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UNC women's basketball guard Deja Kelly enters the transfer portal

20240322_richards_SPORTS_WBBALL-vs-Michigan-8.jpg
UNC senior guard Deja Kelly (25) blows a kiss before the first round game of the Women’s NCAA tournament against Michigan State in the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina on Friday, March 22, 2024. UNC won with a score of 59-56.

UNC women’s basketball senior guard Deja Kelly will enter the transfer portal, according to reporting done by ESPN’s Alexa Philippou. 

After four seasons at North Carolina, Kelly has one more year of eligibility remaining due to the NCAA’s rules regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Philippou, UNC is still an option for Kelly's final season, but she is also exploring other schools. 

As an integral member of UNC’s lineup, Kelly started all four seasons at North Carolina and led the scoring effort for three of those years. In the 2023-24 season, the guard averaged a team-high 36.1 minutes of playing time. For the last three consecutive seasons, the senior received First Team All-ACC honors. 

Kelly averaged around 16 points, four rebounds and three assists per game last season. 

During her final game as a Tar Heel against South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA tournament, Kelly recorded seven points, four rebounds and two assists. Throughout the 2023-24 season, the senior scored 20 or more points 11 times. During an away contest against then-No. 8 Virginia Tech, Kelly scored a season-high 29 points. 

The guard is the sixth player so far to leave the team after the conclusion of the 2023-24 season.

Following a slew of injuries plaguing the guard rotation, Kelly became the primary on-ball player over the season. With such a short lineup, the senior’s role change led her to experience what she labeled as one of the “toughest years” of her career. 

“I think it was a lot of up and down,” Kelly said. “[It] probably took a toll on everyone mentally.”

According to the guard, the responsibilities of veteran players increased due to the unforeseen circumstances plaguing the 2023-24 season. 

Head coach Courtney Banghart echoed the sentiments of her star player – who she consistently refers to as a “killer” – acknowledging the difficulty of playing with such a small guard rotation. 

“Everyone deals with injury,” Banghart said. “I'm not sure you deal with five at the same position. That was a really unique challenge for this group this year. I think that's what made it hard for [Kelly] because she was the only [point guard] left.”

Kelly arrived in Chapel Hill in 2020 as a part of Banghart’s first recruiting class. The guard ranked No. 10 in her class, according to ESPN. During her first season, Kelly joined five other recruits in senior forward Alyssa Ustby, senior forward Anya Poole, senior guard Kennedy Todd-Williams and senior forward Alexandra Zelaya

Apart from Ustby, every other recruit from Banghart’s first recruiting class entered the transfer portal in the last two seasons. 

As the Tar Heels look forward to the 2024-25 season, Kelly’s absence will likely be an extreme loss. For the last four seasons, North Carolina looked to the guard for consistent scoring everywhere on the floor. 

In her absence, UNC will likely turn to graduate Lexi Donarski, first-year Reniya Kelly and redshirt sophomore Kayla McPherson to lead the guards for the upcoming season. Both Reniya Kelly and McPherson are currently recovering from season-ending injuries. 

@_emmahmoon

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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