New players. That’s been the story every year for North Carolina women’s basketball recently. Not because they were the necessary piece to take the team to the next level, but because the team simply needed bodies.
This year, it’s different.
For the first time in several seasons, head coach Sylvia Hatchell has multiple options at several positions. Her recruiting over the past few years has been stellar. Despite facing the cloud of the NCAA investigation, Hatchell has brought in quality players each year.
And if 2017 is an exception, it is only because of the degree to which it exceeds past years.
This season, the fresh faces make this a truly competitive team, as UNC opens the season on the outskirts of the top 25.
The star of the class is Janelle Bailey. An ESPN five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American, Bailey is a tall and powerful post player. She stands at 6-foot-4 and has several facets to her game.
“She’s got good size. We didn’t have any size inside last year,” Hatchell said. “She’s really good around the basket. Using the backboard, she can just really score. And she’s tough in there.”
Hatchell also pointed to Bailey’s ability to pass the ball, especially in double teams. That is a part of her game that had people talking in the team’s two exhibition games.
In the second of those games against Mt. Olive, Bailey filled up the stat sheet. Sixteen points, nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks. And against Wingate she still managed 12 points and three blocks. Bailey also shot 59 percent from the floor in those games.
This shows the impact she can have on games.
Another first-year that will fill a significant role will be Jaelynn Murray, the Gatorade South Carolina Player of the Year. Murray is 6-foot-2 and Hatchell says that she will start alongside Bailey.
She also had a solid outing against Mt. Olive, posting 13 points, 12 boards and three rejections. Murray wasn’t bad against Wingate either, adding six points, six rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
“She’s a little more of a finesse-type player,” Hatchell said. “She gives us some size and athleticism in there that we didn’t have.”
Another player new to the team is Jocelyn Jones. She isn’t a true first-year, as she missed all of last year with an injury and redshirted. But seeing that Destinee Walker and Stephanie Watts were dealing with injuries to end last season, Jones might get plenty of important reps early.
“She’s still not at 100 percent,” Hatchell said. “She’s playing, and she’s doing some good things. But conditioning-wise she’s not where she needs to be yet. She’s just going to get better and better.”
In those limited minutes, Jones managed to put up six and 13 points in the exhibitions.
Despite the positives, these players are still young. The leaders on this team, like junior guard Paris Kea, have seen the areas they can help the most.
“Definitely on defense,” Kea said. “Coach emphasizes rebounding every practice … we can take down half the points if we would just rebound and don’t let the opponent get offensive rebounds.”
This will be a season of growth, but the team is much more complete than it has been in recent years. They have a great backcourt when healthy, and new talent in the frontcourt. One of the keys to this campaign will be confidence.
“I knew when I came here I could have a big role,” Bailey said.
“I knew that I was playing with good people … and as you can see, I think it’s working out well. I think we’re going to shock a lot of people this year.”