or whatever they're called," Zeller said of his Jersey Shore skit. "That was interesting. Then there was the gold chain. That was all around interesting."
Zeller said this year's skits were an improvement from last year, adding that the team had more fun making them.
"I think we all get along a lot better than we did last year at this time," Zeller said. "We all go hang out, play video games, do whatever."
With the fun part done, the work begins for the Heels on Saturday morning. Practice starts at 10 a.m. and Henson and Co. are ready for a new beginning.
"Going hard, first practice," Henson said. "Start of a new season. Start of a new road."