Following two somewhat disappointing recruiting seasons by North Carolina standards, Roy Williams is back to his dominant ways.
Yesterday, 2014's 13th-ranked recruit (ESPN 60), Theo Pinson, committed to UNC after just about everyone had him slated to land in Bloomington with Tom Crean and the Indiana Hoosiers. Little did we know, the North Carolina native—and self-proclaimed Duke fan—had the Tar Heels on his mind.
And a Carolina blue hat in his bag.
RT @dijana_kunovac: and here's Theo Pinson, UNC hat and all. http://t.co/mdkdkrwqP15/22/2013, 4:28:15 PM
“Me and Roy had a very good relationship, and I feel comfortable with him being my head coach," Pinson told Inside Carolina (subscription required). "I feel like he’s going to put me in the best situations and I still want to play in front of my peers."
With Pinson's verbal commitment, Coach Williams has managed to lock up the No. 12, No. 13 and No. 14 recruits for 2014. Point guard Joel Berry and small forward Justin Jackson were the others to make the early pledge to North Carolina.
Considering only two other players in the top 15 have even committed, it's safe to say Ol' Roy is off to a great start—and could very well end up with the top class when all is said and done.
So what happened the other two years?
My theory on that has been—and still remains—that the concerns over the academic scandal at UNC and Williams' health affected recruiting.
Investigations of the scandal have been ongoing for a couple years now, and were ramped up again last November. That just happened to be during the early signing period for the 2013 recruits Coach Williams was still trying to land.
For the last two years, the News & Observer's timing on its investigative reporting has been impeccable. There is no doubt the timing of these reports has affected his ability to pull in top recruits.
In September of 2012, before the aforementioned report surfaced, Coach Williams was in surgery to remove a tumor on his kidney. That brought immediate speculation on how much longer Roy would be able to coach the Tar Heels—if ever again.
These are the things that will scare recruits away. Nobody wants to commit to a program and a coach they respect and then have him leave before they do. And nobody wants to pay for others' violations by being banned from postseason play.
As it turned out, Carolina's leader was just fine, and continued to coach through the 2012-13 season without a hitch. He was the same spunky Roy we've always known.
Though there are people out there that refuse to drop the scandal, it would appear UNC athletics is clear of any wrongdoing. And Coach Williams no longer has to recruit with a handicap.
Now that he has Pinson and Jackson at the small forward spot, you can expect Roy and company to focus heavily on the shooting guards they have offered. That list includes No. 9 Rashad Vaughn, No. 19 Devin Booker and No. 24 D'Angelo Russell—who has been playing alongside Joel Berry in the Nike EYBL.
UNC will lose rising senior Leslie McDonald to graduation, and it is very unlikely P.J. Hairston will stay for his senior season. That leaves no shooting guards on the 2014-15 roster, making the 2-guard a position of priority for the Tar Heels.
But the way things are going for this recruiting class, that may not be a concern for very long. Already having three top-15 recruits and a wide-open spot at the 2 should be quite the lure for the remaining prospects.
It has been a very sticky situation in Chapel Hill for the past few years. But as the clouds of gloom begin to depart, we can clearly see Roy Williams is still the shining light of the program.
His two titles in 10 years wasn't an accident. And it looks like the program is shaping up to make another run.
Never count Roy out until he turns in his whistle for a set of golf clubs.