With the retirement of legendary UNC head coach Roy Williams, North Carolina is faced with the reality of establishing a new recruitment strategy.
During Williams’ tenure at UNC, the team thrived primarily from players that remained with the program for three or four seasons before leaving. Although there have been some exceptions to this trend, many of Williams' best teams had an assortment of older players in the starting lineup.
A big testament to UNC’s commitment to developing players is seen in the makeup of its national championship teams. For all three teams, every player in the starting lineup was a junior or senior.
Though most of the players Williams coached saw increased roles over time, many of these players were highly touted in high school, as Williams coached 34 McDonald’s All-Americans during his time at UNC.
In recent years, however, the recruitment strategy began to change. Seven players left for the NBA after one season — five of them departing in the last four seasons — reflecting a trend toward the one-and-done philosophy of college basketball.
Lately, the Tar Heels have also had more interaction with the transfer portal. The team brought in Cameron Johnson after winning the championship in 2017, and he became one of the best shooters in program history. Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce also arrived at Chapel Hill as transfers in 2019.
Upon Williams' exit, UNC truly has a clean slate. First-year big men Day'Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler have left the program, as Sharpe declared for the draft and Kessler has entered the transfer portal. Although the Tar Heels do not currently have a clear-cut star player, they do have some foundational pieces for the future.
Among the key players returning is the team’s leading scorer from last season, big man Armando Bacot, who is entering his junior season at UNC. Highly touted first-year guard Caleb Love announced his return after a tumultuous first season, and his experience could help the team return to its typical strategy of having players develop within the program.
UNC’s recruiting class for the 2021-22 season features two four-star players: guard D’Marco Dunn and forward Dontrez Styles. Four-star players usually stay on the team longer, meaning their development could help North Carolina in seasons down the road.
Since UNC’s recruiting methods have been unorthodox of late, returning to older methods or ushering in a new era of recruiting are both in the realm of possibility.
Determining the type of offense UNC hopes to run will impact how the team will recruit players. If running fast-paced offenses remains a priority for the new head coach, then finding guards who can push the ball down the court will continue to be the strategy. If the team wants to space the floor, then big men with reliable shooting abilities will be targets.
An immediate need for the Tar Heels is a wing player who can create their own shot. Most of their scoring last season came from the big men, with the guards providing somewhat of a lift, although inefficiently at times. Adding more scorers will open up the court and give players like Bacot more space to operate in the post.
The long-term recruiting strategy for North Carolina will reflect the reality that the team’s leadership is much different. The dynamic of the Tar Heels under a new coach will inevitably change, but the roster construction will also be a representation of the program's next steps.
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