UNC Basketball: Biggest Ups and Downs from 2013 Offseason so Far
The North Carolina Tar Heels were on a roller coaster ride through the first few months of the offseason. There were some great highs, but the absolute low was enough to push our stomachs into our throats as fans of the program.
That's kind of the way it has been at UNC since the hammer came down on the football program in 2010.
The good news is that things have leveled out a little over the past month or so, and the biggest downer may not be as bad as we originally expected. Over the next few slides, we'll relive the biggest ups and downs from the Tar Heels' 2013 offseason.
The Ups: Roy Williams Seals the Deal on 3 Top 2014 Recruits
Roy Williams made a big splash early in the 2014 recruiting season with a verbal commitment from Lake Highland Prep's Joel Berry in January. He currently ranks third among point guards in his class by ESPN and is ranked 14th overall.
Berry's potential is far beyond those ranks, though, and a senior season as strong as his summer sessions could catapult him inside the Top 10.
Coach Williams learned his lesson during the 2011-12 season, when both Kendall Marshall and combo guard Dexter Strickland went down with injuries. There is no such thing as too many point guards in this system, and he seems to be living by that rule.
Marcus Paige, Nate Britt and Joel Berry will all be suiting up for Carolina in 2014-15. Before Britt's injuries, all three were considered top-notch floor generals. It's safe to say the Tar Heels have security at the 1.
Williams still had some unfinished business to take care of, though. The team is also stacked at the 4 and 5 positions, so the next step was adding some wings.
He took care of that, too—at least for the most part.
In March, Coach Williams received another verbal from small forward Justin Jackson, who ranks No. 8 overall on the ESPN 100. The Texas native will give the Tar Heels a nice punch in the mid-range game as Jackson sports one of the sweetest floaters in the game.
With his length and touch, it's virtually impossible to defend.
Jackson's commitment placed North Carolina at the top of the team recruiting rankings. Not only did Williams manage to be the first high-major to lock in two Top 100 recruits, but both were in the Top 15.
But he still wasn't done.
Roy Williams had been after in-state phenom Theo Pinson for a while, and the full-court press never stopped. Most folks—myself included—saw Pinson as a lock for Indiana after the Tar Heels snatched up Jackson.
Then Pinson tossed a curve ball when he slipped on the Carolina blue hat during his announcement in May.
Williams did it again.
Pinson's commitment added the athleticism and versatility Williams needed to solidify a strong recruiting class. Ranked No. 13 overall, he was also Williams' third Top 15 recruit for 2014.
Between the academic scandal and Coach Williams' health concerns, it's been a while since we've seen this strong of a recruiting class (according to rankings) from the Hall of Famer.
For those who jumped on the "Roy can't recruit anymore" bandwagon, this should be evidence to the contrary. Ol' Roy's still got game.
The Downs: Roy Williams Is Still in Search of a Shooting Guard for 2014-15
As impressive as his first three commits are, there is still one pressing issue Williams and Co. have yet to address. Leslie McDonald will graduate after the 2013-14 season, and P.J. Hairston will likely be on his way to the NBA.
That means there will be no shooting guards on the roster for the following season. Zero.
That's a problem.
Theo Pinson is strong enough in the areas of ball-handling and shooting to slide to the 2 if needed. And with the stockpile of point guards, there is no doubt Coach Williams will utilize dual-point guard sets on occasion. Heck, the coaching staff may turn J.P. Tokoto into a shooter by then.
But none of that is the same as having a true shooting guard, which is why Roy Williams is in heavy pursuit of a recruit to fill that spot.
So far, it's been a big whiff for the Tar Heels. Rashad Vaughn was admittedly close to committing back in March, according to Inside Carolina (subscription required), but chose to scan the buffet a little longer before settling on a program. Robert Johnson later landed on the radar and was offered but decided Indiana was the better fit.
Exum is 18 years old and graduates high school in December, making him eligible for the 2014 NBA draft. Even with his Carolina ties (his father, Cecil Exum, played for the Heels in the early '80s), it's highly unlikely he will pass up the NBA for a year of college when he is slated to be a lottery pick.
Blackmon decommitted from Indiana three years after making it verbal, which, naturally, raises some eyebrows. On top of that, he told Scout.com he has interest in being a point guard, which was apparently a great selling point for Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks.
“[The Kansas staff] just told me that they were recruiting me to come in and be a scorer right off, but also develop me as a point guard because they know ultimately that is what I want to play,” Blackmon said.
That sounds awfully familiar. Robert Johnson's father told All Hoosiers that his son wanted to play point, too, and that was one of the reasons he chose Indiana.
Obviously, these guys wouldn't get any playing time at the point in Chapel Hill.
So it all seems to circle back to ESPN's top shooting guard and No. 11 overall, Rashad Vaughn out of Minnesota. Until someone else lands on the Tar Heel radar, he may be the only hope.
And even though Vaughn was big on Carolina this past spring, it's impossible to get a read on the star prospect. During Robert Johnson's visit to Chapel Hill a couple weeks ago, Rashad Vaughn scheduled an official visit for September 27 as reported by Inside Carolina.
A few days after Johnson announced his verbal commitment to Indiana, Inside Carolina reported that Vaughn postponed his scheduled visit.
According to the report, Vaughn and his parents wanted to watch the Tar Heels in game action.
That can be read so many ways; it's pointless to run through all the scenarios. But what we do know is that he still has heavy interest in North Carolina, and that's a big relief.
The Ups: Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson Put Meat on Their Frames
This offseason's summer interviews, courtesy of GoHeels TV, provided a glimpse into the minds and characters of almost every returning Tar Heel. What we learned is that Roy Williams has a classy, smart and funny group of guys under his wing this season.
We also found out that UNC's strength and conditioning coach, Jonas Sahratian, has been hard at work as usual. His summer has been dedicated to molding the bodies of newcomers Nate Britt and Kennedy Meeks. Most importantly, though, he has managed to put some much-needed beef on Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson.
Johnson weighed in at 187 pounds as a freshman power forward. He did a great job of throwing around the little weight he had, but playing the 4 in the ACC is like jumping into a mosh pit with giants. In order to take the pounding—and give a little back—Johnson needed to bulk up fast.
That, he did.
Johnson was up to 200 pounds during the interview in late June. There are no current reports of his weight, but one has to believe he's close to reaching his stated goal of 210 pounds.
It was equally crucial for Paige to build on his 157-pound freshman frame. While he may not be getting a beatdown in the post, he still has to work through screens, push past defenders on dribble-drives and finish through contact with the bigs in the paint.
During his interview, Paige revealed he was up to 171 pounds and was hoping to gain at least four more before the season opens in November.
Paige and Johnson are both dynamic players who will be keys to Carolina's success in the upcoming season. There is usually a big improvement in skill and IQ after a year of experience at the collegiate level. Couple that with their improved physiques, and it looks like Paige and Johnson are headed for strong sophomore campaigns.
The Downs: P.J. Hairston's Summer to Forget
I wish we could forget P.J. Hairston's summer. Surely, he does, too.
Apparently, the NCAA only works fast when it comes to Johnny Manziel. I digress.
On May 13, Hairston was busted for speeding in a rented Chevy Camaro. No big deal. People get speeding tickets all the time, so this wasn't even reported until Hairston's world came crashing down on June 5.
That night, Hairston and two other men were arrested during a license check for possession of marijuana. He was also driving a rented 2013 GMC Yukon without a license. In addition to those charges, a gun and another bag of pot were also found.
Two days later, USA Today released a report that cast an even darker shadow over Hairston's offseason. Eric Prisbell uncovered a link to the Camaro and Yukon that really stirred up the media and fans.
The cars were rented by two different people, Catinia Farrington and Haydn Thomas. Both Farrington and Thomas, however, are registered at the same address.
Now it becomes not only an issue of an arrest but also possible improper benefits.
On July 15, according to Inside Carolina, Coach Williams issued a statement saying Hairston made "serious mistakes," which would result in "serious consequences" for the rising junior.
Less than a week later, Hairston's charges were dismissed following a "drug assessment" and the presentation of his current license.
On July 28, Hairston was pulled over yet again, this time for reckless driving. He was going 93 MPH in a 65-MPH zone, just outside of Salisbury, N.C.
As soon as word got out, Williams suspended Hairston indefinitely.
At this time, we still have no clue how long his suspension will be. Roy Williams has refused to put a timetable on his return, likely waiting to hear from the NCAA on the investigation of the rentals.
No matter how it goes down, it's tough to imagine Hairston letting this summer bring him down. If anything, this could fuel the raging fire he plays with on the hardwood.
Marcus Paige recently told ESPN that Hairston is practicing with the team and everyone has moved on.
[The distraction] was more of an issue in the summer than it will be going into the season. He’s in good shape right now, and I think he’s in a good place and is ready to move on. … We’ve moved on. He’s working out with us, and we still accept him. It was a big deal in the media, but we’re pretty confident everyone has moved past it. We can’t wait to get him back—whenever it is.
Having the support of his teammates is a big step in the right direction. The next step is dominating the ACC.