It took a while, to be sure.
Longer than many anticipated, both fans of baby blue and mainstream analysts crowned him as the next one-and-done guard to ping from high school to Chapel Hill to the pros. Nearly two months into a turbulent college basketball season, one that was halfway over and well into conference play.
But, nonetheless, in an 80-73 North Carolina (9-5, 4-3 ACC) win over Wake Forest (3-6, 0-6 ACC) on Wednesday, it happened.
Caleb Love played like a lottery pick.
And a damn good one, at that, finishing with a season-high 20 points (7-12 FG, 2-3 3PT, 4-7 FT), 4 rebounds, 3 assists (3 turnovers), 2 steals and 2 blocks in 32 minutes (plus-12 +/-) in what was unequivocally and inarguably his best game of a challenging and mentally taxing season.
Entering the 2020-21 basketball season pegged as a consensus lottery prospect worthy of top-10 consideration for his gifts as a flashy space creator and pull-up scorer, it was a shock to many — Love included — that the 6’4 five-star out of St. Louis, MO, came out of the gates without any sense of rhythm.
There is cold, and then there is whatever temperature UNC’s starting point guard played at across the first twelve games of the season, in which he averaged 9.3 points and 3.3 assists on an unsightly 36.9 percent true shooting (.270/.180/.853 split).
An 11-point outing (4-10 FG, 3-6 3PT) against Florida State last week marked only the second time all season that the freshman had shot 40 percent or better from the field, a fact that, while sobering, did offer some glimmers of hope that a stark, positive regression could be coming for a player whose confidence at lower levels made him one of the fiercest scorers in the country.
And, sure enough, that was the case.