Armando Bacot did something that’s never been done before last season. Then, in the offseason, he did something that’s become nearly as rare. Bacot set school and league records for double-doubles as he posted one of the top seasons in the ACC, narrowly missing out in the league’s Player of the Year voting.
Then, following UNC’s trip to the national championship game, Bacot raised eyebrows by announcing he was returning to school for his senior year.
Over the past three decades, most of the ACC’s top underclassmen have opted to leave school early and begin their NBA careers rather than returning for more college ball.
Bacot’s decision could herald a new era in college basketball. While players guaranteed to go near the top of the draft — and earn guaranteed millions in the league — will still likely choose to leave early, the change in NCAA rules on name, image and likeness allow players to earn a good living while playing in college. That means that for a player who could go late in the first round, like Bacot, or slip to the second, it might be better to earn at college than to toil away in obscurity in the G League.
At press time, Duke’s Wendell Moore Jr., Jeremy Roach and Trevor Keels, all in similar positions as Bacot, were rumored to be considering returning to school. Across the country, UCLA star Jaime Jaquez Jr. announced he was coming back. Only a year ago, all of them would have been no-brainers to enter NBA waters.
All of this heralds back to the early days of the ACC. For the first three decades of the conference’s existence, 10 different players won the league’s Player of the Year Award as an underclassman. All 10 returned to school the following year, and six of them won it again.
Michael Jordan, who won the honor as a junior in 1984, was the first underclassman POY to opt for the NBA Draft instead of returning to school. Immediately after his departure, the ACC saw a pair of underclassmen win the award and return to win it again in Len Bias (1985 and 1986) and Danny Ferry (1988 and 1989).
In the 1990s, college basketball saw its star players leave earlier and earlier as NBA riches beckoned. In the ACC, Dennis Scott, Rodney Rogers, Joe Smith, Antawn Jamison and Elton Brand were all taken early in the first round after winning Player of the Year. Running counter to that trend, Grant Hill, Randolph Childress and Tim Duncan all returned to school for their senior years in the 1990s and topped their junior performances.
What can we expect from this old-is-new ACC, loaded with senior talent once again? Specifically, what can we expect from Bacot — who turned in a Player of the Year season even though Wake Forest’s Alondes Williams took home the trophy.
Over the last 20 years, we’ve seen very few players at Bacot’s level return to school in the ACC. Here’s a rundown of some of the best, and how they fared in their return.
Shane Battier and Juan Dixon
Both players returned, like Bacot, after missing out on POY. They both won the honor their senior year and led their teams to national titles.
Yet another Duke returnee, Redick won Player of the Year as a junior, then bumped his scoring from 21.8 points per game as a junior to 26.8 as a senior and won it again.
The man whose rebounding record Bacot will likely break this year returned to school after winning POY as a junior. His scoring dropped from 22.6 ppg to 20.7 and his rebounding fell from 10.2 to 8.1. He relinquished POY honors to teammate Ty Lawson, but he helped lead Carolina to a title.
There haven’t been many POY contenders that returned in the last decade-plus, although there are several players who, like Bacot, made All-ACC first team and then returned to school.
Successes include Virginia Tech’s Malcolm Delaney (repeated as first-teamer), Duke’s Kyle Singler (repeated) and Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon (won POY).
Others struggled to reach the same heights in their return, even if they turned in strong college careers. The list includes Bonzie Colson (struggled with injury in his last year at Notre Dame), UNC’s Luke Maye (dropped to second team) and Marcus Paige (dropped to third team), and Duke’s Grayson Allen (dropped to third team).
Based on history, assuming he avoids injury, it appears likely that Bacot will be able to step up his scoring numbers this year. There’s also a strong chance he’ll be able to take care of some of his unfinished business — whether that’s the POY honor, a national title or both.