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UNC Basketball: WV transfer James Okonkwo commits to the Tar Heels

Despite his visit not coming until later, the WVU transfer has decided to suit up for Hubert Davis this season.

West Virginia v Texas Tech Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

Earlier this week, we told you about James Okonkwo and him narrowing his choices to a couple of schools, including Carolina. At the time word was his visit wouldn’t occur until later in the month.

It turns out he didn’t need the visit, apparently.

On Thursday evening, On3 reported that Okonkwo will join the Tar Heels this season.

On3 was able to report this as Okonkwo reported it himself. As he told the site:

After being in communication with the UNC coaching staff following my decision to enter the transfer portal, I have decided to commit to UNC to play for Coach Davis in the 2023-2024 season. I can’t wait to compete for a national championship at Chapel Hill and continue to develop my game. Let’s go Tar Heels!

Okonkwo is a 6’9” power forward and will have two seasons of eligibility remaining. He provides some much-needed post depth, where right now the only experienced players in the four and five are Armando Bacot and Jalen Washington. While his stat line from last season may not be impressive — 2.5 points, 3.2 boards, and 11 minutes per game — he has the benefit of playing two seasons under a defensive-heavy system with former coach Bob Huggins. His minutes per game jumped from nearly nothing in his freshman season to the 11 in his sophomore campaign, and perhaps most importantly, he provides a bridge for freshmen Zayden High and Jae’Lyn Withers. Both match Okonkwo’s height and will now have someone with college experience under their belt to go up against in practice.

The move isn’t just about the future, though, there is a need right now for Okonkwo. With the 11 minutes per game he’s clearly not expecting to play star-level minutes, but he can be relied upon to help a rotation that was great up front but a little thin in the post. This likely means that Bacot and Washington can afford to sit more than originally expected, or Davis could even play around with a three-big lineup at one point of Bacot/Washington/Okonkwo considering Washington’s shooting abilities.

Most importantly, though, he’s another player who’ll bring an edge to the team that just seemed to be lacking last year. That edge was a big reason Cormac Ryan was brought in, and as the photo above shows, Okonkwo is not afraid to go toe-to-toe with players down low.

It’s probably safe to say that at this point Carolina’s roster is set. Hubert Davis has two scholarships remaining, but barring something else unforeseen like another coach deciding to resign, Davis is likely to just give them to one of the walk-ons that are carry overs from last season. That said, the depth that Carolina brings to the table in 2023-24 is impressive. Even without the freshmen eight players could legitimately be getting time on the court, and with so many new bodies it’ll be interesting to see the lineups Hubert Davis will use.