For months leading up to the 2017 women's basketball season, North Carolina head coach sang the praises of incoming center Janelle Bailey as a potential star. Now, she's got the accolades to prove it.
On Wednesday, Bailey was named the 2017 USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year after her performance this summer in the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup in China, where she led the USA women to a 7-0 record and a gold medal. Bailey is only the second Tar Heel to earn the honor — joining Sylvia Crawley, the current assistant who starred on UNC's to its lone 1994 national title — and the first 3x3 national team player to win the award.
Bailey also led Providence Day School (Charlotte) to four consecutive NCISSA Class 3A state titles in high school and averaged 23 points and 13 points during her senior season, earning McDonald's All-American honors.
"It means the world to me to receive this award," Bailey said in a statement. "Being a part of USA Basketball has been an extremely incredible opportunity that I'm truly grateful for ... and I am humbled to be in the company of the other fantastic players that have won this award."
Bailey's been racking up awards all season for the Tar Heels (7-2). She cracked the ACC Newcomer List at ACC Media Day in October, and she was named the ACC Rookie of the Week on Monday for the second time in three weeks.
Through UNC's first nine games, she's posted three double-doubles and ranks 18th in the league in points (14.4) and 13th in rebounding (7.9) per game — both second among conference freshmen. She's done it all on 52.4 percent shooting, seventh-best in the ACC and tops for league newcomers.
Her team has felt the Bailey effect, too. The Tar Heels are out-rebounding opponents by 6.6 boards per game this season, a full 10-rebound swing from last year's margin, and Bailey has 13 of her team's 40 blocked shots, which rank sixth among ACC teams.
Bailey has been at the center of UNC's hopeful turnaround this season. On the heels of its first back-to-back losing seasons in nearly 30 years, North Carolina is riding a five-game winning streak — their longest since winning six straight in 2015-16 — after Tuesday's 91-56 win over Presbyterian, in which Bailey had 11 points and six rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
She's still adjusting to the physicality of the college game, having picked up at least three fouls in all nine of her starts this season. She's fouled out three times this season — in UNC's two losses to Hampton and South Alabama and in Tuesday's win — while her ability to stay on the court has been paramount for UNC's success this season. Even with foul trouble, she's still averaging 28.4 minutes per game, fourth-most on the team.
She should only get better from here. Her teammates are still getting used to having her as an option down low after years without a true post presence. And as Bailey limits her fouls, she can more aggressively use her size on both ends of the floor.
Maybe Hatchell was onto something, after all.