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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
C.L. Brown

UNC basketball loses starting guard, leading scorer Caleb Love to transfer portal

UNC junior Caleb Love will not be running it back with his basketball teammates again next season.

Love announced Monday on social media he will enter the NCAA transfer portal. He was among four starters from the Tar Heels’ 2022 run to the Final Four who returned to coach Hubert Davis’ team last offseason.

“I’ve taken some time with my family to reevaluate what’s best for me to continue to grow as a player, and I’ve decided to enter the transfer portal to continue my journey,” he wrote.

Perhaps both sides needed a fresh start, as Carolina fans came to develop a bit of a love/hate relationship with the 6-foot-4 guard from St. Louis. Despite Love’s shooting percentage from 3-point range dropped this season — down to 29.9 percent after shooting 36.0 percent as a sophomore — his percentage of shots taken increased to 28.4 percent according to Ken Pomeroy.

While he made several big shots last season — including a long 3-pointer in regulation to force an overtime win over Syracuse. His 3-pointer over 7-footer Mark Williams to seal their Final Four win against Duke that cemented its place as an iconic shot in Carolina history. But when those types of shots didn’t fall this season, like in regulation of their quadruple overtime loss to Alabama, he became an easy target for why the Heels were failing to live up to expectations.

“He’s going to take those shots because we live in the moment,” guard R.J. Davis, told the News & Observer at the ACC tournament. “He’s a teammate that you want to have. Obviously people are going to have their opinions and say whatever to him, he’s such a confident kid that I don’t think it gets to him at all.”

Love’s teammates heard the criticism from fans including the narrative that his shot selection indicated that he was a selfish player.

“The biggest misconception is that he’s selfish and he doesn’t care,” Leaky Black told the N&O this month. “That’s not the case. If anything, he cares too much.”

Added forward Armando Bacot, “I don’t think he’s selfish, but I think what he’s doing, he thinks he’s trying to make the right play. We’re all human, everybody lets outside noise affect them somewhat.”

In an interview last month with the N&O, Love said he believed people took his stoic mannerism on the floor and ran with it.

“Sometimes my body language, they think I’m either disengaged or not having fun, but every time I get to step on the floor, I’m having fun regardless if you see it on my face or not,” Love said. “Sometimes I think people misconstrue me being mad because I have a straight face, but that’s just my face. If I don’t laugh, or if I don’t show emotion, then they just think that I’m mad or something like that. So I feel like that’s the biggest thing. But I’m always positive. I’m always happy especially this year, even with the ups and downs. I feel like everything happens for a reason and I’m big on just being positive.”

Love started 96 games for UNC over three seasons. This past season, Love average 16.7 points per game on 37.8% shooting to lead the Tar Heels.

In 2021-22, Love averaged 15.9 points per game to help lead North Carolina to a berth in the national title game against Kansas. In the NCAA Tournament in 2022, Love average 18.8 points per game, including a 28-point performance against rival Duke in the teams’ national semifinal.

Love is the sixth UNC player to enter the transfer portal since the team’s disappointing finish to a once-promising season. The Heels were the preseason No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 poll, and became the first preseason No. 1 to miss the NCAA Tournament since the field expanded to 64 teams after bowing out of the ACC Tournament in the quarterfinals.

Puff Johnson, Will Shaver, Tyler Nickel, Dontrez Styles and Justin McKoy will also will enter the transfer portal.

Love’s decision leaves Bacot and Davis as the only two returning starters. Bacot and R.J. Davis announced recently their decisions to return to Chapel Hill next season. Rising sophomore forward Jalen Washington, who also essentially announced his return on Twitter last week, will likely be a third starter.

But the additional starter in the backcourt could be a serious competition. Rising junior D’Marco Dunn and rising sophomore Seth Trimble were both among the few bench players who got consistent playing time. Incoming freshman guard Simeon Wilcher will round out their rotation, barring any additions from the transfer portal.

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