In 2012, the North Carolina Tar Heels lost starting point guard Kendall Marshall to a wrist injury during a round of 32 matchup with Creighton. This forced a virtually unknown (at the time) freshman named Stilman White into the starting lineup for the rest of the tournament. While he performed admirably, it was impossible to replicate the performance of Marshall, who went on to win the Bob Cousy Award. The Tar Heels’ season came to a close in the Elite Eight against Kansas in a year in which many picked them to win it all.
After that season, Roy Williams vowed to always have plenty of ball handlers so as to prevent another situation like that from happening. He seems to be keeping well on that promise.
Since that season, Williams has maintained a stable of guards with his teams featuring talented duos and trios with players such as Dexter Strickland, Marcus Paige, Nate Britt, and Joel Berry II. Considering the recruiting outlook and the young guys on the roster, the future beholds more of the same.
So far, UNC has at least one point guard/combo guard in the 2016 (Seventh Woods), 2017 (Jalek Felton), 2018 (Coby White), and 2019 (Jeremiah Francis) classes. The latter two classes still have a ways to go, too.
Each of these players is ranked no lower than 60th in his respective class, according to ESPN’s rankings. While all of them share the ability to run a team, each brings his own unique style.
Woods and Felton will be playing behind Joel Berry in the upcoming season. The shortage of bodies down low could mean we see these three playing together at times. Woods showed us flashes last season of that unreal athleticism that made him an internet sensation in eighth grade. Felton possesses similar athleticism and slashing ability, but will likely play off the ball as long as Woods is there. If neither goes pro after next year, the two will form a deadly backcourt duo in 2018-2019.
Meanwhile, Coby White has been tearing it up at the high school ranks, which has caused him to skyrocket up the recruiting rankings. He has jumped over 50 spots since he committed last summer and was just recently named a five star by 247sports. White has an uncanny knack for getting to the rim. At six-foot-three, 170 pounds, he is a surprisingly strong finisher. What’s scary is defenders have to honor his jumper as he can step out and hit from the perimeter. He is joined by Rechon Black as the only two UNC commits for the class of 2018 so far.
While most sites have him listed as a small forward, Black has the ball skills to run point if need be. That probably won’t be necessary but it will still give the Tar Heels another ball handler to keep defenses on their heels, and a six-foot-seven ball handler at that. At his size, Black is the perfect fit for Roy Williams’ up-tempo offense.
The most recent addition to the Heels’ future backcourt is Jeremiah Francis. Francis just recently committed last Friday. He is and will be a floor general. Of all the players mentioned, he is likely the purest point guard. Francis boasts a solid pull up mid-range game that continues to improve and can get to the rim using his strength. He has a toughness about him that is imperative to succeed at the college level.
It’s possible that all of these players (Woods, Felton, Black, White, and Francis) could play on the same team for one year, although it’s pretty unlikely that none will be lost to the NBA between now and then. Regardless, Roy Williams has given us ample reasons to be optimistic about the future and he’ll continue to build on that.