This has been a busy week for Roy Williams after he offered three players in the 2018 recruiting class. Simi Shittu, Nate Laszewski, and Nassir Little all received scholarship offers on Monday as Roy attempts to fill out his depth chart in the front court for the 2018-19 season.
UNC has already received verbal commitments from five-star combo guard Coby White and four-star point guard Rechon Black, setting up what could potentially be a strong recruiting class should they get the talent in the front court that they are looking for.
Roy Williams has undoubtedly been busy on the recruiting trail this summer, and it will be some time before we see whether or not his hard work will pay off. Coming off of a national championship and seeing two first-round draft picks go off to the NBA, UNC has more than its share of bargaining chips to utilize in the recruitment process.
The downside? UNC’s academic investigation is still out there, and the NCAA released their most recent response last week. The hearing date was finally set, which means a ruling should finally come out within the next 12 months (though at this rate, holding one’s breath on the matter isn’t suggested).
The NCAA seems to be set on punishing UNC somehow, but nobody can figure out what that something could be. The “ABC” community is determined banners are coming down, while more level-headed analysts see the NCAA attempting to hand down punishment only to find themselves in court and lose. So the question is: will UNC finally be able to escort the elephant in the room that is the NCAA out of the door and not have it impact the recruitment process?
When the Weinstein Report was released in 2014, it exposed what was widely considered at the time as “bogus” classes that were created by former UNC employee Deborah Crowder.
This was also the fall that Joel Berry II, Theo Pinson, and Justin Jackson arrived on campus—three five-star recruits making for one of the best recruitment classes UNC has had in the past five years. While the timing of this information didn’t keep these three young men from attending school in Chapel Hill, it did have a negative impact on recruits the following year.
Former Duke star Brandon Ingram was perhaps the most vocal about his concerns regarding what was going on at North Carolina during the time that he was being recruited. He went on record saying that he probably would’ve committed to UNC as early as November of 2014 if the Tar Heels were not involved in the current-standing academic scandal.
The effects of the investigation were rather obvious when looking at the finished product of the 2015 recruiting process, as only Luke Maye and Kenny Williams accepted scholarship offers that year.
In 2016, the recruitment class improved from the previous year as the Tar Heels managed to bring in future first-round draft pick Tony Bradley, Brandon Robinson, Seventh Woods, and Shea Rush. Tony Bradley was the No. 26 overall recruit in the class, and his recruitment was largely needed to help get the program back on track.
A few months beforehand, the NCAA released a Notice of Allegations that only contained Roy Williams’ name once, which could have possibly played a hand in Bradley’s decision. Whether it did or not, UNC got their first one-and-done recruit in almost a decade who was also an important piece in helping UNC win their sixth NCAA title.
While 2016 turned out to be a rather solid class, Roy Williams was still very vocal about the amount of negative recruiting tactics being used by other schools against UNC. There were potential recruits that the Tar Heels missed out on, and the same goes for 2017.
Aside from landing five-star point guard Jalek Felton, nephew of former UNC player Raymond Felton, who verbally committed to UNC all the way back in 2014, the Heels were unable to land big time recruits, specifically in the front court.
The most notable recruit they missed out on is Kentucky’s Kevin Knox. However, it seems as though Knox had more reasons to attend Kentucky than he had to not attend UNC (what was said behind the scenes to him in terms of negative recruitment, we may never know). The silver lining was that UNC did manage to get former Pitt SF Cameron Johnson, who is now on the team as a graduate transfer.
This brings us to the current state of the NCAA investigation. As it was mentioned earlier, the NCAA released a reply to UNC’s case and what was said was interesting to say the least. What has, to this point, been thought of as an issue of fake classes that assisted athletes in staying eligible is no longer completely the case:
NCAA argues UNC broke rules when athletes received "access to certain courses not generally available to other students." pic.twitter.com/fff8p15xyN— Walter Byerz (@WalterByerz) July 27, 2017
The current stance of the NCAA is that this is no longer about fake classes: it is about improper benefits being provided to athletes in the form of a class that athletes had more access to than the general student body.
There are two things that are especially damning to the NCAA’s case. The first being that this class was not exclusively available to athletes by any stretch of the imagination. Not only was it available to all students, but UNC also doesn’t carry classes that have priority enrollment for athletes. However, there certainly are schools that do, which raises point number two:
This is why priority registration for athletes is ok and is a "benefit" commonly provided by many schools. pic.twitter.com/gtMfVfk1KD— Walter Byerz (@WalterByerz) July 27, 2017
There are numerous schools across the country that do what the NCAA is claiming UNC did for 20 years. Their efforts to make this academic issue their business has basically come to a point to where, if UNC were to take this to court, they would more than likely win.
The NCAA is now claiming that while the classes did not meet certain expectations, they were not fraudulent. Kids receiving a legitimate education and potential punishments from the NCAA are both big issues that have had a negative impact on recruitment to this point, and it appears that the smoking gun has potentially ran out of bullets.
So, will the tide finally turn for the 2018 class? Outside of the usual outliers (like players being sold on being groomed into a number one draft pick), North Carolina may just be out of the woods in terms of how much power negative recruitment will hold.
It undoubtedly won’t stop, as the “UNC students don’t go to class” claims continue to echo throughout the twitterverse louder than the Dean Smith Center at the final buzzer of the National Championship game (which was pretty loud). Time will tell how recruiting will pan out, but one will hope UNC will win over or lose recruits from this point forward for all of the right reasons.