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UNC Basketball Defensive Player of the Year 2023: Leaky Black

When scouts are saying teams will give you a shot because of your defense, there’s really no other choice.

North Carolina v Virginia Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Anyone reading this can’t be surprised by this choice, can you?

On some level you could just cut and paste last year’s post that sang Leaky’s praises over the course of the title game run. This year may not have ended up in the same way, but if there was one constant, it was Leaky Black being put on the opposition’s most dangerous player. He rose to the occasion again, and easily takes this title for the 2022-23 season.

Once Black decided he was going to come back for his fifth year, it’s clear he knew what his role was going to be, and he excelled. He lead the team in steals with 42, was third on the team in blocks with 27, and if a team had a leading scorer, it was his job to make that player’s life as difficult as possible.

More than just Carolina fans noticed his effort, though. As the season wound down and folks started to talk about the next step for Leaky, what seemed almost impossible a couple of years ago, all of a sudden, seemed possible.

This is really interesting for Black as he moves on to the next part of his basketball career. He looks like he’ll never be any sort of offensive threat, but NBA teams are known to be happy to have specialists come off the bench. That they’ve expressed interest means that Black will at least get some workouts with some teams over the summer, and likely end up at the Summer League to show off his chops.

What happens from there is anyone else’s guess. No one is expecting him to make an NBA roster on opening night, and certainly he’s not going to hear his name on draft night, but a career that looked like it may basically end once this season was over now has a chance of continuing on.

Black is going to go down as perhaps one of the most interesting players to put on a Carolina jersey. The roster has changed over so much it’s hard to imagine that Black has been on the UNC roster since the 2018-19 season. His career is bookended by being on teams that had high expectations at the start of the season, but fell short in one way or the other. He’s the bridge from the end of the Roy Williams era to the Hubert Davis regime, and he’s gone from a guy who Williams thought could play all five positions to one who was firmly locked at the wing forward spot.

Throughout it all he’s taken a ton of negativity when he didn’t “turn” into a new version of Theo Pinson, he’s openly talked about mental health struggles, which seemed to unlock this version of himself once he sought help dealing with them. He could never become the guy offensively that fans had hoped, yet he found enough of it to post a career high 18 points against Florida State. Still, through it all, he had his defense.

In a season that was ultimately a disappointment, Black was honored as a member of the all-conference defensive team, but as the Tar Heels struggled down the stretch conference voters passed on him as the player of the year. It ultimately was more of a statement on Carolina’s season than Leaky’s, as Armando Bacot suffered a similar slight despite being one of the most important players in the conference. That said, his value is well known by the fans and the team.

Here’s hoping the next step for Leaky includes getting on an NBA roster. Considering the odds he’s already beaten, no one should bet against it.