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'All the intangibles': Zayden High brings energy, versatility to UNC men's basketball

UNC first-year forward Zayden High (1) shoots the ball 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.

It’s easy for Zayden High to pick his “welcome to college” moment. 

At a summer practice, the UNC men's basketball first-year forward was matched up with graduate center Armando Bacot. Zayden couldn’t help but talk a little smack, prompting the kind of response only an upperclassman can give.

“[Bacot] came down and kind of dunked,” Zayden said.  “I wouldn’t say on me, but like over me — around me. He started talking [back]. He was like, ‘Welcome to college!’” 

Rest assured, there’s no bad blood from the moment. In fact, the veteran center said he has been impressed by Zayden's physicality, toughness and fearlessness in practice — traits a team usually expects from its fifth-years, not its rookies.

“I’m a huge fan of him,” Bacot said. “I love playing with him.”

Zayden joins UNC’s roster of older, seasoned players as one of only two first-years on the team. As an all-around threat, Zayden is both active around the basket and capable of knocking down outside shots. While he isn't exactly sure what his role will be yet, he's happy to be plugged in anywhere to help the team. 

“I think he’s going to play a lot this year," Bacot said.

'Family > everything'

It’s no surprise that Zayden quickly found his place in the 'Carolina Family.' Across his forearm in black, cursive ink, a tattoo reads, “Family > everything.”

His parents, Mike and Tawney High, share the same tattoo — the three decided to get the matching ink for Zayden’s 18th birthday. Zayden said his family are the heart of his game and that his first collegiate season is for them — a repayment for their support throughout his basketball journey. 

The first-year said he ultimately chose North Carolina because of the way head coach Hubert Davis treated Zayden's family.

Mike said Davis was consistently honest about what Zayden’s role on the team would look like. At the time of his offer, UNC was targeting top-ranked recruit GG Jackson.

The Tar Heels didn’t necessarily need Zayden, but Davis wanted him.

In April 2022, Davis watched  Zayden drop 27 points on Jackson’s team in the Nike EYBL tournament. Tawney said Davis likely made the trip to scout Jackson, but after witnessing her son’s explosive performance, he quickly reached out about his interest.

“There’s not a lot of people that know what Zayden brings to a team,” Mike said. “That’s kind of the thing we’re waiting to see, so everybody can see what we know he can do. You guys got a little glimpse of it in the scrimmage — he’s one of those guys that does all the intangibles. He rebounds. He plays defense. Anything the coaches ask of him, he’s going to do.”

'The energy off the bench'

So, what should a scouting report on Zayden look like? 

In his own words, which nearly mirror his father's, Zayden is everywhere on the court. He loves to rebound, and he’ll take shots when he’s open. Although he’s mainly been practicing as a stretch four, Zayden said he'll take on whatever role Davis needs him in — on and off the court.

“[I want to] be at the right spots when they need me to be and be the energy off the bench,” the first-year said. “I'm very loud, and I like to make noise.”

Davis said at a press conference earlier this month that first-years Zayden and Elliot Cadeau each bring a youthful competitive fire to the team and skill sets that the team needs. Zayden in particular stands out to the head coach for his passing and shooting ability. 

“He’s not a freshman,” Davis said. “He’s almost like a junior, in terms of being in the right spots defensively, understanding concepts and being able to retain information and listen and being able to apply it out there on the floor.”

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Junior forward Harrison Ingram said Zayden's versatility allows him to defend any position — he can stay in front of guards and also contest bigs in the paint.

After watching last season’s team fall from preseason No. 1 to missing the NCAA Tournament, Zayden said it has given him and the other Tar Heels an edge.

“I just want to bring the national championship to the school,” Zayden said. “I want to do whatever the team needs me to do, and I want to have great energy while we do it.”


@dthsports |