SMITH CENTER/CHAPEL HILL Jessica Breland won’t be in uniform with her teammates when UNC plays its first women’s basketball exhibition game of the season on Thursday night.

The Tar Heels, favorites to win the ACC and ranked No. 5 in both major national polls, will host Francis Marion at 7 p.m. at the Smith Center. Francis Marion is, of course, the school where veteran UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell began her career and which awarded her an honorary doctorate in the spring.

Duke, ranked No. 6 in both polls, is also in exhibition action tonight. Joanne P. McCallie’s Blue Devils will host Wingate at 7 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Breland (pictured) is suffering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which was diagnosed in May, and has not yet finished her course of treatment, Hatchell said. That is scheduled to end Nov. 23 with the removal of the port during which she receives chemotherapy. After that, time will tell whether Breland plays this season or – more likely – is a redshirt senior in 2010-11. Breland was at the Tar Heels’ media day earlier today, but declined to talk to the media.

“They’re going to be doing some testing on her and do a PET scan, then decide whether to do any more treatments of any kind,” Hatchell explained of Breland, the Tar Heels’ leading returning scorer and rebounder from last season. “She comes out and shoots a little bit. She’s lost so much muscle mass, because she hasn’t been able to do anything since May. If I had to make a decision right now we’d redshirt her. But a month from now – you know, she’s young. The doctors may say she’s good to go. …

“If she plays it’ll be a pleasant surprise, but I’m moving along like we’re not going to have her. … She’s excited that the chemo is over. She has gone into remission.”

Breland’s teammates say whatever happens with her this season, she is an inspiration to the team.

“When we first heard the news it was really hard,” sophomore guard Italee Lucas said. “We try to be there for her as much as possible. We’re definitely going into the season with her in the back of our minds knowing that she wants to be on the court with us. Every chance we get we’re going to work hard. Knowing that she wants to be out there, that’s the least we can do for her.”

Added Lucas’ classmate and backcourt running mate Cetera DeGraffenreid, “We’re all kind of like iffy about it. Me looking at it, I don’t think that she’s going to play. That’s how we look at it and how we go about practice every day. We’ve got to work harder for her because she’s the one that’s staying strong. She’s the one that’s going through this and everything. It’s been hard, but she’s been at practice every day shooting around or doing some of the things that she can, helping with drills. She still gets to be around us and we still get to be there for her.”

Hatchell said DeGraffenreid will start at the point guard tonight with Lucas at shooting guard, true freshman Tierrra Ruffin-Pratt at small forward, Martina Wood or Laura Broomfield at power forward and Chay Shegog at center. The coach said sophomore She’la White will start in place of DeGraffenreid for Tuesday’s exhibition game against Carson-Newman.

UNC is playing its early-season games at the Smith Center, where the Tar Heels played their entire schedule last season. They are scheduled to move to their permanent home of the remodeled Carmichael Auditorium for the game against Kennesaw State on Dec. 29.

Thursday’s area games

Francis Marion at UNC (exhibition)

[Thursday, 7 p.m., Smith Center]

Records (2008-09) FMU 27-5, UNC 28-7.

Broadcast info: none.

Coaches’ records – FMU: Heather Macy 88-34, 48-14 at FMU; UNC: Sylvia Hatchell 818-282, 540-202 at UNC.

Leading scorers – (returnees from 08-09) FMU: Shannon Singleton-Bates 13.0; UNC: Jessica Breland 14.1.

Leading rebounders – (returnees from 08-09) FMU: Shannon Singleton-Bates 5.1; UNC: Jessica Breland 8.5.

Assist leaders – (returnees from 08-09) FMU: Robin Colbert 3.2; UNC: Cetera DeGraffenreid 4.1.

Wingate at Duke (exhibition)

[Thursday, 7 p.m., Cameron Indoor Stadium]

Records (2008-09) Wingate 18-10, Duke 27-6.

Broadcast info


Coaches’ records –Wingate: Barbara Nelson 44-18; Duke: Joanne P. McCallie 368-164, 52-16 at Duke.

Leading scorers – (returnees from 08-09) Wingate: Kurie Washington 15.4; Duke: Jasmine Thomas 10.2.

Leading rebounders – (returnees from 08-09) Wingate: Stacie Rhodes 5.6; Duke: Joy Cheek 4.7.

Assist leaders – (returnees from 08-09) Wingate: C.C. Brooks 1.8; Duke: Jasmine Thomas 3.3.