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UNC Basketball: A brief history of incoming transfers in the Roy Williams era

With Christian Keeling in the fold for next season, let’s look back at the previous times Roy’s Heels have brought in transfers.

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

Incoming transfers haven’t been a regular source of incoming players in the Roy Williams era. However with Christian Keeling coming, that makes the second transfer in three years to come to UNC. When he takes the court, Keeling will mark the eighth in Williams’ 17 years in Chapel Hill. That being said, he will likely be just the fourth that will average double digit minutes in that time.

It’s not a surprise that UNC have had a recent influx of incoming transfers as the grad transfer rule becoming more prominent. Both Keeling and Cameron Johnson are of that variety. As long as the NCAA doesn’t change that rule, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Tar Heels target others in the coming years. Keeling may not even be the only one this year, as UNC is still in the running for Justin Pierce from William & Mary.

Now that Keeling is in the fold, let’s look back at how the past incoming transfers have performed for UNC. We’ll focus on the aforementioned three who averaged 10+ minutes per game in their Tar Heel careers. No shade to the likes of K.J. Smith, but he and the others haven’t had a tangible in game impact after coming to Carolina.

The most recent, and inarguable best transfer of the Roy Williams era is Cam Johnson.

After a couple seasons at Pitt, Johnson came in for the 2017-18 season as a grad transfer with two years of eligibility. He missed the early part of that season with injuries before returning in December. He eventually forced his way into the starting lineup as Williams went against his natural inclinations and went small. Johnson had a solid season, but his real breakout was yet to come.

Seeing as it was just a couple months ago, Johnson’s 2018-19 performance is still fresh on the mind. He averaged 16.9 points per game, shooting over 45% from three. The season ended in disappointment against Auburn, although part of the reason they got blown out in that game was because Johnson clearly wasn’t himself. It emerged after the game that he was suffering from the flu-like symptoms that seemed to afflict Nassir Little as well.

Johnson’s transfer will go down as a complete an total success. He went from a solid player at Pitt to a first team All-ACC player, the winner of the team’s MVP award, and might have played himself into a first round draft pick.

The second best transfer in the Williams era is probably Wes Miller. The current UNC Greensboro coach started off at James Madison, and played one season at the CAA school.

He then took a chance and transferred to Carolina and walked on. He sat out in 2003-04 before becoming a bit part player on the 2005 national championship team. In the mass exodus that followed that championship, Miller found himself in a bigger role, and it’s hard to argue that his gamble didn’t pay off.

In 2005-06, Miller eventually played himself into the starting lineup, and had a really solid season, shooting 44.1% from three. As a senior, his playing time was slashed as a strong recruiting class came in. Despite that, he left Chapel Hill with a ring, and made a name for himself that has likely helped him at least somewhat in his coaching career.

The third and least heralded one was Justin Knox. Long before the grad transfer thing became this big, he was one and came to UNC after three years at Alabama.

Knox provided some well needed frontcourt depth on the 2010-11 team that really had only Tyler Zeller and John Henson as true bigs. He didn’t set the world on fire, but he didn’t need to nor was asked. Knox gave the Heels a solid 4.6 points and 2.1 rebounds in 14 minutes per game off the bench. That points average ended up being higher than a certain outgoing transfer point guard who left the 2010-11 team in the middle of the season.

So far under Roy Williams, when they’ve brought in transfers, they’ve gotten mostly good value out of them. Either they’ve gotten mostly lucky, or Roy and the staff are good at picking their spots when it comes to transfers. Hopefully, Christian Keeling is more of the same next season.