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UNC Recruiting: Sizing up the 2019 class

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UNC’s 2018 recruiting class is likely complete. What might 2019 bring?

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday Al Hood gave an in-depth rundown on UNC’s current recruiting class of Coby White, Rechon “Leaky” Black, and Nassir Little. Compared to previous classes and based strictly on high school performances and expectations, there is a case to be made that those three create a top-5 Roy Williams recruiting class at UNC. If you recall, when White and Black verbally committed, I wrote about how UNC recruiting was officially trending up. (Warning: I had a few bad takes).

Bottom line: The future is bright at UNC.

However, as one recruiting class begins to wind down, another one is just getting warmed up. Now the 2019 recruiting class begins to come into focus. It’s difficult to predict who will be on UNC’s roster after next season and how that would impact the coaching staff’s recruiting focus. Not to mention, if the NBA decides to alter the current ‘one-and-done” rule, the entire recruiting landscape would see a noticeable shift in available talent.

A best case scenario would see UNC losing Cam Johnson, Luke Maye and Kenny Williams after the 2019 season, while returning the following recruited scholarship players:

  • Seniors: Seventh Woods, Brandon Robinson
  • Juniors: Jalek Felton, Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks, Brandon Huffman and Andrew Platek
  • Sophomores: Coby White, Rechon Black, Nassir Little

A likely worst case scenario would see Cam Johnson depart after this year, and Nassir Little depart after next season. That does not include any possible transfers (none are expected at this time), or if another player unexpectedly has a surprisingly successful season and plays himself into the first round, like Tony Bradley last season. While this “what if” game is fun on message boards and Twitter, we won’t waste any more time on it.

However, it is obvious to see that while either scenario guarantees a well-rounded roster with depth at every position, there will still be some glaring needs. The post rotation specifically will need a boost in order to avoid an eventual repeat of this year’s “baby bigs.” So, with that, let’s take a look at the current crop of 2019 recruits that currently hold an offer from UNC.

Point Guard

Jeremiah Francis: 6-3, 190
ESPN60 Rank: #59
Pickering Central High School/Pickerington, Ohio

Francis committed to the Heels late last summer. After receiving an offer in early August, he waited seven days before ending his recruitment. Francis isn’t only considered one of the top point guards in the country, he’s also the former high school teammate of Sterling Manley. This was a major early pickup for the Heels so they could focus on more pressing needs.

Shooting Guard

Joshua Nickelberry: 6-4, 175
ESPN100 Rank: #42
Northwood Temple Academy/Fayetteville, NC

Most scouting reports state that Nickelberry is a shooter first, everything else second. Point blank. Period. He also brings an aggression and willingness to take contact and attack the rim. There are some questions about his efficiency and ability to be anything more than a shooter first, scorer second - but he’s also just a junior who will continue to evolve. Some of those questions are likely to be cleared up on the AAU circuit next summer.

Small Foward

Wendell Moore: 6-4, 200
ESPN60 Rank: #22
Cox Mill High School/Concord, NC

A similar height to Nickelberry, while carrying a little more weight, Moore would be the perfect hardnosed, strong, athletic wing to bring an enforcer-style mentality to the UNC lineup. More of a transition scorer and slasher, his outside game is not considered much of a strength. The current teammate of Tar Heel commit Rechon Black, UNC still remains in the running for his services, though a strong senior season may have him dreaming of a different role than what his current skillset allows.

Power Forward

Matthew Hurt: 6-9, 205
ESPN60 Rank: #5
John Marshall High School/Rochester, MN

If you’re looking for a more athletic, versatile version of Luke Maye, then Hurt may be your guy. With more length and skill in the paint, Hurt has the ability to be a more reliable scoring threat in the post where he can create his own shot. While he may not have the same consistency from outside as Luke (yet), that can be developed. A potential matchup nightmare, Hurt would provide a good complement to the post players that are expected to still be around Chapel Hill by the fall of 2019. Of course, every other blue blood in the country agrees.

Center

Vernon Carey Jr: 6-10, 249
ESPN60 Rank: #2
NSU University School/Southwest Ranches, FL

Will Baker: 6-10, 225
ESPN60 Rank: #19
Westlake High School/Austin, TX

I lumped the two centers together, because UNC realistically won’t get both. (I also left out Armando Bacot and James Wiseman, as I’m not sure many think they are realistic targets desipte still holding offers). Nonetheless, combined with Matthew Hurt, it’s obvious the coaching staff is trying to add depth in the post. The 2019 class also has a much deeper crop of post prospects compared to 2018,

Carey Jr. would easily be the jewel of the class if he decided to come to Chapel Hill. Aleady hovering around an athletic 250 pounds, he would bring a raw strength and power North Carolina has not seen in quite some time. Though if the NBA changes their rule, he’d likely bolt to the league. Realistically, this is the kind of big man prospect that UNC has missed on for the better part of a decade. The last top-10 big man to come to UNC was..James Michael McAdoo in 2011. (That’s ok! It’s worked out pretty well!)

However, Roy Williams has also taken a keen interest in Will Baker, and visited him earlier this week. Baker reportedly has more of a traditional post game with the ability to finish at and above the rim and run the floor. He’s been a little slow to gain the same buzz of other centers in the class, but he seems to be cut from a similar mold of previous UNC star big men. On a team with three junior post players by the time 2019 rolls around, Baker would be a seamless fit to learn while providing help off the bench. My personal favorite of the current prospects (for numerous reasons), Baker is one to watch over the summer evaluation periods.

Clearly, the coaching staff is putting a premium on post play for the 2019 class. By the time 2019 rolls around, Garrison Brooks will be spending more time at his natural postion at the 4-spot, but as it stands now he will be the only one. Huffman and Manley should be locked in at the center position. Even though those roles are technically interchangeable in the UNC system, each player still has his comfort zone. I’d expect the staff to hone in on a few more traditional power forwards in the coming months. Players will continue to emerge and develop, coaching staffs will change, and player’s situations evolve.

Additionally, despite how and when certain perimeter players move on to the next phase of their adult life, there does not seem to be a sense of urgency for those positions. It’s also interesting that over the past few seasons, UNC has recruited what seem to be more versatile guards, yet the current 2019 targets are more traditional in their skills. That indicates the staff is comfortable with their talent level, and are looking for specific needs as opposed to pure athleticism or versatility.

Despite the angst of some high-profile recruiting misses in previous years, it’s time to sit back and take a deep breath. The ride can be bumpy, but the final results have been pretty damned impressive. So, I’ll keep an eye on the players that UNC recruits until they choose another school.

And then I’ll look forward to cheering for those that want to attend the University of National Champions.