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New-look UNC men’s basketball works to reset team chemistry in 2023

UNC senior guard RJ Davis (4) and UNC first-year guard Elliot Cadeau (2) celebrating together at 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.

The UNC men’s basketball team lost nine of its 13 scholarship players after last season.

How do you even begin to reconcile team chemistry after that many losses? You go to the beach.

Returning sophomore forward Jalen Washington said it’s been different adjusting to seven new faces on the team — five transfers and two first-years. However, he said the adjustment is going well because of the efforts the team has been making to bond. 

In July, the team took to the waters of the North Carolina Outer Banks for a brief break from the gym.

The team didn’t take a trip like that last season. 

Washington, a native of Gary, Ind., had never had the opportunity to go to the beach before this offseason. Wearing sunglasses and McDonald’s All-American shorts, Washington made the best of his first beach trip, having fun and throwing a frisbee around with his teammates. They broke out the jet skis, surfboards and footballs, and they built bonds. 

“It doesn’t necessarily matter how good of a team you have. If you don’t glue and build that proper team chemistry, things don’t go well,” sophomore guard Seth Trimble said. “I’m not even saying that as a diss to my old teammates. We all loved each other, we all hung out, we all just had a great time, but I just feel like we didn’t have the proper chemistry on the court to succeed.”

This year’s team is working to build that chemistry. Graduate student Armando Bacot and senior guard RJ Davis were leaders on last year’s team. They decided to stay, but not many underclassmen on the roster made that same decision. 

Washington and Trimble did.

“We made a commitment to be here,” Washington said. “We’re two guys that stand on what we say and we want to be here, and we want to be a part of this program.” 

The four returners on this team have been through adversity. The journey for Bacot and Davis has been especially rocky — from empty stadiums due to COVID-19 to an improbable run to the national championship in 2022 to missing the 2023 tournament after being the preseason No. 1 team — and now, they are the two longest tenured players on the roster. 

For the last four to five years, all they have done is adjust. And they will continue to adjust until their career at UNC comes to a close.

Still, they said it’s been odd to see so many teammates come and go.

“I came as a freshman with six other freshmen,” Davis said. “Going into my senior year, just to have none of them here is kind of weird, a little bit. Kind of heartbreaking because those are guys that I’ve created relationships with and friendships that will last beyond basketball.”

Although the influx of new faces has created a different team, a lot of the additions have similar backgrounds to Davis and Bacot and have provided common ground.

Cormac Ryan was part of a Notre Dame team that went 11-21 last season and had a 3-17 record in ACC play. Jae’Lyn Withers came from a Louisville team that had the fourth-worst record in all of Division I.

Just like the returners, they are buying into building chemistry. Transfer Harrison Ingram said that he didn’t live with his teammates when he was at Stanford — his best friend was a baseball player.

At UNC, the team is spending time together.

“My friend group is my team," Ingram said. "So it’s a lot more organically created chemistry.” 

It was a historic level of roster turnover for the Tar Heels. But despite the changes, this squad is a group of like-minded players who have been making a real effort to establish a strong level of chemistry on and off the court this season.


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