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UNC Basketball: Surviving the end of an era

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Why UNC basketball would survive a potential NBA rule change in draft eligibility.

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Since the 2005 collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and it’s players, the Association has required it’s potential players to be either 19 years old, or least one year removed from high school in order to be deemed eligible for the draft. This rule, more commonly known as the one-and-done rule, has sparked controversy since its inception. However it seems that this controversy may have reached its peak, with NBA commissioner Adam Silver advocating for a change in the draft rules, particularly the one-and-done rule.

The specific changes being discussed would either render a prospect eligible for the NBA draft immediately after high school, require a prospect to be two years removed from high school, or some combination of both of these things that allows for players to choose to enter the draft out of high school, but if they go to college they have to stay for two years. Any of these changes would drastically shake up the college basketball landscape, particularly with regards to recruiting. So with this potential change looming on horizon, could Carolina maintain it’s success?

If any of these changes do occur, UNC should be fine. Of course adaptation will be needed and there will be a learning curve, but the program should be able to maintain it’s elite status thanks to the only man that can still pull off a plaid suit, Roy Williams.

Since Kentucky’s rise to one-and-done fame, and Duke’s encore performance, many have criticized Roy’s recruiting record. Outside of the 2014 class, many would say that Carolina hasn’t had much recruiting success. Losing out on players like Brandon Ingram and Kevin Knox have hurt, and the loss of multiple in-state options has drawn the ire of experts and fans alike. However, it has forced Roy to get creative in the prospects he recruits and how he recruits them. He has “settled” for project recruits that may not be flashy, but can contribute. The best and most recent examples of this can be found in Garrison Brooks and Luke Maye, neither of whom were highly recruited or expected to contribute, but we see how that worked out.

Now, we have all come to know and love these players and others that are in the same category. Some have developed into great contributors (I’ll get to that later) and others still have work to do, but what makes this type of player unique is that none of them were pegged to be a one-and-done player. Guys like Brandon Robinson, Brice Johnson, Seventh Woods, Sterling Manley, Andrew Platek, and Kennedy Meeks were three or four-star recruits and very talented. However, programs like Duke, Kentucky and Kansas, who spout out multiple one-and-done players a year, just weren’t interested in them. In fact, the only non-five-star Carolina player that any of those schools has even offered since 2013 is Nate Britt. These schools are too busy going solely after the big-fish, while Roy chooses to expand his options.

Having this open mindset already in place will give Carolina a head-start if a rule change does occur. The Carolina coaching staff develops relationships with players early in their high school careers, even as they’re only three or four-star recruits. When they develop into dominant players throughout high school (Coby White who is now a five-star, Day’Ron Sharpe who is still rising quickly on recruiting boards), Roy is still present with offer in hand. So if the rules do change, programs like Duke and Kentucky will be left scrambling for recruits that won’t be entering the draft. And they’ll find themselves playing catch-up with the Carolina coaching staff who has already been around.

The other reason that Carolina should adapt seamlessly to any changes in eligibility is that Roy has become one of the best and most consistent developers of talent in all of college basketball. With the current suggested rule changes, the goal for recruits evolves into coming to college for two+ years to improve while also competing annually for a championship. Also, the ability to develop talent over the course of multiple seasons while also maintaining a winning culture becomes crucial. Thankfully, Roy Williams and UNC have been, and will continue to be, the best option available to accomplish that goal.

There have been those that have criticized him on this topic specifically. Some have accused him of holding his players back, citing the fact that Harrison Barnes, Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson stayed for more than one year after many thought they would be one-and-done players. However, that was not his decision to make, and the progressive improvements from each player has shown it to be the correct decision.

(Also looking at the players who did leave after one season, like Brandon Wright, Tony Bradley, Marvin Williams, allows us to see the downside of losing a year or two of development in college.)

However, Roy doesn’t just focus on developing the top tier players for the NBA. He ensures that everyone that suits up is ready to contribute. He has the experience of working with players over the course of multiple years, and has helped them to develop a more complete game than just stats and measurables that look good for draft night. This level of coaching is not evident at one-and-done schools, and is part of the reason that Coach K and John Calipari choose to emphasize recruiting highly talented, one-year players.

So while 2018 has provided Carolina with its first top-five recruit in years, those type of players might not be available in the near future. If that does become the case, many top-tier programs will be left flat-footed, but thanks to our brownie-stealing head coach UNC shouldn’t lose a step.