- North Carolina saw a significant talent exodus this spring to both the NBA draft and graduation, but Roy Williams closed his 2019 class strong to reset expectations for 2019-20.
In continuing our annual summer theme of getting you acquainted with the next crop of young, skilled players that will arrive to college basketball, we're taking a closer look at the Top 10 incoming recruiting classes (per the 247Sports composite) in the country. These schools range from the usual faces (Duke, Kentucky) to fresh ones (Memphis, Washington, Georgia), but they all have one big thing in common: there's plenty of major talent arriving. Five-stars get the headline, but a truly great recruiting class often has depth as well—players who can be program-changers over three or four years, not just one or two. Without further ado, let's move to the next top-10 class: the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Five-Stars: Cole Anthony (No. 4), Armando Bacot (No. 27)
Four-Stars: Anthony Harris (No. 71)
Three-Stars: Jeremiah Francis (No. 175)
Other New Additions: Shooting guards Justin Pierce (from William and Mary) and Christian Keeling (from Charleston Southern).
How the Class Was Built
Fall 2017: Coming off a national championship in April 2017, North Carolina capitalized with an early commitment from three-star point guard Jeremiah Francis in August of the same year. Francis’s announcement came with plans to forgo his senior high school season to enroll early in Chapel Hill, but that timeline was derailed by a knee surgery. Returning for his senior year while remaining committed to Carolina’s 2019 class, Francis was an early asset in Roy Williams’s pocket.
Fall 2018: Heading into his own senior season, big man Armando Bacot joined the North Carolina crew in August of 2018. The 6’10” center’s commitment brought a needed element of size to the incoming class and to North Carolina’s frontcourt as he boosted the class’s overall outlook with his five-star status.
Spring 2019: Point guard Cole Anthony pledged his commitment to North Carolina in April, giving the Tar Heels a big backcourt boost late in the recruiting cycle. The son of former NBA guard Greg Anthony, the incoming five-star freshman is generally regarded as the top floor general in the 2019 class. Just hours after Anthony’s mid-morning announcement, four-star combo guard Anthony Harris also committed to Carolina shortly after a visit to Chapel Hill. Harris, a native of Fairfax, Va., had originally committed to Virginia Tech in the fall but got out of his letter of intent following Buzz Williams’s departure for Texas A&M. The two spring additions to the guard group boosted Carolina’s backcourt to one of the country’s elite once again.
How It Stacks Up to 2018 and Recent History
Both of last season’s five-star commits, Nassir Little and Coby White, have already left the program for the pros. The duo were both immediate contributors to last season’s squad, with White in particular exploding as the ideal orchestrator of the Tar Heels' fast-paced offense. Leaky Black made a much more muted impact than the other two aforementioned freshmen, but the former four-star recruit returns to complement the 2019 class and transfer additions on the wing. This year’s four-man freshman squad cracks the top-10 for the first time since 2014, when familiar names Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson and Joel Berry clocked in at No. 10.
Carolina has historically had strong recruiting classes, consistently bringing in top-tier talent to contend with the likes of Duke within the ACC and stacking up with the country’s best. This year marks the program’s fourth straight top-20 class after an uncharacteristic down year in 2015, when Williams was only able to wrangle two recruits—one four- and one three star—to comprise the nation’s No. 70 ranked class. Despite the low recruiting ranking, those two recruits were Kenny Williams and Luke Maye, who went on to contribute in Chapel Hill for four full years each and help lay the foundation for the Tar Heels' recent success. Prior to 2015, however, North Carolina had brought in 10 straight top-15 classes. This year’s class brings a ton of talent—on trend with the program’s normal recruiting efforts—but provides a little more depth across the floor than some of the more recent season’s classes.
The Tar Heels lost five of their top six players to graduation and the pros, including White, the team’s primary ball-handler, Cam Johnson, the team’s top scorer and best three-point shooter, and Maye, the team’s strongest paint presence and talented swing four type who helped a ton on the wing as well. There’s a lot of pressure on this year’s class to perform in light of the losses. Thankfully for Roy Williams, it seems as if he’s recruited the right crew to rise to the occasion. Neither Anthony nor Bacot will likely be around long in Chapel Hill, but they’re both well-rounded, college-ready additions who will be key to Carolina’s ceiling (Anthony more so than Bacot in regard to the latter of the three statements).
Anthony will take the reins as Carolina’s new floor general. Williams had publicly stated that the incoming five-star is potentially the most complete guard that he’s ever recruited, so expectations are highest for the Tar Heels' new point guard. He will undoubtably set the pace for the team’s success this season. With two projected one-and-dones leading the way, Harris and Francis have time to develop. The duo brings their own raw but less refined talent to the backcourt, which Williams has time to work with as they are likely to stick around for a few seasons. Both of UNC’s 2019 transfer additions bring one year of eligibility to contribute to the team.
Team Expectations for 2019–20
The state of North Carolina’s roster was in a bit of flux this spring as last year’s stars declared for the draft and Williams searched for some experience to bring on board. Once he landed two grad transfer options to fill out the rotation—which returns big men Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley, reserves Leaky Black and Brandon Robinson, and not much else—and received Anthony’s April commitment, however, things started to look up again. Bacot is a much-needed interior addition for Carolina while Anthony and the rest of the newcomers will aim to replace Coby White and Kenny Williams in the backcourt, rounding out what should be a solid roster with a decent mix of both new and more experienced talent, especially at the two and three slots on the wing. This crew is well rounded and fills the right holes for the Tar Heels. While UNC is far from the ACC favorite on paper, the two incoming five-star additions certainly keep it competitive going forward.
Williams has already locked down five-star center Day’Ron Sharpe for his 2020 class, preemptively preparing for the likely departure of Bacot to the draft after a one-and-done season in Chapel Hill. Five-star prospect Jeremy Roach, Carolina’s top point guard target to replace Anthony (another anticipated 2020 draft pick) committed to rival Duke already. That leaves a commitment from five-star point guard Caleb Love or combo guard Cade Cunningham as Carolina’s best hopes for its backcourt. Love has scheduled official visits to UNC, Missouri, Indiana, Louisville and Kansas, while Cunningham cut his list to Florida, Kentucky, Oklahoma State, Washington and Carolina.
Several other five-stars are also on Roy Williams’s radar, including combo guard Bryce Thompson, shooting guard Jaden Springer, small forward Ziaire Williams (who is set to spend his senior season at Sierra Canyon along with fellow five-star 2020 prospect B.J. Boston, LeBron James Jr. and Zaire Wade), a pair of five-star forwards in Greg Brown and Isaiah Todd and another standout center Walker Kessler. The Tar Heels have also made offers to a host of talented four-star prospects and should be set to secure their fifth-straight top-20 recruiting class.