January 15, 2008
CHAPEL HILL North Carolina's two big revenue-producing sports came together in a spirit of cooperation recently in a way many people fail to realize exists.
The question never seems to end whether UNC can win in football as well as basketball, although the doubters need to look no further than Orange Bowl champion Kansas or Florida, which recently held the national titles in football and basketball during the same year.
"We will do whatever we can to help our football program," Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams said recently.
To that end, the basketball program has scouted E.J. Abrams-Ward of in-state Thomasville High to see if Williams would be comfortable allowing him to walk on and join the basketball team, as heralded freshman running back/receiver Greg Little is doing this year.
After the Tar Heels defeated rival N.C. State 93-62 on Jan. 12, the answer appeared to be yes for Abrams-Ward. Carolina had a large group of football recruits on campus and at the basketball game. Afterward, Abrams-Ward visited with the basketball team in the locker room, while his father talked with assistant coach Joe Holladay in the hall outside the players' lounge.
Last year on signing day, Little switched from being committed to Notre Dame to signing with Carolina. Little knew Williams better than he knew new football coach Butch Davis, so it was not a surprise that soon after football season ended in 2007 Little arrived at the Smith Center, ready to try his hand at basketball.
Little is a great athlete but only an average basketball player. He already has said that he will leave the Smith Center to return to the Kenan Football Center when spring practice starts. He appears to be the starting tailback for 2008, but for now he's enjoying the experience so many kids in North Carolina dream of as they watch UNC play basketball.
That same possibility may just help Davis land Abrams-Ward, one of the top football prospects in the state this season. He played quarterback in high school, and Boston College is recruiting him for that position.
As with Little, Abrams-Ward is such an outstanding athlete that he could play as many as five different positions in football. In the annual Shrine Bowl all-star game between North Carolina and South Carolina, Abrams-Ward played outside linebacker. The Tar Heels are recruiting him to play wide receiver.
The kid who played linebacker next to Abrams-Ward in the Shrine Bowl, Kevin Reddick, committed to Carolina on Jan. 13. He had been favoring the Tar Heels for some time.
One two-sport star who will not end up at UNC, despite years of trying, is wide receiver Dwight Jones of Burlington. Jones is a 6-5 potential superstar on the gridiron, but he's been a failure in the classroom. He did not qualify academically out of high school, so he attended Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia in the fall of 2007, in hopes of achieving the necessary test score to enroll at Carolina in January.
Jones did not make the grade, and he refused to return to Hargrave. It appears now that he probably will enroll at East Carolina, which can take non-qualifiers. As a member of the ACC, UNC cannot take non-qualifiers.
Williams, meanwhile, has been doing some amazing recruiting of his own. He signed three top-25 seniors in November: 6-8 power forward Ed Davis, 6-0 point guard Larry Drew and 7-0 center Tyler Zeller.
Davis has been playing some top-notch competition and has been dominating. He is emerging as one of the top players in his class, far better than originally believed by some analysts. A few people actually thought Zeller was a project, but the big kid can run the floor and is amassing huge numbers every night. Drew is a savvy, unselfish competitor with a background of winning.
What is amazing is that Williams already is more than halfway home to filling his next two classes as well.
He has commitments from four heralded juniors: John Henson, a 6-10 forward from Texas who was born in Greensboro; twins David and Travis Wear, 6-9 forwards from California; and five-star prospect Dexter Strickland, a 6-3 combo guard from New Jersey.
As if this were not enough, Williams recently received his second commitment from the sophomore class. Kendall Marshall, a 6-2 point guard who has been compared (by Williams and others) to Steve Nash, committed a couple of months ago. Reggie Bullock of Kinston, a 6-6 swingman some analysts think could emerge as the top wing guard in his class, picked UNC in mid-January.
Of the three signees and the six commitments, as many as eight of the nine could enroll at Carolina as McDonald's All-Americans.
DAVIS SELECTIVE WITH RECRUITS
As for the football team, this is going to be an important group that signs in February, because this may not be a large class.
The UNC coaches had been willing to take the full allotment of 25 signees if they landed all the players on their wish list, but they have missed on some high-profile national recruits. So it is probable that they will back off to a number closer to the amount of scholarships available, without having to worry about the exit of more current players to stay within the 85-scholarship limit.
This much is for sure. Davis has made it clear that he isn't going to sign bodies just to fill spots. He and this staff are determined that they are going to sign players superior to the majority on campus now, and they will not waste scholarships.
This is a young football team with some quality players, but there are not enough of them. The defensive tackle position is in good shape, but the Tar Heels need defensive ends, linebackers and cornerbacks in a big way.
Linebacker is especially a glaring area of need. There is a numerical lack of backups for the position. Plus, those are the kids who often fill special teams positions, because they can combine decent size with speed, the combination needed for kick coverage.
Schools and coaches around the nation made numerous changes, and the Tar Heels could benefit from this movement. Christian Wilson, a 6-2 athlete from Pennsylvania, made a commitment to Michigan, but he recently made an official visit to UNC. Linebacker Malcolm Munroe of Miami, who had committed to Georgia Tech before Chan Gailey was fired, visited UNC as well.