After a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, the North Carolina men's junior varsity basketball program is back.
The Dean E. Smith Center saw 49 new faces on its court last Monday and Tuesday for tryouts before the 17-man roster was announced Wednesday. The team will be coached by Jackie Manuel, who was a captain on UNC’s 2005 national championship team.
Manuel joined head coach Hubert Davis’s staff for the 2021-22 season after serving as director of player personnel, development and recruiting operations for the UNC women’s basketball team. He said that UNC’s JV program is part of what “makes Carolina unique."
“It really gives those guys a chance to live out their dreams and be able to play on the same floor as our varsity teams and past Carolina greats,” Manuel said.
The program began as a team for first-years, as NCAA rules used to prohibit players from playing during their first year of college. This rule changed in 1972, but UNC’s JV team stuck.
The program has some notable alumni.
Previous coaches of the team include former UNC head coach Roy Williams and current head coach Hubert Davis. UNC assistant coach Brad Frederick, former UNC-Wilmington head coach C.B. McGrath and current Stanford head coach Jerod Haase all got their start coaching North Carolina’s JV team as well.
Current varsity players Jackson Watkins, Rob Landry and Duwe Farris started out playing JV and since have become fan favorites as a part of the "Biscuit Boys."
To get the word out about tryouts, announcements were made on the UNC basketball website and Twitter account, and Manuel held an interest meeting in early September.
“I didn't know what to expect,” Manuel said. “I was really going into this, like, you know, ‘We get ten, great. That's awesome'.”
Instead, 49 candidates showed up to vie for a spot. The players participated in scrimmages and numerous drills involving layups, passing, dribbling and defensive skills. Manuel had the participants run a set of sprints, too.
Joshua Crews, who ended up being one of 13 sophomores named to the roster, said that tryouts “were definitely harder than I expected.” Crews transferred to UNC from the University of South Carolina, where he was a practice player for the women’s basketball team – the 2022 national champions.
“The running was insane,” Crews said. “Just learning that at this level, conditioning is huge. I think a lot of people think, going into it, it's going to be all about who's the most skilled, who can play iso ball and score. But it's really all the small things, like communication, playing defense, being able to run, all those things played a big factor.”
It’s true, Manuel was focused on more than just pure talent. He said he was looking for the “right fit” for the team, rather than trying to build an all-star squad.
“It was challenging because there were a lot of really good players and great kids who played hard,” he said. “But it was so many different factors that played a role in coming away with the decision that we made on picking our roster.”
Crews made the team along with his high school teammate and best friend, Evan Abolins. As a first-year last year, Abolins played as a practice player for the UNC women’s basketball team in addition to playing club basketball. Despite its two-year hiatus, both Abolins and Crews have known about the JV program for a while.
“We knew we were both going to go out,” Abolins said. “Now we both got to make it, which is just kind of crazy to think about. All the hard work is kind of paying off. We would oftentimes be the only two going in to shoot early in the morning before high school and now we’re here.”
The team’s 20-game schedule will consist solely of home games played in the Dean E. Smith Center. Most games will precede the Varsity squad’s games, beginning on Oct. 28 with both teams’ debuts.
Manuel said he's "really excited about the experience" and what it will hold for his players.
“I just want them to look back on their career here and their time here and say, ‘You know what, man, I remember my JV days, and I loved it,’” Manuel said.
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