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Why UNC basketball may never need a "one and done" recruit. Seriously.

Since 2006, over 75% of Final Four teams have not had a “one-and-done” freshman on their team.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional-North Carolina vs Notre Dame Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Over the weekend this blog explored the question about whether or not UNC really NEEDED an elite, one and done (OAD) recruit. It’s a vital question, and perhaps more relevant than ever. Since the 2006 draft, the NBA has mandated that all entrants must be 19 years old and be one year removed from high school. This has led to a nuclear arms race for the top high school players in the country as they funnel onto campuses across the country hoping to improve their draft stock.

In theory, the ability to attract the top high school talent should lead to increased exposure for the school, more NBA draft picks to brag about, and an increase in overall talent committing to the program. Ultimately kids today want to play in the NBA. A school that shows the ability to “develop” players and prepare them for the next level has a pretty solid recruiting pitch. There are some corners who feel UNC is falling behind as the recruiting landscape shifts.

The entire ordeal usually brings intense debate about what is “right” or “fair”. There are solid arguments on both sides of the aisle. However, I’m more interested if something “works”. I wrote about UNC’s recruiting being on an upward trajectory and inserted a mini rant that OADs are not necessarily a cure all. Mac’s article sent me digging deeper. The results were interesting. In my opinion, they are extremely favorable to UNC and the approach Roy Williams has taken since his arrival.


Ultimately, the goal of every team is to win National Championships. At schools like UNC, many seasons can feel like a disappointment if they don’t make it a Final Four. Side note – we are a really spoiled fan base. So, how many NCAA Champions have had an OAD on their roster since the NBA rule was instituted?

Two. Two teams out of 11. Less than twenty 20%

How many OADs did those teams have? Three. In both cases, all three OADs on the roster also started.

Kentucky in 2012 and Duke in 2015 were the outliers of the last 11 years, and they essentially had to load up on so much talent that 60% of their starting five were freshmen. Only five programs could truly use that system, and make it work. Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, UCLA, and yes, UNC.

Yet, as some fans grumble, UNC has only landed a single one-year player: Brandan Wright in 2007, which did not result in a Final Four. So, the belief that “you only need one” has so far proven to be absolutely untrue.

Final Four Appearances

Ok, so one-year players haven’t resulted in many Championships. Surely they’ve resulted in Final Four appearances, right? Well, not so much.

There have been 44 teams since 2006 to participate in the Final Four. Only 10 of those teams have had an OAD on them. Less than 25% of Final Four teams have had a one-year player on them. Four of those teams are Kentucky, the program that made recruiting one-and-done players its main priority has 40% of the one-and-done Final Four appearances, and only one title to show for it.

For such a revolutionary approach, the success rate has been less than stellar. If you add in Memphis in 2008, John Calipari teams have actually accounted for 50% of the Final Four teams with an OAD player. Insert whatever Calipari coaching joke you would like at this point.

Interestingly, there are quite a few teams that have multiple Final Four appearances since 2006. Michigan State, Florida, and UNC all have three appearances, for a combined three titles, and zero OADs during those runs. Louisville, UCONN, Butler, and Kansas all have two Final Fours apiece during this time, with a total of four titles. None of those teams had an OAD.

So, OADs have shockingly low success at winning championships and making the Final Four. Pretty cut and dry.

2016 was an “anomaly”

Last season when UNC and Villanova faced off, most of the sporting world called it a throwback to a time before freshmen left in such large numbers. It was an “off-year” for talent in college basketball, so of course players like Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, and Buddy Hield were going to be able to shine. It was a blip on the radar!

Except, if you use the draft as a metric, that’s false. It’s not even close to true. (Sorry Mac!)

Instead, the 2016 NBA draft had more freshmen drafted than any other year since the one-year rule was enacted with fourteen. That was more than the 2015 and 2008 drafts that saw 12 freshmen drafted. From 2011-2014, freshmen draftees were in the single digits.

Going back to the Final Four metric, of the 32 teams who participated in the Final Four since 2009, only two teams not named Kentucky had an OAD. Syracuse in 2016 with one, and Duke. Three programs in the last eight seasons are all that account for Final Four success with OADs. But yes, 2016 was the “anomaly”.

Sometimes it’s really fun to see facts get in the way of the narrative.

Developing Talent

Another fun argument centers on preparing players for the draft. Honestly, it’s hard to argue Kentucky’s successes in that area. The one-and-done model has helped UK become relevant again, much like coaching the USA Men’s basketball team helped make Coach K relevant again. Credit needs to be given to those two coaches for their success.

The ability to consistently recruit that kind of talent is a gift, and should be applauded. Though, I think it’s fair to say that if a player was going to be drafted as a high schooler, then to say one “develops” talent at a one-and-done mill is a bit generous. But I digress.

No, instead if you want to see what true talent development is, it’s fair to take a look at UNC during the one-and-done time frame. Since 2006, Roy Williams has seen 17 players get drafted. That’s not even counting James Michael McAdoo, who went undrafted, but still earned an NBA title with the Golden State Warriors.

Seventeen players drafted in the past 11 years. Of those, 12 were in the first round. Only one of them was a freshmen. Yet, people still say UNC can’t “develop” players. That is absolutely asinine.

What does this mean for UNC?

I completely understand the rationale and the desire to land the top recruits and the most elite talent. It has been proven that it can work. There are plenty of ways to win games and run a program. Honestly, you could probably split the data to support multiple arguments, both pro and con. There may be no definitive answer.

However, the numbers also show that UNC’s methods aren’t exactly outdated. While, UNC fans bemoan the fact that the Tar Heels aren’t getting the same talent they have been accustomed to, I’d argue that’s a bit pessimistic. There are many factors at play, but I’d simply remind any naysayers of a few simple things.

First, there has not been a dearth of talent and the draft successes support that – even through the last four years. Instead, UNC was hit by some untimely early departures that were largely unexpected – JMM, Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston, and even Kendall Marshall. It’s hard to recover from some of those. Marshall and Hairston specifically caused some voids that UNC wasn’t prepared to fill. Yet, UNC did. Over four years. Under the darkest cloud the program has ever encountered.

Second, as UNC’s recruiting continues its ascension, fans still need to be patient. One and done players provide energy, excitement, and (some) instant gratification, but it may take some time to truly gain traction with some of the top recruits, especially for 2017. The coaching staff may be too far behind in some of those relationships, but the end-game will still be more stable than the previous two years. It just may take one more year than most of us would like to finally land a "big" name.

Finally, running a program is a marathon, and each season is a 100 meter dash. UNC is going to lose a few sprints along the way, and that’s ok. UNC is really just warming up, and Roy is getting ready for his second act. Other programs have changed their philosophies and their recruiting. UNC really hasn’t. Despite the obstacles, they have still consistently won games and competed for championships every four years. Most programs would kill to be that “out of touch” with today’s players.

They didn’t target OADs before the NCAA investigation. They couldn’t target them during the investigation. Based on the numbers since 2006, I don’t care if they don’t target them now. The anxiety and uncertainty of the NCAA ordeal was the most unbearable part of the past few years. Not necessarily the actual product on the court. It’s important to keep that in perspective.

Now with the darkest days behind the program, we can take a deep breath. The world isn’t ending. The clouds are parting. The sun is starting to shine through. Now is no time for pessimism. Recruits will commit. To be honest, they may have never really stopped.