Carlie Littlefield, the 2021-2022 UNC women’s basketball starting point guard, is finding a silver lining next year in Belgium.
The North Carolina women’s basketball program announced on Saturday that Littlefield signed a contract with the Liège Panthers. She will begin competing with the Panthers in the Belgium League in September while completing her Kenan-Flagler Business School MBA through online coursework.
"The Liège Panthers just got one of the best true point guards in the country,” said head coach Courtney Banghart in UNC’s press release on Saturday.
This wasn’t always the plan for Littlefield, who anticipated returning to action for the Tar Heels before the NCAA ruled against her waiver request for an extra year of COVID-19 eligibility.
Banghart called Littlefield on the night of April 13 to inform her of the news.
“Immediately I got that pit in my stomach because I wasn’t sure if I was going to be done with college basketball or not, so that was the moment I knew that college basketball had run its course with me,” Littlefield said. “So my mind immediately went to the team and how I would never get to play with them again.”
Despite the disappointing result of her waiver request, Littlefield knew that “this was happening for a reason,” and shifted her focus towards finding the “silver lining” of the situation.
Littlefield is continuing to train in Chapel Hill with the UNC team this summer and is also competing in the 3x3 professional women’s basketball league as part of the Chicago Force 10. Alongside Alexus Dye, Natalie Kucowski and Delicia Washington, Littlefield is taking part in tournaments over the course of five weekends this summer.
Through the 3x3 league, Littlefield reconnected with Blake Dietrick, another former Princeton Tiger who reached out in May to recommend the league to Littlefield.
“We had a training camp in May and she came to Chicago and we were roommates for the weekend, and it was super fun,” Dietrick said. “Then she got placed on her team and that’s about it. But Carlie was definitely excited about it from the beginning which was super exciting because some people don’t know about 3-on-3 or don’t really care about 3-on-3, but she was ready to try something new.”
With her 3x3 experience, Littlefield’s eyes were opened to a different style of basketball — a quicker game that requires players to cover a lot more ground than traditional 5-on-5 basketball.
“I think it’s just getting me good at a lot of different aspects of the game,” Littlefield said. “And it definitely keeps you in shape because it’s a continuous style of play, so I’ve been gassed the first few tournaments. It’s just so fun to meet new girls too and hear about their professional experiences.”
Among the players she’s heard from, Littlefield said that Dietrick “has been a great mentor” for her first venture into overseas play. Dietrick’s words of wisdom come from her own years of playing overseas, combined with advice relayed from her former teammate Brittany Brewer, who recently finished up the 2021-2022 season competing for the Liège Panthers.
According to Dietrick, this wealth of information is critical in helping players like Littlefield have a successful first year playing abroad.
“That first year can really make or break you overseas,” Dietrick said. “If you have a miserable time it’s hard to get yourself to go again. But if you have a great time it’s easy to keep playing if that’s truly what you want to do. I think she’s going to have a great time. I think this team is going to be awesome and it’s going to be a good fit for her.”
Littlefield, who just a few months ago was devastated by the unexpected end to her collegiate career, is now thrilled to make this leap and finally find the silver lining she began her search for in April.
“I think I’m just excited to meet more awesome female players and hear about their experiences,” Littlefield said. “Obviously, it’s totally different overseas play versus here, so I just can’t wait to see the style of play and the main lessons they’ve learned from being overseas."