Lucas: Head Of The Class

By Adam Lucas

After a lifetime in basketball, Sean May has seen virtually everything in a weight room. But Armando Bacot caught him by surprise.


The Tar Heel assistant coach was passing through the Smith Center weight room last year when Bacot was among the players going through an offseason workout. During a break, Bacot checked the clock and then signaled to May.


“Can you check my phone?” Bacot asked May.


“For what?” May replied.


“It’s after 4 p.m.,” came the response. “The market has closed and I need to check a couple things.”


The market in question, of course, was the stock market. But it might be the first time in Smith Center history that a current player expressed interest in the closing results.


“I got into the stock market during quarantine,” Bacot says. “There wasn’t a lot to do. I have a lot of friends who do it, and I’ve learned from them.”


He’s being typically understated. Bacot’s Carolina network of stock aficionados eventually turned into over a dozen people who met regularly to talk about the market.


He isn’t able to spend as much time on his stock picks during the season. After all, it’s tough to find time to do the necessary research when you’re busy leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in double-doubles, field goal percentage and rebounding—a trifecta no Tar Heel has ever achieved.


But you’d expect Armando Bacot to be unusual. This is, after all, someone who has the word “Loser” tattooed on his left hand, a tattoo he admits he commissioned because, “I didn’t really give it a lot of thought.”


Couple that quirky nature with the fact that the pandemic has prevented many Carolina fans from getting to know their Tar Heels the way they ordinarily might, and you have one of the most low-profile stars in recent Carolina basketball history.


But you also have one of the smartest, most intellectually curious Tar Heels in that same time frame.


Jim Kitchen has taught at the notoriously challenging Kenan-Flagler Business School for 13 years. That means every single year, he sees some of the best students on campus. “Armando takes being a student very seriously,” Kitchen says. “Forget about the athlete part. He’s one of the best students I’ve had—students, period, not just student-athletes—in my class.”


In a class project last semester, Bacot’s team finished second out of five dozen participating groups. Kitchen wondered if Bacot’s performance might fall off once the basketball season began, bringing with it all the requisite time demands of practices, games and travel. It didn’t. Every class, there was Bacot, back in his familiar spot in the front row of an 80-person classroom.


Kitchen says the closest comparison for Bacot is Tyler Zeller, a two-time Skip Prosser Award winner for most outstanding basketball student-athlete in the league and the 2012 Academic All-America of the Year. Zeller was likewise a standout at Kenan-Flagler. But even he didn’t seem to light up quite as much on the topic of stocks and investing.


During the bubble days of Gamestop, Bacot tried to persuade May and fellow assistant coach Brad Frederick that it was a worthwhile investment. It remains a solid producer for the Tar Heel big man, along with Tesla. As for the misses, which anyone involved in the stock market knows will eventually happen? Don’t ask him about Clover, a point of sale platform that went as high as $16.77 per share in late 2020 but now sits at just over $3.


“Mando is going to be a great businessman,” says Ritwik Pavan, a 2021 Carolina graduate and close friend of Bacot who is involved in the tech and startup fields. “He has great business acumen, and he knows what he is good at and where he can still learn. We talk about his future a lot. Where he wants to go is basketball, and that’s his primary focus. But he is also able to think outside of basketball. He wants to have passive income, and he has a lot of interest in business and startups.”


Most of those outside interests are largely shelved during the season, especially as Carolina approaches a stretch in which the Tar Heels will play four games in eight days later this month. Bacot admits he doesn’t pay quite as much attention to his outside interests from October-April, because the time demands of being a basketball player and being a student are significant.


His results are undeniable. You’ve seen the basketball production, as Bacot goes into tomorrow’s game against Georgia Tech (tickets are available, including limited lower level seats) as the reigning ACC Player of the Week for the first time in his career. What you might not know is that he earned a spot on the Dean’s List during the fall semester, and carries a stellar overall 3.67 GPA during his time in Chapel Hill.


“Carolina has been great for Mando because it has exposed him to so many different things,” Pavan says. “He got really excited when he got into the business school. He gets really excited talking about some of the professors he’s had. Of course the basketball has been great for him, but he’s benefited so much from everything outside of basketball.”


There are only two individuals in Carolina basketball history to have grabbed at least 20 rebounds in a game in the Smith Center. One is May, and the other is Bacot. And when the Tar Heel assistant coach looks at his latest protégé, he sees a limitless future.


“Here’s the thing about Mando,” May says. “Basketball is his ticket. But it’s not even close to being the full picture of who he is.”


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