With NCAA investigation behind them, North Carolina now in the mix for several one-and-done candidates | Zagsblog
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Friday / July 12.
  • With NCAA investigation behind them, North Carolina now in the mix for several one-and-done candidates

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    On Oct. 13, the same day that North Carolina avoided major penalties in the NCAA investigation into academic violations, the school hosted its Midnight Madness event with several recruits, including 6-foot-7 wing Nassir Little, who had committed to the Tar Heels nine days earlier.

    Little is projected as Top 10 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft by ESPN.com, meaning North Carolina could have back-to-back one-and-dones following the exit of freshman forward Tony Bradley after one season.

    But with the academic scandal behind them, North Carolina seems poised for a recruiting roll and remains in the mix for several elite recruits.

    One source close to the program said it “definitely helps to have [the investigation] behind us. People used it against us for years.”

    Zion Williamson, the No. 2 player in 2018 and the projected No. 2 pick in 2018 via ESPN, announced he will visit North Carolina this weekend after he chopped UCLA off his list.

    “I’m headed to North Carolina this weekend so I’m looking forward to that,” he wrote in his USA Today blog.

    Williamson is also considering Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, South Carolina and Clemson, with many believing he will land at Duke or Kentucky in the end.

    In addition to Williamson, North Carolina also remains in the mix for 6-5 shooting guard Romeo Langford, who also visited for Midnight Madness, and 6-10 forward Simi Shittu, who visits Nov. 10.

    Langford is also mulling Vanderbilt, Kansas, UCLA and Indiana, while Shittu has already visited Vanderbilt.

    Meantime, North Carolina also hosted Class of 2019 stud Matthew Hurt last weekend. The No. 5 player in 2019 per ESPN.com, Hurt visited Duke and Carolina in the same weekend, having dinner with head coach Roy Williams and associate head coach Hubert Davis while they watched the Yankees-Astros game last Saturday.

    “Coach Williams wanted Matthew to kind of watch Luke Maye a little bit,” Richard Hurt said. “He said, ‘Luke may not have your talent but he’s got the versatility where he can go inside and go outside, so watch him in practice.”

    It remains unclear how many of these elite players North Carolina will land, but with the recruiting scandal behind them they are now in the mix for one-and-done players.

    “I think they will continue to recruit the players that Coach Williams wants,” C.B. McGrath, a former Williams assistant who’s now the head coach at UNC-Wilmington, told ZAGSBLOG. “If that means they are one-and-dones that is fine. The investigation over just means they will not have to answer the questions of uncertainty surrounding it. That should be beneficial.

    “I think the federal investigation will enable more kids to get recruited ethically. That will be beneficial as well. ”

    Prior to last season, North Carolina hadn’t had a one-and-done player in a decade, since Brandan Wright in 2007.

    During that same time, Kentucky, and later Duke, pioneered a new type of recruiting focused on one-and-dones. Some of those recruits — most notably North Carolina native Brandon Ingram, now with the Lakers — openly said they cut North Carolina because of the NCAA investigation.

    “And maybe I’m not as good or we’re not as good, but in the first 10 years we recruited 26 McDonald’s All-Americans in our first 10 years,” Williams said before the investigation was resolved. “And the last three I think we got one. I don’t think I got that dumb that quickly. So it was the doubt that people could put in — some of them directly, some of them indirectly. But still bringing up the doubt was something that was hard to deal with.

    “And I had one dad say, we’re just going to wait until the spring and it will be over with by then, and then we’ll know exactly what it was. That was two years ago. We still don’t know what it is.”

    Without the one-and-dones, the Tar Heels still got to back-to-back NCAA championship games, losing to Villanova on Kris Jenkins‘ miracle shot in 2016 and beating Gonzaga in 2017.

    Those teams were loaded with upperclassmen like Isaiah Hicks, now on a two-way contract with the Knicks.

    Hicks told me this week that the NCAA investigation didn’t distract him and his teammates, but he’s glad it over.

    “I feel like as far as us we did a good job of not letting that distract us,” he said. “And I feel like now that it’s over there’s really no more distractions, period. Some people can say it did distract us but I feel like it really didn’t. For me personally it just had no effect other than people saying bad things about our school.”

    Now they can’t say bad things any longer, and that could pave the way for North Carolina’s recruiting to get back to what it once was.

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.

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