How Armando Bacot Went From '99.9999' Percent Out to UNC's Best Player on Sunday
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The first bit of hope arrived on Thursday in the form of a text message.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams was out recruiting, but back in Chapel Hill, head trainer Doug Halverson was working with big man Armando Bacot, who had suffered what looked like a serious sprained ankle in the Tar Heels’ loss to Ohio State on Wednesday night.
“'Very encouraging news,’” Williams recounted on Sunday. “'It looks a lot better.’”
It was quite the turn from the night before when the freshman briefly thought his season was over both from the pain and after watching the replay, when he watched his left ankle roll on a defender’s foot and snap as it nearly touched the ground.
“I was really scared,” Bacot said. “I thought I had broken it.”
By the time Williams got back to the Smith Center on Friday morning, Bacot was already off crutches and getting around just fine. Williams greeted in the hallway with a joke about his limp.
“He broke out into a little jog for about 15 feet and said, 'No, I'm not limping anymore,’” Williams said. “Really shows a lot of toughness, shows how quickly his body recuperated.”
Still, there was a long way to go from simply walking around and jogging to playing an ACC basketball game on Sunday, and in Friday’s press conference, Williams said he was “99.9999” percent certain that Bacot wouldn’t be available vs. Virginia.
That began changing shortly after the conversation, when in Friday afternoon’s practice, Bacot was able to go through dummy five-on-zero drills.
“Didn't have any pain, didn't have any pain afterwards,” Williams said. “Swelling had gone down quite a bit, but he had no pain.”
After going through shootaround fine on Sunday morning in Charlottesville, Bacot — who grew up just over an hour away in Richmond — was lobbying Williams to play.
“I had a lot of family there, so I knew I wanted to go out there and play in front of them,” Bacot said. “I knew most importantly, my team needed me.”
A little fewer than two hours before tipoff, a Carolina spokesman told media members that Bacot would dress and warm up with the intention of playing, but the final decision would be up to getting approval from Halverson, Bacot’s comfort and Williams’ judgment.
When Bacot began going through stretches, it appeared he had never been injured at all, and perhaps more incredible, he showed no hesitation as he did explosive slide drills in front of Halverson, strength coach Jonas Sahratian and director of operations Sean May.
After spending 6-8 hours a day Thursday, Friday and Saturday doing stretches, compression and other therapy with Halverson and Sahratian, Bacot was ultimately given the green light to play.
He shrugged off the quick recovery, which was originally projected to take several weeks.
“There’s people out there that go to work with injuries, do different stuff, so I can go out there and play 30-odd minutes,” he said. “I knew my team needed me.”
Ultimately, he was Carolina’s best player in the loss to Virginia, scoring 11 points and grabbing two rebounds in 25 minutes.
“I'd say of all the guys if I were going to be very critical, he would probably be the guy I'd be the least critical about,” Williams said. “It's a long list for most of the other guys, but probably less with Armando than anybody else."