By R.L. Bynum
Being a big man in the Carolina basketball program is going to be different starting this season, and junior Armando Bacot is the man in the middle of that transformation.
From Dean Smith to Roy Williams, those legendary Hall of Fame coaches wanted two low-post players. Apart from players such as Sam Perkins or Luke Maye, post players not only weren’t generally expected to extend their shooting range well beyond the lane but were discouraged from doing that.
Times are changing under first-year coach Hubert Davis.
“Just a lot more spacing and then kind of the thing that’s like different is it’s a lot of movement,” Bacot said. “That’s kind of been hard for a lot of us just to pick up. But I know we all love it, though. It’s a lot of screening and movement, spacing on the floor. It’s just a lot different.”
For the 6–10 Bacot, that shift comes after UNC lost multiple big men from last season in Walker Kessler, Day’Ron Sharpe, Garrison Brooks and Walker Miller. Bacot is the only big man returning and, even though Marquette transfer Dawson Garcia is 6–11, will be the main guy at the 5 spot.
“It’s something I’m ready for,” Bacot said. “Last year, we had a lot of great bigs. We kind of had to all rotate because everybody was playing good. But now, just me being the only true center, it will be great. It’ll be a lot of stuff for me to do and it’ll be a lot more minutes and opportunities for me. So, it’s something I’m ready for.”
The addition of two other front-court transfers — 6–9 Brady Manek from Oklahoma and 6–8 Justin McKoy from Virginia — will fit into the contrasting style that Davis wants. It will provide more spacing inside and room for Bacot to work.
Bacot says that Manek is the best shooting big man he’s ever played with and that Dawson can score off the dribble and also shoot.
“Just having both of them, it’s just a little different in their playing style. It’ll be a lot of fun, I think, for the fans just to see just a different type of UNC big,” Bacot said. “We all will be playing high minutes and, with each group and combination, you kind of get a different type of mixture and the way we play off each other. Let’s say we play Brady and Dawson, I guess it’d be more like a five out; and me with Brady? It’d be more like a four out, one in. So, it just gives different looks to defenders.”
You’ve rarely seen four UNC players outside of the three-point arc at the same time, but that’s going to change.
“There’s a new generation of basketball; the game is more spread out,” sophomore guard RJ Davis said. “So, I feel like Coach Davis kind of understands that as far as being able to space the floor out.”
That should give Bacot more of a chance to take advantage of his quickness. During the second half of last season, Bacot kept getting better at driving past opposing big men.
“My advantage going up against a lot of bigs was just taking them off the dribble kind of from the top of the key and that was something that Coach Davis always wanting me to take advantage of,” Bacot said, adding that there would be a new kind of running offense with different kinds of plays. “He really wants me to all be able to extend the floor element of my game. So, that’s something I’ve been working on every day with the coaches and just on my own to just to be able to show more than just posting up to allow free lanes for the guards and just open up the offense more.”
He’ll be expected to do more than post up near the basket or in the high post.
“I’m in some of the plays just spacing out to the corner and not just being in the paint, or at the top of the key,” Bacot said “It’s just definitely a lot different, and it’s something you’re getting used to. But it’s kind of something we’ve been working on since [Davis] got the job, so I’m starting to get a little bit more comfortable in it.”
A progression that has nothing to do with the coaching change is Bacot’s improved shooting. After shooting 46.9% from the floor during his freshman season, he shot that up to 62.8% last season.
“I got a chance last year to really watch film and just more correct some of the things I was doing,” Bacot said. “I was kind of shying away from contact or trying to spin away from the defender. Coming into this year, I knew I had to just get contact and go toward a defender. I feel like that changed a huge amount of my field-goal percentage. But just also being more confident, and just knowing no one was going to stop me helped, too.”
Bacot no doubt would have left for the NBA after his sophomore season if he had been projected to be a high draft pick. Without that dynamic, he said that the main reason he came back was to build his legacy at Carolina.
“Looking back at all the alumni that came here, I wanted one day to be able to bring my family back and say I left the impact here,” Bacot said. “I want to leave a legacy here, and that’s one of the biggest things since I was little that I wanted to do. To be able to come and get a chance to do that is a blessing and something that I’m ready for. I haven’t won anything, and that was the main thing for me. I just want to be able to say I won something at Carolina and actually did something. So, that was just honestly the major factor for me.”
With the talent around him and a determined attitude heading into the season, Bacot and the rest of the Tar Heels have a shot at putting together a memorable season.
ACC pool photo