CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina forward Tyler Zeller scored two points and had four fouls Wednesday night in his first game back after a 13-week absence.
After third-ranked UNC’s 89-80 victory over N.C. State, the freshman 7-footer talked about why he gave up a redshirt season to return, how his healed left wrist is feeling, and what it was like to check in to a standing ovation:
Q: Were you concerned about giving away a season for the opportunity to play five regular-season games, plus the postseason?
A: Yes. But no at the same time. Yes, because it is one of those things where I’m losing half a season, but no at the same time because these are my teammates; I’ve got to help support them. If I can help them in any way, I have to come back. I feel like I’m obligated because they’ve been great to me the whole time I’ve been injured, and as I come back I feel like if there’s anything I can do to help them get to the goal of winning a national championship, I need to do it.
Q: What made you decide to come back now, instead of redshirting?
A: It’s just one of those things, I talked to coach a little bit about it, and I thought it was the best thing to help me prepare for next year, to get ready. Because in these games, I can learn a lot ... just little things to work on. And you can’t get that kind of experience if you don’t play.
... I also feel like I can help our depth, just playing. Because it does get difficult ... I feel like I can give guys couple-minute breaks, so they can go back in and be fresh.
Q: What was it like, being back out there?
A: Being back out there was definitely different. Being out for 13 weeks ... I’m a little behind with my reaction speed, which is why I got so many fouls. But it felt great just to be back out there.
Q: Your first turnaround jumper, was the just instinct taking over?
A: It was all instinct on offense. Offense, I’m fine, because I’ve been able to shoot, been able to do stuff. It was more on defensive end, just reacting to people’s drives -- going around people, just getting there, reacting to help, stuff like that, where I was struggling.
Q: What went through your mind when you went to the scorer’s table, and the crowd gave you a big ovation?
A: It was one of things where I kind of expected it, but when you have 20,000 people cheering for you, It’s a great feeling. It was amazing when I got up and went, but by the time I got in and found out who I was guarding, I didn’t really hear much after that.
Q: How does the wrist feel?
A: It’s fine, I don’t really have any problems with it, stiffness or anything. Still doing a little bit of rehab ... but for the most part, I have all the motion back, and really no pain.
— Robbi Pickeral
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