As the North Carolina women’s basketball team prepares for its first game of the year on Thursday against Western Carolina, it’s time to wonder: how will the team fare following tumultuous change after last season?
UNC’s trip to the 2019 NCAA tournament was short-lived, ending in a 20-point loss to No. 8 seed California in the first round. While the tournament appearance didn’t go as the planned, after a slump in the past several years it was a step in the right direction. The Tar Heels ended the season with a record of 18-15, the first winning season since 2014-15.
But in late April of last year, longtime head coach Sylvia Hatchell resigned from her position following an investigation into alleged racist remarks. The UNC athletics department acted quickly, hiring former Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart within the following two weeks.
Following Hatchell's resignation, three Tar Heels announced they’d be transferring at the end of the season. Redshirt juniors Stephanie Watts and Destinee Walker, as well as redshirt sophomore Jocelyn Jones, left to pursue opportunities at other schools.
North Carolina also lost its only senior from last season, Paris Kea, who now plays in the WNBA with the Indiana Fever. The star guard was the Tar Heels’ leading scorer in 2018-19, averaging 17.3 points and 3.9 assists per game.
Despite the losses, UNC will likely have a good balance of veteran leadership and incoming talent this year. Compared to last years’ one senior, this years’ team has a class of six whose experience and leadership should help the team's younger talent.
Madinah Muhammad, a graduate transfer from Mississippi, should help supplement the Tar Heels’ scoring. In her junior year at Mississippi, Muhammad led the team in scoring with 16.8 points per game and 67 overall three-pointers.
She’s also proven herself as a big-game player, dropping 31 points in a game against No. 10 Tennessee in 2018 and more than 20 points on seven other occasions. After sitting out last year, Muhammad is looking to dominate her last season in Chapel Hill.
Returning players junior center Janelle Bailey and senior guard Shayla Bennett are also expected to be major contributors for the Tar Heels this season.