ST. LOUIS–Looking back, it’s easy to see that last year was just unfair.
Before Caleb Love had even played a minute as a freshman at North Carolina, there was preseason speculation that the five-star prospect could be a one-and-done as a Tar Heel and head to the NBA. But thanks to COVID-19, the kind of offseason workouts that players typically go through, which are incredibly important for incoming freshmen, were not there last summer. Still, in his first game he was the team’s leading scorer. But things got tough. His confidence waned. He struggled. His head coach, Roy Williams had health struggles. The team struggled but managed to sneak into the NCAA tournament.
Love finished his rookie campaign averaging 10.5 points on 31.6 percent shooting to go along with 3.6 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game. The St. Louis, Mo. native ranked eighth in the ACC in assists per game and 268th nationally in assist rate (23.0), according to kenpom.com. His 31.6 field goal percentage is the lowest all-time in UNC basketball history among Tar Heels who have made at least 100 career field goals, according to IC analytics expert Adrian Atkinson, and his 36.8 effective field goal percentage is the second-lowest all-time in program history.247sports.com
After the season, Williams announced his retirement. With the NCAA’s grant of an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic, and new rules allowing players to transfer and play immediately, speculation swirled that Love might leave be on the move, as schools across the country handled a tectonic shift in player transfers.
But talking to reporters recently, Love said it was a “no-brainer” that he would return.
“There was no question that I needed to get better and that I needed to make that jump in my development to get better in my game so it was no question I was coming back,” Love said. “What went into that was really just talking to my parents, trying to see who was going to get the next job, and when Coach (Hubert) Davis was hired it was a no brainer and I knew I was coming back before then but I just knew when he got the job it was a clear connect with me and him.”
While COVID is still here, offseason workouts and pickup games returned to more of what might be considered normal, a significant tool in helping to build cohesion and chemistry with a brand new crop of teammates. It’s also helped him rebuild confidence in his shooting stroke and his ability to finish at the rim.
“If you lose your confidence, it’s hard to shake back. And I kind of did it last year, but this year, I’m not going to let any of that hinder me from my success, or this team’s success. So as far as me, just in my mental space, I’m in the best mental space that I’ve ever been.”