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UNC Basketball: Cameron Johnson’s injury and what it might mean for Nassir Little

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The debate over Carolina’s starting five will be a moot point this summer.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-North Carolina vs Texas A&M Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

While we bask in the summer doldrums, the UNC Basketball team has been hard at work over at the Smith Center. Thanks to an NCAA provision that allows teams to make a summer foreign trip every four years, Carolina is preparing for some summer basketball action next month in the Bahamas.

One of the players not fully participating, though, is Cameron Johnson, a presumed key piece to the team next year. It’s been widely reported he underwent hip surgery after the season instead of declaring for the NBA Draft, and yesterday he provided an update to Inside Carolina.

Johnson provides a great update, and if you haven’t read into what lead him into the surgery it’s worth your time. There doesn’t seem to be any concern about him missing time by the start of the regular season, as he’s already doing some basketball work and he still has over three months before their first game. The notable byte, though, comes at the end:

While the doctor’s opinion next week will play a role, Johnson said UNC has essentially ruled out his participation in the Bahamas exhibition games next month. Instead, he will continue his rehab with the goal of joining pickup games before the start of preseason practice in late September.

A lot of the conversation since the season ended has circled around what the starting lineup would be to start next year. Specifically, whether Roy Williams would be shooting himself in the foot on the recruiting trail by having his highest recruit in years come off the bench. For some, including yours truly, it’s felt like a foregone conclusion that the starting lineup would be Seventh Woods, Kenny Williams, Luke Maye, Sterling Manley, and Johnson. Williams doesn’t typically start freshmen unless there is either a need or that freshman has quickly learned what Williams wants them to do on the floor.

Little provides an interesting “problem” in that he’s obviously the most talented Tar Heel to come to Chapel Hill in a while. The talent is overwhelming enough that plenty argue he deserves to start over anyone except Woods, if only because Little doesn’t play point. The quandary has been that Williams is pretty clear that he’d like to go back to his traditional lineup, one that has a big man instead of Maye playing the five. The odd man out here, then looked to be Little unless you sat someone with experience.

Johnson’s absence this summer changes that equation. With him sitting the trip out, there will be an opening at his spot, and one can’t help but to think that means one Nassir Little will get the chance to start.

It’s worth noting that in the first couple of practices, Williams has been complimentary of how the freshmen have picked things up. That combined with being a player down, as well as the fact that these exhibition games will give Williams a chance to try things out, absolutely could give Little a chance to shine from the start. If he continues to show this summer what he showed in the All-Star games, then it could make the decision that much tougher to have him come off the bench in November.

Conversely, if Little has some obvious struggles it would support the idea of easing him in. There’s a lot to be said for bringing Little in within the first wave of subs, going up against players who aren’t fresh or aren’t starters. There’s also a chance that Johnson’s injury rehab goes a little slower than expected, and Williams would choose to ease Cam back into the lineup similar to how he came in last year.

Either way, Little should get his chance from the jump to show what he can do. This wrinkle provides another layer of intrigue to these games in the Bahamas, and a little excitement during a time when the mood is best described as “hurry up, December!”