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Why this week’s draft will be important to UNC’s future success in recruiting

North Carolina could have three players go in the first round of the 2019 NBA draft on Thursday. Two players – Coby White and Nassir Little – are expected to be lottery picks.

Cam Johnson is expected to go late in the first round.

If that happens, it would be the first time UNC had at least three players drafted in the first round since Harrison Barnes (No. 7), Kendall Marshall (No. 13), John Henson (No. 14) and Tyler Zeller (No. 17) were all drafted in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft. It would also be the first time since 2012 that UNC had a player drafted in the lottery.

Many of Williams’ best teams have been noted for their experience. The 2016-17 team that won a national championship had six seniors and four juniors. In the decade leading up to this season, only Tony Bradley (in 2017) left for the draft after his freshman year.

But this past season, Williams had two one-and-done players in Little and White. Little, who was the No. 3-ranked player in the country coming out of high school, was expected to be a one-and-done player before he came to UNC. White became a one-and-done player after a successful freshman season where he averaged 16.1 points per game and 4.1 assists.

“I’ve got a wonderful situation because some kids come to school here and sort of like to stay around,” Williams said. “But at the same time, I try to recruit those guys, we just didn’t get that many of them. I’d love to have one or two of those guys on every team because you love to have talent. Talent helps you win.

“But I also like to have some of those guys that you feel are going to around three or four years.”

Williams said he noticed people began to talk about it after Tyler Hansbrough and Tyler Zeller decided to stay multiple years. He said those players just had a desire to stay in school for different reasons. Hansbrough wanted to win a national championship, he said. Zeller wanted to stay for academic reasons.

“This year, and you guys know it, there were people saying I was holding Nassir back,” Williams said. “Yeah, ‘I want to hold a guy back so I can lose.’ That really makes a lot of frickin’ sense. And the other thing, if I’m holding Nassir back why am I not holding Coby back.”

Williams said he met with both White and Little the Sunday night after UNC lost to Auburn in the Sweet 16. He said White was initially unsure of whether he wanted to make the jump to the pros or stay another year.

But Williams said he told White that he thought he was ready to make the jump.

“Could he become more ready if he stayed? Yeah, but why? Williams said. “I thought it would be the right thing for him to do. Gave him my blessing. I think he was pleased with that.”

He said he told Little the same.

“All along we knew that that was in (Little’s) mind,” Williams said. “I said, people can say you didn’t have the year that they thought you were going to have, but you’re going to be (a first round) draft choice. You’re going to be able to reach your long term dreams and goals and you have my blessing.”

According to cbssports.com’s mock draft, White is projected to go No. 7 overall, while Little is expected to be drafted No. 13 overall. Johnson is projected to be drafted iwith the 21st pick.

Teams that have had the most players go in the NBA draft have had the most success recruiting the top talent in recent years.

It has already helped North Carolina. UNC’s 2019 recruiting class has two potential one-and-done players in guard Cole Anthony, who was the No. 3 overall player, and forward Armando Bacot, who was also ranked in the top 50.

UNC currently has the ninth-ranked recruiting class in the country, its highest-rated recruiting class since 2012 after Barnes, Zeller, Marshall and Henson were drafted.

“Again, I can’t dominate what everybody else is going to say, but I feel very confident with all we’re doing,” Williams said.

Jonathan M. Alexander has been covering the North Carolina Tar Heels since May 2018. He previously covered Duke basketball and recruiting in the ACC. He is an alumnus of N.C. Central University.
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