CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – It feels like University of North Carolina women’s basketball guard Deja Kelly has been in Chapel Hill for quite some time.
As a starter for the last three years, Kelly has been a key piece for the Tar Heels ever since she stepped foot on campus. She averaged a team-high 16.5 points per game and earned first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors this past season.
After the Tar Heels fell to Ohio State in the second round of the 2023 NCAA Tournament, she hopes to lead the Tar Heels to the promised land in her senior year.
The team created a sign and hung it outside the entrance to the locker room at Carmicheal Arena. The sign says, “Do not enter, Final Four team loading.”
Some coaches would frown on motivational tactics like this, but UNC head coach Courtney Banghart welcomes it.
“I think it’s something about you don’t come into the locker room, you’re not thinking like this and living like this,” Banghart said on her interpretation of the sign. “So, they’re just giving me whiteboard material. If that’s what you’re saying, then when you start to get a little finicky about playing time, let’s talk about ‘this is what you said you wanted.’”
“The more they talk great, the more I get to yell in practice,” Banghart continued. “If that’s what you want, this, this, this and this aren’t good enough. But I also don’t want to squash their dreams. You shouldn’t come to the University of North Carolina if you’re afraid to try to win a national championship.”
In order to achieve this lofty goal, Kelly will need to be a huge part of the equation, along with fellow seniors Alyssa Ustby, Anya Poole and Alexandra Zelaya. However, that senior status still hasn’t quite sunk in for Kelly.
“Everyone keeps calling me old, and I cannot believe it,” Kelly said. “I’m the oldest on the team now by age, I don’t think it’s hit me yet. But yes, we’re starting to feel it a little bit, but I don’t think it’s fully hit us yet, until like Senior Night comes around. But I think we’re carrying that veteran role now.”
UNC tips off the 2023-24 season against Gardner-Webb in Chapel Hill on Nov. 8.