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'Unlike anybody I’ve ever coached': Elliot Cadeau to bring pass-first mentality to UNC

UNC first-year guard Elliot Cadeau (2) drives towards the basket the men’s basketball scrimmage versus St. Augustine’s on Friday, Oct. 27, 2023 in the Dean E. Smith Center. The Tar Heels won 117-53.

Up until he recently had surgery in Chapel Hill, Elliot Cadeau was basically blind in his left eye due to a genetic disease called keratoconus.

Yet, despite this, Bill Armstrong, Cadeau’s coach at Link Academy, would tell you his court vision is “unlike anybody I’ve ever coached.”

When it comes to the first-year guard, most things about him are unlike anybody else, and he’ll tell you that. 

When asked who he’d compare his playing style to, Cadeau didn’t offer an answer — he doesn’t think anybody plays exactly like him. He understands and speaks Swedish. The list of his favorite musicians doesn’t consist of popular choices, but instead of “underground” artists like Destroy Lonely.

Now the ACC Preseason Rookie of the Year will look to bring his unique personality and play style to an experienced North Carolina roster, providing the Tar Heels with a pass-first point guard for, arguably, the first time in over 10 years.

After head coach Hubert Davis brought in Will Shaver in January during the 2021-22 season, he swore off accepting players who left high school early. 

So why’d that change with Cadeau?

“I want guys that want to be a part of a team and want to be about the ‘We,’ not just about the ‘Me,’” Davis said. “Not that we didn’t have that in the past but that’s in general for anyone. That’s what Carolina’s about.”

‘He always did make the big play’

With Link Academy and Saint Frances tied in the City of Palms Classic last December with less than a minute remaining, and Link's undefeated streak on the line, Armstrong needed the ball in the hands of someone he knew would make a play.

The choice was obvious: Cadeau. The point guard drove to the rim to get the go-ahead bucket en route to a 68-64 victory. 

“[He] always did make the big play," Armstrong said. "I can’t think of one time where he didn’t."

But it wasn’t his shooting or slashing ability that made him a top prospect. It was his passing ability.

“He’s unique,” Davis said of Cadeau. “[The only person I've] seen in college somebody like him, similar, has been Kendall Marshall in terms of his ability, not only to pass but to get it to his teammate in the perfect position to be able to do something on the offensive end.”

It's safe to say UNC needs that kind of playmaking ability.

Last season, the Tar Heels averaged 11.2 assists per game, the lowest total in program history. The North Carolina offense ranked 310th out of 366 teams in Division I in assist rate per KenPom.

“I realize that something that sets me apart from everybody else is that I can [make plays],” Cadeau said. “There’s a lot of scoring guards. You can find a scoring guard everywhere, but you can’t really find an unselfish playmaker in a lot of places.”

‘He’s uber talented’

While many of Cadeau’s current teammates hadn't seen the first-year play before this summer, fellow newcomer Zayden High previously had a front seat.

Last April, Cadeau and High faced off in the GEICO High School National Championship, with Link beating AZ Compass, 67-61, and Cadeau setting a tournament-record 29 assists throughout three games.

“We weren’t cool until we both got to campus, but it’s no bad blood between us,” High said. “I love Elliot — my roommate, my dog. I knew what he was capable of before we both came in, so nothing really surprised me about his game because I knew how talented he was.”

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Since he’s been in Chapel Hill, Cadeau’s impressed his veteran teammates with his passing ability.

“He’s uber talented,” graduate guard Paxson Wojcik said. “He’s a great basketball player, super skilled, super fast. He makes passes that not many people can make. He can really pass and has a high feel for the game.”

The vision from Cadeau extends past the basketball court as well.

He said he sees himself as being on a two-year plan due to reclassifying, which will allow him to play more freely. While it's unclear whether or not he'll start — in UNC's secret scrimmage against FAU he didn't — Armando Bacot said he's ready to make an impact.

"He looks definitely ready," Bacot said. "Being a freshman guard, it's way tougher now than it was when I was a freshman because so many guys like me stay back. So he'll definitely have some growing pains, but I think he will be good and he's already starting to figure it out more [the longer he's playing]. By the time we're in ACC play, I expect him to be one of the best guards in the ACC."


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