In his four seasons at North Carolina, senior forward Leaky Black has seen the highs and lows of UNC basketball.
He’s played on a team with three first round NBA draft picks, and he’s also played on a team that missed the NCAA Tournament. Black has swept the Duke Blue Devils in the regular season, and he's been swept by the team’s in-state rival while at UNC. He’s played under Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams and first-year head coach Hubert Davis.
But on Sunday, Black will do something he’s never done as a Tar Heel — play in the Elite Eight.
The furthest he’s been in the tournament was the Sweet 16 in 2019, when his team lost to Auburn.
In his next two seasons, his team went a combined 32-30 and played in just one NCAA Tournament game, losing to Wisconsin, 85-62.
Now in his senior season, Black has the opportunity to take those experiences and guide the team against St. Peter’s on Sunday.
“I just try to feed the guys to just stay hungry for success,” Black said.
He’s embraced his role at North Carolina as a defensive stalwart. He’s often tasked with the team’s toughest assignment, whether it’s Duke’s Paolo Banchero, Syracuse’s Buddy Boeheim or Virginia’s Kihei Clark.
His ability to defend all five positions changes the dynamic of UNC’s defense and makes it difficult for many opponents to reach their average point totals.
This defensive mindset rubs off on younger teammates, including sophomore guard Caleb Love. He often asks Black about his defensive strategies, whether it’s guarding certain players or moving in a certain way.
“I'm always picking his brain because that's the best thing about him,” Love said. “He's always teaching us things that he does well.”
With nearly four whole season of UNC basketball under his belt, Black has seen a lot of Division I basketball. While many have been shocked at the Tar Heels upsetting the top-seeded Baylor Bears or No. 4 UCLA, it’s nothing that Black isn’t used to.
“A lot of guys are equally good,” he said. “It's just whoever has the most confidence is the ones who are gonna stand out. If we're out there playing with confidence and playing with a chip on our shoulder, obviously, the last couple of weeks, we've shown that we can be a pretty good team.”
For years, Black has gone through the rigor of ACC basketball. In his first season in 2019, the conference had three No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, the Tar Heels being one of them.
This season, the conference sent five teams to the Big Dance. While none of them are No. 1 seeds, three have advanced to the Elite Eight.
Black said he doesn't watch much of the tournament, but his teammates will sometimes alert him on which teams are advancing.
For this year's North Carolina team, the focus remains on the Peacocks and the opportunity to reach the Final Four for the first time since the 2017 National Championship.
And beyond younger players, Black's influence has carried to the team's oldest player this season — graduate transfer Brady Manek.
Manek never advanced past the Round of 32 at Oklahoma. During his lone season as a Tar Heel, his goal was to at least make it to the Sweet 16.
“And we’ve done that,” Manek said. “It's switched from making the Sweet 16. I want to make it to the third weekend, I want to play on the big stage.”
Playing alongside Black has provided the college basketball veteran with insight on advancing in the tournament and getting to New Orleans.
“Building up to that game last night, he was talking about how important it is and what it's like being here and playing in that game,” Manek said.
North Carolina’s Elite Eight game on Sunday will be the first for everyone on its roster, including Black.
And though he’s entering uncharted territory, he won’t do it alone.
@dthsports | email@example.com
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