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UNC basketball recruiting: Names to know in the 2015 and 2016 classes

By Andrew Carter
acarter@newsobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/29/18/15/YdHmb.Em.138.jpeg|238
    Zach Frailey - The (Kinston) Free Press
    Kinston's Brandon Ingram drives to the basket during a game against Jacksonville Northside in the Men's 2A NCHSAA Regional Finals March 8, 2014.
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    Tracy Glantz - tglantz@thestate.com
    Spring Valley forward Perry Dozier Jr. goes for a shot over West Charlotte High guard Austin Harris during the Chick-fil-A Classic Thursday at Richland Northeast High School. West Charlotte won 60-57 in overtime.

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The perception, whether it’s founded or not, is that North Carolina isn’t recruiting as effectively as it once did – that for whatever reason coach Roy Williams hasn’t been able to recruit the best of the best prospects to Chapel Hill in recent years.

That’s perhaps a bit harsh. UNC has put together top-10 classes in three of the past four years, according to Scout.com, and the three-man class this year – with versatile wings Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson, and point guard Joel Berry – is, once again, highly regarded.

Even so, it has been five years since UNC recruited a top-five class, according to Scout, and the most highly rated high school prospects in recent seasons have chosen to go elsewhere. Last year, Duke landed Jabari Parker, and Kansas got Andrew Wiggins, who had UNC on his final list of schools. Wiggins and Parker went 1-2, respectively, in the NBA draft in June.

Kentucky, meanwhile, continues to load up on high-level talent in class after class.

Those schools, historically, represent UNC’s greatest competition: Duke locally and Kentucky and Kansas nationally. All four schools, including UNC, enter each season with Final Four aspirations and, usually, the kind of talent to lead to such a run.

Entering this season, UNC is likely to be ranked among the top 10 nationally, and the Tar Heels seem to have their best chance in years at making a deep run in the NCAA tournament. What about the future, though? And what about UNC’s recruiting?

Is it fair to conclude that for whatever reason – perhaps a desire to avoid one-and-dones, or to maintain better team chemistry – Williams and his staff have gone away from recruiting the best of the best year after year?

“I think that’s valid,” Evan Daniels, the national recruiting analyst for Scout.com, said recently. “But I also think that North Carolina goes after the players that they think they can get, that fit their mold and fit what they’re trying to do. I mean, they’ve still got highly rated guys.

“Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson were both very highly rated recruits last year.”

Daniels spent the past several weeks following the most important month on the college basketball recruiting calendar. In July, college coaches travel nationwide to events that define three evaluation periods, in which they scout players and form opinions that will shape college teams.

UNC has yet to secure its first commitment from the class of 2015, but here’s a look at some of the players the Tar Heels might be targeting, and how they could fit into the team:

Class of 2015 top priorities

Brandon Ingram, small forward, 6-foot-8, 190 pounds, Kinston High

Four stars (rankings according to Scout.com)

UNC has had success recruiting players from Kinston: Jerry Stackhouse two decades ago and more recently, Reggie Bullock. Could Ingram follow their footsteps to Chapel Hill? Williams and his staff have to hope so.

Ingram and his Kinston High team visited the Smith Center last season and played an exhibition against the Tar Heels’ junior varsity team. Ingram is an athletic, but skinny, forward who can play inside or out. He just might be UNC’s top priority – or, at least, its most realistically gettable top priority.

It’s unclear when Ingram might want to make his decision. N.C. State is also heavily involved, and he has a scholarship offer from Duke as well, among many others.

Ivan Rabb, power forward, 6-10/220, Bishop O’Dowd High, Oakland, Calif.

Five stars

Rabb is among the most prized members of the class, and he has drawn offers from the usual suspects: UNC, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky. N.C. State is after him, too. Rabb is considered by some to be the best power forward prospect in his class, and he’d likely arrive on campus and, in today’s college basketball, start from Day One.

At UNC, he could fit nicely into a frontcourt that could potentially have a significant vacancy, if junior forward Brice Johnson decides to skip his final season of eligibility.

Stephen Zimmerman, center, 6-11/225, Bishop Gorman High, Las Vegas

Five stars

Like Rabb, Zimmerman is a high-profile big man who has drawn nationwide interest. Kansas and Kentucky, along with UCLA and others, have offered him a scholarship. And, like Rabb, Williams and his staff have reportedly made Zimmerman a primary target.

Said Daniels: “They’ve certainly prioritized those two. … They’re going to take some swings at Ivan Rabb and Stephen Zimmerman. Are they considered the favorite as of right now? No, I don’t think so, but they are certainly high-level targets for them.”

Zimmerman projects as the kind of center Williams loves to have as the focal point of his offenses – the kind the Tar Heels have been without since Tyler Zeller graduated two years ago (though sophomore Kennedy Meeks appears poised for a breakout season).

Other class of 2015 targets

P.J. Dozier, shooting guard, 6-6/185, Spring Valley High, Columbia, S.C.

Four stars

Dozier sat out his junior season while recovering from an ACL injury, but he has remained one of the top shooting guard prospects in his class. He’d be a versatile wing player at UNC, which has been recruiting Dozier for years, according to InsideCarolina.com, a Scout.com-affiliated site.

The Tar Heels have been light on wing players in recent years, though depth there will improve this season with the arrival of Pinson and Jackson. Still, Dozier could bolster a position of need for UNC. It’s unclear how other commitments – such as Ingram’s, for instance – might affect Dozier’s plans. “I think they’d like to get a wing that can shoot the ball,” Daniels said. “That’s also a priority.”

Henry Ellenson, center, 6-10/235, Rice Lake (Wis.) High

Four stars

Are the Tar Heels trying to establish a Wisconsin-to-Chapel Hill pipeline? Perhaps. If they land Ellenson, he’d join UNC junior forward J.P. Tokoto as Wisconsin natives to wind up in Chapel Hill.

Ellenson, it seems, hasn’t been as highly prioritized by UNC, but Williams and staff remain in the mix for him. Ellenson in a recent interview with thedevilsden.com – a Scout.com-affiliated site – said Wisconsin and Marquette, among others, were hardest after him.

Class of 2016 targets

UNC doesn’t have its first commitment from the 2015 class, so it’s difficult to look too far into 2016. How the Tar Heels fare in recruiting during the next several months will determine who they most aggressively target in the 2016 class.

Regardless, Harry Giles, a power forward from High Point, will remain an important target. When he was a freshman, Giles was the first freshman to receive a scholarship offer from Williams.

That should tell you something about how much Giles is valued, and he remains a prized prospect even after spending about a year recovering from a serious knee injury. Giles is ranked the No. 3 prospect by Scout.com in 2016, and he’s a priority for UNC and Duke.

Beyond Giles, UNC has also extended 2016 offers to Dennis Smith from Fayetteville, who is considered one of the best point guards in his class, and Jayson Tatum, a small forward from St. Louis.

Scout ranks Smith and Tatum as the best players at their positions in 2016. Duke and N.C. State are also involved with Smith, and Duke is recruiting Tatum, too.

Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter
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