VirginiaPreps - Bacot Seeks Consistency As Sophomore Season Is Here
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Bacot Seeks Consistency As Sophomore Season Is Here

Armando Bacot says he's now a more refined and smarter player than he was during his freshman season.
Armando Bacot says he's now a more refined and smarter player than he was during his freshman season. (Jacob Turner, THI)

CHAPEL HILL – Armando Bacot is a pretty smart guy.

Not only was he recently accepted into the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, but he’s spent the previous eight months identifying and correcting the things that didn’t go so well for him on the basketball court last season.

A freshman big man thrust into the spotlight at a fabled program isn’t easy, especially when elements of that player’s game weren’t quite ready for the night-in and night-out rigors of playing to that standard while also facing ACC competition.

As a result, Bacot wobbled through an inconsistent campaign filled with enough flashes that had UNC fans salivating along with periods that had them wincing. Smoothing out the latter has been a point of emphasis for Bacot since his post-season meeting with UNC Coach Roy Williams last March, and the result of that effort will soon be on display.

“Being more smart about the things I do, like not getting easy touch fouls,” Bacot recently replied, when asked what he’d improved the most on since last season ended.

For example, fouls. Bacot was whistled for 81 on the season, one fewer than Garrison Brooks, who happened to play 336 more minutes than Bacot. Reaching in on guards in the backcourt, not hedging efficiently, and bowling over defenders in the lane are the manners Bacot picked up many of his fouls.

Making better decisions was one of Bacot's points of emphasis in the offseason.
Making better decisions was one of Bacot's points of emphasis in the offseason. (Jacob Turner, THI)

So, being smarter also means being more skilled, disciplined with snap decisions – see instincts – and alert.

Part of Bacot’s quest to be a more refined version of himself included a stretch last June when he worked out with former Tar Heel forward Ed Davis, who played on the 2009 national championship team and has spent the last 10 years in the NBA. Davis taught Bacot some on-court hoops stuff, but he also worked on the fellow Richmond, VA, native’s mind, too.

“Just my approach to some of the words he was giving me,” Bacot said. “Obviously, he came back his sophomore year and how he had a different approach taking things more serious and not taking anything for granted. That’s one of the big things I took away from him.”

The basketball stuff was about playing more under control, especially in the lane.

“That’s something I learned from him," Bacot said. “getting into the jump-stop to get into the jump-hook versus trying to run people over and possibly getting charges.”

Additionally, one of the best methods in more thoroughly learning something is actually teaching it. That is serving Bacot well.

Bacot has worked on playing through contact near the rim.
Bacot has worked on playing through contact near the rim. (Jacob Turner, THI)

UNC has a six-man freshman class that includes a pair of big men who will likely eventually end up in the NBA. Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler were top 25 prospects nationally in the class of 2020, and both are battling Bacot and Brooks each day in practice. But as the older Heels know firsthand, there is a considerable adjustment process to playing college basketball, and aiding their growth is Bacot, who has embraced the role of relaying personal experiences while also offering a bit of advice from tiem to time.

“Just being inconsistent, just taking days for granted,” Bacot said he has warned the newest Heels to guard against. “That was something I did a lot last year. If I see them slouching around I try to tell them, ‘Just pick it up, don’t take any day for granted, you should always want to go in the gym and just give your best because you never know when it can be taken away.’”

Of course, a wiser Bacot should mean a more consistent Bacot, which likely means a more productive Bacot.

The 6-foot-10, 240-pounder averaged 9.6 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 46.9 percent from the floor last season. He actually shot 51.2 percent excluding a five-game stretch in December in which he struggled mightily after suffering an ankle injury.

The ebbs and flows of Bacot’s inaugural UNC season wreaked of freshmanitis. Early on, he had a five-game stretch that included four double-doubles, including a 22-point, 14-rebound effort versus Oregon. There was a 48-point, three-game stretch in January and consecutive double-doubles at Duke and a few days later in the ACC Tournament versus Virginia Tech.

Bacot's best game last season was versus Oregon when he had 23 points, 12 rebounds and 6 blocks.
Bacot's best game last season was versus Oregon when he had 23 points, 12 rebounds and 6 blocks. (USA Today)

In between were other periods, such as a five-game stretch during ACC play in which he totaled only 23 points.

Effort, however, was never the issue. In that same five-game span, Bacot had 16 rebounds in a home loss to Virginia, 10 on a two-point night at Notre Dame, and even in his 2-for-14 shooting afternoon in a loss to Wofford earlier in the season, Bacot still snared 14 rebounds.

Being more disciplined in the areas Bacot acknowledged has been the base of his launching point since last season ended.

"Rebounding-wise, he was okay last year,” Williams said. “The biggest problem he has was finishing plays around the basket and staying out of foul trouble and staying out of nagging injuries. He's gotta finish plays around the goal, and he's doing that much better.”

There’s no doubting what Bacot can become on the basketball court, not even in his own mind anymore. He’s older, wiser, more refined and more mature entering his sophomore campaign.

And that means he’ll likely be more consistent, which is exactly what Carolina needs.