I don’t need to remind any North Carolina Tar Heel fans about the long several years that the athletic program, especially the men’s basketball team, endured in the mid-2010s. The NCAA dragged its feet through the investigation, which sprawled over several years, but ultimately found no reason to issue sanctions against the athletic program. That’s the short version.
But the repercussions that the basketball program felt the next few years were rough. The recruiting classes that head coach Roy Williams put together throughout the investigation were very lean, with the most notable being the 2015 class of Kenny Williams and Luke Maye, a class that featured one top-100 player (Williams) and was ranked 70th in the nation for the class of 2015 per 247 Sports.
Despite the class being very thin, the argument could be made that it was the most important class of the investigation years. Williams reeled in a guy in Maye that would hit one of the biggest shots in program history. Kenny Williams went on to be integral parts of the 2017-18 and 2018-19 teams.
The 2016 class was significantly better for the Tar Heels ranking-wise, but Tony Bradley left after one year, and Seventh Woods didn’t finish his career at UNC either, which left Brandon Robinson as the only player to spend significant time at Chapel Hill. Overall, the class ranked 14th in 247’s class rankings, much better than the previous year.
The last year of the trouble years in recruiting was the 2017 class, which took a step back from the 2016 class. The class ended 19th in 247’s rankings, but that included Jalek Felton, who was dismissed from the team in the middle of the season. Without Felton, there were no top-100 players in the 2017 class, but there was a diamond in the rough in Garrison Brooks.
Those three years ended with one five-star (Bradley) committing to one of the bluest of blue blood programs. He missed on several big fish in those three classes that seemed like prime recruitments for his style. There were legitimate concerns about Coach Williams’ ability to recruit, but he still won a national title. That didn't cool off the heat that he was getting from the fanbase.
Since the NCAA cloud disappeared from over the program there have been three full recruiting cycles. The average class ranking is eighth, and as Brandon wrote this week, the 2020 class finished as the 2nd ranked class in 247’s final ranking.
The 2018 class featured Nassir Little and Coby White, both of which were big contributors from day one. Leaky Black also came in as a part of that class and has shown how versatile he can be if deployed with the right surrounding pieces.
Obviously the 2019 class was special, headlined by Cole Anthony and Armando Bacot. Even though the 2019-20 team had a bad season, a lot of it can be attributed to the lack of depth in the upperclassmen, which all came from the rough stretch of recruiting from 2016 and 2017.
For those that haven’t been paying attention, Roy Williams is back to recruiting at an unreal level in the last three years. He has reeled in seven five-stars in the last three years compared to one in the previous three.
And while there is more to the game than just recruiting, Williams has already proved that he is an elite talent developer, but that relies on some guys sticking around. Three of the four five-star players in the last two years have been one-and-done, with Bacot being the lone exception. Many are expecting him to make a big leap in year two.
The program has had a lot of turnover in the last two years. But in a lot of cases, the departures are being replaced with better players. The depth is starting to be replenished in the only way it’s possible in college sports.
National championships are built on the foundation of one great recruiting class that sticks around for a little bit. North Carolina’s 2020 class has all the pieces to be that foundation.