R.L. Bynum, Correspondent
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Leaky Black didn’t step onto North Carolina’s campus with the hype that surrounded fellow freshmen Nassir Little and Coby White.
What he has lacked in hype or playing time so far, he’s more than made up with his play.
He’s shown the sort of control and confidence not common in a freshman, while displaying versatility Coach Roy Williams never has seen from one of his players.
Black, who has mostly played a wing spot, is only limited by the number of positions on the court.
After playing the five spot at the end of the victory at Elon, he played nearly two minutes at point guard in the No. 7 Tar Heels’ 90–72 victory Monday in their home opener against Stanford.
“The only player I’ve ever coached that, in his first three games, he’s played one, two, three, four and five,” Williams said.
“I’ve never had a player like that, so that’s very positive. He’s tremendously intelligent … has an instinctive ability to make the right plays. He’s going to be a really, really good basketball player.”
Black plays some at point guard and some at wing in every practice, so he’s ready for wherever Williams decides to put him.
There always is a steep learning curve for point guards in Williams’ system, and becoming familiar with all the plays has been Black’s biggest challenge.
“It’s a fast-paced game coming from high school,” he said.
“Just learning those plays on the fly. Those aren’t easy plays. They are all reads. So, if you see something else, you’ve just got to go to the counter and pretty much have to do it on the fly and fast. And you’ve got to play with confidence and under control. So, it’s a lot.”
Black is one reason that the 3-0 Tar Heels, who are at home Friday against Tennessee Tech, legitimately have a 10-man rotation.
In 38 minutes over the season’s first three games, Black has 16 points, nine rebounds, six assists (five against Elon), three steals (two against Stanford) and only one turnover while shooting 60% from the floor.
A dangerous shooter, he made all four of his shots against Stanford.
After going scoreless in eight minutes at Wofford, he scored eight points in 15 minutes in both the Elon and Stanford games.
Classmate Leaky Black gave some solid minutes in the first half as well
Knocking down a mid-range jumper here pic.twitter.com/qkoHmuIJ3Q
— Dadgum Box Scores (@dadgumboxscores) November 13, 2018
The 6-foot-7, 185-pound Black has displayed plenty of court savvy.
He’s consistently in the right position to make a play while using his size, quickness and immense wingspan to his advantage.
Even when his jump isn’t timed just right as he tries to make a block, he still is able to make it difficult on the shooter because of his long arms.
Black says he has no idea about the length of his wingspan, only offering that when he was in seventh grade, his dad measured it at 6-9.
He also said that he had his big growth spurt after his ninth-grade year.
We may not have an exact number, but here’s one word to describe him: long.
That wingspan is a valuable rebounding tool, and makes him a pest on defense.
In the first half against Stanford, he anticipated the path of an inbound pass from the right sideline, swiped it with his left hand from just in front of its intended target and coasted home for a two-handed dunk.
Video (ESPN.com) – Leaky Black steals inbounds pass and slams it
“He’s so long and he uses his hands well and he’s active on the ball,” said White, who has started all three games at point guard, backed up by Seventh Woods.
“Defensively, he’s probably one of the most versatile defenders on the team.”
Apparently, playing good defense runs in the family.
“My dad used to play basketball and everybody from my city used to just tell me he was always a dog playing defense,” Black said.
“So, I feel like this is something that was inherited since I was younger. It’s just something I take pride in.”
Black’s father, Chon, scored more than 1,000 points at Concord High School and went on to play at UNC Asheville (1990–91 and 1991–92) and Johnson C. Smith.
Rechon Malik Black — dubbed “Leaky” by a grandmother to play off his middle name and differentiate his name from his dad’s name — plays with confidence beyond his years (he also credits his dad for that), and already looks like he can be the all-around player Theo Pinson was as a senior — and more.
About all that slows him down is a question about which position is his best.
He doesn’t hesitate on the court, but that question led to a long pause.
“I’m not sure,” Black said, upon reflection.
“I would say point guard because nine times out of 10, I’m going to have that big height advantage over the point guard. And nine times out of 10, they might be quicker than me, so that might be something I struggle a little bit with. But, at the end of the day, I feel like the wing is really my go-to. I get out and run and rebound, block shots, just do all that little stuff.”
White said that Black’s unselfishness is what makes him so good at point guard.
He should know since he faces Black in practice every day.
“He’s willing to make the right pass at all times,” White said.
“And he’s so versatile and long, it’s just kind of hard for people to guard him at that position.”
Leaky cleans up the miss, and scores pic.twitter.com/idA3zmpzgS
— Dadgum Box Scores (@dadgumboxscores) November 13, 2018
Black was as quick to answer as he is to hit the boards when asked which position is tougher, though.
“The five,” he said.
“They really do a lot of running. There are big bodies down there, so you have to really be physical with them. At the point guard position, you can’t be as physical.”
Williams gives him plenty of incentive to be adept at many positions.
“He tells me the more positions I learn, the more playing time I can get,” Black said.
“So, the more I can pick up on plays and positions, stuff like that, I can stay out there. So, I try to pick up on that.”
This is his fourth school in four years.
After playing at Concord High School as a sophomore, when he committed to UNC, he played his junior season at national powerhouse Montverde Academy in Orlando, Fla., where a teammate was Duke’s RJ Barrett.
He came back home to Cabarrus County as a senior and was the point guard on Cox Mill High School’s state 3-A title team.
He averaged 13.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 3.2 steals despite a groin injury nagging him much of that senior season.
Leaky Black scored 8 points, snagged 6 rebounds, and collected 5 assists in 15 minutes in the win over Elon
Leaky Black’s first points as a Tar Heel pic.twitter.com/al3cIlJ8GC
— Dadgum Box Scores (@dadgumboxscores) November 11, 2018
“I’m glad to have a kid like this on the team that can just do so many things,” said graduate student Cameron Johnson, who is off to an outstanding start to his final college season.
“He’s a great weapon to have.”
“He has a really good feel for the game,” continued Johnson, who leads the team with 18.3 points per game while shooting 71% from 3-point range.
“He can rebound, defend and handle the ball. So, you put those things together, he’s smart and it’s easy for him to go into a game at a different spot.
“He’s picked it up really well because learning all those spots is tough for him as a freshman. And to do it in college and pick it up is definitely a big thing for him,” said Johnson, suggesting no position defines Black.
“He’s a basketball player, he gets out there and makes plays.”
That Black’s varied weapons are of Swiss army knife quality are no surprise for White, who was his AAU teammate on Team CP3.
“He played whatever the coach put him at, and he did it well at any position he played at,” White said.
“I think Leaky is a basketball player. He doesn’t have a true position, I don’t feel like. I think he’s an elite basketball player that can play any position and can do it to the best of their ability.”
Not that it’s been easy, and Black is the first to admit that.
“It really is a grind, especially from the point guard position. Learning all the plays, you have to know all the positions, where everybody’s supposed to be,” said Black, who added that it’s not difficult to go from one position to another at any moment.
“Not really. I’ve been here since June, so I pretty much know the ropes by now.”
You can never tell what position Black will be playing.
What’s certain is that he’ll put Carolina in a position to win.
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