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Friday May 27th

'He worked his butt off': Armando Bacot vaults his way into ACC Player of the Year race

<p>Junior forward Armando Bacot (5) is interviewed by broadcasters after his career-high 29 point performance at the game against Virginia at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill on Jan. 8, 2022. UNC won 74-58.</p>
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Junior forward Armando Bacot (5) is interviewed by broadcasters after his career-high 29 point performance at the game against Virginia at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill on Jan. 8, 2022. UNC won 74-58.

Armando Bacot was a good starting center the moment he walked onto UNC’s campus, but he was rarely featured as a main offensive option in his first two years in Chapel Hill.

This season, the junior has finally become the focal point he knew he was always capable of being — and he did it all while staying true to his dominance in the paint.

With 3-point shooting becoming an essential quality in prototypical modern-day NBA centers, Bacot has continued to specialize in inside scoring, believing it was the best thing he could do to help the team win.

“Right now with me being so dominant in the paint, there’s really no reason for me to lean on a jump shot when I can grab a rebound for one of my teammates to shoot it and score at will in the post and around the rim,” he said. “I just try to do what I’m best at first.”

Head coach Hubert Davis has encouraged him to expand his range and Bacot has worked on his shooting, reportedly making 1,000 3-pointers a week during the offseason. 

“He worked his butt off,” senior wing Leaky Black said after the team’s home win against Georgia Tech on Jan. 15. “I just see him shooting threes every day, working on stretching his game out.”

It was during that win over the Yellow Jackets when Bacot shot his current season-high in 3-point attempts. He scored 29 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, albeit shooting 0-2 from beyond the arc. 

Bacot has only attempted four other triples this year, and he's drilled only one — the sole make of his collegiate career.

“Even though Armando can shoot the ball from the outside and he has the green light to be able to do it, the thing that he does best is finish around the basket and rebound the basketball," Davis said.

The Richmond, Va., native went viral on social media this summer after an edited preseason photo of him flexing his arms displayed a noticeable increase in his muscle size. That apparent build has been on full display on the court this season, as he continuously bullies smaller defenders to create good scoring chances and boxes out other big men for contested rebounds.

But his inside game is not just reliant on his strength. Bacot has added to his repertoire of post moves and shot fakes a new element of finesse that has helped him emerge as the team’s leading scorer.

Even when these new moves don’t work and shots don’t fall, he has developed his mentality to be able to recover from those bad games.

“Even when I shot 1-10, I still felt just as confident as if I shot 10-10,” Bacot said. “I think that was something that kinda hindered me a little bit my freshman year.”

He’s now put himself into the ACC Player of the Year conversation, despite the Tar Heels' up-and-down year.

Through every embarrassing loss and each morale-boosting victory, Bacot consistently posts impressive stat lines.

He recently went on a 10-game double-double streak that ended in North Carolina’s home win over Boston College last Wednesday. He also became the 79th player in program history to score 1,000 career points during Saturday’s win over N.C. State.

In that same game against the Wolfpack, he compiled six total blocks — adding to his career-high of 1.5 blocks per game — proving he can take over a game on the defensive end, as well. He has also nearly doubled his defensive rebound total from last year, which has helped him average almost four more rebounds than his previous season best. 

While it may not show in his shooting stats, his other numbers prove he has taken the jump into stardom.

“It’s all of his hard work, his dedication, his mindset, his will, his want to and his toughness,” Davis said. “It’s all about him — 100 percent him.”

Bacot believes we haven’t seen the best of UNC basketball. He hopes that the team will get hot at the right time and make a NCAA Tournament run.

And he knows if the Tar Heels are going to do that, they need him to be at the top of his game.

If he’s right about his team’s future, that means we also haven’t seen the best of Armando Bacot.

“I've been having a pretty good year, I can’t even lie to you,” Bacot said. “But I feel like there’s another level I can take my game to give UNC, the fans and the team even more. I feel like there’s another step I can take.”

@ryanheller23

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com 

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