Last season, Armando Bacot did something that had never been done before. Then, in the offseason, he did something nearly as uncommon.
Bacot had one of the best seasons in the ACC, setting school and league records for double-doubles while finishing second in the league’s Player of the Year vote.
Following UNC’s trip to the national championship game, Bacot made headlines when he announced he will return to school for his senior year.
Over the last three decades, the majority of the ACC’s top freshmen have chosen to leave school early and pursue NBA careers rather than continue their college careers.
The decision made by Bacot could usher in a new era in collegiate basketball. While athletes who are expected to go near the top of the draught — and earn guaranteed millions in the league — will still likely leave early, the NCAA’s new rules on name, image, and likeness allow them to make a fair livelihood while still in college.
That implies it might be preferable to earn at college than to toil away in obscurity in the G League for a player who could go late in the first round, like Bacot, or drop to the second.
Wendell Moore Jr., Jeremy Roach, and Trevor Keels, all in comparable positions as Bacot, were said to be considering returning to school at the time of publication.
UCLA standout Jaime Jaquez Jr. announced his return across the country. All of them would have been no-brainers to enter NBA waters only a year ago.
All of this harkens back to the ACC’s infancy. As a freshman, ten different players received the league’s Player of the Year Award in the first three decades of the conference’s history.
The next year, all ten students returned to school, and six of them won the award once more.
Michael Jordan, who won the award as a junior in 1984, was the first underclassman POY to forego returning to school and instead enter the NBA Draft. Following his departure, the ACC saw two underclassmen, Len Bias (1985 and 1986) and Danny Ferry (1986), win the honour and return to win it again (1988 and 1989).
As NBA riches beckoned in the 1990s, college basketball’s great players justify earlier and earlier. After winning Player of the Year in the ACC, Dennis Scott, Rodney Rogers, Joe Smith, Antawn Jamison, and Elton Brand were all selected early in the first round.
In the 1990s, Grant Hill, Randolph Childress, and Tim Duncan all returned to school for their senior years and outperformed their junior years, bucking the norm.
What can we anticipate from the ACC, which is once again stocked with senior talent? Specifically, what can we expect from Bacot, who was named Player of the Year despite Wake Forest’s Alondes Williams winning the award.