Oxford (N.C.) Webb
Class of 2013
In the modern era, very few blue-chip recruits manage their recruitments without drama. But for Hicks, he emerged as a high-major prospect during his sophomore season and quickly decided that he wanted to attend UNC. In effect, he recruited the Tar Heels as much as they recruited him, and he committed just hours after Roy Williams offered him a scholarship in August 2011.
Hicks then sat out the early portion of his junior season due to a sudden high school switch — he had been attending Raleigh (N.C.) Body of Christ before moving back to Webb — and subsequent eligibility snafu. But back on the court, he showcased stellar athleticism and parlayed a strong finish into a lofty national ranking.
He further cemented himself as a national elite during spring events in North Carolina and Las Vegas. He dipped slightly after missing several summer camps and tournaments, but he enjoyed a fantastic senior year that culminated with a state championship and trip to the McDonald's All-American Game.
Hicks ranks among Carolina's most athletic frontcourt recruits during the Roy Williams era. Others have been as fast or perhaps jumped as high, but Hicks boasts sensationally quick reflexes that enable him to get to rebounds and loose balls before most opponents can react. He also excels running the floor and is an impressive alley-oop catcher who will create assists for point guards Marcus Paige, Nate Britt and Joel Berry. While not as effectively unorthodox offensively, his physical characteristics may remind fans of Antawn Jamison.
During more structured action, Hicks has become an adequate jump shooter to 15 feet. He utilizes a smooth, high release to comfortably knock in medium-range shots, and his mechanically sound stroke should allow for improved accuracy as he progresses. And though he's likely to shoot free throws at a high 60 percent clip as a freshman, he should improve markedly over time.
Hicks projects exclusively as a big forward for college but does possess some face-up ball skills. In addition to his jump shot, he dribbles the ball with his right (strong) hand and is far too quick for most big men to contain off the bounce. He's a fairly good passer as well and always plays unselfishly. In traffic, he's very agile and able to slither between taller and stronger opponents. Despite standing 6-8, he's capable of using the backboard on reverses.
Then there's defense. Hicks could become a monster in UNC's system, thanks to his excellent lateral quickness and Carolina's preferred hedge-and-recover approach. He's not as long as James Michael McAdoo but may be even a touch quicker, and thus steal-and-slam likely will become a key component in his repertoire.
He's also a big-time shotblocker. Others may be taller, but he surprises shooters due to his explosiveness and ability to swat shots at very close range. Hicks willingly risks his body in transition, when he sprints back to pin would-be dunks and layups off the glass.
He added another wrinkle as a senior: vocal leadership. Hicks effectively willed his team to a 73-70 overtime victory in the state final, pouring in a phenomenal 34 points, 30 rebounds and seven blocks on 13-of-21 shooting. Fans shouldn't expect that kind of production next season, but he has grown considerably from a shy kid into the role of team leader.
Like many young big men, Hicks must gain substantial weight. He has added muscle but remains thin and gets out-muscled by stronger competitors. In head-to-head tilts versus Florida-bound Chris Walker and elite junior Noah Vonleh last spring and summer, Hicks's strength deficit definitely proved a disadvantage. Matched against those same players this past March at McDonald's practices, he fared better but still struggled to score.
He also must become more aggressive. Despite his physical prowess, against national opponents Hicks's production has ebbed for stretches due to the fact that he simply performs passively. He has improved his rebounding output but still has not yet maximized his potential on the glass (particularly the defensive backboard). That said, perhaps he can build off his 30-board performance in the state championship contest.
His offense also requires significant work. He's reasonably comfortable facing the rim, but he doesn't possess many post moves with his back to the basket. His lack of strength plays a role because he struggles to establish deep position, but he also must develop a jump hook and footwork that will create openings for close-range attempts. He presently relies on a turnaround jump shot (sometimes fading), which can be effective, but he'll need to add further wrinkles.
As mentioned, he's a much better dribbler with his right hand than with his left. If he's going to move to the perimeter in the longer term — and at his size, he may need to do that for NBA purposes — working more effectively with his off-hand will be critical.
The fact that Hicks dropped outside the national top 10 shouldn't generate angst. Yes, he's nowhere close to a finished product, but his quickness alone should make him a factor during his freshman season. Additionally, and unlike many elite talents, his weaknesses make him less likely to depart college after just one season on campus.
My projection for him is that he'll enjoy a promising, if inconsistent freshman campaign, followed by a superlative sophomore year. He'll need to develop muscle and a nastier competitive disposition, but those criticisms also hounded both Tyler Zeller and John Henson prior to their blossoming at UNC. Hicks falls into the same category they did in high school and, with normal development, should flourish as he matures mentally as well as physically.
Because he falls within the McDonald's range, Hicks addressed a couple of recruiting concerns for UNC. The Heels had passed on some impressive in-state talent in previous classes and he clearly was the best senior prospect in the state.
He also gives the club a blue-chip big man, something that surprisingly proved elusive for Carolina since McAdoo's commitment in the fall of 2009. And despite UNC's miss on long-time target Julius Randle, Hicks ensures that the club brings in an impact talent for 2013-14.
Rob provides basketball recruiting coverage for InsideCarolina.com, including reporting from events throughout the country. Rob is editor of the national basketball recruiting website PrepStars.com and the print magazine Recruiter's Handbook. He also covers UNC basketball games for the Independent Weekly and writes a freelance column for USAToday.com. Rob is a member of the Naismith committee honoring the nation's best high school player and is on the selection committee for the McDonald's All-American Game.