Addition by addition: Tar Heels look to build chemistry from assembled talent

UNC adds five transfers as part of significant roster turnover

North Carolina head coach Hubert Davis embraces Armando Bacot (5) as he leaves the game after his fourth foul against Wake Forest during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Winston-Salem, N.C., Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. Bacot later fouled out of the game.(AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Penn State, Arizona, Hawaii, Virginia Tech, UAB and Georgetown.  

Those aren’t the members of some new conference expected to be created in the next round of realignment. They are the landing spots of the seven 2022-23 Tar Heels that hit the transfer portal following the season.  

Frustrated by a year when team chemistry seemed choppy and playing time was maddeningly sparse for young players, coach Hubert Davis saw half of his roster decide to transfer, including star guard Caleb Love, role players Puff Johnson, D’Marco Dunn, Justin McKoy and Dontreez Syles, and freshmen Tyler Nickel and Will Shaver. 

“I know that we were disappointed,” Davis said of the 2022-23 season, which saw the Heels start the season ranked No. 1 and go on to miss out on an NCAA Tournament bid. “Going into last year, we had hopes and expectations and dreams of what we could become. And at the end of the day, for a number of reasons, we just didn’t reach our full potential.” 

The transfers out, plus the expired eligibility departures of super senior Leaky Black and grad transfer Pete Nance, left an enormous crater in the UNC roster, leaving Davis scrambling to fill the gaping holes.  

Which leads us to the next potential realigned super conference: 

Stanford, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Louisville and Brown.  

Those are the schools where the transfers Davis brought in for the upcoming season played last year.  

With seven headed out and five entering, the revolving door of the transfer portal overwhelmed all other classic means of roster transition. In addition to the two departing veterans to try their luck in the NBA (one of which, Nance, was an incoming transfer last year), the Heels add two recruited freshmen, one of whom reclassified to enter college early.  

In the past, you could predict what a team is going to look like next year and the year after that,” Davis said, “and what it’s going to look like at this time. And you could recruit in a way knowing that this person will be here, this person is going to be gone. You can no longer do that.” 

In the midst of all that dust getting kicked up, there are four recruited players who return to the roster after playing last year—Armando Bacot, RJ Davis, Seth Trimble and Jalen Washington.  

“This is his last year,” Davis said of Bacot, putting a comedic emphasis on the word “is”. Bacot, who set the school’s career rebounding record last season, will likely set the scoring mark this year, which will be his fifth for the Tar Heels.  

I’m really excited to see that type of ‘I only have one year left’ mentality out there on the floor,” Davis said of the big man, who he has criticized at times for his lack of intensity. 

Davis also expects to see Trimble and Washington up their intensity as they return to the roster as elder statesmen.  

“Jalen and Seth came back because they wanted to be here,” Davis said. “They didn’t want to go.” 

He praised Trimble’s athleticism and said the guard has the potential to be the top defender in college basketball. He also praised Washington for “living in the weight room” during the offseason.  

Each of the incoming transfers are expected to fill crucial roles.  

Cormac Ryan is a grad transfer from Notre Dame, a veteran of the ACC wars.  

“Cormac, his ability to shoot the basketball, be able to score. He’s also a playmaker,” Davis said. “”He’s an incredible defender.” 

Jae’Lyn Withers, a forward who arrives from Lousiville, has three years of ACC experience. 

“Every time that we played Louisville, the one person I was worried about was him, because of his size and his athleticism,” Davis said. “He can score inside, he can run the floor, he can rebound, he can shoot the ball from three. Defensively, he can guard one through five.” 

Harrison Ingram is a small forward who spent two years at Stanford and is a former McDonald’s All-American.  

“I love multiple playmakers,” Davis said. “It’s nice to have somebody with that size and that type of skill level and athleticism that can do a number of things out there on the floor.” 

West Virginia forward James Okonkwo and Borwn guard Paxson Wojcik round out the incoming transfer class.  

The team also adds five-star point guard Elliot Cadeau, who reclassified to graduate high school early, as well as four-star forward Zayden High.  

The big question is how all these parts will blend on the court and in the locker room. Last year’s squad returned nearly the entire roster, then struggled to mesh on the floor and off. 

So far, Davis likes what he’s seen.  

“There’s a sense of urgency and competitiveness and a drive that’s coming from different directions, but all meeting in the same place,” he said.  

Hopefully that place will be significantly more comfortable than Chapel Hill was last season.