I’m not sure about you, but during this entire quarantine, I have spent a lot of my time reminiscing on this thing called sports. On top of my Tar Heel fandom, I am a Boston Red Sox fan, which falls in line as 1-B as my second favorite team. I’ve enjoyed watching old baseball games. I am also a huge golf fan, so I have enjoyed watching classic rounds of golf too.
But nobody has dominated the quarantine period quite like Michael Jordan and the University of North Carolina basketball program. ESPN’s The Last Dance has been the biggest event during this shutdown, and it has heavily featured the Tar Heels throughout. It has been like a free recruiting pitch for the program.
But just like with the rest of my favorite teams, I have spent a lot of time going down rabbit holes on crazy topics. Let me just tell you: There is nothing more fun than looking at old recruiting rankings. You will find some names that you completely forgot about, but it will also remind you of some heartbreaking recruitments.
So I got to thinking, if you could flip any recruitment in the Roy Williams era, with the only caveat being that the Tar Heels had to be a serious player in the recruitment, who would you pick, and why?
I’ll start it out with a few honorable mentions.
Hindsight is always 20-20 on players, but having Andrew Wiggins on the 2013-14 team would have been a huge addition to say the least. Wiggins’ recruitment came down to Kentucky, UNC, FSU, and the eventual winner, Kansas. The 2013-14 team ended up as a six seed in the NCAA Tournament but adding a wing player like Wiggins to a team whose biggest weakness was wing play and shooting. Wiggins knocked down 34% of his three-point attempts in his lone college season. That would have been second on the team that season.
While Wiggins has largely been a disappointment on the NBA level, adding him to that Tar Heel team would have made a huge difference.
Obviously bringing in one of the most unique talents of the last twenty years would have been a huge get for Roy Williams, but not getting Durant didn’t sting until just a couple of weeks ago. Durant revealed to the Player Tribune back in April that he wanted to go to North Carolina.
Durant would have come in with Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, and Brandan Wright. Can you say unbeatable?
The entire class of 2017
Mohamed Bamba? The guy from the world-famous song? North Carolina could have used him. Kevin Knox? He would have been a nice addition. Jarred Vanderbilt maybe? PJ Washington? Nope and nope. The number of misses at the top of the class of 2017 was infuriating, which left the team very thin.
The failures from this class were the main reason that the team struggled in the NCAA Tournament for the next two years. There was no frontcourt depth, and while Garrison Brooks has turned into a great player, he wasn’t good enough early on to make a huge difference.
Just adding one blue-chip big man could have made a real difference for a couple of Carolina teams that will, unfortunately, be largely forgotten.
When the Tar Heels lost Jaylen Brown in a tough recruitment to California it was only a few days after the Tar Heels lost an even tougher recruitment, one we will mention later in this article.
Jaylen Brown would have been a part of the national runner-up 2015-16 team. Brown, while not known for his offensive prowess in college, was one of the best defenders in that class. The offensive firepower wasn’t a problem for that team, but adding an elite defensive wing to that team would have made a huge difference against Villanova. Brown posted a defensive rating of 97.1 in college and a defensive BPM of 3.0. Even in the NBA today he is one of the best defensive wings in the league.
While Brown might not even be the biggest missed recruit in the 2015 class, it really stung when he spurned UNC to go across the country to Califonia, and it really was the beginning of a dry spell in recruiting.
There were so many things from the very beginning of Brandon Ingram’s recruitment that made it seem like he was destined to go to North Carolina. He is from North Carolina, went to a UNC pipeline high school in Kinston, and he was extremely close to former Tar Heel Jerry Stackhouse.
For as good as Ingram was early in his high school career, he was a sort of a late bloomer. He was anywhere from the mid-20s to the mid-teens early in his senior year but finished as a consensus top-five prospect. But Roy Williams was on him hard from day one.
The argument for wanting to bring Ingram onto the 2015-16 team is easy. That team fell just short of a national title, and adding an elite wing to the rotation would have made them nearly unstoppable. There wouldn't have been a single weakness. Also, it would have kept him from going ton Duke, which would have kept the UNC pipeline from Kinston intact, all the way up until 2021 when the Tar Heels have another Kinston product coming in.
The former Blue Devil came to so many games at Carolina and was a mainstay for all the big games. But he decided it wasn't the place for him. This recruitment was probably the toughest one to swallow in recent memory.
As Ingram blossoms in the NBA, it’s tough to root against him aside for the fact that he went to Duke. If only he could have continued to carry the torch for Tar Heels that are from the state of North Carolina in the Association.
Just the name makes me furious for all the attention that he got while at Duke last year, but Roy Williams and North Carolina were serious players in Williamson’s recruitment until the very end.
Many people thought it was Duke, Clemson or North Carolina for Williamson, with UNC in third. But Williams detailed on the Dan Patrick Show about how he thought he had a great chance of landing Zion after one visit in particular.
To think that all of Zion-mania could have happened in baby blue is such a better thought.
Nobody needs reminding how dominant Zion was at Duke. But adding him to last year’s team would have likely been the difference between being a Final Four, or even national title contender versus being a Sweet 16 team. Duke couldn’t even make the Final Four with him being a part of one of the best recruiting classes in recent years.
Although the Tar Heels had a nice recruiting class themselves, there would have been no problems roster-wise fitting Zion on last year’s team. He had no problem guarding bigger guys, which would have let him play the four or five, which would leave Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson rounding out the forward positions.
If the Tar Heels had landed Zion, Roy Williams might be looking at four national titles instead of three.
The time off from sports has been a big time to reminisce. While I wouldn’t trade any player who decides to put on the Carolina blue for anybody who puts on that ugly Duke blue, it is fun to think of what could have been.
Sound off in the comments about who you think the biggest recruiting loss was, and who you would put in a Tar Heel jersey if you could.