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UNC Basketball: A commitment from P.J. Washington could turn the program around

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NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal - Syracuse v North Carolina Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

ESPN writer C.L. Brown recently conjectured that if North Carolina basketball is ever going to be considered “back” from academic disgrace and athletic uncertainty, they would need to recruit some top talent. This weekend, UNC just so happens to be hosting several recruits headlined by P.J. Washington. While Brown doesn’t list Washington as a game-changer among guys like Kevin Knox, Mohamed Bamba, and Wendell Carter, he would certainly be a step in the right direction for this program.

Over the last few years, North Carolina has lost some important targets due at least in part to looming sanctions from academic investigations. It had to be tough convincing a kid dreaming of being a champion to trust in the UNC program when there existed a possibility of a playoff ban. It was likely even harder to get their parents onboard.

Now as the investigation seems to be winding down and no penalties are being levied, recruiting should be able to circle back toward normal, except for some whispers questioning Roy Williams’ reputation. Rumors have spread “that he holds players back so they won't leave school too early and, even worse, that he fails to develop them for the NBA.” Brown considers Harrison Barnes and James Michael McAdoo as players who have suffered under Williams.

The thing is, though, that rumors and narratives only thrive until they are proven to be false. This weekend, North Carolina has a chance to prove many wrong about their program, school, and head coach. It all starts with Washington, and everything else comes second.

The five-star power forward ranks 15th overall in the national composite, is the sixth-best PF in his class, and the best talent out of the state of Texas. He would be an instant game-changer on the court and off. Bring in someone like that, and you cut a devastating chink into the narratives that have surrounded this basketball program. Maybe it doesn’t change everything at once, because these things take time, but it definitely opens the way for more activity.

2018 four-star center David McCormack will also be visiting this weekend, and a commitment from him would be the second domino to topple after Washington. The six-foot-ten center ranks No. 41 overall in his class, is second in his position, and second in his home state of Virginia. While not the showpiece Washington is, the school could use the extra momentum as they attempt to break through the kind of perceptions that come with bad publicity.

Brown says that guys like No. 3 ranked Mohamed Bamba, No. 4 ranked Wendell Carter and No. 9 ranked Kevin Knox would instantly change perception about North Carolina. Of course they would, but Carter and Bamba have already moved on. Knox is currently considering them among a group of five finalists, but to put everything in the decision of one kid is a little dramatic.

As much as Knox would instantly turn this program around, it’s hard to put all your hopes and dreams into one guy. The NCAA hasn’t yet dropped the case against UNC and it’s unrealistic to expect the school to shake off the bad press so quickly. Knox would be nice to have, but Washington is the realistic get. He’s also the one that is far more vital to this program. They can live without Knox, but they need to at least get Washington if they want to make a statement.

North Carolina is climbing the steps out of the cellar, and as much as we all want them to leap over a few steps, moving one step at a time isn’t a bad thing. At No. 15 in his class, Washington would be their best commit since Justin Jackson was ranked No. 9 in 2014. That would be a huge step forward for a program that has been through so much recently.