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Analysis: Three things to know about recent men's basketball commit Zayden High

Zayden High is pictured at AZ Compass. Courtesy of Zachary Latimer and AZ Compass.

In the late hours of Sunday evening, Hubert Davis and the UNC men’s basketball program added another piece to their 2023 recruiting class with the commitment of Texas senior forward Zayden High.

High announced his decision on ESPN2, picking the Tar Heels over Arkansas, Michigan, Texas and Villanova. According to the 247Sports recruiting database, High — the No. 48 player in the country — is the second top-50 commit in the Tar Heels’ 2023 recruiting class, joining No. 19 combo guard Simeon Wilcher from New Jersey.

The 6-foot-9, 225-pound forward spent his first three seasons at Smithson Valley High School in Texas, averaging 21 points and 12.3 rebounds per game in his junior year. He will play his final high school season at AZ Compass Prep in Chandler, Arizona.

When he arrives in Chapel Hill next fall, High could be an immediate contributor to a team that might lose a number of pieces from this year’s squad. Here are three things to know about High and what he could bring to the Tar Heels.

He’s a late bloomer

Just three years ago, High was an overlooked, undersized 6-foot-1 guard. Now, he’s being described as one of the biggest “late bloomers” in the country. 

Following an eight-inch growth spurt since his first high school season, High has maintained many of his guard skills to dominate both inside and out. Despite his now larger frame, High looks comfortable as a ball handler and acts as a three-level scorer. 

Still a mostly unknown commodity in April, High dominated the Amateur Athletic Union’s EYBL Orlando circuit as a member of JL3 Elite, where he averaged 21.7 points and shot 57 percent from the floor. In a matchup with top prospect – and former UNC commit – GG Jackson, High recorded 27 points and eight rebounds. His play was even more impressive the following day, when he scored 31 points and drilled three 3-pointers in a loss to Team CP3.

After Jackson committed to UNC in late April, all of the Tar Heels’ roster spots were seemingly filled, which forced Davis and the coaching staff to break off High’s recruitment. But once Jackson announced his decision to reclassify before flipping his commitment to South Carolina weeks later, the Tar Heels turned their attention back to High, who took his official visit in late September.

With a still-improving skillset, High could serve in a number of different roles when it's finally time for him to take the floor for the Tar Heels.

Immediate floor spacer

Compared to its tried and tested approach from previous years, the UNC offense looked a little different last season.

Rather than relying on its traditional formula of having two big men occupy the low blocks, Brady Manek – best known for his shooting ability – spent the majority of the season at power forward, where he knocked down over 40 percent of his triples on six attempts per game. This spacing allowed guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis to attack the rim more aggressively and also gave center Armando Bacot more one-on-one looks inside the paint.

With graduate transfer Pete Nance expected to take on a similar "stretch four" role this season, High seems to be next in line to following Nance’s eventual departure. 

When analyzing High’s tape in AAU play, most of his shooting success came from drive-and-kick situations, where he used his high, quick release to serve as an effective floor spacer, something that could benefit Wilcher and fellow athletic guard Seth Trimble as they try to work their way inside.

Despite shooting just below 30 percent from downtown throughout his high school career, High’s mechanics and quick-trigger mentality should bode better in college play. Playing with other high-level talents should provide more open looks, and in a more defined role, he can act as a specialist in catch-and-shoot and pick-and-pop offensive sets. 

If given the opportunity to share the floor with current first-year forward Jalen Washington, who Davis called “the best shooting big man coming out of high school that I've ever seen,” the Tar Heels could deploy an entire lineup of shooters that can stretch out opposing defenses and create mismatches across the court.

Defensive versatility

While High was likely recruited for his offensive skillset, he has also shown potential to be a plus defender at the college level.

Using his long frame and solid footwork, High averaged 1.2 blocks per game during the Nike Peach Jam event, which is one of the top showcases in the country. Most of his defensive activity came from chase-down blocks, where he used his quickness to emerge from the weak side and meet defenders at the rim.

As he adjusts to bigger, more skilled opponents in the low post, High’s defensive impact will likely come from holding his ground as a switchable defender, where he will be tasked with slowing down ball-handlers who look to exploit him in pick-and-roll situations. Once he fully grows into his body, he could emerge as a viable option that could guard almost every position on the floor.  

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