By R.L. Bynum
Will North Carolina have the talent to come back from a loss in the national championship game to challenge for the title the following season, as the Tar Heels did in 1982 and 2017?
Roster turnover in the age of the transfer portal can be harrowing for fans and coaches. But with NIL deals changing the decision-making equation for some players, UNC should be in a position to be a national contender.
The Tar Heels know that Brady Manek won’t be back after giving them a sensational fifth college season. But all of the other key players could return.
It’s a given that point guard RJ Davis will come back for his junior season, and defensive stopper Leaky Black could come back for a fifth season using his COVID year.
Armando Bacot has two seasons of eligibility left and is expected to return for his senior season.
The NIL money that he’ll be able to earn during his senior season is more than he’d be able to garner with a two-way NBA contract, a G League contract or playing professionally in Europe.
NBA Draft Room’s mock draft has Bacot going 54th overall in the second round to Sacramento. The NIL money likely would match anything he would get from being picked there, and the lure of another run at a title — and possibly putting his number in the rafters — is probably more appealing.
Another season like the last one, which was ACC player-of-the-year worthy (even if the actual award went to Wake Forest’s Alondes Williams), would boost his stock and push him up the draft board for 2023.
Before Carolina’s March run, Caleb Love’s situation appeared to be similar to Bacot’s and most assumed he’d return to Chapel Hill. His play during the NCAA tournament may have changed the calculation, with some saying that Love may now be a late first-round or early second-round pick.
Expect Love to submit his name for NBA draft by the May 1 deadline so that he can be evaluated by league scouts and go through the NBA combine May 16–22. He’d have until June 1 to remove his name, with the draft set for June 23.
Given what a second-round pick can earn, compared to the NIL money Love could collect, it’s likely that he’ll be back at UNC. With an outstanding junior season, he could work his way up to being a lottery pick for 2023 draft and into a much larger contract.
Love could always decide that he’s ready to start his NBA career, though.
Don’t be surprised if Carolina brings in a transfer from an ACC school outside of North Carolina.
Expect other changes in the roster and don’t be surprised if one or two Tar Heels enter the transfer portal.
The most likely candidate to look for a better situation is Kerwin Walton. His terrific 3-point shooting during his freshman year, when UNC lacked many good shooters, made him essential. Last season, though, with many more shooters, Walton fell out of the rotation because what he brought to the team offensively wasn’t nearly enough to compensate for his poor play on defense.
With Manek gone, expect Puff Johnson — who put in some quality minutes in the national championship game — to play a significant role and potentially start, and Dontrez Styles to likely take a place in the rotation.
Anthony Harris didn’t play the second half of the season for what is widely believed was academic reasons. If he can get past those issues, he could be a force off the bench with his tough defense for the Tar Heels.
Dawson Garcia, who left the team after the loss at Wake Forest, may transfer to another school or turn pro but won’t return to Carolina. It spoke volumes about his relationship with other Tar Heels when four players were asked at a press conference after the Marquette win if they had spoken with Garcia after the game. All four smiled, Bacot laughed and none of them offered an answer.
Incoming freshman Will Shaver, a three-star 6–10, 265-pound center out of Birmingham, Ala., enrolled for the spring semester, practiced with the team and is part of a four-player class.
Also coming in is four-star 6–9, 210-pound center Jalen Washington of Gary, Ind., four-star 6–3, 185-pound point guard Seth Trimble of Menomonee Falls, Wisc., and four-star 6–8, 210-pound small forward Tyler Nickel of Elkton, Va.
Trimble, the younger brother of former UNC forward J.P. Tokoto, may be thrust into big playing time early, particularly Love decides to leave.
With more players coming in that Coach Hubert Davis is recruiting to fit into his system, the connectedness that his Tar Heels showed in the last month of the season should be even more pronounced.
With many “way-too-early” preseason rankings putting Carolina in the top five national, it stands to be a fun season that should be highly anticipated.
Potential UNC 2022–23 roster
|5th year||Leaky Black||3||6–8||200|
Photo via @UNC_Basketball