A member of the UNC staff contacted the Montrose coaching staff Wednesday afternoon about senior Linas Kleiza, their 6-8, 245-pound brick wall of a power forward.
So why are the Tar Heels trying to get involved all of a sudden? Because in light of some potential significant changes in his recruitment, new schools may have a legitimate shot at landing the Lithuanian native.
Kleiza had a tight list of Missouri, Virginia and Florida State, who had all been aggressively recruiting him for some time. Missouri was far and away the leader for Kleiza, and some schools (like N.C. State) subsequently backed away with the assumption that he was headed for Columbia, Mo. But in light of possible violations within the Tigers program that have surfaced lately, new schools may have the opportunity to get their foot in the door.
And word of this has spread rapidly among the college ranks. The Tar Heels are far from the only school calling. The latest coach to inquire is Florida head man Billy Donovan.
But Kleiza is in no rush to make a decision and, according to sources close to the situation, the longer this recruitment continues, the higher the chances of it opening back up.
The bottom line is that Kleiza wants to play in the NBA and a coach with a track record for developing post players is going to be very appealing to him. Roy Williams' arrival in Chapel Hill is unquestionably a boost to UNC's stock.
It's important to note that there is a pre-existing relationship between Kleiza and the current UNC staff, as Williams recruited him at Kansas and assistant coach Steve Robinson saw Kleiza in Hawaii during a regular season tournament (where Kleiza turned heads) and has been a big fan of him all along.
So what's the big deal with Kleiza – how good is he and is he what UNC needs in the post next season?
"In my opinion, Kleiza is the best available senior big man in the nation," IC's Clint Jackson remarked. "He's one of the best rebounders on the prep level. He's aggressive, VERY strong, tough and can't be pushed around by anyone when he anchors in the paint. Think a little bit of Ed Nelson and a little bit of Kevin Bookout and add in some more agility and a decent mid range jumper. Kleiza has the potential to start at many ACC programs from day one as a freshman."
And as if you needed further proof, he posted 16 points and 10 rebounds a week ago against the top players in the country at the Capital Classic.
Here is an excerpt from IC's coverage of the Five-Star Camp last summer -
It was our first chance to watch Linas Kleiza, a 6-7 Lithuanian who is a rising senior at Montrose Christian (Md.) We hadn't seen someone of his build since Kevin Bookout at Slam Dunk to the Beach in December. Kleiza is an absolute tank, plodding up and down the court, but moving deceptively well.
The muscle-bound post player faced off against Major Wingate's team in the semifinals, but a potential good matchup turned out to be nothing but total domination -- Kleiza: 31 points, Wingate: six points. When he was not simply forcing smaller defenders (which was all of them) out of his way, Kleiza showed his agility with quality moves around the hoop and a real nice one-handed, alley-oop lay-in off the glass.
In the all-star game, his ability to run the floor led to countless dunks, while he also collected a lot of points cleaning up under the hoop, finishing with 27 points and earning MVP honors. N.C. State and Virginia are reportedly the two ACC schools after him.
"It's like he grew up on a farm lifting tractor trailers and has now been let loose on the world." -- Five Star's Stu Lash
"I'll bet instead of using the weight room at Montrose, he goes outside and pushes boulders" -- Michael Kruse, Basketball America.