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UNC Basketball: Freshmen & Newcomers Grades

The Hubert Davis era began with 5 players who were in Chapel Hill for the first season

North Carolina v Duke Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

It’s time for some more retrospectives! This week, we’re looking at and grading UNC’s whole roster, class by class. Today, we’re starting with the freshmen and newcomers (minus one, but I’ll get to that).

One of the challenges that Hubert Davis faced when he took the reins of UNC men’s basketball was massive impending roster turnover without much coming in to replace players who would leave. Day’Ron Sharpe left for the draft; Walker Kessler transferred; Garrison Brooks and Andrew Platek grad transferred, and Sterling Manley graduated. Coming in to fill those five vacancies was a two-man recruiting class of Dontrez Styles and D’Marco Dunn, so Davis had a job to do in the transfer portal as soon as he sat down in his new office for the first time. As would be the case for a lot of what he did as a coach this past season, he did so admirably, securing commitments from two of last offseason’s top available targets in Dawson Garcia, transferring after a year in Marquette, and Brady Manek, grad transferring from Oklahoma. He also brought home Justin McKoy out of Virginia, who’s from Cary, NC and had been recruited by Roy Williams as a high schooler. Manek, of course, became an impact starter and leader for this team, so we’ll grade him with the seniors. Below, though, I’ll offer grades and evaluations for McKoy, Garcia, Dunn, and Styles.

Dawson Garcia

Garcia actually started 12 of his first 13 games as a Tar Heel, though he split minutes roughly equally with Brady Manek. During that time, his play could best be described as erratic — he’d disappear for stretches and then frequently put together individual mini-runs that showed off a varied offensive skillset and scoring ability from all over the floor; he’d score single digits in one game and then 20+ the next, including managing to keep a significantly inferior UNC team withing striking distance of Purdue with a 26-point effort. The same was true on the defensive end, where he’d go from stonewalling opponents to matadoring them within three possessions. Still, he put together a statistically solid line, though — he averaged 10.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting 45% from the floor, 46% from three, and 79% from the free throw line.

In the thirteenth game of the season, though, UNC’s ACC opener against Boston College (not counting early ACC action vs Georgia Tech), Garcia sustained a concussion in the opening minutes. After missing action for two weeks, he came back to play three games, but he’d lost his spot in the starting lineup and clearly wasn’t the same player. Following that, he left the team to be close to his family, who have apparently had a particularly tragic time over the course of the pandemic, for both related and unrelated reasons — the specifics aren’t clear nor do they have any reason to be. That would be the end of Garcia’s time in Chapel Hill, as he eventually confirmed that he would not be returning for the rest of the season, then entered the transfer portal at season’s end and has now committed to Minnesota, his home state — he’ll be close to family even on campus. We wish him the best. As for his grade, I can’t give a grade to somebody who only played the nonconference part of the schedule. Grade: Incomplete. (and I promise the rest of the evaluations will be shorter)

Justin McKoy

McKoy transferred to UNC from Virginia, ostensibly hoping to see more offensive usage for a team that had mostly only used him as a small-ball 4 who could surprise opponents crashing the boards and play solid defense thanks to his time with Tony Bennett. McKoy was one of Davis’ most preferred options off the bench early in the season thanks to his experience and nominal defensive expertise, which the Heels desperately needed early in the season, and played a regular 7 minutes per game except for a DNP vs Tennessee and 30 garbage-time seconds against Georgia Tech. His role wasn’t exactly what he probably envisioned when he committed to UNC, though; he didn’t contribute much on offense, taking fewer than a shot per game, and was in primarily to provide wing defense. His playing time dwindled over the course of the season, but he still got spot minutes.

His stat line was predictably uninspiring: 1 point, 1.4 rebounds, and 0.5 assists in 7 minutes per game with 9 DNPs, with abysmal shooting percentages of 21/23/80, and a lot of those missed shots were fairly demoralizing. He did provide defense; a defensive rating of 103.1 was among UNC’s best for perimeter players — but as he wasn’t often against teams’ best scorers, his value as a stopper was diminished as well. Overall, McKoy was helpful at times, particularly early in the season, but fell short of the expectations he’d set for himself as an incoming transfer. Grade: C-

Dontrez Styles

Styles saw himself as next in line in the lineage of Tar Heel greats from Kinston, and had jumped on a UNC offer within days of receiving one. Ranked around #50 as a prospect, he had a little buzz around him over the summer as a next-level athlete who could play both forward positions. I could detail his entire regular season, during which he averaged 1.9 points and 1.3 rebounds in 5.3 minutes per game on 42/17/54 shooting splits (he shot 54% from inside the arc, which doesn’t show up there) and flashed a hot motor, rebounding acumen, and some scoring touch, but this player’s season was defined by exactly one game:

Styles, who’d been in and out of the rotation all season, was pressed into service in the Round of 32 against #1-seeded Baylor and gave the Heels incredible minutes on defense in the first half, only scoring at the horn on a fast-break layup. He then was forced to play more minutes in the second half after Brady Manek’s early ejection and helped keep the Bears’ comeback at bay with a couple of timely buckets and more solid defense and rebounding. When the Bears ended up sending the game to an overtime the Heels seemed destined to lose, Styles opened proceedings with just his 3rd three-pointer of the season, jump-starting his team and propelling them to victory. He played 25 minutes and had 9 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals, posting career highs in everything but boards. It was a real coming-out game for him, though he’d play sparingly the rest of the tournament, and a hopeful indicator of good things to come with a season under his belt. Grade: B+

D’Marco Dunn

Dunn, heralded as a great shooting prospect who might need some time to really make a mark in the college game, surprised people on campus and those watching from home with his athleticism, which is really exciting for his future. While he was the first freshman to earn serious minutes from Hubert Davis, it didn’t take long for him to go back to just playing spot minutes, as he clearly just wasn’t quite ready for live action — he was a step slow on defense and his three-point shot wasn’t quite translating in-game yet. He played just 94 minutes on the season and shot just 3/15 from outside, following in the footsteps of many a great Tar Heel shooter in their freshman year. He’s clearly got potential to be a sniper and a complete player, based on the trust he earned in practice early, but it’s too early to judge him for anything yet. Grade: Incomplete

Agree? Disagree? Anything to add? I welcome discussion here — as a group, these players played so little that I expect opinions on them vary quite drastically.

Tomorrow, we’ll have sophomores, and I’m sure we’ll have a ton to talk about there.