We won’t know for years whether producing its first one-and-done player in a decade will lead to more such players considering North Carolina in the future.
Oh, dadgum it, yes we do.
North Carolina has not been losing out on such players because of any particular flaw in its development process. It’s lost them because Kentucky has been better at recruiting them since John Calipari arrived at UK, and because Duke caught up with the Wildcats over the past few seasons. And because the UNC program has been lodged in a crucible of public scrutiny since 2012 regarding the academic scandal and subsequent NCAA investigation that still is not scheduled to conclude anytime soon.
The uncertainty from year to year over the Heels’ availability to play in the NCAA Tournament certainly cost the Heels an even shot at 2015 elite forward prospect Brandon Ingram, who went to Duke, and also lingered when the state produced three top-15 prospects in the 2016 class who all chose other schools.
The absence of one-and-dones from the Carolina program became a social-media weapon for the Tar Heels’ rivals in the recruiting game. Fans posting on Twitter and Facebook will seize any presumed failure to attack others and, by extension, make their schools look more attractive. So Sean Miller’s absence from the Final Four at Arizona, the struggles of such high-end big men as Cheick Diallo and Cliff Alexander at Kansas and Carolina’s one-and-done drought became “memes.”
They are meaningless memes.
Carolina won a national championship and reached three Final Fours between Brandan Wright’s early exit in 2007 and this season, and added another title with its newly minted one-and-done (Bradley) averaging 12 minutes a game in the NCAA Tournament. While other schools’ fans were pointing out UNC’s best prospects were spending more years in the program than theirs, as if that somehow were a negative, the Tar Heels were outperforming most of them.
No doubt Roy Williams wants to be a factor in recruiting the best players. And it certainly helps to have a player enter as an attractive but not overwhelming prospect and enjoy a successful freshman year.
But Bradley’s exit isn’t they key to igniting Carolina recruiting. A verdict from the NCAA is what the Heels need. It’ll come. Eventually.