Elliot Cadeau and Zayden High both made their collegiate debuts at the same time. Just after the first media timeout in North Carolina's season opener Monday against Radford, the two Tar Heel freshmen came off the bench together. They immediately tried to show the older players how it was done.
A minute into their time on the floor, High weaved his way through traffic as the Tar Heels ran in transition. From more than half a court-length away, Cadeau saw him and threw a bounce pass. The window was impossibly small, but the ball found its way through to Cadeau's target.
It was an incredible pass just to reach High. It wasn't perfect, however, and it needed to be. It was slightly behind High, and he had to slow and turn back to try to retrieve it. He couldn't hold on, and Radford came away with it.
Two minutes later, High again sprinted down court. From just short of half court, Cadeau let fly with another pass ahead. This one wasn't quite high enough, and a defender directly in front of Cadeau was able to leap up and bat the ball away to a teammate.
Just like that, two of Elliot Cadeau's first three collegiate passes resulted in turnovers. This is the guy many call the best point guard in the freshman class?
The best point guard entering college this year is deaf in one ear, speaks fluent Swedish and, apparently, had opening-night jitters.
Cadeau quickly found his sea legs. He ended up logging 19 minutes in the game and dishing out a game-high six assists. It was the fourth-highest assist total recorded by a UNC freshman in his debut game. Raymond Felton and Ed Cota are two of the players ahead of him. Most importantly, Cadeau didn't turn it over again.
"It was really different for me," Cadeau said. "I've never played in front of a crowd like this. I've never played in front of a student section before. It was an adjustment for me coming off the bench. I never really did that before, so it was a little adjustment."
As a result, Cadeau had to recover from his shaky start.
"To start off the game with two turnovers kind of set me back a little bit, mentally," Cadeau said. "But I got back into it. It was a mental thing with me, personally. Everything's not going to go my way every game. So to start off like that, I knew I had to get back to playing my game."
Cadeau's game is fast. His ability to throw ahead in transition reminds many observers, including UNC coach Hubert Davis, of one of the top point guards in Tar Heel history.
"He's unique," Davis said. "I've only seen in college somebody like him that's similar — Kendall Marshall — in terms of his ability not only to pass but to get it to his teammate in the perfect position to do something on the offensive end."
Cadeau was a consensus 5-star recruit and was one-two in the incoming point guard rankings with USC's Isaiah Collier. He's also supposed to be playing his senior season in high school. Cadeau chose to reclassify and graduate a year early in order to join the Tar Heels this season.
"I decided it would be better for my development," he said. "With guards here like Seth (Trimble), Cormac (Ryan), Paxson (Wojcik) and RJ (Davis). Those are players. No players in high school are better than them. Why would I stay in high school, playing against high school players, when I can play against some of the best guards in the country?"
Cadeau made the decision after leading his high school to the national championship.
"I was playing AAU (summer basketball) and decided this wasn't the type of competition I wanted," he said. "Rather than come back and try to win another national championship, I'd rather come here and get better all year. I wanted a challenge."
Cadeau is used to taking on challenges. He can't hear out of his right ear. "It was something I was born with," he explained. "I'm used to it. It hasn't held me back."
His mother is Swedish, and he speaks the language. Cadeau played for the Swedish senior national team in FIBA World Cup qualifying last summer. At 19, he was the youngest player on the squad by more than three years. Two of his teammates were in their 30s.
Now, he's once again the youngest player on a team filled with elder statesmen. In addition to Armando Bacot, in his fifth season at UNC, and senior Davis, UNC has brought in four transfers. A total of four players on the roster were captains of their college team last season. And now, a high school junior last season has arrived to lead them.
Needless to say, Cadeau is not lacking for confidence. "The point guard is supposed to be an extension of the coach on the floor," he said. "I'm trying to be the leader. It's hard for me, being one of the youngest on the team with a lot of vets, and a lot of experienced people. I'm working with coach Marcus (Paige, UNC's director of player development) on being more vocal."
In addition to Paige — UNC's only three-time captain in team history — Cadeau worked over the summer with Cole Anthony, who went from Carolina to the NBA after one season.
"We're kind of the same size, same athleticism," Cadeau said of Anthony. "He's teaching me the mistakes he made as a freshman. The biggest takeaway from Cole was to slow it down. Everything's not 100 mph. Slow down sometimes, make the right play. Then use that burst of speed when you need it, rather than going the same speed all the time."
Once he finds the right speed, Elliot Cadeau should be able to finally complete the pass to Zayden High that eluded him at the start of his college career.
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