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Linton A Key (Re-)Add For Heels

Tuesday, December 3, 2013 9:45am
By: UNC Insider

Former UNC signee turned pro baseball player Ty Linton could be a key recruiting addition for the Tar Heels.

CHAPEL HILL – As North Carolina deals with NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions, the Tar Heels recently managed to pick up a three-star linebacker who won’t even take up a scholarship.

Charlotte Christian graduate Ty Linton, who turns 23 in January, will re-enroll in Chapel Hill in time for next season. Linton originally came to UNC to play football and baseball as part of the Class of 2010, but was selected in the 14th round of the MLB Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks and left to pursue a professional baseball career after signing for $1,250,000.

But after spending most of the past three years in the rookie league and hitting .233 with 10 home runs in 420 at-bats, Linton is coming back to UNC. 

As part of that contract, the Diamondbacks agreed to pay Linton’s college tuition in the future, so Linton will officially be a walk-on with the football team.

When he originally committed, Linton was ranked the No. 11 inside linebacker in the country by recruiting analyst Tom Lemming, the No. 27 outside linebacker in the country by ESPN.com and the No. 63 linebacker in the country by Rivals.com.

“He was making significant progress in training camp, and I believe he had a bright football future,” then-UNC coach Butch Davis said at the time of Linton’s departure.

After most of Linton’s classmates have exhausted their eligibility, Tar Heel fans will finally get to find out if Davis’s forecast was right.

Victory Bell Stays In Durham

For the week leading up the Duke game, footage of the Blue Devils painting and ringing the Victory Bell after the 2012 meeting was shown on a loop throughout the Kenan Football Center.

The Tar Heel coaching staff will have more video to show next season to use as motivation after the Blue Devils won the Nov. 30 game 27-25 and celebrated by pulling the bell down the UNC sideline.

The knowledge that Duke will appear in the ACC championship game before UNC will annoy the Tar Heel fanbase. Knowing how much the Tar Heels helped Duke in its quest will make it even more troubling.

There were mental mistakes, like when Travis Hughes shoved a Duke receiver into the goal post after getting beaten for a touchdown or when Russell Bodine didn’t hear the whistle and pushed a Duke defender to the ground after the play, keeping UNC from scoring a go-ahead TD.

There were also physical mistakes, like a dropped 37-yard touchdown pass by T.J. Logan or a dropped interception by Tre Boston on Duke’s winning drive.

As a result, instead of capping an incredible turnaround with its first six-game winning streak since 1997, UNC had to resort to filming as another in-state opponent celebrated on its field, and now must wait a month to see if it can finish with a winning record by getting a bowl victory.

“Today you’re awfully disappointed for these seniors and this football team that we didn’t play better,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said after the Duke game. “But yes, we’ll be extremely happy that we’ve got another game and we’ve got an opportunity to wash this taste out of our mouth and finish the year the way we want to finish it.”

Never Enough Guards

During Roy Williams’ decade as North Carolina’s coach, the point guard spot has been a bit of a roller-coaster. Players like Raymond Felton, Ty Lawson and Kendall Marshall have come through Williams’ uptempo system and won national titles or become NBA lottery picks.

Mixed in were guys such as Larry Drew II, Bobby Frasor and Dexter Strickland who saw their time at the position compromised by inconsistency, injury or ill-fitting skill sets.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that Williams demands a lot from his point guards. The Hall of Fame coach wants his teams to be comfortable in transition, so he needs a floor general with the speed and vision to thrive when the pace of the game quickens.

And now, it also helps if that vision can see over your shoulder.

When North Carolina signed Joel Berry in November, it marked the third time in three seasons that a Tar Heels recruiting class has included a point guard. The current roster already includes sophomore Marcus Paige and freshman Nate Britt.

The Tar Heels aren’t targeting a point guard in the Class of 2015. But by then, they could have three blue chip point guards that, in theory, would be fighting for one starting spot.

Earlier this season, Paige said he’s OK with the wave of younger players at his position.

“(Williams) always runs a lot of his recruiting stuff by the players,” Paige said. “He doesn’t necessarily see if we’re OK with it, but he kind of gives us the heads up on what’s going on. I have no problem with it.”

The roots of this approach can be traced to 2012. That season, Marshall suffered a broken wrist in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. With no proven back-up, seldom-used freshman Stilman White had to start. After a close win over Ohio, a Tar Heel team that many felt could have won Williams his third NCAA title was bounced by second-seed Kansas in the Elite Eight.

“He said he never wants to have something like that happen again,” Paige said. “I can see him recruiting a point guard from here on out, every single class. I don’t have a problem with it. You want to play with the best players possible and he does a good job of getting them.”

The Tar Heels were thin at the spot again last season as Marshall jumped to the pros and White left for a two-year Mormon mission. That left Paige, a freshman, to handle the bulk of the minutes.

While it may look like North Carolina could have a glut of point guards moving forward, that may not be the case.

With shooting guard P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald sidelined by NCAA issues, Paige has had to move to the off guard slot while Britt has been starting at point guard, again leaving the Tar Heels without viable depth at the position.

Britt is still acclimating to the college game while Paige has thrived. He’s been the Tar Heels’ leading scorer and most vocal leader. His career-high 32-point explosion in the Tar Heels’ upset of Louisville was one of the most eye-opening performances of the young season.

So with Paige turning into a star at a new position – and putting up the kind of performances that make it not outside the realm of possibility that he might not be around much longer – not only does Williams’ approach of stacking point guard recruits look smart, it might not be enough.