Nate Britt and new experiences
In my 23 years I’ve been fortunate to experience most aspects of Carolina fanhood – attending a Final Four is perhaps the last major one remaining – but tonight I experienced for the first time one that is probably pretty far down the list for most: I saw a future Tar Heel play in high school. Nate Britt, #17 overall on ESPN’s 2013 rankings and the #2 point guard prospect, has committed to UNC and plays for Gonzaga, an elite Catholic high school in DC. Admittedly, this has not been high on my list, even as dedicated a fan as I am; if it was, I would have gathered up some friends and road-tripped to Kinston to see Reggie Bullock play.
But I’ve always thought it would be novel to see one of the best basketball players in the country play in a setting in which he was demonstrably superior to the other players on the court, before he eventually blossomed into a star player against much better competition in the ACC. Previously I have seen four other high players in person who eventually played at high major college programs, three of whom wound up at Wake Forest (Wake often gets the best players in NC that UNC passes on; those three were Jamie Skeen, Ish Smith, and C.J. Harris, and the fourth was Clemson’s DeMontez Stitt).
When I discovered earlier this year that one of the top prospects in the 2013 class played at a local DC high school, and that he had UNC on his short list of schools, I made a point to catch a game of his, since it was a convenient opportunity to accomplish the goal. It was also an exciting chance to exercise my passionate devotion to the Heels remotely – I can’t attend many games in Chapel Hill, and I live in a place where college basketball is discussed far less than at home, but this is something only Carolina fans who live in Washington can do. Britt made his commitment to UNC in December, but an injury kept him off the court for a stretch and lessened the number of chances I had to see him, pushing the experience back to this weekend’s conference tournament.
Watching Nate Britt and Gonzaga lose a close one to historic DeMatha didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Aside from Britt having an off night, this was not a basketball game of the sort Reggie Bullock played against the ripe for domination local competition in Kinston, or even the competition Skeen and Smith faced in the MECA-8. On paper it had more of an all-star game feel, with Britt matched up against DeMatha point guard James Robinson, a senior Pitt commit. Britt wasn’t demonstrably superior to his competition with Robinson guarding him and two future high major post players – Syracuse commit Jerami Grant and top 60 junior Beejay Anya – waiting to block his shot.
Neither team played especially well on offense, though Britt, his fellow top 60 teammate Kris Jenkins, Robinson, Grant and Anya all showed flashes that I will remember when I see them suit up for ACC or Big East schools over the next few years. Entering the second half down eight, Britt asserted himself early and got to the rim with relative ease multiple times, but struggled to draw fouls or finish without getting blocked. He almost made the experience epic, but missed what would have been a game-tying three near the buzzer.
It’s a one game sample, and it seems that if I want to see a full picture of the future Tar Heel, I will have to see him play more than once. Nonetheless, I could see his quickness, great handle and court vision, and I choose to believe all of the scouting reports that call him a prototypical Roy Williams point guard. This is a guy who chose Carolina because he is naturally inclined to our system, and like Kendall Marshall (whose high school stats were not notably gaudy), his value and play will benefit immensely when he is surrounded by other Carolina-level talent that is inclined to our system.
And I’ll be able to say that I watched him play in high school. It was a fun time, and worth repeating. Next year though: UNC commit and #11 overall recruit Isaiah Hicks, who, unlike Britt, is a 6’9″ athletic monster playing for a rural high school in Oxford, NC.