Evan Daniels: I think the class fits North Carolina's needs. Hicks is a significant pick up and a guy that can really help them on the interior. At 6-8, he's a fluid athlete that runs the floor well, has a nice set of hands and can face the rim and hit mid-range jump shots. UNC's current roster only has one point guard (Marcus Paige) on it, so the Tar Heels targeted Nate Britt early and were able to reel him in. Britt had an up and down summer, but he's skilled and a capable shot maker. They needed depth at that position and they were able to secure that. This isn't an elite class, but a pretty solid one as most schools would love to have a five-star and four-star recruit on board.
Brian Snow: I think this is a solid class, but not one that I really seeing impacting a team to the point of a national championship in year one. Isaiah Hicks is a kid who is full of potential and down the road he could be a star. Nate Britt is a solid floor general and someone who at times during his high school career has looked very good.
The key to me is simple, who is the real Nate Britt? The Nate Britt we saw as a sophomore and in the summer of 2011 was very impressive and looked like a potential pro point guard. However things stalled quite a bit for Britt as a junior at Gonzaga, and then he followed it up with an average at best summer. If Nate Britt gets back to being a high level point guard then he could be an impact piece for the Tar Heels at the most important position on the floor.
Rob Harrington: It's a good class by any reasonable standard, but of course UNC doesn't recruit with reasonable expectations. The Tar Heels almost always have recruited top-five classes during the Roy Williams era, and that likely won't happen this cycle.
But Hicks is a consensus top-20 prospect and compares favorably to James Michael McAdoo and other big-time Carolina signees. He gives the team another frontcourt weapon — which it desperately needs for depth, despite the fact that Joel James and Brice Johnson thus far appear to be pleasant surprises — and a great fit athletically.
Britt did suffer a rankings tumble after a disappointing 2012, but there will be less pressure on him given that Marcus Paige already has entrenched himself as the starting point guard. In short, I think the successful freshman class makes the 2013 haul better than if Britt needed to step in and command starter's minutes as a freshman.
How do you foresee Isaiah Hicks and Nate Britt fitting in as freshmen with the existing personnel (Hicks with Johnson, Britt with Paige, etc.)?
Evan Daniels: Hicks and Johnson certainly have similarities, as both are fairly thin, but lengthy athletes that run and jump well. Hicks will enter college slightly more advanced on the offensive end. In fact, I think having Hicks and Johnson gives UNC some very good depth at the power forward position. Much like Hicks and Johnson, I think Britt and Paige have some similarities. Paige will be a year older and is the more heralded player coming out of high school. It would be a surprise to see Britt come in and take his spot. I do think it would give UNC two pretty solid options at the point guard position. Both are capable handlers and guys that can help them quite a bit at that position. Britt is skilled and a capable shot maker to 21-feet.
Brian Snow: I can answer this question better in a month or so once I get a better feel for how the two freshmen on campus are progressing, but at this point I tend to think the 2013 class will be solid backups for the 2012 class.
In terms of Paige versus Britt, Paige is a bit better of an athlete, but they are both fairly similar. Each is capable of scoring, though not a scoring point guard. Both prefer to pass and set up a teammate than look for their own shot. I am not sure they are the type of guards you would put on the floor at the same time.
With Johnson and Hicks, Hicks has more natural ability, but playing hard is a skill, and to this point he hasn't learned to play hard all the time. I do think that will come in time, but right away I think he will be asked to spell Johnson for 8-12 minutes per game. Once again, unless Johnson shows more on the wing, not sure you play them together, but they could at times be interchangeable at the position.
Rob Harrington: Hicks physically resembles Johnson more than he does McAdoo or James. He needs to get much stronger but is a gazelle and will be a big guy who can outrun his opposite number. Playing Hicks alongside Johnson may be problematic defensively, so most likely one of the two will pair with James for the lion's share of post minutes. My guess is Hicks will be the No. 3 big man to start the season, and his minutes could fluctuate based on his production versus that of Johnson. If Hicks performs very well and Johnson gains sufficient muscle, he could slide to the five and thus Hicks and James could be competing indirectly for playing time as well. Hicks likely won't be a featured offensive player but brings enough to the court athletically that he should make positive contributions in a utility role, not unlike McAdoo toward the end of last season.
Moving to Britt, his primary value likely will be depth. After last year's defeat to Kansas without both Kendall Marshall and Dexter Strickland, the coaching staff certainly does not want to risk being too thin at that position going forward. With Paige and Britt, the Tar Heels will have two natural point guards. Paige hasn't yet adjusted to the college game, but Williams's stated confidence in him — and the fact that he named him the starter prior to the season — suggests to me that Britt will face great difficulty trying to supplant him. Nevertheless, a 28-12 minutes split seems reasonable, and thus Britt at least should get consistent court action while he adjusts to UNC's system.
There are seven prospects in this class that UNC offered and chose elsewhere. Is there a common thread to be found in those misses?
Evan Daniels: I'm not sure in these instances there are. Matt Jones was a guy that was likely headed to Duke all along. They made an early attempt at Bronson Koenig, but his hometown school won out. I think with Nichols they were a tad late going all in on, and he wanted to stay close to home anyway. With Parker and Randle they had stiff competition. Williams was a guy they went all in on early, but they have so much perimeter depth that I don't think he felt he would have started right away. Then with Vonleh, I think once he reclassified UNC opted to back off some. They wanted Vonleh more for 2014. So in 2013, I'm not sure there was a common theme on why they missed on guys.
Brian Snow: I am not sure I can point to a common theme either. Bronson Koenig wanted to stay close to home, the Troy Williams thing was always a bit weird, and then with Jabari Parker and Julius Randle those kids are just very tough to get, even if you are North Carolina because other "blue blood" schools are recruiting them and also they are closer to home.
It has been weird, sometimes I feel Carolina doesn't offer early enough with kids and then other times I think they offer kids too early. I am not sure I can put a finger on it personally, but something was slightly off this recruiting cycle for Carolina, but it isn't something I think fans should be in a panic about. Roy Williams and North Carolina will always be in contention for a top class.
Rob Harrington: Something definitely has changed with elite prospects. The Heels not only failed to win the race for their top prospect two straight years — Shabazz Muhammad from 2012, and Julius Randle from 2013 — they haven't even made it to the finish line. Clearly, backing off Muhammad was the right thing to do, but prior to that point Williams expended significant time and resources (particularly during the 2010 summer) pursuing him. Randle simply lost interest in UNC, which wasn't surprising by the end but would have surprised many had they been informed of that during the 2011 summer. The reason for this is unclear. You can't fault UNC's timing or dedication to Randle or Muhammad, and the Heels also missed Austin Nichols despite offering him relatively early as well. Clearly, though, Carolina struggling to land big men is very surprising.
The re-classification trend makes Roy Williams uncomfortable. Carolina likes to plot its recruiting course well in advance, and sudden class changes disrupt his rhythm, Noah Vonleh being the best recent example. Williams has bemoaned the motive behind these moves — kids want to get to the NBA as quickly as possible — and thus will have to alter his recruiting pitch to accommodate that primary motivation or else be more selective about offering players at the top of the class.
Kennedy Meeks is down to UNC and Georgetown. What do you think his decision will be and why is he an important recruit for UNC?
Evan Daniels: I'm not completely sure at this point where he's headed. It seems to be going back and forth and I think both schools have done a very good job recruiting him. He's an important target for Carolina because they need another talented prospect to anchor the post. Meeks fits that bill. He has a little Sean May in him, so Roy Williams has certainly dealt with, and been successful with, a guy similar to Meeks. He has a great set of hands, will lock in on his area rebounding wise and has soft touch in the paint. He's would be a very good addition to UNC's class.
Brian Snow: Until Kennedy Meeks says no to North Carolina my guess will be North Carolina. I do think Georgetown is a major, major threat because of the fact that he sees the offense the Hoyas run and feels he can fit in very well in terms of minutes and style of play, still that is just a kid that Carolina always seems to land.
I don't think landing Meeks is a "must get" mostly because of the development of Joel James. It would be tough to imagine Meeks, who will need to work hard on his conditioning, stepping in right away and beating out Joel James for minutes. Because of that I am not sure it is the most important recruit for North Carolina, but nonetheless you can never have too many talented post players.
Rob Harrington: Ultimately, my sense is that Meeks is choosing between heart versus head. Carolina holds an immense emotional appeal for him, but he's smart enough to realize and heed others when they note that Georgetown's system fits his style of play. UNC has molded other beefy big man (such as Deon Thompson) into productive starters, but obviously Meeks would have to commit himself to top-notch fitness and dedication to running the court. Nevertheless, he wouldn't be overwhelmed by elite talent ahead of him and the frontcourt needs another center.
Could he start ahead of James during his freshman season? I think that's unlikely. But he's very important for UNC due to quality depth concerns as well as the fact that he's a five. Meeks, James, Hicks and Johnson would give the program two natural power forwards and two natural centers.
Would it be accurate to say that UNC has a shot - albeit a slim one - with 2013's top prospect, Andrew Wiggins?
Evan Daniels: I'd categorize it as slim until North Carolina is able to get him to its campus. He's certainly a guy that they are attempting to get involved with. Roy Williams met with him and told him they were going to give him their best shot. If UNC is able to get him to campus then I think we can all look at the Wiggins recruitment a little differently. Florida State and Kentucky have to be considered the two schools to beat, with North Carolina and Kansas on the outside looking in.
Brian Snow: With Kentucky taking James Young that has made things more complex with Wiggins. Right now if I was a betting man I would bet on Florida State because that is where his dad played and also where his best friend, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, is, but nonetheless North Carolina is in the mix. Playing in the ACC at the school that has produced that many pros and of course Michael Jordan is something that will genuinely appeal to Wiggins. I can't say for sure exactly what I think the chances are he ends up in Chapel Hill, but I would be a little surprised if the Tar Heels don't at least get an official visit.
Rob Harrington: I remain skeptical until he makes a visit and the situation appears amenable to UNC's recruiting style. His re-classification may not have been as disruptive as Vonleh's proved to be — largely because Carolina had recruited him on more of a token basis, not unlike the Tar Heels' courting of Jabari Parker — but whether Carolina can become a truly serious factor has yet to be determined. Given their recent problems with other top-five talents, getting Wiggins would emphatically address a growing concern.
Have you seen the college recruiting landscape changing in the last few years in a way that impacts UNC?
Evan Daniels: I think for quite some time we've seen the recruiting process begin earlier and earlier. For a number of years, North Carolina had waited until June 15th to offer scholarships. This class is the first one where UNC offered earlier. I think UNC has adapted in that way for the most part. They are beginning to target kids earlier. They did so with a few guys in the 2013 class. Isaiah Hicks and Nate Britt were both players they targeted early on. Julius Randle and Troy Williams were UNC recruits early in their high school careers too -- they just opted to go in a different direction.
Brian Snow: Recruiting is constantly changing. I think the biggest thing that seems to be impacting UNC is the concept of early offers. Roy Williams doesn't seem as inclined to offer kids as early, and more and more kids are seeing no difference between UNC, UK, Duke, and the other premier programs in the country, and if one school waits it can hurt them. I think it is obviously more complex than simply that, but you have to be far more aggressive at an elite school now to get elite kids than you did a decade ago, and I am not sure that is something Roy Williams believes in.
Rob Harrington: No doubt about it. I've already mentioned the re-classification trend, but the larger point is that what previously lurked beneath the surface — college basketball is a mere way station to the NBA — now has become an overt decree from top players. Kentucky's approach courts this energy, and the NCAA's diminished credibility has facilitated prospects' ever-increasing desire to put in their time collegiately before reaching their professional destination. John Calipari's sales pitch flows harmoniously with this new normal, while UNC and some other traditional programs still operate under the notion that college basketball stands for something bigger.
None of this is to say Carolina finds itself in the top-10 wilderness, but to regain 2006 form, the Heels must choose their top priorities more selectively or else alter their own recruiting tactics.