Near the end of Saturday's first half, North Carolina freshman John Henson tried to stand his defensive ground in the post, only to have N.C. State wide-body Tracy Smith shoulder him out of the way for a layup.
Twenty-five games into the basketball season, the former five-star recruit still is trying to find the right position - in more ways than one.
"In the future, I think he's going to be a '4/3,' " UNC coach Roy Williams said. "And what I mean by that is that his primary position will be a '4'[power forward], but I do believe he will be able to play the '3' [small forward] spot.
"And regardless of what number you put on him, we do have to put him in situations where he can be out on the floor, and we have to put him in some situations where he can post up because it's what best for the team and best for him individually as well, to allow him to do both."
Never miss a local story.
It's been a bumpy road to figuring that out, though - partly because of the Tar Heels' personnel, partly because of Henson's struggle to adapt.
The 6-foot-10, 195-pounder - who chose UNC, in part, because Williams agreed he could play on the wing - has struggled to make an impact as a small forward, the position he hopes to play at the next level.
Through the first three months of the season, he failed to grasp plays, make perimeter shots or consistently show the stardom that many thought would make him a one-and-done player, averaging only 3.0 points and 2.3 rebounds through his first 21 games.
But Henson has fared better at power forward the past two weeks, playing with more confidence while averaging 8.2 points and 5.2 rebounds in the slot he played in high school. Henson will likely make his second straight start tonight, at Georgia Tech, as the struggling Tar Heels (14-11, 3-7 ACC) try to make a late-season run.
"I guess I just feel more comfortable, playing in my old position, and all," Henson said.
Henson's dad, Matt, said most schools that his son was considering wanted to play him on the wing because of his athletic ability to run the floor, pass like a guard and create matchup problems for smaller forwards.
John Henson, himself, said he wanted to play there because he figures it will be where he will star in the NBA.
"Larger people are playing more outside, and that's just something you're going to have to start doing," Henson said Saturday.
He cited Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James as an example: "He's 6-9, heavier than anybody in [our] locker room, but can do things that Larry [Drew II, a point guard] can do."
Matt Henson said there was never any thought "that if he doesn't play wing, he wouldn't go to North Carolina."
But there was never any worry, either, because UNC needed him there. Although the Tar Heels, coming off a national championship, boasted a plethora of big men in Deon Thompson, Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller and the incoming Wear twins, David and Travis, it didn't have much on the perimeter - and particularly at small forward.
Williams thought Henson, rated a top-10 recruit, might fill that need.
"What I saw is he does have a good feel for the game," Williams said. "He handles the ball better than you think, he passes the ball better than you think, and I've seen him get the ball off the board and bust out on the break and make a simple bounce pass to a guy for a layup.
"He hasn't shot it well from the perimeter this year, but I think he's going to be a good shooter. And his size and lack of bulk ... made you think that he was going to really struggle inside, and that has been true. ... Considering all those things, we said, 'Well, let's try and see if we can do that.' "
The problems started early though, and they were more mental than physical. Henson could run the floor - but didn't know exactly where to go on the other end. He could make acrobatic dunks and crowd-wowing blocks - but he forgot plays.
Not only did he fail to move into the starting lineup early on, as expected, but he played so few minutes that he ended up taking the court with the walk-ons at the end of at least two games.
"I always though that his biggest challenge, in terms of learning the '3', would be learning the mindset - because it's different,'' said Matt Henson, who played center at Norfolk State. "He's played the '5' throughout high school, and going to an elite program like North Carolina, it was going to take time to see the game a different way."
As UNC started losing, fans clamored for Williams to shake things up somehow - perhaps by playing Henson in the post. But there were two problems with that notion: the logjam of big men, and the question of how long it would take Henson to learn a second position in UNC's system, considering how much he struggled to learn the first one.
The decision became easier once Zeller got hurt in January.
"Coach was just talking to me, and he's like, 'Do you want to play down low a little more?' And I said, 'I play on the wing, but I'll play down low a little bit,' " Henson said.
So on Feb. 4, Henson played his first college minutes at power forward, splitting time between the "4" and the "3", and recording a career-high 14 points during his team's 74-70 loss at Virginia Tech. Then, after Davis broke his left wrist last week, Henson moved into the post full-time. He made his first college start Saturday, finishing with nine points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
"In the offense we run, playing the '4' is a little bit easier," Henson said after the game. "... And at the 3, I think I was overthinking a lot of stuff."
Henson, though out-bulked by most opponents, looks a lot more comfortable at power forward, but he still has a lot of learning to do. Asked if he was picking up the "4" faster than the "3," Williams offered a quick "no."
"It's hard for him; you're talking about two weeks, trying to learn a completely different position," Williams said.
With Harrison Barnes, this year's top recruit, set to join the Tar Heels next season and compete with veteran Will Graves for the starting small forward position, Henson's best course is likely to stay at power forward, what with the senior Thompson graduating and Davis a candidate to leave early for the NBA.
Henson said he's not sure where he will play in the future. "You know as much as I know," he said, adding that he plans to add some bulk to his 195 pounds, whether he plays on the wing or the block. "I'm just playing day to day, trying to get better. And where I end up is where I'm going to be."