Or Why I Will Be Just Fine If Wall Goes Somewhere Else.
It has become an all consuming item of discussion for fans of some of the top college basketball programs in history. The recruitment of John Wall is at this point part mystery, part circus and generally speaking a complete mess. Everyone is guessing on what he might do. Chad Ford at ESPN.com tried to put him in the NBA last week. Any number of schools from Duke to Memphis to UNC to Kentucky have been said to be his final destination. Add to all of this an AAU coach who is wielding incredible influence and the AAU's coaches brother having been hired at Baylor to try and lure Wall there. Given the nature of this saga I have to ask: Why did Roy opt to get involved at this late date?
The short answer is because Roy is operating with some incredible leverage. If both Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington go to the NBA he also has a free scholarship with a team loaded with talent that could use a PG of Wall's caliber to run the show even if it were for just one season. UNC also plays an up tempo style and Wall would undoubtedly look very good playing in Roy's system. Not to mention Wall is an incredible talent. If you can make a run at him, why not? If he brings his game to your team, it should make you better assuming there are no ongoing chemistry issues.
On the flip side, there are all sorts of questions surrounding Wall. Up front, let me say that I do not know John Wall from the guy down street. He could show up at my Monday night basketball game and I am not sure I would recognize him except for the fact he would be the only guy there dunking. While I do not know Wall, it is clear there is a cloud around him. With Wall there are questions concerning his character, his academics, his associations and the influence of his AAU coach, Brian Clifton who also used to be an agent. All of these unknowns tend to make recruiting a player like Wall and bringing him into the program a risk. Now, it bears repeating: I do not know Wall and most of this is perception but in many respects if you see smoke then there is something greater to be concerned about.
For me I think this comes down to this: UNC basketball is at a level it really has never been at before. The Heels have won two titles in five seasons, posted three straight 30-win seasons and is generally considered the top program in the country. The results posted by the recruits brought in by Roy Williams have been nothing short of incredible. Tyler Hansbrough was a NPOY, Ty Lawson won the Cousy Award and was ACC POY, Wayne Ellington was Final Four MOP and the rest of the team have performed extremely well while being high character kids. Ty Lawson's drinking while driving and Will Graves suspension are the only two hiccups during this period and both situations have been effectively dealt with. In other words, during the past four years Roy has recruited great players with great character, won an obscene number of games and won a national title. In terms of what is coming down the pipe, the Class of 2009 is loaded with premier talent and good four year players. The 2010 class already has two top flight players and Roy is working on others.
Given all of this, I have to ask: With UNC operating at this level of success, why take the risk with a player who has a cloud surrounding him?
Sure, Wall could turn out to be fine as far as all of the external influences go. Then again, Roy cannot control all of the peripheral things that go on. Roy has no control now of who he may or may not have had contact with. And since we are talking about a player who is pretty much considered to be a one year stay in college, the pressure to break certain rules is going to be present. In my opinion the possibility of trouble is undeniable. That does not mean I think Wall is a bad kid but there has been so much going on with this situation in terms of the people involved as well as the aforementioned questions that I am not sure the talent is worth the risk. The last thing I would want to see if this incredible golden era of UNC basketball derailed or dampened because of a questionable recruit. Roy was able to build a team that could roll the NCAA Tournament by 12+ points every game without dealing with questionable recruits. Why not stay with that? What's more, why risk upsetting team chemistry or destroying the confidence of a player like Larry Drew?
I do understand the reasons. Aside from the talent, there is wisdom in attempting to acquire a talent like Wall instead of permitting your rival, in this case Duke, to have him. As mentioned above, UNC is loaded and Wall would fit in perfectly with the talent returning/incoming next season. What I cannot wrap my brain around is the level of risk. I cannot quite get on board with breaking away from the effective and high character manner in which Roy has run the program since returning to Chapel Hill. Of course, I do not want to sell Roy short nor do I think he is compromising his standards just to recruit Wall. There is also the possibility that the perception surrounding Wall is overblown. All that being said, I am more than satisfied with the way things have gone at UNC during the Roy Williams era which has included crop after crop of great players who have very few clouds around them if any at all. UNC has won titles and been exceptionally successful playing the game that way and if it is all the same I am more than happy to see that continue. If that means no John Wall, so be it.
Somehow I think the Heels will keep it rolling.