Monday, July 22, 2013
Help is on the way for Tar Heels in 2014
By Jeff Goodman
Roy Williams hasn't had a lot to smile about recently, but UNC's 2014 recruiting class is changing that.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- It’s been a rough stretch for Roy Williams and the North Carolina Tar Heels program. There’s the academic scandal that won’t seem to go away, the recent off-court issues with guard P.J. Hairston, and the mediocre season (by UNC standards) in 2012-13.
The Tar Heels finished 25-11 overall last season and 12-6 in ACC play, which was respectable after losing four first-round picks in the 2012 NBA draft.
Still, Marcus Paige wasn’t ready to be immediately thrust into the role as the program’s starting point guard. James Michael McAdoo saw his NBA stock plummet as he struggled to find a natural position. The Tar Heels didn’t have a big man ready to step in for Tyler Zeller and John Henson, and Williams stubbornly waited too long until inserting Hairston into the starting lineup and playing small ball.
More college basketball recruiting news is available at ESPN RecruitingNation's On The Trail blog.
The Tar Heels look to have a bevy of big men in the fold for the 2014-15 campaign. Some are not at UNC’s caliber (i.e., Desmond Hubert) and the jury remains out on others (i.e., Joel James). Then there’s skilled sophomore forward Brice Johnson and incoming freshman bigs Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks, who both have potential. There’s also a chance that McAdoo will wind up as a four-year player; he would be a senior during the 2014-15 season.
UNC’s primary need for the Class of 2014 was at the wing spot, and Williams and his staff addressed it prior to the July recruiting period with verbal commitments from Jackson and Pinson. The Tar Heels also got a commitment from a point guard, Florida native Berry. The current point guards on UNC's roster are Paige and incoming freshman Nate Britt.
Back to the wings, though. Jackson isn’t a terrific athlete, but he can do just about everything on the court. He can make shots from the perimeter, but what he does exceptionally well is score from midrange. In fact, ESPN national director of recruiting Paul Biancardi told me there’s no better midrange scorer in the 2014 class than Jackson and said he has the potential to be a special player.
Pinson is long, athletic and versatile. He is different from Jackson in many respects but similar in that he can fill the stat sheet. Along with Berry, all three won a ton of games this spring and summer with their AAU teams. Berry’s team knocked off Pinson’s in the Peach Jam finals, while Jackson’s Houston Hoops squad went 16-2 prior to the Peach Jam and then 4-1 in pool play at the elite summer event.
ESPN 100 No. 8 recruit Justin Jackson is a deadly midrange scorer.
Taking a pledge from Berry is interesting since Paige will be a junior and Britt will be a sophomore when Berry arrives in Chapel Hill. Britt’s stock has dropped, and Williams is making an intelligent move by covering himself with three point guards on the roster. We saw how it worked out when Kendall Marshall went down with a season-ending injury in 2012, and Williams will make sure he’s not caught in a similar situation again.
Berry is a strong, intelligent and physical point guard who doesn’t possess the speed of many of his predecessors at the position, but he brings toughness and the ability to make shots.
Williams may not be done at the wing spots, either, despite the pledges from Jackson and Pinson. Pinson isn’t a shooter and Jackson’s range is more from 18 feet and in, so the Tar Heels are still looking to land a knockdown shooter who can stretch the defense -- especially with the uncertainly regarding Hairston’s future at UNC.
Two years ago, it was point guard depth that was Carolina’s undoing. Last season, the pieces didn’t seem to fit.
Williams is trying to make certain neither will happen again.
• Forward Kyle Wiltjer is headed to Gonzaga after two seasons at Kentucky. Don’t expect him to pull a Kelly Olynyk and become a mid-first-rounder after sitting out due to a redshirt year. Wiltjer's game, however, is far more suited to the Zags. He’ll be more of a focal point under Mark Few and will walk into a situation in 2014-15 in which he’ll have a pair of senior guards -- Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. -- who will each have three years of starting experience. The keys for the Zags will be how long they can keep 7-foot-1 Poland native Przemek Karnowski, who could leave for the NBA after this coming season, and whether they can find a scoring wing with size.
• The Los Angeles Times reported that highly touted incoming freshman guard Isaac Hamilton, the younger brother of NBA player Jordan Hamilton, is seeking a release from his letter of intent with UTEP. The reason? A sick relative, in this case his grandmother. Part of the issue these days is that people don’t necessarily believe these kids when they have sick relatives, because the NCAA has been so lenient with so many transfer waivers in this regard. As a result, it’s now become the trendy way to be able to play immediately at a new spot. I’m not saying that’s the case with Hamilton, but the NCAA needs to do something. The simple solution? Make everyone sit out a year and take care of the family member instead of trying to play ASAP. UTEP coach Tim Floyd told the newspaper that he does not intend to release Hamilton, a Los Angeles native who checked in at No. 32 in the 2013 ESPN 100. Floyd is in almost a no-win situation here because his reputation will take a hit, especially in Los Angeles, if he doesn’t allow Hamilton to play elsewhere.
• There was terrible news out of the Auburn program as former Tigers big man Korvotney Barber died of an apparent drowning Sunday in Florida. Barber was just 26 years old. I remember Barber bursting onto the scene out of virtually nowhere as a high school recruit at the Kingwood Classic in Houston back in May 2004 with a smaller AAU outfit called the Smyrna Stars. Barber could have gone to a higher-profile program, but he was a well-mannered country kid from a small town in Georgia and opted to go an hour or so down the road to Auburn.
• Doug McDermott and Marcus Smart were the lone college guys to get an invite to the Team USA minicamp in Las Vegas this week. Smart was a no-brainer after bypassing the NBA draft despite being a lock lottery pick, but McDermott’s selection was just as deserving. Even though his World University Games team didn’t win a medal, McDermott has been terrific in a pair of stints with the USA Basketball system and he was rewarded. This will give McDermott an opportunity to show NBA brass that he can be effective against high-level length and athleticism, which is one of the questions as he enters his senior season in the new Big East.
• I stole a few days in between the Peach Jam and the Global Challenge last week in Savannah and Charleston with my wife, and I was blown away by both cities. Charleston assistant coach Ryan Freeberg gave me the tour of the College of Charleston facilities, and there aren’t many true mid-majors that can compete with the Cougars. There also aren’t many that will be able to stack up sizewise with Doug Wojcik's group, which could go with 7-2 David Wishon (Tulsa transfer), 6-9 Adjehi Baru and 6-7 Anthony Thomas along the frontline.
• Tim Craft was the pick to replace Chris Holtmann at Gardner-Webb over current assistant coaches Jay McAuley and Mike Netti. Craft has been with Jeff Lebo the past four years at both Auburn and East Carolina. Craft was also an assistant at Gardner-Webb for three seasons (2004-05 to 2006-07) and sources told ESPN that Craft will retain both McAuley and Netti. The Bulldogs return three starters and will add Texas A&M transfer Naji Hibbert from a team that won 21 games last season.