Basketball

Love returning to Tar Heels for another season

  • Basketball recruiting insider.
  • Joined ESPN in 2014.
  • Graduate of University of Delaware.

North Carolina guard Caleb Love announced Sunday he is returning to Chapel Hill for another season, giving the Tar Heels a legitimate case for the preseason No. 1 ranking.

The deadline for underclassmen wishing to declare their intentions to enter the NBA draft is 11:59 p.m. ET Sunday, and Love was one of the key remaining decisions.

He announced his decision in a video on social media.

“The opportunity to play at North Carolina is something I’ll never take for granted,” Love said over Jay Z’s “What More Can I Say.” “To play for the greatest fanbase 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 made me feel so fortunate.

“I’m back.”

With Love back in the fold, Carolina will return four of five starters from the team that reached the national championship game before falling to Kansas, 72-69. Star big man Armando Bacot announced last week he is returning to the Tar Heels instead of going pro, while R.J. Davis announced Saturday his intentions to do the same. Senior wing Leaky Black also said earlier this month he planned to take advantage of his additional year of eligibility and play another season for the Tar Heels.

Forward Brady Manek is the lone key departure from this season’s team.

Love, a former five-star recruit in the 2020 class, has had an inconsistent first two seasons in Chapel Hill — but was playing the best basketball of his career late in the season and will hope to carry that momentum over to the 2022-23 campaign. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 18.8 points in six NCAA tournament games, including 30 points against UCLA and 28 points in the Final Four win over Duke — including 22 in the second half and the game-clinching 3-pointer with 25 seconds left.

Starting with a late-January win over Virginia Tech, Love averaged 17.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists, and North Carolina went 17-4 over that span. In the first 18 games of the season, when the Tar Heels were just 12-6, Love averaged 14.6 points.

Overall, Love put up 15.9 points and 3.6 assists in the 2021-22 season after averaging 10.5 points and 3.6 assists as a freshman.

Despite his stellar late-season performances, though, Love was still not a lock to go in the first round of the 2022 NBA draft. He was ranked No. 49 in ESPN’s most recent draft rankings.

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