CHAPEL HILL – If North Carolina played its first-round game of the NCAA Tournament Tuesday, Cam Johnson would be in street clothes on the bench.
Johnson, a 6-8 wing, was banged up a couple of times during the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, with Saturday night’s spill further inflaming an increasingly bad back to the point where if the Tar Heels faced Lipscomb in their NCAA opener Tuesday he wouldn’t be available.
“Four days, four games, late nights, it’s hard to recover,” UNC Coach Roy Williams said. “We just did a quick 30-35 minute shoot around and went in and watched tape – they did a weight session before that – and Cam did not do anything. If we had to play today, he wouldn’t play at all.
“It’s a back issue more than anything else.”
While it appeared Johnson injured his hamstring versus Miami in the quarterfinals and then again versus Virginia in the championship game, Johnson said it was actually his hip at first, which ended up moving to his back.
Johnson said Tuesday he’s felt a little better each day, but he’s also done very little since leaving the game Saturday night with just under 7 minutes remaining.
The team had Sunday off, other than to watch the NCAA selection show at Williams’ house, and also had Monday off. They had a brief workout Tuesday with some film work and will finally have a full practice Wednesday before heading to Charlotte.
Williams doesn’t have any idea what the plan is moving forward with Johnson, that’s up to the team’s doctor, Doug Halverson and his staff.
“Whatever they tell me,” the coach said.
As for Friday’s 2:45 pm opener for UNC, the No. 2 seed in the West Region versus the No. 15 seed Bisons, Williams believes things with Johnson will be much better.
“I think that he’ll be able to play because we’ve still got 72 hours,” the coach said. “We’ve got three days, but I would think he would be able to make a lot of improvement.”
Johnson said he’s not alone in needing some rest, but he agrees with the way the staff is handling his situation.
“I feel like I’m improving from the week,” he said. “Obviously, I think everybody, after playing four games, can give you a laundry list of aches and pains, but I don’t feel too bad. I feel like I’m improving but want to keep resting. I don’t really want to put myself at any more of a risk to aggravate things more.”
Sitting out a starter for an NCAA Tournament game wouldn’t be unchartered territory for Williams. Ty Lawson, the ACC Player of the Year in 2009, did not play UNC’s NCAA opener that year versus Radford. In fact, Lawson missed the ACC Tournament, too, but returned in the NCAA’s for UNC’s second-round win over LSU.
Two weeks later, Carolina won the national championship. So Williams won’t hesitate to sit Johnson if it’s best for Johnson and, ultimately, the team given how his game could be affected. It worked out well then, the coach recalled.
“If I remember, I think they were okay.”