By R.L. Bynum
Caleb Love’s missed 3-point attempt against Kansas late in the national championship game won’t be his last shot as a Tar Heel because, among other hopes, he wants another shot at a national title.
Love announced in a social media video Sunday that he’ll return for his junior season at North Carolina, giving the Tar Heels four of five starters back from last season’s Final Four team.
He kept the suspense going by tweeting and quickly deleting a tweet a little after 4 p.m. with a clock emoji and hour-glass emoji before tweeting “thank you God” with a hands-in-prayer emoji shortly afterward. The below tweet finally was sent out at 5:08 with the words “story still being written.”
“I’m back,” Love said in the video.
The fifth starter, Brady Manek, has exhausted his eligibility. Earlier, Armando Bacot, Leaky Black and RJ Davis all announced that they would return next season. That core of four starters should make the Tar Heels a top-5 team in the preseason Top 25 poll.
“The opportunity to play at North Carolina is something I never take for granted,” Love said in the video. “To play for the greatest fan base in the world, to play with the most amazing teammates I could ever imagine and to play for coaches who support and challenge me in every way are all blessings that make me feel so fortunate.”
With 75% of the Tar Heels’ scoring from last season returning, it’s the most coming off of a national-championship game appearance and fourth-most after a Final Four appearance.
Love, who averaged 15.9 points and scored 93 3-pointers last season, had sensational second-half scoring surges in several games last season. But he will be best remembered for his crucial late 3-pointer in the 81–77 national semifinal victory over Duke in New Orleans.
“Caleb’s passion for this team and program are what motivates and drives him to win a national championship and eventually have a long, successful career in the NBA,” Coach Hubert Davis said. “Nobody is better at taking and making big shots in pressure situations. He’s one of the most gifted players I’ve ever been around and I’m extremely excited to coach him another season.”
Love had until 11:59 p.m. Sunday night to decide if he wanted to enter his name into the NBA draft. He was projected as high as No. 29 pick to Memphis in the nbadraft.net mock draft which, by the way, has Manek going No. 51 in the second round to Golden State. Other mock drafts, such as Sports Illustrated and Bleacher Report, had him going No. 49 in the second round to Minnesota.
Love obviously had made his decision well before his tweet was published considering that the school published a reaction column from Adam Lucas moments after Love’s tweet.
The Tar Heels finished 29–10 and may not have even made the Final Four if not for his late back-to-back 3-pointers in their 73–66 Sweet 16 victory over UCLA in Philadelphia. He scored 27 of his career-high 30 points in the second half.
Love averaged 18.8 points in the NCAA tournament, tying Manek for the most points (113) by any player in the tournament. The St. Louis native’s three highest-scoring games of the season came in the NCAA Tournament — 30 vs. UCLA, 28 vs. Duke and 23 vs. Marquette — and he earned All-Final Four and All-East Regional honors.
Love scored 621 points last season, becoming the eighth Tar Heel sophomore to score 600 in a season. That put him in a prestigious group with Michael Jordan, Jerry Stackhouse, Antawn Jamison, Joseph Forte, Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington and Harrison Barnes.
Love led Carolina in free-throw percentage (.863); was second in scoring (15.9), 3-pointers (93), assists (139) and steals (37); and was third in 3-point shooting percentage (.360). He ranked in the top 10 in the ACC in scoring, assists, free-throw percentage and 3-pointers.
Love was UNC’s leading scorer in its 29 wins at 17.4 points per game. The Tar Heels went 27–6 when he scored in double figures, 13–0 when he scored at least 20 points, 20–4 when he had more assists than turnovers, 14–0 when he had at least five assists and 23–4 when he had multiple 3-pointers.
Caleb Love game by game
UNC 2022–23 roster
|5th year||Leaky Black||3||6–8||200|
Photo via @UNC_Basketball