Liz Roberts’ path to being a scholarship athlete was anything but linear.
Her journey was unexpected, but it changed the trajectory of her life. Despite coming to Chapel Hill as a walk-on, Roberts’ passion for the game helped her blaze a path that will leave a lasting legacy with the North Carolina women’s basketball team.
Roberts started playing varsity basketball in eighth grade. During her high school career at Durham Academy, she notched over 1,000 points en route to the school’s career scoring record — earning an invite to the North Carolina Private School All-Star game.
After leaving a legacy behind and graduating from high school, Roberts believed that her playing days were over. Growing up in Chapel Hill, she kept UNC basketball close to her heart, but assumed that her time at UNC would be purely academic.
Now, after spending four years with the North Carolina women's basketball team, it's clear that her growing legacy at UNC has gone far beyond the classroom. After graduating in May, she's gone on to work as a volunteer assistant coach with the program and has prepared herself to continue impacting the lives of young athletes.
But before she worked her way up the ladder at UNC, she was shocked to receive an invitation to try out for the Tar Heels, and even more elated when she got the call that she would be walking on with the team. The moment she walked on changed not only her college career, but her life as a whole.
Roberts played in only seven games as a first-year, seven as a sophomore, two as a junior and 13 as a senior — scoring eight points in a combined 55 minutes on the court.
But beyond her limited on-court impact, Roberts' presence had a morale-boosting influence on the Tar Heels.
“The days that everybody else was down, she was always the one stepping up and encouraging,” former teammate and current player Janelle Bailey said.
Small moments shared with the team are what Roberts remembers most about her time in Chapel Hill. For her, the most memorable moments were not the games they won or lost, but the 6 a.m. practices and team dinners that remind her of the joys of being on a collegiate team.
'Still gives me chills'
For Roberts, there was one day that stood above the rest. During her senior year in 2019, an average day at practice suddenly turned into something more.
Head coach Courtney Banghart had called the team to watch film and started talking about a player who was particularly hardworking, selfless and driven. Roberts was under the impression that Banghart was going to be announcing captains. With that in mind, her only thought was finding a way to get up and across the room to give the person a hug.
Next thing she knew, her name was called. Banghart said she would be receiving an athletic scholarship.
“When I heard my name, in that moment, I kind of blacked everything else out,” Roberts said.
As her teammates swarmed her with excitement, Roberts could not believe that her walk-on tryout as a first-year had turned into a scholarship. On the day the announcement was made, Banghart asked Roberts to call her parents.
“Telling them what had happened still gives me chills,” Roberts said. “They drive up and down the highway when you’re in middle school and high school taking you to tournaments and practices. You feel like that moment was for them — and it was."
Parents spend countless hours supporting an athlete’s dreams, whether that means pushing them to become the best player they can be or simply supporting them through low points. For Roberts, earning a scholarship was a moment of thankfulness for the people who had helped to get her there.
“I’ve been in coaching and teaching for a long time, and she is just part of the top 0.1 percent in terms of her quality level as a teammate and her dedication to the journey,” Banghart said.
'A bright light'
With the 2019-20 campaign being Roberts' senior season, her time playing was coming to an end. She graduated in spring 2020 with a degree in exercise and sports science with a concentration in sports administration and a minor in coaching education.
Now, she's studying in UNC’s sport administration master’s degree program.
While pursuing her graduate degree, Roberts is applying her classroom skills in her role as a volunteer assistant coach for the Tar Heels. Her experience with North Carolina was a driving factor in her decision to coach and teach as a way of giving back.
“Exactly the way she was as a player is how she is on our coaching staff — she is a bright light,” Banghart said.
After completing her degree, Roberts hopes to stay involved in athletics. She wants to be able to interact with young athletes and impact them in the same way that she was impacted by those around her during her time in Chapel Hill.
“I don’t think that there is any other place or profession where you can genuinely change students like that,” Roberts said.
Through hard work and immense spirit, Roberts has evolved from a walk-on player to someone who has left a lasting impact at UNC. For everything she's gotten — receiving a scholarship for her dedication and finding a role on the coaching staff — she's had to work for it.
Looking forward, she will look to continue changing the lives of young athletes, just as she once experienced.
“My four years at UNC cultivated an immense gratitude for what college athletics is and what it stands for,” Roberts said.