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DeCock: Tar Heels can weather Bullock’s departure, but stakes raised on recruit Wiggins

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
ldecock@newsobserver.com
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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It makes perfect sense for Reggie Bullock to enter the NBA draft, as he and North Carolina confirmed Tuesday he will do. It’s a weak draft year for small forwards, Bullock aptly demonstrated his ability to play the position this season and with family to support in Kinston, it’s as good a time as any for Bullock to cash in on his talent. If he lands in the right spot, he’ll do well.

For the Tar Heels, Bullock’s departure isn’t the worst news, not after P.J. Hairston decided to return. As much as Bullock will be missed, for his experience, rebounding and defense as much as his shooting, losing both would have dealt a prospectively fatal blow to North Carolina’s perimeter scoring ability. With Hairston back, along with Leslie McDonald and J.P. Tokoto, there are enough pieces in place.

Bullock isn’t a lock for the first round, but he’ll have a shot if he does well in workouts. And even if he slips to the second round, he can look to Danny Green, who has found a home in San Antonio’s starting lineup the past two seasons.

“He’s got the skills to translate to a complementary guy in the NBA,” said draft analyst Joe Kotoch of probasketballdraft.com. “Coming out this year or next year shouldn’t make too big of a difference for him. If anything, coming out this year gives him a stronger chance of sliding into the first round.”

Bullock’s departure does place higher stakes on the impending decision by consensus No. 1 recruit Andrew Wiggins, the one-and-done Canadian small forward who is considering North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas and Florida State and has drawn comparisons to LeBron James.

ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep said Wiggins is so talented that it won’t matter to his decision calculus whether Bullock is there or not – “If this kid’s worrying about anyone ahead of him, he’s not the kid we think he is,” Telep said. But it certainly matters to the Tar Heels.

Wiggins has proceeded carefully throughout the process, and even as the last of his peers have chosen their colleges, there’s no indication when he might make his decision. His options are interesting, to say the least.

At Kentucky, where John Calipari is putting together an unprecedented super-team of one-and-done players, he’d complete the sweep. Calipari has landed Telep’s No. 1 player at the other four positions as well as two other top-100 players. With a few key holdovers from this year’s team as well, the Wildcats will be loaded next year with or without Wiggins, essentially a traveling all-star team.

Wiggins’ ties to Florida State are strong. His father played basketball there and his mother, an Olympic medalist, ran track for the Seminoles. Leonard Hamilton has shown an ability to get elite players when he targets them, Michael Snaer being the best example.

And then there’s North Carolina, where Wiggins would walk into a lineup that is set at point guard with Marcus Paige, has an elite perimeter shooter in Hairston, and will have a multitude of options at forward with James Michael McAdoo coming back and incoming freshmen Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks joining returnees Brice Johnson, Joel James, Desmond Hubert and Jackson Simmons.

Without Wiggins, North Carolina is in position to challenge Duke for ACC supremacy. With him, the Tar Heels become a top national title contender. He’s that good.

So while losing Bullock will hurt the Tar Heels for so many reasons on and off the court, the pain of his departure would be quickly soothed with the right new arrival.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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