When the UNC-Pennsylvania game notes were handed out in the Smith Center’s media on Friday afternoon, one particular headline stood out – “Injury Update.” That segment detailed the injuries of reigning national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough (stress reaction in his right shin), Marcus Ginyard (stress fracture in his left foot), Michael Copeland (torn right ACL) and Justin Watts (hyperextended left knee).
That list didn’t include the mysterious fat pad that plagued Ed Davis in the early part of the preseason, nor did it include Bobby Frasor’s left ankle sprain suffered on Monday that has sidelined him all week in practice. Davis is expected to play against Penn, and Frasor and Watts are listed as questionable, while Hansbrough, Ginyard and Copeland will not see any action on Saturday.
“It is what it is,” Williams said during his press conference on Friday. “I can’t slap my hands together like Mr. Miyagi and make them well.”
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. During the summer, the talk surrounding the 2008-09 North Carolina basketball season centered on ACC and NCAA championships and a potentially undefeated record. And while those things may still happen, what these current events highlight is the ability for the unexpected to thwart any detailed plans.
There’s a reason preseason polls are irrelevant – there are simply too many variables in play to select in October who will be the top teams in March. Nobody could have forecasted that four of North Carolina’s five seniors would be hampered with injuries one day before the season opener against Pennsylvania.
Hansbrough’s situation has obviously drawn the most interest, and it continues to be the one with the least amount of available answers due to the oddity of the injury.
“I think when you have something like this, there’s no true formula to go by,” Williams said. “You can see that there is something there or there’s not something there. And he can have pain, or he cannot have pain. It’s just [that] we’re trying to be very conservative with him.”
When pressed about Hansbrough’s return, Williams replied, “I’m not hiding something from you – I do not know. My wife asked me last night and I told her the same thing.”
If there’s any silver lining in this rash of injuries, it’s that this team experienced similar circumstances last season. Whether it was Frasor (knee) or Ty Lawson (ankle) or anyone else on the bench in 2007-08, other Tar Heels were forced to elevate their play.
“We went through a lot of adversity last season,” Wayne Ellington said. “We know what it’s like, and we understand what it takes. That’s something that we had to explain to the freshmen. When guys go down, you’ve got to raise your play.”
Williams has not finalized his starting five for Saturday’s contest, indicating that only Lawson, Ellington, Danny Green and Deon Thompson are currently slated to start. Freshmen post players Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis are entrenched in a tough position battle, with both players seeing action with the white team during practice.
And while the preseason may appear to be the best option to work through health issues, scheduled installations of new offensive and defensive sets are thrown a definite curve ball.
“There’s no good time [for an injury], but if it happens during the season, at least you’ve gone through the whole preseason and got your stuff in,” Williams said. “Right now, it’s been hard for us… I’m the most apprehensive that I’ve ever been. We have some things that I would have had in for a week to 10 days and would have worked on them quite a bit and used them in two exhibition games that we don’t even have in right now.
“But then again, it’s better to have them now than during the season when they miss more games. I think injuries – everybody goes through them. I think we’ve had a little bit out of the ordinary the last couple of years. I don’t think there’s any question about that, but maybe we’ll get started and when we do get everybody back, perhaps we’ll go the whole season without any [injuries].”
Even with this depleted roster, the Tar Heels will most likely coast against the Quakers on Saturday afternoon. But Kentucky is arriving in Chapel Hill on Tuesday night, and North Carolina is on a collision course with either No. 7 Texas or No. 9 Notre Dame in Maui on Nov. 26, followed by a matchup with No. 6 Michigan State on Dec. 3.
If Hansbrough and Co. don’t heal quickly, the preseason talk of an undefeated run this season could come to an end before the fall semester’s exam week even begins.