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UNC Basketball: Simeon Wilcher’s departure is another sign of the times

Hubert Davis was likely in between a rock and a hard place.

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High School Basketball: State Champions Invitational Tournament Reggie Hildred-USA TODAY Sports

Just a reminder that last year, Pete Nance didn’t commit until June 18th.

It feels like we should start there because despite the closing of transfer portal entries and the deadline for early NBA withdrawal passing, rosters across college basketball just aren’t set in stone for a while. Simeon Wilcher gave us another reminder of this on Tuesday.

In case you missed it, Inside Carolina reported that Wilcher had asked out of his National Letter of Intent in order to head to another school. The timing seemed stark, but also seemed to be tied to the fact that Elliot Cadeau chose to reclassify last week. Cadeau wouldn’t have done unless he was going to play starter’s minutes at point guard. How committed was Wilcher to playing point guard? Well, Brendan Marks wrote a whole post in February for The Athletic ($) with quotes from both Wilcher and his father discussing how much he wanted to be a facilitator. Before Cadeau joined, it was likely he was going to see situations where he was the primary ball handler even if RJ Davis wanted to go into the season with that role.

Now, with Cadeau’s decision, that dynamic had changed dramatically. Hubert Davis is already going to have to shift RJ’s focus to, likely, being the primary two guard — which we can debate about later — while Cadeau takes on the point. With Seth Trimble already sitting in the background looking to get time at one of the two guard spots, the competition for Wlicher to even see the floor was going to be tough. Davis had clearly chosen to go ahead and run the team with a primary point guard point guard, not a combo guard that wanted to primarily play point Add in the likely assurance that RJ Davis would get a lion share of minutes at the SG spot, it would be difficult to split the rest among those two players. This is before you even mention any of the transfers, who could play in some form of the 2, 3, or 4 spots. In short, it’s not that Wilcher was going to sit on the bench the whole time, but for him to get minutes he would have had to have been good in a hurry.

So, then you take a broader view of college basketball and look no further than Kentucky. Right now, they only have seven roster spots taken up and provide the type of opportunity a player like Wilcher is looking for: minutes. Kentucky is hardly alone in this as the shakeup from the offseason still hasn’t fully settled in, but if you’re Wilcher, would you rather have to sit back and fight for minutes at a school where your options are now limited, or do you want a better guarantee that you’ll be out on the floor? The answer, from Wilcher’s perspective, seems simple right? To be clear: I am not saying that Wilcher has plans to play for Kentucky, but John Calipari can relate to the mess that Hubert Davis has right now with his roster.

This is just how college basketball operates these days. Since the Tar Heels last won their national title in 2017, it felt so odd to be discussing the addition of a player like Cam Johnson as late as we did, but it was because of the graduate transfer rules making the situation so unique. That situation isn’t unique anymore — players have free movement, two classes still have an extra year of eligibility that allow them to play 5-6 years, the NBA still isn’t going to eliminate the one and done rule, and so players have the ability to make a move they feel is for their best interest. Wilcher was going to come to Carolina as a four-star, not necessarily on anyone’s radar to jump to the NBA, but he knows he won’t get that chance just sitting on the bench.

It’s all part of this brand new fabric of the sport that stayed the same in so many ways for so long. It’s a change that Roy Williams saw on the horizon and realized he wasn’t going to be the best person for, and while you may still question how Hubert Davis handles a team, you can’t question whether or not he can get players to commit to him in this new environment. He’s also shown an ability to adapt, quickly, to the new situation. Last year he saw the team make up wasn’t working for him, he had honest conversations with players, they made their decisions, and he went out and filled in those spots. Last summer, GG Jackson had a change of heart and wanted to reclassify despite saying for a long time he didn’t. Davis couldn’t offer him a spot, so Jackson went to South Carolina. Clearly, Davis made sure he could handle a similar situation with a 2024 class that had two five-stars in it and the continuation of the one and done rule. This hurts a player like Wilcher who committed way back in 2021 and had been a solid Tar Heel for years.

As fellow THB writer Brandon Anderson noted yesterday, the Cadeau commitment moved up the time table for Davis on how much longer fans will allow for seasons like 2022-23. Losing a player like Wilcher only raises the temperature, as it appears that you may have lost someone who could have been a good multi-year player for someone who wants to bolt to the NBA after one season. We also haven’t seen how Davis will choose to use the three scholarship spots he has left. Wilcher leaving, oddly, does make his job a little easier in one sense that he now has one less person who will be demanding time, but it’s hard to imagine all three spots will stay open. Could the answer be Jarin Stevenson, another player who could be reclassifying? Are there other depth pieces out there still lurking in the portal that might be fine sitting this season but are worth taking a chance on?

That’s the thing about this new age of college basketball: we just don’t know. Either way, keep an eye on it, because as much as coaches want this roster to be locked before the second summer school session, circumstances keep making that goal tougher and tougher to hit.