UNC forward Armando Bacot heads Raleigh/Durham Top Ten

North Carolina’s Armando Bacot is photographed on Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, in Chapel Hill, N.C.

North Carolina’s Armando Bacot is photographed on Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, in Chapel Hill, N.C.


Armando Bacot’s ankle helped make the decision for him, the one he memorably tweaked in the Final Four, but it wasn’t the only thing that brought him back to North Carolina for a fourth season.

At a time when fans decry athletes’ ability to profit from their name, image and likeness and the transfer portal and NCAA leaders beg for help from Congress to restrain the unregulated financial marketplace their own inaction created, Bacot is at the other end of the spectrum. The ability to market his own image thanks to NIL reform allowed him to remain on a campus he loved without compromising his future.

Without that?

“I would say if I was healthy, then I definitely probably would have leaned toward leaving,” Bacot said.

But in this new world, Bacot didn’t need to turn professional to turn a profit.

Halfway through his senior year, Bacot stands out not only for his eye-popping stats — the ACC preseason player of the year broke Billy Cunningham’s 58-year-old school record for career double-doubles — but the way he’s unleashed his inner entrepreneur.

For his success both on and off the court, Bacot tops the 2022 Triangle Ten, The News & Observer’s annual ranking of the 10 most influential people in Triangle sports. Bacot is joined by runners, champions and trend-setters, among others, in this list compiled by N&O sports columnist Luke DeCock with input from other staff members, focusing on impact in 2022 specifically.

1. Armando Bacot, North Carolina basketball forward

North Carolina’s Armando Bacot (5) talks with his teammates as they warm up for their game against James Madison on Sunday, November 20, 2022 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Before a wave of state laws that took effect in the summer of 2021 overruled the NCAA and allowed college athletes to sell merchandise, endorse products and businesses, give private lessons, host camps and be paid as actors and performers — all the other things normal students are allowed to do — there was every incentive for basketball players to leave campus and turn pro.

Even marginal NBA prospects would prefer to play overseas and make whatever they can make than spend another unpaid year in college; Bacot’s high profile and business savvy has allowed him to enjoy the best of both worlds. He’s not only the big man on campus, he’s profiting from that status.

Bacot has his own line of T-shirts and endorsement deals with Jimmy’s Seafood, Town Hall Burgers, Dunkin’ Donuts, apparel company Rhoback, ZIPS Car Wash, finance app MoneyLion, BadBoy Mowers, Barstool Sports, CapTech and the Me Fine Foundation, not to mention a paid guest spot on the Netflix show “Outer Banks.”

The front of his jersey says No. 5, but the back might as well say “open for business.”

The NCAA’s fight against NIL and its losing legal strategy has left it powerless to put any restraints on NIL, which naturally opened the door for wealthy boosters to dangle huge bags of money in front of recruits — twas ever thus, but now it’s in the open and legal, and it’s changed the recruiting game completely. Now, while coaches and athletic directors and some fans may decry that, it’s also the free market at work.

As former Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski has said, players had value before they got on campus and they had value when they left but while they were in college everyone pretended they didn’t. Now everyone knows.

Schools have always competed financially for recruits, despite the football coaches crying foul. Those gazillion-dollar football palaces with lazy rivers and recording studios aren’t there to generate revenue. At least now the players get some of it.

But that is, to be fair, a sort of unintended consequence of NIL liberalization. The initial intent was to give college athletes the same right to make a living as their peers. It’s hard to believe now, when R.J. Davis is doing radio ads for a Mexican restaurant and Leaky Black is doing television commercials for a plumbing company, that this was somehow seen as the end of the world, that fans would stop caring or the Big Ten would have to drop to Division III.

And in that original conception of NIL, it’s hard to imagine anyone taking advantage of the opportunity more than Bacot.

“This is the very idealistic and perhaps even unrealistic way people hoped it would come about,” said Jonathan Jensen, a UNC sports marketing professor who follows the industry but has no personal knowledge of Bacot’s endorsement deals. “What he’s doing and how he’s going about it is really more of a case study for how athlete endorsement and sports marketing is supposed to work in this 21st century era of madness in intercollegiate athletics.”

Here’s another unintended consequence, to Bacot’s benefit: By returning for a fourth year, on a team expected to return to the Final Four and compete for a national title, he’s become a campus icon. It’s hard to put a price on that.

“The whole University of North Carolina community, they’ve really embraced me and made me the face of the university. So it’s just been great,” Bacot said. “It’s definitely something I embrace because when you think of North Carolina, you think of Michael Jordan, Tyler Hansbrough, Mia Hamm, just to be in somewhat the same company as them, I think anybody would want that.”

2. Katelyn Tuohy, NC State cross-country

North Carolina State’s Katelyn Tuohy heads to the finish line to win the individual title in the NCAA Cross Country Championships, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Stillwater, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) Sue Ogrocki AP

There is such a thing as cross-country recruiting hype, and Tuohy arrived in Raleigh in a giant cloud of it in the fall of 2020 after being named the Gatorade national athlete of the year four times — three times in cross-country and once in track — in high school. She’s lived up to every bit of it at N.C. State, and a trip to Paris for the 2024 Summer Olympics may be her next destination.

Not only has Tuohy helped the Wolfpack to back-to-back NCAA titles, she won the individual championship this fall — her second NCAA title to go with the 5,000-meter title she won in outdoor track last spring. She’s also an example of how not all NIL riches go to football and basketball stars. With almost 100,000 Instagram followers, Tuohy signed an endorsement deal with Adidas after her latest championship — the first for a collegiate distance runner.

3. Trei Oliver, N.C. Central football coach

CelebrationBowlFootball (6).JPG
North Carolina Central quarterback Davius Richard and defensive back Khalil Baker clap and cheer as head coach Trei Oliver raises the championship trophy after the Celebration Bowl NCAA college football game against Jackson State, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr. ) Hakim Wright Sr AP

Step aside, Prime Time. An all-CIAA defensive back as a player at N.C. Central, Oliver needed only three seasons back at his alma mater to take the Eagles to the top of the HBCU world. NCCU’s overtime win over Deion Sanders and Jackson State in the Celebration Bowl earlier this month gave the Eagles their first 10-win season as an FCS school to go with their first MEAC title since 2016.

NCCU opened the season with a win over archrival North Carolina A&T at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium, picked up a top-25 road win at New Hampshire and recovered from an upset loss at South Carolina State to win the MEAC. With the recent defections of football powers from the MEAC, there’s an opening for Oliver to build a dynasty in Durham.

4. Courtney Banghart, UNC women’s basketball coach

North Carolina coach Courtney Banghart talks with Deja Kelly (25) during their game against Jackson State on Wednesday, November 9, 2022 at Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

It may be N.C. State’s moment atop the women’s basketball pyramid in the Triangle but since arriving from Princeton in 2019, Banghart hasn’t taken that for granted. She’s taken shot after shot at Wolfpack fans (“classless”) and Reynolds Coliseum (“a small gym”), injecting new life into that rivalry — and backed it up on the court.

The Tar Heels made the Sweet 16 last season, and after several years in the wilderness as Sylvia Hatchell’s distinguished tenure fizzled to a close, North Carolina is once again a Top 25 fixture, going toe to toe with N.C. State (2-4 under Banghart) and Duke (2-2).

5. Michelle Cooper, Duke women’s soccer forward

Duke forward Michelle Cooper led the ACC with 19 goals and was named ACC offensive player of the year as a sophomore. She’s already turned pro to pursue her career at the next level. Courtesy Duke athletics

Cooper’s sophomore season at Duke was so dominant she’s already turned pro. The national freshman of the year in 2021, Cooper took a giant leap forward in 2022. The ACC offensive player of the year, she led the ACC in goals with 19 — good for second nationally — and was first in shots and third in assists. She’s also Duke’s first-ever finalist for the Hermann Trophy, which has been won nine times by Triangle players, all from North Carolina.

In her short time at Duke, she still finished sixth in career goals and had the best stats through two seasons of any player in school history. A member of the U.S. under-20 national team, Cooper has yet to get a full international cap, but it appears to be a matter of time. The only question now is whether she’ll enter the NWSL draft or play overseas. Either way, college defenders will be glad she’s gone.

6. Mike Elko, Duke football coach

Duke head coach Mike Elko congratulates Anthony Hinton during a Senior Day ceremony prior to the Blue Devils’ final regular season game at Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Durham, N.C. Kaitlin McKeown kmckeown@newsobserver.com

Turns out Duke football wasn’t dead. It was merely dormant. Without minimizing in any way what David Cutliffe did at Duke — taking a program that once won a lawsuit by arguing that it was the worst team in America to an ACC championship game and its first bowl appearance in 17 years — there’s no question the program was completely adrift the past few years, with no guarantee it could recover.

Enter Elko, who worked his way up through the ranks as a defensive coordinator but made his mark at Duke by injecting life back into every aspect of the football program, from the players to the students. His first season was a case study in how sometimes Xs and Os are less important than energy and attitude, and players who looked lost a year ago thrived with a fresh start. The ACC coach of the year, and deservedly so.

7. Cindy Parlow Cone, U.S. Soccer president

Cindy Parlow Cone, U.S. Soccer Federation president and former national team player, greets U.S. Soccer officials and members of the media at a Thanksgiving feast in Doha. Associated Press

The former UNC and U.S. Women’s National Team star and NCFC Youth executive took over as president of the national soccer federation in 2020 after Carlos Cordeiro resigned in disgrace and had her hands full with the USWNT equal-pay lawsuit and, later, the player-abuse scandal in the NWSL.

But the USWNT lawsuit was finally settled in February in what amounted to a massive win for the players and U.S. Soccer’s Yates Report, released in October, cast more light on what happened in the NWSL and U.S. Soccer’s failure to prevent it. The recent success of the United States at the Men’s World Cup (with another UNC star as coach, Gregg Berhalter) is a plus and the women will face the usual high expectations as they look for a fifth World Cup in Australia and New Zealand this summer.

8. Karen Shelton, North Carolina field hockey coach

UNC field hockey coach Karen Shelton leads her team during an NCAA tournament semifinal victory against Boston College on Nov. 22. The next day, Shelton led the Tar Heels to their eighth national championship. UNC Athletics

This isn’t Shelton’s first appearance on this list, but it will be her last. She went out on top with her 10th national title in November, retiring after winning 25 ACC titles in 42 years in Chapel Hill. Shelton built the Tar Heels’ field-hockey dynasty from scratch in the early days of Title IX and kept it on top for decades, which is nearly impossible in any sport but especially impressive given the school’s location far from the sport’s traditional mid-Atlantic recruiting base.

Shelton combined for a final, undefeated season with the best player she ever coached: Erin Matson, not only the ACC’s best field-hockey player but one of the great athletes in ACC history, any sport. It was a fitting conclusion to distinguished careers at North Carolina for both of them. At any other school, Shelton would be in a class by herself; it’s tougher at a place where Dean Smith coached and Anson Dorrance still coaches. In her own sport, nationally, no one even comes close.

9. Boo Corrigan, N.C. State athletic director

N.C. State athletics director Boo Corrigan talks with quarterback MJ Morris (16) after N.C. State’s 22-21 victory over Virginia Tech at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

Corrigan occupied the hottest seat in college football this fall as chairman of the College Football Playoff selection committee, and after enduring the public slings and arrows week after week defending the committee’s (pointless) weekly rankings, there were very few complaints in the end about the four teams that Corrigan’s group ended up picking to play for the title.

And Corrigan isn’t the only Triangle AD in that kind of spotlight and may not be the last. Duke’s Nina King was the chairperson of the NCAA women’s committee last spring (the one that put N.C. State in a virtual road game against Connecticut despite being a No. 1 seed) and North Carolina’s Bubba Cunningham is in the middle of a five-year term on the men’s committee and it wouldn’t be shocking if he ended up as chairman in 2025.

10. Mike Forman, Carolina Hurricanes chief marketing officer

Forman and his marketing team have pulled off all those clever guerrilla marketing stunts that are now a Hurricanes trademark, from turning around “Bunch of Jerks” and David Ayres jersey T-shirts in a matter of hours to the Raleigh IceCaps jerseys the Hurricanes will wear for warmups on Jan. 10. When Tom Dundon bought the team in 2018, he wanted to create buzz — he wasted no time bringing back the Hartford Whalers gear — and Forman has delivered.

But Forman’s role goes deeper: He was the driving force behind the Hurricanes’ new Hall of Fame and remains a key figure in preparations for February’s outdoor game at Carter-Finley Stadium. That’s no easy task, with the Hurricanes, N.C. State and the NHL all collaborating to pull off what will end up being one of the biggest one-day events in the history of Triangle sports.

Five to watch in 2023

1. Drake Maye, North Carolina quarterback

North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye and coach Mack Brown watch the extra point attempt by Noah Burnette to give the Tar Heels a 28-24 lead in the fourth quarter against Pitt on Saturday, October 29, 2022 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Maye’s insurgent Heisman Trophy campaign fizzled at the end along with the Tar Heels, but he’ll be one of the favorites heading into the new season even after losing star receiver Josh Downs and offensive coordinator Phil Longo. Either way, in what figures to be his final year of college football, Maye has a chance to break every record in the UNC book, be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft and — potentially — eclipse both his father, Mark, and brother, Luke, as Carolina legends.

2. Martin Necas, Carolina Hurricanes forward

Carolina Hurricanes’ Martin Necas (88) watches the puck against the New York Rangers during the first period of Game 7 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, May 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker) Karl B DeBlaker AP

In his fourth NHL season, Necas has finally started to realize the potential even the most casual fan could see in his future, playing with preternatural confidence, scoring goals and trying breathtaking plays with no apparent fear of failure. His emergence as a consistent game-breaking wild card was absolutely necessary for a team that struggles to finish chances even at the best of times, and he’ll have to keep scoring and creating if the Hurricanes are going to atone for last season’s postseason disappointment.

3. Kevin Keatts, NC State basketball coach

North Carolina State head coach Kevin Keatts reacts during the second half of the Wolfpack’s 92-73 win over Furman at PNC Arena on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022, in Raleigh, N.C. Kaitlin McKeown kmckeown@newsobserver.com

After a dismal 2021-22 season that called Keatts’ future at N.C. State into question, he dipped deeply into the transfer portal and retooled his entire staff, bringing in experienced assistants from elsewhere (and bringing Levi Watkins home). The results were remarkable in nonconference play, with N.C. State losing only to Kansas, but the Wolfpack started 0-2 in ACC play. The question now: How many ACC games does Keatts need to win to get the fans off his back? How many does he need to win to inject some life back into PNC? How many does he need to satisfy Corrigan?

4. Shawnti Jackson, Wakefield High sprinter

Shawnti Jackson won three NCHSAA 4A state titles (100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters) for Wakefield High in 2022. A senior, she has committed to run for Arkansas in college. Associated Press

Jackson swept the 100 meters, 200 meters and 400 meters at the NCHSAA 4A outdoor championships, holds multiple U.S. high-school records and is already one of the great new talents in American track. The daughter of Olympian hurdler Bershawn “Batman” Jackson won the national under-20 championship in the 100 meters this summer and finished third at the under-20 worlds in Colombia to go with gold and silver relay medals. A senior at Wakefield, she just committed to run for Arkansas in college and currently ranks 66th in the world in the 100.

5. Dan Barrett, CAA/ICON consultant

The Centennial Authority, which oversees PNC Arena, hired Barrett’s company to manage the renovations to the arena and development around it, placing Barrett at the center of the arena’s future. Already the authority’s agent in lease negotiations with Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon, Barrett will have to align stakeholders with diverging interests, from the state of North Carolina to N.C. State. The 23-year-old arena won’t get the hundreds of millions needed to bring it up to 21st century standards from Raleigh and Wake County without a long-term lease with the hockey team; Dundon won’t sign that lease without the right to develop the land around the arena that has sat vacant since it opened in 1999.

The 2021 Triangle 10

1. Rod Brind’Amour, Carolina Hurricanes coach

2. Nina King, Duke athletic director

3. Erin Matson, UNC field hockey star

4. Meghann Burke, NWSLPA executive director

5. Hubert Davis, UNC basketball coach

6. Claire Curzan, Olympic swimmer

7. Paolo Banchero, Duke basketball forward

8. Que Tucker, NCHSAA executive director

9. Joe Giglio and Joe Ovies, local sports radio hosts

10. Laurie Henes, N.C. State women’s cross country coach

The 2020 Triangle 10

N.C. State’s Isaiah Moore speaks during a #PackUnited peaceful protest against racial and social injustice outside Holladay Hall on the campus of N.C. State Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

1. College athletes, including N.C. State linebacker Isaiah Moore

2. Jim Phillips, ACC commissioner

3. Nolan Smith, Duke men’s basketball director of operations

4. Dr. Mandy Cohen, NC secretary of Health and Human Services

5. Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes forward

6. Vincent Price, Duke president

7. LeVelle Moton, N.C. Central men’s basketball coach

8. Elissa Cunane, N.C. State center

9. Debinha, NC Courage midfielder

10. Chad Price, MAKO Medical CEO

The 2019 Triangle 10

David West poses in the gym at the JD Lewis Center in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. West is the chief operating officer and chief recruiter of the HBL, which starting in 2021 plans to create a collegiate-aged path to the NBA completely separate from the NCAA, Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

1. David West, HBL chief operating officer

2. Mack Brown, North Carolina football coach

3. Heather O’Reilly, recently retired soccer legend

4. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke men’s basketball coach

5. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes center

6. Karen Shelton, UNC field hockey coach

7. Terrence And Torry Holt, entrepreneurs and philanthropists

8. Akshay Bhatia, teenage professional golfer

9. Wes Moore, N.C. State women’s basketball coach

10. North Carolina politicians (really!)

The 2018 Triangle 10

N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow, right, tops the 2018 Triangle Ten as the most influential person in sports in the Triangle. Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon, left, is fifth. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

1. Debbie Yow, N.C. State athletic director

2. Jordan Bazant, agent

3. Zach Maurides, Teamworks founder

4. Zion Williamson, Duke basketball player

5. Tom Dundon, Carolina Hurricanes owner

6. Ezra Baeli-Wang and 292 (and counting) other UNC athletes

7. Nina King, Duke deputy athletic director

8. McCall Zerboni, NC Courage midfielder

9. Mack Brown, North Carolina football coach

10. Que Tucker, NCHSAA commissioner

The 2017 Triangle 10

Scott Dupree, right, the executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, laughs with Alex Bass the sports information director for Cardinal Gibbons High School at the John Wall Family Foundation Holiday basketball tournament on Wednesday. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

1. Scott Dupree, Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance executive director

2. Rick Evrard, Bond, Schoeneck & King lawyer

3. Kevin White, Duke athletic director

4. George Williams, St. Augustine’s athletic director and track coach

5. Stephen Malik, North Carolina FC/NC Courage owner

6. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke men’s basketball coach

7. Ingrid Wicker McCree, N.C. Central athletic director

8. Thomas Dundon, prospective Carolina Hurricanes owner

9. Debbie Yow, N.C. State athletic director

10. Dwayne West, Garner Road Basketball Club executive director

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock joined The News & Observer in 2000 and has covered six Final Fours, the Summer Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He is the current president of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, was the 2020 winner of the National Headliner Award as the country’s top sports columnist and has twice been named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.

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