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November 22, 2013

A Question of Talent?

North Carolina heads into a two-game run this weekend at the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament in Uncasville (Conn.) coming off a stinging home loss to Belmont, just the second non-conference home loss of Roy Williams' tenure in Chapel Hill.

There's a bit of a stir in cyberland related to Carolina hoops heading into Saturday's game coming off a note on Twitter Thursday afternoon by ESPN television personality Dick Vitale, claiming he spoke with Williams this week and got some unique information about the 2-1 Tar Heels from the Hall of Famer.

Here's the exact tweet from Vitale:

@DIckieV Spoke to UNC's Roy Williams & he said current roster minus McDONALD & HAIRSTON is least talented of his UNC teams. More options with both.

Certainly not words of confidence from the 11th-year UNC head coach, assuming he did say it that way.

Maybe Williams is trying to light a fire under his team, and maybe he said something under his breath off the record that he didn't expect would become public record. Maybe Williams was just being honest with a friend.

But given the current personnel, and doing a little research, it would appear that there's a great deal of truth to Williams' comments to Vitale, no matter what context they're taken in.

Even without McDonald, the No. 65 overall player in the Rivals 150 and Hairston, the No. 13 overall player in the Rivals 150 and No. 4 small forward in the Class of 2011, the Tar Heels have a total of nine Rivals 150 prospects on its current roster, including seven who were ranked among the top 65 players in the country in their respective class.

So there's talent, at least by the standards of many programs around the country. But at the risk of coming off arrogant, this is North Carolina we're talking about.

And in the aftermath of the greatest five-season stretch in the program's history---a run of two NCAA titles, three Final Fours, four Elite Eights, and four ACC regular season or Tournament titles from 2005 to 2009---things simply haven't been the same since the Tar Heels stormed the court in Detroit's Ford Field to hoist the '09 title, especially in recruiting.

Among the current UNC players who will be playing Saturday against Richmond only one of them---junior forward James Michael McAdoo---was a top ten player in his class, as McAdoo was the No. 8 overall player and No. 3 power forward in the 2011 class.

And just two current Tar Heels were ranked in the top 20---McAdoo and Isaiah Hicks, the No. 16 overall player in the 2013 class.

Hicks and McAdoo are also the only two players heading to Connecticut playing for the Tar Heels who had a five-star ranking as high schoolers by Rivals.com.

Two of McAdoo's 2011 classmates---Desmond Hubert and Jackson Simmons---were three-star prospects, taken on as scholarship players after UNC lost players to the NBA and after Coach Williams had missed out on some other targets. Hubert barely cracked the Rivals 150 as the No. 140 prospect in the '11 class, while Jackson was unranked.

UNC's four-man 2012 class forms much of the core of the current rotation, but not a single one of them received a five-star ranking by Rivals.

Their range in terms of national ranking is from Marcus Paige's No. 34 to Joel James' No. 65. J.P. Tokoto and Brice Johnson cracked the top 50 at No. 45 and No. 49, respectively.

Clearly things have been on a downward swing on the recruiting trail for Williams since the 2010 class, which was frontloaded with five-stars Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock, as well as four-star Kendall Marshall.

In fact, many would say Barnes was the last headlining commitment for the Tar Heels, taking place a few months after UNC had won the '09 NCAA title. That '09 UNC squad had three players (Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson, and Tyler Hansbrough) who were five-star recruits and national top ten prospects.

Barnes, the No. 2 player in the Rivals.com 2010 rankings, is the last top five national recruit to sign with the Tar Heels.

Without Hairston and McDonald the Tar Heels are desperately thin along the wing and have significantly fewer options, and therefore less capability.

Especially considering the 'more options with both' addition at the end of Vitale's tweet, it would seem that Williams was trying to convey that his team simply isn't as capable without his two veteran wings.

Maybe it was just an off-hand comment said out of frustration by Williams.

Maybe it was said to motivate. Maybe it's both of those.

Maybe this is just another example of us media making a big deal about nothing.

Maybe it's the most honest thing Williams has stated in months, if not years.

But heading into a brutal stretch of games including a possible matchup with Louisville in Connecticut on Sunday, along with upcoming games against top ten foes Michigan State and Kentucky, as well as a challenging game in the Smith Center later in December with Texas, perhaps Williams is just setting the bar for what might be a real rough patch before the Tar Heels return their veterans along the perimeter.





 

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