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Jae'Lyn Withers brings outside shooting and versatility to power forward position

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UNC graduate student forward Jae’Lyn Withers (24), pictured during the scrimmage game at the ‘Live Action with Carolina Basketball’ event on Oct. 13, 2023, at the Dean E. Smith Center.

While the Louisville Cardinals were one of the Power Five's worst teams last season with a 4-28 record, it still wasn't easy for forward Jae’Lyn Withers to leave.

“I felt like I needed to give it one more shot,” Withers said. “But I think that I gave Louisville a lot of, not only my mental [energy], but as well as my physical [energy]. I think it was time for a change.”

What was easy? Coming home.

A Charlotte native, Withers returned to North Carolina after transferring from North Mecklenburg to Cleveland Heights in Ohio for his senior year of high school and playing his first three collegiate seasons at Louisville. Over those three years for the Cardinals, he averaged eight points and 5.6 rebounds in 81 games, making the graduate student an under-the-radar addition as part of a huge influx of transfers for UNC. 

“This is a lifelong dream," Withers said. "Who wouldn’t want to play for Chapel Hill? It's so much history that goes into these colors and this program. Being able to play here and being from North Carolina, it’s amazing.”

In his blood

While he played recreational and AAU basketball when he was younger, Withers said he didn’t start taking the game seriously until eighth grade. 

Once he realized he couldn't rely on his height and athleticism, he started to work harder. His jump shot, however, came naturally.

“I could always shoot the ball pretty good,” Withers said. “I always used to practice circus shots and they would be normal whenever it came game time.”

After all, basketball is in his blood. 

His dad, Curtis Withers, was a college star at Charlotte. He was named All-Conference for the 49ers three times and went on to play professionally overseas. Jae’Lyn’s dad has pushed him to get better and provided a lot of motivation and perspective.

“Every day he tells me [to] stay in the gym,” Jae’Lyn said. “Don’t let nobody get a step ahead of you. He says, day in and day out, whenever I talk to him, enjoy the moment because this is an experience he always wanted to have.”

Family is very important to Jae’Lyn. A big factor in the Charlotte native transferring to UNC was to be closer to his family so they could attend more games. Given he was born when his dad was only 16, he has grown up alongside his parents.

“My mom is definitely my mom, but I definitely see my dad as like a brother to an extent,” Jae’Lyn said. “We grew up and experienced a lot of the same things.”

One of 14

In his junior year of high school, Jae’Lyn averaged a double-double, was named first team all-state and led North Mecklenburg to a 27-2 record. In his senior year at Cleveland Heights, he averaged 19.8 points and 9.7 rebounds. Despite a successful high school career, UNC did not recruit him then.

Head coach Hubert Davis did this time.

Davis directly reached out to Jae’Lyn after he entered the transfer portal. His pitch was simple. The Tar Heels needed a 4-man who could make a big impact this season, and Jae’Lyn will look to do just that.

He brings versatility on both ends to the power forward position. In addition to highlight reel dunks, he can also stretch the floor, having shot 41.7 percent from three last season at Louisville. Jae’Lyn hopes to take his game to the next level this year by improving his efficiency and consistency. 

Defensively, Davis has helped him get better. Jae’Lyn’s length and strength, combined with his quickness, allow him to guard any position. He compared himself to Leaky Black on the defensive end and set a personal goal to win ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

But Jae’Lyn, what do you really want to get out of your time in Chapel Hill?

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“That’s a rhetorical question,” Jae’Lyn said with a chuckle. “Of course a natty. Everybody wants that whenever they come here.”

He is just one of 14 working towards a common goal. The culture and chemistry are strong. And Jae’Lyn said everyone — “one through 14" — has made strides so far and that everyone brings pieces to the court that make him and the team better. 

So, what will Jae’Lyn and his teammates need to do to achieve that goal?

“I think that through the tough days and the storms, we have to stay together,” Jae’Lyn said. “I think that’s honestly what gets it to where teams can hang up banners. We pick each other up whenever we fall. And I think that, if one through 14, we do that, I think that’ll take us a decent amount of the way."

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com