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Williams Tackling Recruiting Dilemma

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

  May 24, 2004 CHAPEL HILL — Coaches and fans often have vastly different opinions on basketball topics ranging from defensive philosophies to player rotations to the true value of senior leadership, but most of the people in both camps have one thing in common. They worry. Especially at North Carolina this summer, an enormous concern is lingering behind the excitement and anticipation over what could be a very special 2004-05 season for the Tar Heels. Normally, only the recruiting freaks — that term is used affectionately in this publication — worry about what their favorite team will look like two or three years down the road. In Chapel Hill right now, however, coach Roy Williams and everyone else who cares about the long-term future of Carolina basketball must be wondering what will unfold off the court for the Heels over the next 12 months. If you're a UNC basketball fan and you're still not sure where this article is headed, you may want to sit down for a moment. Here's the bottom line: There is a potential disaster looming for the Tar Heels in 2005-06, and even a great coach and effective recruiter such as Williams can only do so much to avoid it. Carolina's disaster scenario, already much-discussed on offseason message boards but largely ignored elsewhere, begins with this. At the end of next season, seniors Jackie Manuel, Melvin Scott and Jawad Williams obviously will leave the program after exhausting their eligibility. No big deal, right? Right. This is Basketball 101. Coaches know when their seniors will be leaving, and they recruit accordingly. But here's where things get a bit hairy, and it's not clear exactly how Williams and his assistants can best prepare themselves for the following possibilities. What if star juniors Raymond Felton, Sean May and Rashad McCants have very good seasons in 2004-05 and decide to leave for the NBA draft next spring? Additionally, what if incoming freshman Marvin Williams, a prep All-American who turned down a chance to become a first-round pick straight out of high school this year, opts for a one-and-done college career? "The NBA draft and kids leaving early has made the recruiting process a lot more complicated for just about everybody who plays in a major conference," one prominent recruiting analyst said in May, "but nobody in America has a more complicated recruiting year ahead of him than Roy Williams." McCants was projected as a first-round lock if he had come out this year, and it's unlikely his stock will go down over the next 12 months. NBA scouts love his physical strength, confidence and shooting range, and he gained some maturity in his first year under Williams after perpetually battling with former coach Matt Doherty as a rookie. Felton, despite a disappointing sophomore season, is considered a potential lottery pick if he (as expected) can improve his shooting and decision-making to go with his amazing ball-handling skills. May, a 6-8 bulldozer with great hands, good post moves and excellent shooting touch, also could emerge as a first-rounder with a healthy, productive junior year. Marvin Williams already has been called a future "perennial NBA all-star" by NBA executives, so there's no telling how long he'll be around in Chapel Hill. Expect Super-Sized 2005 Class Never in the long and glorious history of North Carolina basketball has a coach had to deal with such a complicated roster situation. If nobody leaves early next spring, of course, there would be no unusual problems. Williams would know he has four scholarships available for the Class of 2005 (rising seniors), and he could spend the next three months on the recruiting trail filling those slots with early commitments. He already has a pledge from top-30 combo guard Marcus Ginyard, and he's positioned himself well for top-10 Alabama forward Richard Hendrix (offer; top two with Alabama), top-10 Missouri forward Tyler Hansbrough (offer; top three with Kansas and Kentucky) and numerous other elite prospects. If all four NBA-level underclassmen leave after the upcoming season, however, Williams would be facing an entirely different — and extremely difficult to manage — situation. In this scenario, the Heels would have a whopping eight scholarships available for the Class of 2005, still with just one prospect (Ginyard) already committed. The good news: Because the NCAA recently repealed its controversial five/eight scholarship rule, UNC will have to worry only about the 13-scholarship limit that applies to all men's basketball programs. Theoretically, then, the Tar Heels could sign as many as eight members of the Class of 2005 if they faced a mass exodus next spring. Carolina remains an extremely popular program in the eyes of recruits, and Williams already has the Heels at least preliminarily involved with more than a dozen top-100 prospects. The bad news: Most rising seniors like to make their college decisions before the start of basketball season, and UNC coaches probably won't know how many scholarships they'll have available — four? six? eight? more? — until the end of the upcoming basketball season. In recent years, about 90 percent of the best high school seniors in America chose to send in their national letters of intent during the early signing period in November, and most of them announced their commitments during the preceding summer months. By the time the late signing period rolls around in April, when the Heels will have a much better grasp of their 2005-06 roster situation, most of the prospects left on the board will be junior college products, second-rate talents and academic question marks. More bad news: Generally speaking, recruiting analysts aren't all that impressed with the depth of talent in the rising senior class. In all likelihood, Williams will recruit this summer as if he has five or six scholarships available for the rising senior class. The coach said he "over-recruited" last year for the first time in his entire career, at one point committing 14 scholarships (one over the limit) for the 2004-05 season. The numbers worked out when two signees, wing players JamesOn Curry (legal problems) and J.R. Smith (NBA/agent), ended their UNC careers before they began. Still confused? Consider this: If all players with remaining eligibility returned after next season, Carolina's 2005-06 team would include Felton, McCants, May, center Damion Grant, forward David Noel, forward Byron Sanders, swingman Reyshawn Terry, Williams, incoming point guard Quentin Thomas, Ginyard and likely three more Class of 2005 signees. If Felton, McCants, May and Williams turn pro after next season …and Grant gives up basketball because of his knee problems …and Terry and Sanders transfer because of a lack of playing time …that would leave only Noel, Thomas and, what, an 11-man recruiting class? That's assuming none of next year's signees goes straight to the NBA, of course.