Coach Roy Williams said that Jason Capel will be embraced as a member of the Carolina basketball family when the UNC alumnus returns to Chapel Hill for today's 6 p.m. game.
"Once you're a Tar Heel, you're always part of the family," Williams said. "It's neat to look down there and see those guys at the other end. We haven't done it a lot, but we have done it some.
"Jason, as a youngster, is someone I always thought had tremendous savvy."
But the Tar Heels will also try to make this visit as painful as possible for Capel's Appalachian State team, which enters this game 4-5 so far.
The fifth-ranked Tar Heels (8-2) could experience an awkward start themselves, as they have practiced very little this week because of final exams.
"We've only practiced once this week," Williams said on Friday. "We had 11 guys who had exams today. It hasn't been the greatest week for us, trying to get better as a basketball team."
This is the first of three games in five days for the Tar Heels. They will play Nicholls at 7 p.m. on Monday and then play their final marquee game of the pre-ACC schedule when Texas comes to Chapel Hill for a 7 p.m. tipoff on Wednesday.
As always the Tar Heels will look to their on-court leader and point guard Kendall Marshall to get them going in today's game. Marshall tied his career high with 16 assists in the Tar Heels' last game, which was against Long Beach State.
Marshall is the only UNC player to have multiple games with 15 or more assists. He has done it four times (including three times this season). Raymond Felton (18), Jeff Lebo (17) and Ed Cota (17) are the other Tar Heels with at least 15 assists in a game, but Marshall's four 15-assist games are more than the total of all those Carolina combined.
Marshall entered the week second in the nation in assists per game with 10.2.
"He probably pitches ahead better than anybody I've ever had," Williams said. "Of all the point guards I've ever had, he probably looks for his shot the least. He plays the game to get the ball to his teammates in the right spot.
"He's not the fastest," Williams said. "But he moves the ball ahead better. It's hard to imagine anybody doing that phase of the game better than he does it."
Marshall says it is just a matter of utilizing his strengths and maximizing those of his teammates. Oh, it's also his desire to win before worrying about individual honors.
"Naturally I do look to pass the ball first," Marshall said. "I enjoy it. It's a big part of my game. It's something I take pride in. I've tried to concentrate on making the defense respect me. I haven't shot the greatest percentage this year.
"It's a little frustrating because I feel like in practice and coming into the year I was shooting the ball tremendously. But at the end of the day, it matters what you do in the games."
He certainly has some gifted teammates who he can pass the ball. John Henson, named the latest ACC player of the week, is quickly emerging as one of the most dynamic.
Henson averaged 18.5 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots in Carolina's victories against Evansville and Long Beach State. In the 97-48 win against Evansville, Henson scored 13 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked three shots. Four days later, he led the Tar Heels in points (24), rebounds (10) and blocks (fou) in a 84-78 victory against a talented Long Beach State team.
Henson went a combined 17-of-23 (.739) from the floor in those two games.
"John is really doing some nice things, but I think he can get much [better]," Williams said. "I think he can have his shooting percentage go up a great deal. I think he can block more shots. I think he can get stronger. I think he can rebound more.
"It was a little unusual for him to take 17 shots in a game like he did [against Long Beach]. But he made 12 of them. If he does that, he can take 17 every game. He's having a good year with a chance to have a great year."