Evan Daniels: I think their class is a solid overall group. The class certainly fills some needs and covers the areas that they needed it to. Paige, in my opinion, is the best of the bunch and a guy that will contend for the top overall lead guard spot in the 2012 class. He's a true set up man that understands the game and how it should be played. Johnson should find a way to contribute at UNC fairly early too. His July was terrific and his ability to run and block shots is where he will be effective out of the gate. James needs to get in shape, but the Tar Heels wanted a big bruiser in the paint and he fills that need. On the wing, Tokoto is one of the most athletic prospects in the 2012 class. He still needs to gain consistency with his jump shot, but he has a nice ceiling. Overall their class may be missing an elite prospect, but it certainly fills needs and is a group that will help UNC win games.
Brian Snow: I think this is a good, not great, class by North Carolina standards. What you have to give Roy Williams and company credit for is they knew they needed a point guard in this class and they got one of the best -- arguably the best -- in the class. Having that impressive floor general in the class and in there early gave them a good start. Now landing Brice Johnson was big, and he is a legit talent who could one day play in the NBA. However, they probably set their sights a bit higher on the interior than Joel James, though James does fill a role and should be a solid player. Early on they targeted J.P. Tokoto, but he didn't develop as anticipated. While all of the players are good, and should have solid careers, I am not sure there is the one superstar that North Carolina expects to land on a yearly basis. Because of that this can be classified as a good class, but mostly a class of role guys if Carolina is a team going to Final Fours and competing for national championships.
Rob Harrington: By any objective standard, Carolina's class is a very good one. By my own tabulation, UNC landed a top-25 prospect, another in the top 35, and two more in the top 75. Additionally, signing at least arguably the No. 1 point guard — even in a down year at that position — solidifies them at that position in the post-Marshall era, whenever he departs campus. Johnson is the caliber of frontcourt athlete they've signed in recent years, including John Henson and James McAdoo. He isn't as tall and long as Henson or as skilled and savvy as McAdoo at that age, but after one year of development he should emerge as an impact performer as a sophomore. James and Tokoto are four-year prospects who fill a need (James) or give the club another transition finisher (Tokoto), so they'll have an opportunity to contribute as well. Of course, you can't honestly evaluate a UNC class on a typical basis as you would other programs. Roy Williams signs at least one elite prospect every year, and Carolina missed on its true elites in this class. The Heels also missed on several priority big men, and they didn't get the primary interior scorer they need for the 2012-13 season, as James certainly will need time to progress. Bottom line: It's a strong class with a couple blemishes.
The UNC staff identified point guard as a key position of need in the 2012 class, and landing Marcus Paige -- who is one of, if not the, best point guard in the senior class -- as the first commitment appears to be UNC's biggest recruiting victory in this class, would you agree?
Daniels: I don't think there is any doubt about it. UNC targeted Marcus Paige early and it paid off. Roy Williams has had success with recruits out of Iowa, so seeing him pull Paige out of that state wasn't a surprise. Paige is cerebral and a guy that knows how to use talent around him. As far as set up men go, Paige is towards the top of the 2012 class and he's a better shooter than sometimes given credit for. Over the course of his high school career he's made the necessary improvements and he was terrific during his final summer on the circuit. This was a must get for North Carolina and they pulled it off early in the process. Not only did they have a need to fill with a quality point guard, but they also went out and got one of the top point guards in the class. That is certainly a victory for the Heels.
Snow: Because of the limited number of high level point guards, and of those numbers, even less of them are pure pass-first floor general type of guards -- so landing Paige was huge. He is a good athlete, has good quickness, and is a leader on the floor. Landing him was huge for the program. Even though he isn't the five-star sure-fire future NBA lottery pick like some other top point guards in the past, he is very good and is someone who a coach will feel very comfortable with running the show. He is not only the highest rated player in UNC's class, but also is someone who is the safest bet to succeed in the class.
Harrington: Absolutely right. For perspective, and the risk of opening a thoroughly digested can of worms, the last time UNC needed a point guard in a year that was weak at that position (2008 class), they signed Larry Drew. This year, and unlike the case with Drew, UNC signed a floor general whose stock actually rose toward the latter part of his high school career and who finished his final summer on the travel circuit very strongly. Moreover, the Paige commitment offers an example of Roy Williams getting ahead of the conventional scouting wisdom by offering Paige proactively, when most of us were uncertain whether he was a legitimate big-time prospect. Whatever one thinks about some other recent recruits whose stock fell post-UNC offer, Paige is another feather in Williams' talent evaluation cap.
The other key need was in the post. What is your assessment of the Brice Johnson/Joel James frontcourt duo and its potential college impact?
Daniels: North Carolina made it clear that they needed to get out and add some post prospects to their 2012 class. The combination of Johnson and James is a formidable one that brings some potential to the table. Johnson is a bouncy forward that is great in run and jump situations. James is a wide low post prospect that takes up space, boards his area and has good touch around the basket. With that said, the Heels did miss on a number of their key post prospects, but I think they recovered nicely with these two. Both are top 100 prospects and both, in my opinion, have their best years ahead of them. There are however concerns with both. Johnson will need to develop an ability to score with his back to the basket and gain strength, while James must get in shape, show consistency with his play and become a more aggressive offensive threat.
Snow: I think in the frontcourt this is a good class. James will probably never be a major scorer, but he rebounds and will take up a lot of space in the lane. Because of that I think defensively he will give the Tar Heels some toughness and ability to match up with opposing bigs that they have lacked in the past two seasons. With Johnson he is skilled, athletic, and rapidly improving. Johnson does need to get stronger, but he has a role, and should be a good player down the line. Overall this is a very good class with two strong pieces to the puzzle down low.
Harrington: Here's where you get mixed reviews. Johnson, in my opinion, will be excellent for UNC provided he gains weight at a reasonable pace. He's an explosive athlete who should excel as a dunker and shotblocker. And I like James as a long-term prospect, based on his sheer size, length and good hands. Big men with good hands never should be undersold, and as he acquires skill he should become reliable at both ends. The more negative appraisal of the duo would focus on the fact that neither is likely to score consistently next season, and Carolina has needed to sign (but has been unable to close) a primary big man scorer for both the 2011 and 2012 classes. Still, all things considered and especially given the number of center misses, James was a solid pickup.
After missing on four big man offers last year, that trend seemed to continue in 2012, with four more post players (Kaleb Tarczewski, Cameron Ridley, Adam Woodbury, Mitch McGary) declining a UNC offer. Is there any pattern to be gleaned from this or is it just the nature of recruiting?
Daniels: I don't see a pattern in this. The four post players they missed on were all tough gets and in certain ways they had factors working against them. With Tarczewski, Kansas and Arizona were ahead due to early recruitment. Ridley and Woodbury were recruits outside of the North Carolina region and neither particularly wanted to leave home. Then McGary's situation was different. There were factors pushing him to Michigan that were going to be difficult for any school to overcome. The Wolverines did a great job recruiting him and made him a priority before he blew up in the spring. So to answer your question, I think these situations were just the nature of recruiting. But to miss on these guys, UNC still bounced back picking up a pair of top 100 prospects.
Snow: I don't know that it is a pattern, but it is concerning for Carolina fans and coaches. Let's be honest here, North Carolina doesn't expect to miss on guys very often, and for whatever reason the past two years they have missed on interior players at a fairly high rate. Now some of that is just the nature of the beast that is recruiting, but also it is cause for concern. How North Carolina rallies with their top interior prospects in 2013 and 2014 will be very interesting to see.
Harrington: It's a good question, but I'd lean more in the direction that UNC simply caught some bad breaks. First, the Cody Zeller and Chane Behanan misses last year related largely to the sudden departure of the Wears and the fact that Roy Williams didn't expect to need a blue-chip big man in the 2011 cycle. That wasn't the case with this year's seniors, however, and frankly I thought they moved a little slowly with Tarczewski, although it may not have made any difference. Apart from him, every other blue-chip frontcourt target chose a local or at least regional program over Carolina, which was recruiting nationally against those that enjoyed inherent geographic advantages. Missing on Isaiah Hicks in the next class would have been a more dire sign, of course, but UNC locked him up early. And then they beat some local programs for both Johnson and James.
J.P. Tokoto was the first prospect in this class to get a UNC offer, and Roy Williams never hesitated throughout his recruitment, keeping the full-court press on Tokoto until (and after) he committed. Is there a disconnect between UNC's evaluation of Tokoto and the evaluation of national scouts (who lowered his ranking from a consensus Top 10 to a consensus Top 70 over the last two years)?
Daniels: Tokoto is a talented prospect and, as I wrote above, he's one of the best athletes the 2012 class has to offer. He has the potential and tools to one day be a pretty good college basketball player. There are concerns, though. In order for him to be effective or a standout at the next level, Tokoto is going to need to fine tune his ball handling and develop some consistency in his jump shot. I do think it's clear there is a lot of talent wrapped in his 6-foot-6 frame. He has good size and an overall good basketball body, to go with the impressive athleticism we mentioned. When he's able to get on the break and play in transition, which UNC usually likes to do, Tokoto is especially effective, so that is certainly a plus.
Snow: I don't know what it is that Roy Williams thinks or sees in Tokoto, so I don't know that I can address that specifically. Obviously they like Tokoto a lot, and still see him as an elite level prospect, and likewise we obviously do not. I see Tokoto as an elite athlete, but how he translates on a basketball court, that is a major question. He doesn't get by guys using the dribble, and isn't a reliable shooter in the mid-range or from deep. Because of that he is someone who is more of a next level role player given that he has major skill limitations. Still he can play a good role as a defender, energy guy, and someone who gets out in transition, but his lack of ability to create his own shot or make open shots limits him right now from being ranked an elite level talent.
Harrington: Yes, there's a disconnect, just as there was with Marcus Paige. Tokoto was considered a potential elite (but never really established against national competition) as a young player based on his superlatively leaping ability and impressive hand-eye coordination, passing and unselfishness, but those qualities simply didn't converge into a consistently productive player as his prep career progressed. I think the object lesson is to recall that Williams sometimes views his foundational targets with as much urgency as he does his true studs, and when Tokoto transitioned from the latter to the former, he was undeterred. Just think back to how hard and suddenly UNC pursued Bobby Frasor and to the extent they prioritized Marcus Ginyard early in his career, along with recently missed Bronson Koenig from the 2013 class. I think at a certain point Williams evaluates a player's entire complement of skills and intangibles, and worries about the actual college production as something he can influence via coaching and playing time. He took the less talented player in the Frasor/Mario Chalmers scenario and, despite the fact that Frasor lost his starting job to Tywon Lawson and suffered with injuries, still found a way to help Frasor succeed. It's a confident, Hall of Fame head coach believing in his own ability to manage a program, and obviously he has enjoyed great success. The contrarian view is that Williams broke ranks with scouts on Drew (albeit mitigated by circumstance) and the Wears, too, so certainly he isn't immune to mistakes. Whether Tokoto becomes a success story or a disappointment remains to be seen, of course, but in this case I think the onus falls more on Tokoto than was true for those other examples, simply because Tokoto possesses more natural talent and has been hampered more by competitive approach than absence of skill.
As UNC's full attention turns to the Class of 2013, where the Tar Heels already have a commitment from in-state power forward Isaiah Hicks, what do you see as the most important needs for UNC in that class?
Daniels: With Paige set to come in 2012, I don't think the biggest need is at the lead guard spot. They have some good prospects on the wing with Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston and Tokoto, so I'm not sure there's a major need there, although I think bringing in another one would be a good idea. First, I think bringing in Hicks was a good move, as the more post depth they can have the better. In my opinion, I think they should go out and try and grab an elite center prospect. Hicks will join Johnson and James in the post, and while all three are talented, none would be categorized as post scorers -- so adding a guy that has that as a strength would be a good idea.
Snow: I think UNC needs a scorer on the wing in a big way; someone who they can point to and say ‘get me a bucket.' Players such as Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston are more shooters than scorers, and no one in the 2012 class fits the role of a scorer. Obviously Jabari Parker fits that mold, though getting him is going to be very difficult for every school involved, and I am not sure some of the top targets such as Nate Britt, Troy Williams, or Matt Jones fit into that mold, but if I were Coach Williams I would want what is referred to as a "bucket getter" -- just someone who can explode for 20 plus points when needed during a game.
Harrington: For the third straight year, an elite back-to-the-basket scorer has to be the priority. Whether that player is 6-7 or 7-7 is less important, I think, than having someone with size who scores. Carolina's offense could become an alien creature if the emphasis shifts from the post to the perimeter, because Williams simply doesn't like to play that way. Down the road I think Johnson will help along those lines, and of course McAdoo should become an offensive weapon as a sophomore as well. Beyond that, getting a natural shooting guard who can serve as a secondary ball-handler also looms as another area of need.