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New coach, new players, new year: UNC women's basketball reloads for 2019-2020 season

The UNC women's basketball team trains in a skirmish during an open practice in Carmichael Arena on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019.

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.

Bailey is an imposing presence in the paint. The 6-foot-4 junior averaged 16 points and 8.9 rebounds in her first two years at North Carolina, and will no doubt continue to be the go-to look inside for the Tar Heels this coming season.

In her first season at UNC, Bennett quickly found her role in the 2018-19 season as an offensive threat. The senior transfer from Gulf Coast State averaged 11.2 points per game last season, making her one of two returning players along with Bailey to average double-digit points.

North Carolina also has a solid incoming first-year class consisting of two four-star recruits, guard Kennady Tucker and forward Malu Tshitenge. Two three-star recruits, guards Nia Daniel and Lexi Duckett, are also promising first-years for the team. 

Tucker, a combo guard out of Little Rock, Arkansas, totaled 1,120 points in her four years at North Little Rock High School. Tshitenge, the No. 31 recruit in her class according to Blue Star Report, led St. John's College High School to a 32-2 record in her junior year. In the spring of 2017, she led the EYBL in offensive rebounding.

Daniel, a Charlotte, North Carolina native, was named the Charlotte Observer Player of the Year for 2018-19 and was a first-team all-state selection. The Hickory Ridge High School graduate averaged 15 points and six rebounds per game in her junior year. Duckett, in her junior year at DME Sports Academy, was named SIAA Player of the Year after averaging 16 points, five rebounds and four assists per game. 

As Banghart begins her first season in Chapel Hill, all players hope to put on an impressive showing. With the combination of returning seniors and incoming talent, the Tar Heels are set on filling the gaps left by the departure of Watts, Walker and Kea. If all goes well, they'll be well on their way back to national prominence and with that, another shot at a March Madness appearance.


@DTHSports |

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