By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — If you ask Armando Bacot or most Carolina fans which Tar Heel is the most confident shooter, the consistent answer would be Caleb Love.
Love, however, would beg to differ. He gives that honor to freshman Tyler Nickel.
“He’s got the most confidence on the team,” Love said after the 100–67 win Tuesday over The Citadel. “He thinks every shot is going in.”
When told of Love’s pronouncement, Bacot was incredulous.
“Caleb saying that … that’s crazy to think,” Bacot said. “I don’t know about that one. But he does have a lot of confidence. I would say probably he’s second on the team. Caleb be trippin’ saying that.”
Was he? A reporter was just as curious, surprised that Love didn’t think his confidence level matched Nickel’s. Love doubled down.
“Yeah, for sure,” Love said. “Anytime I see him on the court, I’m looking for him because he can shoot the ball and he does have that confidence. He’s not afraid of any moment. So, once he got those looks, he was knocking them down.”
Wherever Nickel’s confidence level ranks on the team, it’s high. The 6–7, 220-pound freshman from Harrisonburg, Va., is the all-time Virginia high school scoring leader with 2,909 points in 102 games.
He wasn’t questioning Love’s contention.
“I’m extremely confident,” said Nickel, who had a steal and a dunk (top photo). “That’s a big reason why I play the way I play. And I think if you allow yourself to not be confident in all of your abilities, everything that you’ve worked for just decreases. So staying confident, I think is one of the biggest parts of playing basketball in general.”
It didn’t matter that Nickel missed three 3-point attempts in the first half against The Citadel. He kept shooting and scored all of his career-high 16 points in the last 13½ minutes, with three 3-pointers. That accounted for nearly half of his 34 points over nearly 75½ minutes this season.
“Shooters shoot, you know?” said Nickel, who has a collection of tattoos, including one on his left arm that reads, “Anomaly” and another noting Bible verse Isaiah 54:17. “Everybody has always told me that, so I’m not going to stop shooting after a couple of misses. If I get a good look, I’m going to shoot it.”
With Love’s passes leading to Nickel’s first six shots, the two appear to have developed good chemistry in practice.
“I’ve tried to do everything I can to gain people’s trust in practice as far as my ability to score the basketball, and I think that it’s carried over into the games,” said Nickel, who made only one of his first eight career 3-point attempts before going 3 of 5 in the second half on Tuesday. “Caleb’s been really big on giving me confidence, keeping me confident. Even when sometimes, if there’s a rough stretch or whatever the case may be, he’s always kept his faith in me.
“I’m really close with and really comfortable with everybody,” Nickel said. “But Caleb’s made it very clear that he’s comfortable giving the ball, trying to give me looks, whatever the case is. “
Nickel produced outstanding play in helping UNC rally to make the Virginia Tech game close in the last 10 minutes, but he relished his big moments against The Citadel.
“It was great,” he said. “I think the best thing about it, though, was all my teammates being happy for my successes as well. That is one of the things about this team. Everybody is always so happy when other people do well. So there is just such a positive energy about everything.”
Nickel had a late sequence with 3-pointers from both corners on consecutive possession before turning a steal into two free throws.
Coach Hubert Davis said that what impresses him about Nickel is that his intensity level always seems to be high.
“He competes,” Davis said. “I never have to tell Tyler ‘can you go harder?’ He’s a guy that always competes on both ends of the floor.”
And if he has an open shot? He’s going to take it.
|28||Friday||W, 101–40||Johnson C. Smith||Home||Exhibition|
|11||Friday||W, 102–86||College of Charleston||Home||2–0|
|20||Sunday||W, 80–64||James Madison||Home||4–0|
|Phil Knight Invitational|
|24||Thursday||W, 89–81||First round: Portland||Portland||5–0|
|27||Sunday||L, 103–101, |
No. 3 Alabama
|ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|30||Wednesday||L, 77–65||No. 18 Indiana||Bloomington, Ind.||5–3|
|4||Sunday||L, 80–72||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||5–4, |
|10||Saturday||W, 75–59||Georgia Tech||Home||6–4, |
|13||Tuesday||W, 100–67||The Citadel||Home||7–4|
|CBS Sports Classic|
|17||Saturday||W, 89–84, OT||Ohio State||New York||8–4|
|30||Friday||L, 76–74||Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||9–5, |
|4||Wednesday||W, 88–79||Wake Forest||Home||10–5, |
|7||Saturday||W, 81–64||Notre Dame||Home||11–5, |
|10||Tuesday||L, 65–58||No. 8 Virginia||Charlottesville||11–6, |
|14||Saturday||W, 80–59||Louisville||Louisville, Ky.||12–6, |
|17||Tuesday||W, 72–64||Boston College||Home||13–6, |
|21||Saturday||W, 80–69||No. 22 N.C. State||Home||14–6, |
|24||Tuesday||W, 72–68||Syracuse||Syracuse, N.Y.||15–6, |
|1||Wednesday||L, 65–64||Pittsburgh||Home||15–7, |
|4||Saturday||L, 63–57||Duke||Durham||15–8, |
|7||Tuesday||7 p.m.||Wake Forest||Winston-Salem||ESPN|
|13||Monday||7 p.m.||No. 19 Miami||Home||ESPN|
|19||Sunday||1 p.m.||No. 22 N.C. State||Raleigh||ESPN|
|22||Wednesday||9 p.m.||Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind.||ESPN or ESPN2|
|25||Saturday||6 or 8||No. 8 Virginia||Home||ESPN|
|27||Monday||7 p.m.||Florida State||Tallahassee, Fla.||ESPN|
ACCN means the game airs on ACC Network.
Photo via @UNC_Basketball