By R.L. Bynum
If you don’t think that NIL money changes the equation for college basketball players, just listen to center Armando Bacot.
Appearing on the Field of 68 “Goodman & Hummel” podcast with Jeff Goodman and Robbie Hummel on Friday, he admitted that his decision might have been different if NIL (name, image and likeness) money wasn’t available. Bacot announced last week that he would return to UNC for his senior season.
“It would have been close for sure,” Bacot said of the process without NIL money. “This decision was close but it would have been probably even closer. I probably would have maybe landed a little bit more towards leaving.”
The Tar Heels’ run to the national championship game with Bacot putting up double-doubles in all six games didn’t hurt his NIL marketability. He says that UNC’s run has led to lots of players at other schools telling him they’d like to transfer to Carolina.
“It’s just been crazy for all of us just the whole month of March and April,” said Bacot, who led the team in scoring at 16.3 points per game. “Everything went crazy. And this is huge for us. I guess it’s even more of an incentive to win, just seeing how crazy it went in March.”
Bacot said that he tried to avoid making NIL-related appearances during the season, opting for social media posts and commercials, although he did do a few appearances in March. There are so many opportunities and he has to pick and choose.
Goodman was the one who called Carolina soft early in the season, leading Bacot to have harsh words for Goodman during a Final Four press conference. Bacot reiterated during the podcast that Goodman’s words motivated the team.
Years ago, post players such as Bacot, Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson and Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe would have all been sure first-round draft picks. But with the game different now, those players have to diversify their games to draw more attention from NBA scouts.
Coach Hubert Davis told Bacot that he needs to shoot more from the perimeter.
“That’s actually what he said to me,” Bacot said. “He was like, I couldn’t come back if I wouldn’t make the jumper, start shooting more and more 3s. Once I get healthy I will be.”
Regarding his health, he said that his recovery will probably go for a few more weeks and that his right ankle was in bad shape. The play late in the national championship game when he hit the court still makes him scratch his head.
“I was just weird because I saw the video and it just didn’t look like something that should happen like on a game-ready court,” Bacot said. “It kind of definitely threw me off after the game when I saw it because I thought I had a good angle and I thought I had a good chance of making the shot just because [David McCormack] had four fouls and I know he didn’t want to pick up the fifth foul.
“And I just thought I had a good angle and then I just took that step and then my ankle just twisted,” Bacot said. “And I didn’t think I did anything wrong. I knew the right ankle was weak but I thought I was in a good place but I guess that was one of those things where we’ll never know.”
Bacot said that his rebounding picked up under Coach Davis’ new system with more spacing on the court.
“Last year, just playing with all those bigs, I feel like my numbers definitely weren’t, as far as rebounding, to where I knew they could be. Coming in this year I told Coach [Sean] May, I honestly think I can average about 13 rebounds,” said Bacot, who averaged 13.1. “I feel like I just really fell in love with rebounding ever since I’ve been at UNC and it’s one of the things I feel like that’s what I’m great at. I wanted to find something that I could really be great at. I feel like rebounding, that’s my niche.”
Like everybody else, he’s waiting to see whether teammate Caleb Love will decide to return for another college season or turn pro.
“It’s going to definitely be his decision,” Bacot said. “We hope that he comes back. But, even in the transfer portal, everybody wants to come to UNC. Some of the guys that have hit me up, you wouldn’t even believe — high-level guys want to come to UNC. But we have no scholarships.”
It sounds like even if Love decides to turn pro, Carolina has a chance to bring in a star to fill his roster spot.
Photo via @UNC_Basketball