As the North Carolina women’s basketball team heads into its second season under head coach Courtney Banghart, its wings could spark early success on the court.
The Tar Heels finished their 2019-2020 season with an overall 16-14 record, stifled by an eight-game losing streak at the end of the year, including a loss to Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC Tournament.
Looking to tighten up some of the loose ends from last year, a wave of young talent mixed with experienced returning players could be pivotal in building back the depth that UNC lacked on the court last year.
“We are in a different environment now with five freshmen, all of whom are very talented and who will see considerable minutes,” Banghart said in a Nov. 11 press conference.
Alyssa Ustby, a first-year wing, is a three-star recruit from Minnesota. She is best described as a versatile player on the court whose strong passing and dribble-drive attack make her the perfect wing in the low-post position and behind the arc.
Another first-year combo guard, five-star recruit Deja Kelly, brings an elite style of play and could help UNC secure wins early on in her career. Kelly is described in her ESPN recruiting profile as having a high basketball IQ, and her confidence in the guard position could carry the team to new heights.
“She wants to be coached, she wants to be great,” Banghart said. “She’s not the princess, primadonna that sometimes you get with stars. She wants to roll up her sleeves and get to work.”
First-year guard Kennedy Todd-Williams could also drive the team's success this season. She executes precise passes into the lane and performs well on the defensive end. Banghart compared the first-year's game to NBA Hall-of-Famer Scottie Pippen.
With a mix of both offensive and defensive capabilities, the new wings should enhance the team’s performance on both sides of the ball. Their defensive effort to stop opponents short of the basket could give the Tar Heels a leg up on the court this season and allow North Carolina to get open looks from beyond the arc in the transition and in set pieces.
Petra Holešínská, a graduate transfer guard, is another player who could thrive as a wing this year. Her experience and skill are traits that younger players can learn from. Banghart also said Kennady Tucker, a returning sophomore, has improved significantly at the shooting guard position.
The speed and agility of the wings will also contribute to the pace and depth Banghart said is already much improved from last year. The incoming wave of young talent mixes well with the style of players like center Janelle Bailey and guard Ariel Young. Bailey was a regular starter last season who was crucial in securing wins for UNC in the low post. Young, a redshirt sophomore transfer from Michigan, is another wing who will add to UNC's on-the-court formula.
Given the strong attack, consistent shooting, passing and defensive work of the wings this season, along with their youth and excitement for the game, North Carolina should compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament come season's end.
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