Vermont-North Carolina Preview

John Henson says he’s improving from a wrist injury and sounds

eager to return to for North Carolina’s NCAA tournament opener.

Coach Roy Williams isn’t quite so sure whether the two-time

Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year is ready to

snatch rebounds in traffic or swat shots to start the fast


”He has to feel comfortable that he can play and then I have to

decide whether his play will be effective,” Williams said

Thursday. ”And I am being extremely honest, I do not know.”

Even if Henson plays, the top-seeded Tar Heels (29-5) head into

Friday’s game against 16th-seeded Vermont in the Midwest Regional

knowing they must keep asking for more from a bench already

stretched thin by injury.

Two regular-rotation players from last year are out for the

season with knee injuries. Now Henson is recovering from a sprained

left wrist suffered in a fall during last week’s ACC


The 6-foot-10 forward missed the last two games, but went

through about 70 percent of the team’s practice Thursday morning in

Chapel Hill. Henson participated in a light workout with his

teammates at the Greensboro Coliseum in the afternoon, though not

before trainer Chris Hirth wrapped the wrist and included a

protective pad.

Henson said he has lingering soreness but has improved range of


”I think I can be pretty effective,” Henson said. ”I do have

my right hand. I don’t use it as much as my left, but I’m going to

get some good rest tonight and get some good treatment.”

Henson averages about 14 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks to

protect the rim, erase defensive mistakes by teammates and alter

countless other shots.

He shot around and took part in the team’s dunk line to thrill

the home-state fans wearing light blue in the stands. But several

times, he caught passes only with his right hand and dunked with

that hand instead of using both or his left.

”He felt like that, if the game were to be played today, he

felt like he could play,” Williams said. ”I’m not


North Carolina’s depth behind five returning starters should

have been a strength with the return of top outside shooter Leslie

McDonald and Reggie Bullock back from a knee injury. That meant

freshmen James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston were set for

smaller roles down the depth chart.

But McDonald tore his right anterior cruciate ligament during a

summer-league game, then Strickland tore his right ACL in January.

That forced Bullock into the starting lineup and upping the

pressure on their already-struggling freshmen as the first players

off the bench.

Still, both McAdoo and Hairston have shown progress


McAdoo, a 6-9 forward, played a season-high 29 minutes in the

quarterfinal win against Maryland after Henson’s injury, matching

his season-high with 14 points to go with eight rebounds. It was

his first double-digit scoring performance since December.

The next day, he had nine points in 27 minutes in the semifinals

and had eight rebounds in 28 minutes in the championship loss to

Florida State.

While McAdoo’s minutes are up due to Henson’s injury, Hairston

finally broke out of a prolonged slump with 13 points and three

3-pointers against FSU for his first double-figure scoring game

since New Year’s Day.

The 6-5 guard had shot just 22 percent (15 for 69) from the

field and 16 percent (8 for 50) from 3-point range in ACC

regular-season games, shocking for someone who entered college

known for outside shooting. Meanwhile, reserve guard Justin Watts

is playing everything from point guard to power forward these


”When John got hurt … we just knew he didn’t want to injure

it any more than it already was,” Hairston said. ”So in the ACC

tournament, coach told us he needed us to become big-time players

and do things to help off the bench.”

Vermont’s expected starting front line measures 6-8, 6-7 and

6-6, a significant disadvantage against Zeller and Henson if he

plays. The Catamounts have a little more size on the bench, but

none of those players average more than five points or 14 minutes

per game.

”They’ve got so many different weapons they can hurt you with

so we’re going to have our hands full no matter who’s out there,”

Vermont forward Matt Glass said.

The Catamounts (24-11) earned their trip here with a 71-59 win

against Lamar in Wednesday’s First Four games. They flew in from

Dayton, Ohio, in the morning and squeezed in a practice at a nearby

college before arriving at the Greensboro Coliseum by late


”Our guys understand no 16-seed has ever won (against a No.

1),” Vermont coach John Becker said. ”I told the guys,

`Mathematically we can’t win this game but Murphy’s Law says it’s

going to happen at some point, so why not us?”’