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Thursday February 25th

Analysis: First-year guards set to step into the limelight for UNC women's basketball

Tar Heel redshirt junior guard Stephanie Watts (5) attempts a shot against Wolfpack Senior Forward DD Rogers (22) during the UNC's 64-51 win against NC State at Reynolds Coliseum on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019 in Raleigh, NC. The Tar Heels Women's Basketball Team (14-9) handed the Wolfpack (21-1) their first loss of the season.
Buy Photos Tar Heel redshirt junior guard Stephanie Watts (5) attempts a shot against Wolfpack Senior Forward DD Rogers (22) during the UNC's 64-51 win against NC State at Reynolds Coliseum on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019 in Raleigh, NC. The Tar Heels Women's Basketball Team (14-9) handed the Wolfpack (21-1) their first loss of the season.

After her first recruiting haul as the North Carolina women's basketball head coach, Courtney Banghart has only one returning member of last year's guard rotation. Still, this team is far from inexperienced.

The Tar Heels will look to utilize new first-year talent with its guards to improve in their 2020-2021 season, while counting on seasoned graduate transfers and sophomores to step into leadership roles. 

With a 16-14 record last year, North Carolina relied heavily on senior and team captain Taylor Koenen, who led the team in scoring with 14.7 points per game. The Tar Heels also lost Madinah Muhammad, who averaged 12.6 point per game last season, and Shayla Bennett, who led the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio and averaged 13.3 points per game.

But this season’s graduate transfers come with impressive statistics of their own.

Petra Holešínská, a graduate transfer from Illinois, led the Fighting Illini in scoring last season, averaging 12.6 points per game and earning honorable mention All-Big Ten recognition. 

Graduate transfer Stephanie Watts will return to UNC after graduating in 2019. In her 2018-19 season as a redshirt junior at UNC, Watts averaged 15.2 points per game while hitting a team-high 82 three-pointers, good for fifth in program history for a single season. After spending a season at Southern California, Watts will be an important player to watch as her experience in Chapel Hill gives her a unique perspective and starting point going into the year.

Outside of the graduate transfers, incoming first-years have already amassed impressive accolades of their own.

First-year Deja Kelly will enter UNC as a 2020 McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand All-American. Kelly was ranked No. 10 nationally and fourth at her position by ESPNW, and has the potential to be a break-out star for UNC and national recognition at the collegiate level. 

Kennedy Todd-Williams, a Jacksonville, North Carolina native, was ranked No. 1 in the state by Prep Girls Hoops North Carolina before heading into her first-year campaign at UNC. Todd-Williams was also District Player of the Year and first team All-State as a senior in 2020.

Returning sophomore Kennady Tucker was also mentioned when discussing the potential to fill the shoes left by Koenen and Muhammad after last year. She is the only returner from last year's guard rotation, playing in all 30 games last year. Having worked with Banghart for a year already, her potential as a leader and scorer is something to watch this upcoming season as the Tar Heels look to bounce back from their eight game losing streak to end the last campaign.

Another looming question is how UNC will fill Muhammad's role as the team's starting point guard and primary ball-handler.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Banghart said she feels lucky to have flexible guards who could play either one of the two, but has a few players in mind who she would like to see in the point guard position.

“Kennedy Todd-Williams is no secret,” Banghart said. “She is a Scottie Pippen, like, identical twin. I think she is so good it’s dumb. Obviously Petra (Holešínská) and Watts have a ton of experience there as well."

Banghart said the Tar Heels could run a point guard by committee system when the season tips off in Carmichael Arena against Radford on Nov. 25.

“We’ve got so many wings that can help us in different ways from one another,” Banghart said. “So I think it’s a little bit by committee, and a little bit by health, and a little bit by where we are week-to-week due to the virus.”

@sophiaczek

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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