While Deja Kelly was being scouted in high school, UNC women's basketball head coach Courtney Banghart said the point guard was written off by many recruiters who believed she could not defend at the college level.
Now, according to Banghart, the senior guard has improved drastically on the defensive end.
Kelly, alongside sophomore guard Paulina Paris, helped hold Hampton to 11 points or less in every quarter during Wednesday’s 62-32 victory over the Pirates. In a game where the guard-heavy Tar Heels shot below 35 percent, the defense was UNC's stronghold.
Banghart said this year's UNC squad — which picked up eight new faces in the offseason — was built to perform defensively.
While forming the team, Banghart ignored the opinions of other recruiters and based her approach on players' mentalities. Although Kelly and Paris both lack the frames to be natural defenders, Banghart said she scouted the guards based on their unparalleled competitiveness and desire to get better.
“[Deja is] one of the better defenders in our league and she wasn’t when she got here,” Banghart said. “But she’s competitive, right? Paulina too. She’s not built to be great defensively. She’s wired to be great defensively. All she cares about is winning.”
This summer, while most UNC students returned to their hometowns, Paris stayed in Chapel Hill. With her first season behind her, Paris knew she had to make a “big jump.”
The weight room became her home. Confessing that she came in skinny, Paris worked to add muscle and gained a couple of pounds from her efforts. With increased size on her side, she then focused on her pull-up jump shot and her defense — two areas she admitted needed the most improvement.