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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC men's basketball's melting pot of experience sets up hopes for redemption

UNC men's basketball head coach Hubert Davis directs his team from the sidelines during the exhibition game against JCSU at the Dean Smith Center on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022. UNC beat JCSU 101-40.

It’s no secret that UNC men’s basketball fell short of expectations last season. It’s also widely known that the Tar Heels were the first preseason AP No.1 team to miss the NCAA Tournament. 

Last season’s team was often unpredictable, but what followed was even more hectic.

Seven players transferred from the program, and seven new players have walked right back through the revolving door of faces that typifies modern college basketball. The changes and pivoting that have occurred this offseason have made it difficult to reflect on the end of last season — and something head coach Hubert Davis hadn't publicly done until July 20.

“We were disappointed,” Davis said. “We had hopes and expectations and dreams of what we could become. And, at the end of the day, for a number of reasons, we just didn’t reach our full potential.”

Ultimately, the end of one season marks the beginning of the next, and there are tangible things that can be improved that Davis feels will help the Tar Heels in the 2023-24 season. 

The first two things are shooting and passing. UNC ranked dead last in the ACC in three-point shooting last season, and in the bottom three in assists per game. Now, Davis thinks the Tar Heels’ roster is constructed to improve these struggles. 

“I think the team we have now, we’re a better shooting team,” Davis said. “I think we have multiple playmakers now. I really like the mix and the combinations of this team.”

The team was pieced together rapidly during the offseason. From transfers to first-years to retaining players, the roster was built on the fly. The puzzle pieces for this team were dumped into a melting pot, and have begun to stick together, forming bonds and forging an identity.

“The personalities just work together," Davis said. "There’s a desire to be good from a different direction. There’s a sense of urgency and competitiveness and drive that’s coming from different directions but all meeting in the same place.”

It all starts with the guys who have stuck around. Armando Bacot, UNC’s all-time rebounding leader, is back for his fifth and final year. The Tar Heels’ floor general, senior RJ Davis is back as well, and the pair of veterans form the backbone of this year’s team.

"They have done an unbelievable job of creating team and getting the new guys — not just the freshmen but also the transfers — acclimated to what this program is about and what our team is going to be about,” Davis said. “That came naturally. This is something that they took personally for themselves, to be leaders. This team is together because of those two guys."

The leadership of the team goes beyond Bacot and RJ Davis, though. The transfers coming into the program are bringing experience with them. 

Cormac Ryan is a graduate transfer from intra-conference foe Notre Dame. Ryan can shoot, play off the bounce and compete defensively. He is best known for his prowess as a shooter, but another quality stood out to Davis.

“Probably the biggest area I didn’t know is what kind of a leader he is,” Davis said. “He’s a gatherer. He is a vocal leader in the locker room, on the court, off the court and just brings teammates together.”

That seems to be the commonality — leaders. Guys that have bought into UNC and are bringing their experience into this amalgamation of Tar Heels. Ryan, Harrison Ingram, James Okonkwo, Jae’Lyn Withers and Paxson Wojcik all transferred from different places, but they all share one thing: at least two years of experience.

Package that with the talented skill sets of incoming first-years Elliot Cadeau and Zayden High and there’s something to be excited about.

More than anyone, Bacot exemplifies the essence of this team. There are a lot of veterans, a lot of final chances in Chapel Hill this season, and none are more seasoned than Bacot. 

“I’m really excited to see that type of, ‘I only have one year left’ mentality out there on the floor,” Davis said.


@dthsports |

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