By R.L. Bynum
As Armando Bacot prepares for his sophomore season, everything feels different.
His freshman struggles and the nightmare of a 14–19 North Carolina season, as well as the influx of freshman talent, are driving that change. If Coach Roy Williams sees any hint that the Tar Heels haven’t learned from that season, he’s quick to loudly and emphatically remind them how that felt.
“Practice has just been so intense,” Bacot said. “Coach has been on edge, and we’ve all been on edge. I did just kind of pick up on the vibe early. Obviously, we didn’t like how the season ended. Coach has been turned up every day. So, we’ve been bringing it every day, too, not taking anything for granted. Coach, he’s been on us about every little mistake. I mean, that’s just the way it is. We’re trying to have a perfect season.”
After all of the negatives of last season, the 6–10, 240–pound post player says he’s just trying to be positive every day. knowing that the team will have the talent and depth for a big turnaround season.
“I can honestly say, probably except for one practice, every practice day has been better than any practices we had last year,” said Bacot, who said the intensity and trash-talking started during offseason pickup games with former NBA players and has carried into preseason practice. “Our approach has been a lot more competitive this year. And that’s the great thing.”
Bacot had highlights such as his 23-point, 12-rebound game against Oregon and his 21 points against Clemson. But he also struggled after injuring his left ankle and admits that his mindset wasn’t always what it should have been.
He’s doing his best to make sure the talented freshmen, including guards RJ Davis and Caleb Love and post players Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler, don’t repeat his mistakes. He tells them what not to do.
“Just being inconsistent. Just taking days for granted,” said Bacot, who averaged 9.6 points and 8.3 rebounds a game last season. “That was something that I did a lot last year. If I see them just slouching around or something like that, I try to tell them, ‘just pick it up. Just don’t take any day for granted.’ You should always just want to go in the gym and just give your best because you never know when it can be taken away.”
It was easy to point to areas for Bacot to improve during the offseason. Many times, he was unable to finish inside moves to the basket and he committed too many touch fouls. He had three or more fouls in 15 games last season, four or more fouls in nine games and fouled out three times.
“He’s got to finish plays around the goal and he’s doing that much better this year,” Coach Roy Williams said. “He needs to be better when you go from freshman to sophomore. A lot of times that’s a big-time jump and we need Armando to do that. And it’s competitive around that rim right now, unlike what we’ve had the last couple years.”
Bacot has taken to heart that assessment from Williams and others.
“That’s what I’ve been working on most of this offseason, just like being more physical around the rim and just finishing through contact. But also, just like extending my jump shot out and making a little mid-range, too.”
Bacot says that battling the physical, 6-11, 265-pound Sharpe and the skilled 7-1, 245-pound Kessler has everyone “just completely dead tired” after practice.
“We’ve been switching up the lineup every day in practice so all the bigs have been able to mix in with each other,” Bacot said. “I think it’s been great. We’ve all got different strengths and weaknesses. And we all play well together. And just us being able to all be rested, and just come in and play hard for the time that we’re in? I think it will be great.”
Bacot says he’s playing smarter in practice, doing a better job avoiding silly fouls and being more physical.
“I just know how to do the little things like seal here and there,” Bacot said. “I’ll just slip out on the screen and just wave the hedge, just making the game easier, easier points and stops and stuff like that.”
During the early days of the quarantine, he worked out every day and watched a lot of game tape to see the mistakes he made.
“I got a chance to see what I did in a good game versus what I did in my bad games last year,” he said. “I got a chance to take away the good and the bad from both.”
With the team quarantining together, the returning players are quickly bonding with the newcomers.
“We’ve been doing a lot more team stuff this year, just all hanging out,” he said. “[It’s] us all playing a game or ordering some food and bringing it back to us. We’ve been doing a lot more stuff like that with our team, just getting to know each other and kind of building a type of team chemistry.”
The toughening-up of Bacot started with some summer pickup game lessons courtesy of Tyler Hansbrough. Bacot remembers watching “Psycho T” play when he was a kid and admits it was kind of crazy to be on the same floor playing against him. Once he started to go against him? It got even crazier.
“He’s just so physical,” Bacot said. “He’s always trying to go through your chest every place. You’ve just gotta be prepared, try not to have a tooth knocked out or something.
“In the middle of the lane, he just drives his shoulder and it goes to your chest,” Bacot said. “It’s something we’ve tried with each other. Obviously, it’s kind of hard to do it on him because he’s so solid. But just him fronting us and not letting us catch the ball is something that we could take away from [playing] him.”
Bacot got another session with Hansbrough during Wednesday’s practice when the team scrimmaged against the “Blue squad,” made up of a team that included Hansbrough, Coby White, Theo Pinson, Cam Johnson and Tyler Zeller.
Bacot said that going against Zeller also taught him a lot because he’s so skilled and such a good scorer.
From Ed Davis, Bacot learned to take a different approach as a sophomore and to take everything seriously. In addition, he learned better moves while trying to position himself.
“He’s been in the league for a long time and one of the things you do understand is you play on two feet a lot, so he’s always jump-stopping under control,” Bacot said. “That’s something I learned from him — just get into a jump-stop to get into the jump-hook versus just trying to run people over and possibly getting charges and things like that.”
Bacot is not only taking care of business on the court but in the classroom. Earlier this month, he got accepted to UNC’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business, which is only a short walk away from the Smith Center.
“It was something that was stressful, obviously, because it’s such a hard school to get into. The days leading up to it, I was nervous,” Bacot said. “That’s something that I have a lot of passion for and it’s the other thing that I love. I’m always looking at the stock market, learning about real estate and things like that. It was definitely a big part of my decision to come here.”
Now, he hopes to help UNC’s basketball stock soar this season.
Bacot’s freshman numbers
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