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Sunday December 5th

After disappointing first season, UNC hooper Caleb Love is looking for revenge

UNC sophomore guard Caleb Love smiles at the 2021 ACC Men's Basketball Tipoff in Charlotte, NC on Oct. 12.
Buy Photos UNC sophomore guard Caleb Love smiles at the 2021 ACC Men's Basketball Tipoff in Charlotte, NC on Oct. 12.

Caleb Love has heard all the noise, and if you ask him, there has been plenty. 

After inheriting the coveted North Carolina starting point guard position and being tagged as the savior that would revamp the Tar Heels’ dormant offense from the previous year, Love’s play was volatile during his first season in Chapel Hill. Each time he appeared to turn the corner — most notably combining for 43 points and 14 assists in two wins against Duke — there would be another dud that left the Twitter warriors warming up their fingers. 

For someone that arrived on campus as a potential top-10 NBA Draft pick, spending two seasons in the collegiate ranks is likely far from what the former blue chipper envisioned. But when Love announced he would be returning to the team back in March, his midseason angst that required meditation and post-game shooting in an empty Smith Center seemed to vanish. 

With his swagger back in the fold, he is looking forward to putting the Tar Heels — and himself — back on the map.

“I was so hard on myself last year to a point where I was focusing on the wrong things,” Love said at the ACC Tipoff. “And I feel like this year, I just took the burden off of me, and I'm just going to go out there and hoop.”

Successful North Carolina teams have been predicated on strong guard play, but comparing Love to the likes of those that came before him doesn’t tell the whole story. It typically takes years to master the UNC offensive system, and although some first-year point guards have been exceptions — Kendall Marshall, Coby White and to some extent, Cole Anthony — those players didn’t have to get their feet wet during a pandemic. 

After compromising much of the previous offseason, Love said he gets to the gym every morning by 8 a.m. for the first of his three daily workouts, not including practice. Here, he works through shooting drills with former Tar Heel Brandon Robinson, who is now a graduate assistant.

“Because of COVID, I couldn’t get in the workouts that I’m getting now,” Love said.

With an athletic six-foot-four frame, Love’s bread-and-butter is getting downhill and attacking the rim. But last season, driving lanes were closed quickly with two non-shooting bigs frequently hoarding space on the low blocks.

Since new head coach Hubert Davis took over for Roy Williams in April, there has been a new emphasis on each player being able to space the floor. Incoming transfers Brady Manek and Dawson Garcia are both respectable marksmen for big men — shooting 38 and 36 percent last season from deep, respectively — and junior Armando Bacot has also worked on expanding his game, making 1,000 threes per week over the summer.

So far, Davis is intrigued by how this new scheme can unlock another level to Love’s game.

“I think he’s going to lead the league in free throw attempts,” Davis said. “Now that we have spacing and balance, with his strength and athleticism he can get to the cup anytime he wants.”

Davis also added that Love’s strength and lateral quickness will give him a chance to compete for the ACC Defensive Player of the Year Award, while also mentioning that his feel for the game has reached the point where he can vie for the league’s assist crown. 

The players that take the floor with him feel similarly about his development, and they also note how his impact has allowed everyone’s game to grow. 

"He's definitely gotten a lot better as a decision maker and the way he tries to score the ball has been a lot more simple,” Bacot said. “He's been stepping in as leader, too, and just limiting his mistakes.”

Looking ahead to the new season, Love’s main goal has remained unchanged. He wants the Tar Heels to be the last team standing in April, and he expects to play a big role in that assignment.

But as competitive as Love is, he’d be lying if he told you there wasn’t something more personal on his mind. With a renewed sense of confidence, he’s also playing to silence those that turned against him. 

"I've definitely got a chip on my shoulder coming in this year,” Love said. “I feel like a lot of people wrote me off and that's fine. I had this full offseason and I've been in the lab all day, every day basically, and I feel like I'm coming."  


@DTHSports |

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