Entering this season, there’s one accolade — or rather, one reputation — Armando Bacot is after.
“I kind of want to be nasty,” Bacot said at the ACC Basketball Tipoff in October. “I want people not to like me, too. That’s something I’m definitely trying to do.”
There’s little that Bacot, the star center on UNC's men's basketball team, feels he still needs to prove to onlookers. Before being named the Preseason ACC Player of the Year and an AP preseason All-American, Bacot told the media that he thought he was the best player in the conference.
When fielding questions in the main room of the Westin Charlotte, Bacot seemed largely uninterested, offering one-line responses to the dismay and subtle laughter of the reporters in attendance.
However, Bacot's face lit up when he was later asked if Louisville fans “got at him” on social media following last year’s matchup — a 90-83 overtime thriller in which officials issued Jae’Lyn Withers a dead ball technical foul for shoving Bacot.
“I loved it,” he said. “I think it’s funny. Situations like that, where I’m making people mad and stuff like that, I think that’s something really I want to hone in on this year, too. Just, not being so much of a nice guy.”
There’s no pressure on Bacot to break UNC’s single-season rebound record, lead the nation in double-doubles or carry the team to a national championship game — those feats are all behind him. But as Bacot faces possibly his last season as a Tar Heel, he’s eyeing both a national championship and the ACC Player of the Year award he narrowly missed last year. If he has to be a little mean to reach the mountaintop, that’s fine with him.
And Bacot wants both his competitors and peers to be mean right back — it fires him up.
The Richmond, Va. native said that former head coach Roy Williams and current head coach Hubert Davis yell at him “more than anybody.”
“They know for me, you’ve got to really talk to me in a certain way to get me going versus other guys,” Bacot said. “They need encouragement. I’m more the opposite; I want you to come after me.”
When asked about Bacot's claims in an Oct. 27 press conference, Hubert Davis replied with a laugh.
“I don’t know about that,” he said. Davis did admit, though, that he has to get on Bacot from time to time.
“For Armando, because he’s so gifted, things at times come easy for him,” Davis said.
Davis said he often talks to Bacot about the “attention to detail, the fundamentals and the hard work” that will set him apart from other players. In addition to wanting to be “nasty,” Bacot has worked in the offseason to expand his versatility to better fit into Davis’ newer pro-style offense.
“I know at the next level I won’t post up at all just because I’m not Joel Embiid,” Bacot said. “So (UNC's offensive scheme) allowed me to do those different things and those small things where I can find a niche and be a good role player.”
While Bacot continues to improve every year, Davis cited a significant uptick in his intensity on defense over the summer. Bacot, who led the team in blocks with 65 last season, has worked on extending his range on defense, improving his ability to guard ball screens and out on the perimeter.
Bacot’s looking to extend his range on offense as well. Davis said his ball-handling skills are enhanced, and noted that he allows the 6-foot-11 senior to bring the ball up the court after a rebound. This is a tool that, if true, will add to UNC’s fast break abilities in the upcoming season.
Still, as Bacot is fine-tuning his craft and villain persona, he’s had to push back against other labels pressed upon him by coaches and teammates.
“His enthusiasm out there on the floor, having that out there from an experienced player is extremely valuable,” Davis said of the veteran’s impact in offseason practices.
But Bacot isn’t a "pat-you-on-the-back" kind of leader to his younger teammates. He wants it to be known that his mean streak extends to his own squad as well.
“I always mess with the freshmen too,” Bacot said when asked at the ACC Tipoff how he’d prepare his younger teammates for tough crowds in the upcoming season. “Even before Live Action, I’m messing with Seth (Trimble) trying to get him nervous for the game.”
Bacot’s also drawn attention for his reported at least half a million dollars in NIL earnings and soon-to-be-seen appearance in the Netflix show "Outer Banks." With all of that stardom, though, comes a pesty jeer the forward has to combat.
“I call him 'Hollywood,'” teammate Leaky Black said at UNC’s summer media day. “I’ve been calling him 'Hollywood' for the longest. He’s just so boujee now man.”
However, the graduate wing did reveal another nickname for his “little brother” that he admitted he’s “super proud of” — Mr. Double-Double.
Whatever you call him — a versatile forward, a veteran leader or “Hollywood” — Bacot doesn’t care.
In a year where the senior will be aiming to wrap up his college career with a national championship, an ACC Player of the Year nod, and become one of two Tar Heels in the last 50 seasons to average a double-double for their career, Bacot could care less whether his competitors like him or not.
In fact, he’d prefer that they don’t.
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