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UNC Women’s Basketball is on the verge of greatness

Courtney Banghart’s latest extension was well-earned.

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 20 Div I Women’s Championship - North Carolina vs Ohio State Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Yesterday the news broke that Courtney Banghart received a five-year contract extension. It was the last piece of a puzzle that should have fans excited about where the UNC women’s basketball program is at.

It’s easy to forget just how low things were in April 2019 when Sylvia Hatchell was let go. Hatchell basically built the UNC women’s program from scratch, and had a run where they were perennial contenders for the NCAA title, winning it in 1994. By the mid-2010’s, though, the program had fallen down to mediocrity and she was soon embroiled in a shameful scandal. Bubba Cunningham was forced to make a move, and Courtney Banghart was hired.

Banghart took over a program that was coming off a 18-15 season, and somehow that was its best one of the past four years. Her first year was piecing together what was left and installing her style of playing, and quickly she showed her mettle by finishing with a winning record.

The 2019-20 season has also been the only one where the Tar Heels didn’t play in the NCAA Tournament.

The very weird Pandemic season of 2020-21 saw Banghart attempting to continue moving forward while bringing in the class that has changed it all. Somehow in the midst of the whirlwind of change and COVID, Banghart brought in the freshman class of Deja Kelly, Alyssa Utsby, Kennedy Todd-Williams, Anya Poole, and Alexandra Zelaya. While continuing to mesh with the leftover team, Carolina managed to make it into the NCAA Tournament Bubble, announcing to the basketball world they were coming.

The seasons since have seen Carolina continue to make waves with big wins, fight for the top of the ACC, give an eventual national champion their most difficult game, reignite a local rivalry that might be more heated on the women’s side than the men’s, and take advantage of the NIL game by having a star player ink deals with Forever 21 and Sports Illustrated. Banghart, meanwhile, showing a much more adept usage of social media than her predecessor, is seen all over campus, recruiting hard, and drawing in other coaches and players to assist her to bring in the names.

All of that work appears to have paid off to where 2023-24 sets up to be a big year in Chapel Hill. This past season ended a little earlier than Carolina thought it would, and once the season was over there were some surprising transfers: Todd-Williams and Destiny Adams. It’s unknown if those decisions were as a result of being upset with how things were going or if there were a frank conversation about the needs for the Tar Heels to take the next step, but it turns out Banghart turned her recruiting prowess to the portal to build an amazing roster.

With the announcement last Sunday of Indya Nivar transferring over from Stanford, Banghart has managed to add some serious firepower to the roster. Nivar joins Lexi Donarski from Iowa State and Boston College Center Maria Gakdeng as transfers. Meanwhile the 2023 recruiting class brings in a five-star freshman in Center Ciera Toomey and four-stars in forwards RyLee Grays and Laila Hull, as well as four-star guard Reniya Kelly. That’s seven new players to add to a pretty stacked lineup that still returns the majority of its roster last year. As fellow Tar Heel Blog writer Akil Guruparan noted in his story about the departures, Carolina had several spots available, and the fact that so many are jumping on board is a sign that players see something special in Chapel Hill.

Is it any wonder then that Banghart earned this five-year extension? All one has to do is look at a program like Tennessee and see how long it’s taken them to recover from the loss of legendary coach Pat Summitt to know how easy it would be for the program to be stuck in the same level of low mediocrity it had found itself in by the time of Hatchell’s departure. Instead, Banghart has come in like a firecracker. It’s clear with these roster moves, both in recruiting and transfers, she meant what she said in her introduction that she sees a National Title coming to Chapel Hill.

What makes all these moves really something is that this amazing 2020 recruiting class has two more years to play. They, like every other athlete, were giving another year of eligibility to play because of the uncertainty surrounding the ‘20-’21 season. Now this new power class comes in with a base of experienced players to learn from, and every single one of these transfers have multiple years of eligibility left.

It feels as if the depth problem that has been plaguing Banghart has potentially been solved. Carolina now boasts a bunch of quality talent as well as depth to be able to send players in waves. It’s completely possible that the team that takes the court to start the 2023 season will stay in place for two full years. That’s a long time to play together, and it’s the sort of formula that wins teams titles.

It’s going to be tough as other programs are gearing up just as hard as the Tar Heels, but Carolina and Courtney Banghart has announced to the country they are ready to play as well. Carmichael should be fun next season with this roster.