CarolinaBlue.com recently merged with TarHeelRadar.com. In the transaction renowned recruiting analyst – Clint Jackson joined the new and improved Carolina Blue staff.
Jackson is the former publisher of High Major Hoops, a highly regarded national recruiting web site and newsletter. He has also written for such publications as CNNSI, the former GoHeels.com, The Sporting News, SLAM Magazine, Basketball News, TheInsiders.com, Rivals.com and FOX Sports.
A regular guest on many local radio shows on the east coast - Jackson has been a consistent objective presence in ACC basketball recruiting for over eight years.
Carolina Blue's new addition recently spoke with CB's managing editor Ryan Bartow to discuss the latest topics involving North Carolina basketball, especially recruiting.
Q: Given North Carolina's record-setting personnel losses, are you surprised by how well the Tar Heels are doing with basically a top seven of four freshmen, two former walk-ons and a player with zero career starts prior to this season?
Jackson: Definitely. Those young guys surrounded by the small core of returning players have really done a great job of keeping the Tar Heels in the top half of the ACC, and I think that's a remarkable feat for the guys. Tyler Hansbrough has certainly been quite the surprise, even though he arrived with high expectations. With the 40 point game, and his scoring and rebounding consistency, he's one of the top three or four players in the conference already as a freshman. David Noel, Reyshawn Terry and Wes Miller have really responded to the challenge and the play of Bobby Frasor running the point has been a pleasant thing to watch.
Q: From what you saw of this year's freshmen on the AAU level, what can Tar Heel fans expect from the foundation class that they haven't seen consistently this season?
Jackson: As with any freshmen, there's always a big change when they go from playing against 165-pound high school guys to playing with bigger, stronger, more athletic players at the ACC level.
In regards to Frasor, I actually liked him playing off the ball better than I did playing the point in AAU/high school. He's such a good shooter and I really don't think that Tar Heel fans have seen evidence yet of what kind of shooter he is capable of being. I think Tyler will work on his jumper. His range once he has some help underneath. He's always been the guy who exerts that maximum energy and effort inside, but I think showing a 15-17 footer or a few moves off the dribble will make him even tougher to defend. Ginyard's definitely a guy who knows his role. I'm just not sure he's ever going to be a big scorer at UNC. He came in with the reputation of a defensive stopper/athlete that scored in transition. I think he's definitely going to have to do lots of repetitions on his jump shot and continue to clean up his handle, but one thing you can count on with Ginyard is his effort. I think he's a guy who continues to improve at a great rate throughout his college career. His role, in my opinion, will continue to progress on this team in the next few years.
When I saw Green in high school/AAU, he really impressed onlookers with his "little things." His passing and his help-side shot blocking. He had a game time savvy, and knew how to win.
I think with Green, the physical strength thing will not only help him with his game, but it'll help him with his confidence to play at this level. If he can continue to shoot the ball the way that he's capable of –
UNC adds a new element of quickness next year, and I think a long player with perimeter skills – like Green – is really going to benefit from Tywon Lawson's arrival. Michael Copeland is a depth player. He's going to have to really improve, in my opinion, to crack into that rotation next year.
Q: Is the cavalry on the way? Where does North Carolina's amazing 2006 recruiting haul rank amongst the all-time classes in the past 20-25 years?
Jackson: Going back that far is going to be tough for me to do at age 31, but this incoming recruiting class at UNC is an amazing feat. I just can't tell you how good these kids are. Between Brandan Wright, Alex Stepheson and Deon Thompson, Tyler's going to have a lot of help on that glass next season. Wright gives UNC a presence that many have never seen at UNC. He's got the longest arms I've ever seen on a high school kid. When he grabs a rebound and holds that ball high above his head, it's just unnatural. His ability to jump quick, bounce around the interior and throw those arms around is what I'm really looking forward to seeing next season. He's a freak of nature out there, almost like something from the Twilight Zone. He does have a ways to go in regards to strength though and I think that will be his toughest transition.
And Lawson, he's just a quick blur out there that already has that tough muscular physique. He's got a big task ahead of him to live up to the Raymond Felton comparisons, but physically, he's capable. I think he's immediately going to be one of the best floor generals in the ACC. It's going to be a mental adjustment for him, but from a physical standpoint, he's going to be the quickest point in the ACC from the moment that he arrives. He changes directions like a hummingbird.
I've always been a tremendous fan of Wayne Ellington's. When I first saw him play back a couple of years ago at the TOC in Chapel Hill, I was just amazed at his ability to both shoot the ball and take it to the hole. He's a high-energy, high-efficiency guy. Unlike a lot of young offensive stars today coming out of high school, he's got a great head on his shoulders. Some of these kids just tend to shoot their team out of the game – but Ellington just takes what's available to him and he's so smooth about it. My Philly sources had been in my ear for a long time about Ellington, and I think he's going to be a really solid player for UNC. When he runs with the ball he's so smooth, it almost appears that he's on roller blades. He just slides by the defense and knifes inside the lane.
Honestly, Deon Thompson is the only incomer that I haven't seen, but if Rob Harrington of PrepStars says he's good I have to agree with him. His video shows skilled back-to-the-basket moves and that's something that UNC needs. Coach Williams will run him so hard that Thompson will be in the best shape of his life too.
Stepheson will need some time, but he's an athletic and strong presence on the boards. He won't be much of a scorer for UNC right away, but his defense and his board work are the keys to him earning some time on the floor. He's a great kid who's as personable and intelligent as they come.
I think Graves will be suited as a nice role player who can shoot and create mismatches. He's going to be behind Terry and Green at first, but I think Coach Williams will be able to find a niche for Graves on the team. You don't see many 250-pound perimeter players in the ACC.
Q: Of the 2006 class, which player will have the most immediate impact – based on his ability and the team's needs?
Jackson: I think it's either going to be Lawson or Wright. Lawson just seems to be getting better and better each day. I think his time at Oak Hill has allowed him to really spend more time improving a lot of the finer points of his game. I don't know how many of you have ever been to Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, but there's nothing to do there but work on your game and hit the books. Lawson has really turned the corner this year in regards to shooting, leadership and poise. His physical abilities were already there – but now he's ready for anything.
I could also see Wright being the impact guy from this class because he's a rare breed – he could alter the game so much from a defensive standpoint. Blocked shots lead to fast breaks….tons of offensive rebounds…and the ability to get the ball, turn and shoot right over the extended arms of the defense. It just allows a freedom in the offense that Carolina hasn't had in some time.
Q: Does Lawson compare favorably to any prep point guard who've ever seen? Who are some of the best you've covered in the last decade and where do you rank him amongst that group?
Jackson: Tywon Lawson has the body of Will Bynum. Physically, that's who he resembles out there. But his game is not like Bynum at all. Lawson has a superb quickness and agility. Almost like a Jonathan Hargett, but he's got a good head on his shoulders for leading a team for the purpose of winning. That was something Hargett missed the boat on. A lot of people compare him to Felton, and I have to tell you….I'm a big Lawson fan, but Felton was one of a kind. If Lawson has the inner drive, the selfless leadership and the work ethic of Felton, then he's going to be something. Physically – he's there. I just don't think it's wise to set the bar so high on Lawson yet by comparing him to Felton. Let him get here on campus and carve his own place in the hearts of UNC fans. He might do some things better than Felton did. But Felton is the gold standard for UNC point guards, along with Phil Ford of course. And if everyone expects Lawson to get here and be that good right away – then it makes it kind of unrealistic. Expect him to be very good and you will be pleasantly surprised.
Q: Kevin Love, by all means, is UNC's No. 1 target for 2007. Regardless of class and age, where does he rank amongst America's top prep post talents? Is he down to UCLA and North Carolina and what do you see being the final determinant in his recruitment?
Jackson: Kevin Love, I've always said is a can't miss player. He's as strong and skilled as any offensive presence in the last five years. That kid has a way of playing in the post that teams just can't adjust to. He is the best, yes, the best, outlet passer that I've EVER seen.
He ignites a fast break with the flick of his wrist. He's got amazing vision, pinpoint accuracy and an ability to make everyone around him better and function as a unit. Sure, he's a big guy – probably 275 pounds, but he makes UCLA or UNC a much better team the day he walks on the floor. I think he could've played big time college basketball as a sophomore in high school and nobody would've been able to keep him from sealing his man and getting post position. Many insiders feel UCLA leads UNC at this time, but Love hasn't confirmed that. He'll get to visit Chapel Hill this spring, so we'll see how that goes before calling Love a Bruin just yet. I think the most important part of getting Love to commit is his role on the team recruiting him. He'll play no matter where he goes because he's too good not to.