CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina guard Caleb Love is returning to school for his junior season, opting not to enter the NBA Draft process following his rise to national prominence in the NCAA Tournament. The St. Louis, Mo. native announced the decision on Sunday.
“The opportunity to play at North Carolina is something I never take for granted,” Love said in a video released on social media. “To play for the greatest fan base in the world, to play with the most amazing teammates I could ever imagine and to play for coaches who support and challenge me in every way are all blessings that make me feel so fortunate…
Love — who etched his name into March Madness lore with a dagger 3-pointer over the outstretched hand of ACC Defensive Player of the Year Mark Williams with 25 seconds remaining to lift UNC past Duke in the Final Four — joins first-team big man Armando Bacot and All-ACC defender Leaky Black, who both announced their returns last week, then point guard R.J. Davis did so on Saturday. With four starters back from a team that reached the national championship game, UNC is expected to be a consensus Top 5 team in preseason polls for 2022-23.
“Caleb’s passion for this team and program are what motivates and drives him to win a national championship and eventually have a long, successful career in the NBA,” UNC head coach Hubert Davis said in a release. “Nobody is better at taking and making big shots in pressure situations. He’s one of the most gifted players I’ve ever been around and I’m extremely excited to coach him another season.”
Love averaged 15.9 points per game on 37.1% shooting from the floor and 36% from the 3-point line. He averaged 3.6 assists per game and shot 86.3% from the foul line. UNC was 14-0 when he had five assists or more. He earned All-ACC Honorable Mention honors and was named to the Final Four and All-East Regional teams.
The 6-foot-4, 195-pound combo guard was equal parts sporadic and enthralling in his sophomore season, enduring extreme ups-and-downs but always willing to take – and make – key baskets in crunch time. He scored 14 points in the final 2:23 of regulation and overtime to guide UNC past Syracuse on Senior Night, knocking down a go-ahead 3-pointer with 7.2 seconds to play. Love scored a layup and made a pair of free throws in the final 31 seconds to secure a home victory against Louisville. He also drilled a go-ahead 3-pointer with 36 seconds to play at Clemson before driving and dishing to Brady Manek for the winning basket with 3.1 seconds left.
Love was even better in the NCAA Tournament. He opened the event with 21 first-half points against Marquette, tying the school record for most 3-pointers in a game (6) in doing so, and then was elite in the Sweet 16 victory over UCLA, scoring 27 of his career-high 30 points after halftime. The combo guard then scored 22 points after halftime in the Final Four win over Duke.
A key area of improvement for Love will be in finishing at the rim. The sophomore shot 38% on two-pointers on the season, but that percentage dropped to 34% in ACC play.